“I feel disappointed about my birth”: why is this sentence so difficult to say out loud?! It’s almost taboo, isn’t it, to admit that not only did you not get the birth you were hoping for, but that worse still, this really matters to you, and that the feelings of sadness, regret and disappointment are just refusing to go away.
Perhaps it’s time to open the conversation about this, because, as someone who speaks to pregnant women and new mothers all the time, I can tell you that these feelings are completely normal, and much more common than you think!
Here are my tips and advice if you are one of the many women who – perhaps secretly – wishes their birth had been different.
Honour your feelings
It’s so easy to dismiss or ignore those feelings of disappointment after your birth has not gone the way you wanted. This is partly because they can often immediately make you feel guilty or even ungrateful for the beautiful baby you hold in your arms. When we look at them, and are filled with love, it can seem like any negative feelings about their entrance to the world may mean that we don’t love them enough, or even make us a ‘bad mother’.
It’s really important to know that this isn’t true. It’s only human to feel sad or let down if we don’t get what we want in life. If it rains on your wedding day, or the dream job falls through, you might feel entitled to be a bit gutted. Birth is a hugely important life experience, and it’s ok to have had hopes and dreams about what it was going to be like, and to feel tearful or even angry that it wasn’t that way at all. Your feelings about this are normal, valid and important.
Don’t blame yourself
Childbirth itself seems to have become laden with blame and guilt in recent decades, and nobody seems to get to carry the can more than women themselves, who often spend days, weeks (or even a lifetime) after the birth, wondering what they could have done differently. There is sometimes the message that they should not have ‘got their hopes up’, and that because they were clear about the kind of birth they wanted and even made a plan for it, they were somehow setting themselves up to fail.
It’s definitely time for us to stop blaming women like this! Having a clear idea of what you want in any area of life is never a mistake, and birth is no different. It was absolutely right for you to dream of a certain kind of birth, and nothing that you did or didn’t do caused events to deviate from the path you hoped for. Likewise, nothing you did or didn’t do has caused these difficult feelings about your birth that you are having now – they are just a normal, human response to life not going the way you hoped.
Talk about your birth
Try to find someone to talk about your birth with. You might like to talk to your partner, although they may be disappointed, upset or even traumatised too, and you might need someone with a bit more distance from the situation to be a balanced listener. This might be a close relative or friend, or you may like to seek out a counsellor or therapist. If you think you may be suffering from post-natal depression (PND) or birth trauma (sometimes referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD), then you should be referred for counselling by your GP. Most maternity units will also offer to go over your birth and your notes with you, which might help answer some of your questions about what happened and why, and it can also help to talk to other mothers in online groups such as Positive Birthers.
Make a complaint
You also have the right to make a formal complaint about the maternity care you received. If you think you want to do this, it is a good idea to write down as much as you can remember about your birth as soon as you can, and also to request a copy of your maternity notes. You may also want to report an individual practitioner to their professional body, or take legal action. For more information on this, see this factsheet from Birthrights on Making a Complaint.
Remember that you matter
As pregnant women and often as new mothers too, we are frequently told that ‘a healthy baby is all that matters’. It can be hard to talk about any negative feelings about birth against the backdrop of this powerful message. But hang on a minute! Of course our healthy baby is the thing that probably matters the most – but is it all that matters? Don’t women, and how they feel during and after the birth, matter too? Of course they do. You are an individual and you matter hugely. Added to this, your feelings about your birth don’t have to have any connection to your feelings about your baby. You can be totally connected to your little one and at the same time still be feeling low and upset about your birth. Likewise you can have a ‘dream birth’ and go on to really struggle with the emotions of new motherhood.
Having and feeling a smorgasbord of complex, varying and even opposing emotions is a normal part of being human. Give yourself permission to feel this complex range of feelings right now, and seek help if you need it. Your birth matters, your baby matters, and you matter, too.
Written by Milli Hill
Milli set up The Positive Birth Movement (PBM), a global network of free antenatal groups, with the aim of improving childbirth and giving women better access to support and information. Her wonderful book 'The Positive Birth Book' is out now and is perfect for anyone who needs a happy, uplifting read on all things birth.