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Birth disappointment: When things don’t go as planned

The main goal of a pregnancy and birth experience is a healthy baby, right? Of course, but you cannot discount a mom’s feelings when she suffers from disappointment, bonding issues and depression when a childbirth experience doesn’t go as planned, or complications arise.

Newborn baby and mom at hospital

We talk to experts as well as moms who have experienced birth disappointment.

You spent time before you had your baby carefully constructing a birth plan — or at least you counted on having an uncomplicated vaginal birth. Sometimes, a birth doesn’t go according to plan — your home birth gets transferred to a hospital, or your desire for few interventions becomes a surgical birth. Postpartum depression can spring forth from a disappointing birth experience, as well as impaired bonding with the baby and problems breastfeeding. What can moms do to help prevent — and treat — birth disappointment and postpartum depression?

Keep an open mind

Birth plans are wonderful, but experts caution against getting 100 percent attached to them. “While I don’t think birth plans, in and of themselves, are bad things, parents need to be educated on the reality that most births do not go exactly the way that they are pictured in their minds,” explained Crystal Clancy, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with pregnant women and new parents struggling with postpartum difficulties, and associate director of Pregnancy and Postpartum Support MN.

Your feelings are valid

Negative feelings are just as valid as positive ones — it’s very important to not let others dismiss how you’re feeling. “Feelings are feelings, and they are all OK,” said Crystal. “Many people, women especially, feel guilty or shameful about their feelings.”

Time may help

You might find that time helps heal the disappointment, as Carrie, mom of three girls, experienced.

She had a C-section with her first baby despite wishing and planning for a natural, unmedicated hospital birth. “I was very disappointed afterward and felt like a failure for a long time,” she shared. “I even had a hard time bonding with my baby for a few weeks and failed at breastfeeding. I dwelled on the disappointment.” Her second and third babies also arrived via C-section, but each time her disappointment was less. “[The third] time I mentally prepared myself that that’s how her birth would happen,” she said. “Her birth went well and I had a good recovery.”

Seek help

If your birth didn’t go as planned and you’re having trouble dealing with it — or feel you’re developing postpartum depression — don’t hesitate to seek help. Your obstetrician or midwife can point you in the right direction. “I aim to give moms a space to express their feelings and help them see that their feelings do not make them a bad mom, person, wife, woman… and that they need to honor those emotions,” shared Crystal.

What to say

If you’re feeling blue about a birth experience gone bad, and all you hear is, “All that matters is that you have a healthy baby,” is there anything you can say to let these well-meaning folks understand that your feelings matter too? Yes, said Crystal. “An example response would be something like, ‘I am glad I have a healthy baby, however, I am still allowed to have these feelings and need to work through them.’ And if they can’t say those words to the person, how they can make sure to say them to themselves so that they don’t turn it inward as guilt or shame.”

More on postpartum depression

When postpartum depression needs treatment
Symptoms of postpartum depression
How to prepare for postpartum depression

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