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Most women have an idea of how they want their birth experience to be. But because you have a high-risk pregnancy, you may need a c-section, an early induction, or another medical intervention you'd rather not have.
Women with a high-risk pregnancy may suffer disappointment and emotional trauma when their hopes for a dream birth are dashed. Below are tips to help you accept and recover if birth doesn't go the way you planned.
Before you give birth
- To resolve your feelings, you need to face them: Acknowledge your sadness, anger, guilt, and other emotions.
- Don't pay attention to invalidating thoughts such as, "How my baby is born doesn't really matter." It does matter if it makes you sad.
- Talk to anyone who listens. Resolving your emotional pain is much more difficult when you keep it to yourself. Reach out to friends, members of a support group, or online communities for women who are high-risk or who've had disappointing birth experiences. BabyCenter's Community is a good place to start.
- Journal about your experience. Recording your thoughts and feelings about the loss of your dream birth can help you process it.
- Avoid comparing your experience to others. It simply won't help.
- Be compassionate to yourself. Work through guilt or self-judgment. What's happening to you is no one's fault.
- Ignore people who tell you not to feel the way you do. Your feelings are valid, real, and should be respected.
- Focus on the present. With time, emotional pain becomes bearable for many women.
After you give birth
- Focus on the future you'll have with your baby. Eventually your relationship will be more rewarding than the disappointment of the way you had to give birth.
- Reframe your feelings. For example, if you feel like a failure because you didn't give birth the way you wanted to, choose to view yourself as a survivor who made it through a difficult experience.
- Shift your focus to what went right. Make a list of all the things that turned out the way you wanted them to.
- Rewrite your birth story positively. Talk to others who were at your delivery to get other points of view. As your perspective changes, it may be possible for your story to change as well.
- Get professional help. If you find it hard to "move on" after a difficult, disappointing, or traumatic birth, stop pressing the replay button and seek help. Your healthcare provider can refer you to a therapist or other professional with expertise in postnatal adjustment.
Postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
It's possible to recover from a disappointing birth experience pretty quickly, and many hospitals have onsite support groups for new parents who had a difficult birth experience. But be aware of any lingering emotional issues you may have after you give birth, especially if:
- You have the blues for more than a couple weeks after the birth of your baby. Talk to your provider so she can help you determine whether you might be suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).
- You have thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby. If this happens, call your local crisis hotline or go to your hospital's emergency room immediately.
- Your delivery was not just disappointing but traumatic. This experience can cause lasting psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you have symptoms of PTSD – such as recurring flashbacks, nightmares, trouble sleeping, panic or anxiety attacks, or a sense of detachment – ask your provider for a referral to a therapist who specializes in treating PTSD.
Women say: Accepting the birth you have
How do you move on when you don't have the birth of your dreams? Below are words of wisdom from moms in the our site Community:
"Don't be ashamed of your feelings. Don't silence your pain. Some roads we need to walk many times until we can move on. You feel how you feel. You don't need to justify that to anyone. Something that isn't traumatic to one person may be the worst experience ever to someone else. I think it took me about six months to get over the worst of my experience."
"All I did was replay the experience day after day. And cry. I had envisioned something completely different – like in the movies – and when it didn't work out that way, I was heartbroken! I didn't want to hear people tell me, 'Yeah, you went through all that, but look at what you got in the end: a beautiful baby boy.' The more people said that, the more angry I'd get. It takes some time and won't happen overnight, but eventually [it gets better]."
"Don't be ashamed or let others gloss over it. Keep talking and sharing. That's what helped me! My baby is now 15 months old, and I just now finally feel like my old self mentally, emotionally, and physically."
"Bonding doesn't always happen right away. I didn't get to bond with my daughter in the hospital because she was taken to the NICU the morning after I had her. But the main thing is you have all of the time in the world now to bond. It takes time for some moms, so don't get discouraged."
"I had a discussion with my family doctor about what happened, and she told me to 'turn off that devil on your shoulder,' which was good advice! It'll take some time, but I'm feeling as though I can face it with a little more courage now."
"One month ago I started therapy, and today I can honestly say I have a completely different outlook. I was skeptical, but it has saved me. Sometimes just saying everything out loud makes a huge difference. I'm no longer obsessing [over the birth]. I've found ways to free myself. I've learned to acknowledge it and have realized that I can choose to remember my birthing day as positive."
"My first goal: I'm going to rewrite my birth story with a positive attitude, so it portrays all the wonderful ways [my life] changed that day. [I'm going to] write it so that I could give it to my son (or his wife) one day, and he'll feel happy when he reads it."
Susan LaCroix is a writer, editor, and psychotherapist with a private practice in Berkeley, California. She specializes in providing support to individuals and couples during pregnancy, postpartum adjustment, and the transition to parenthood.