Unspoken Trauma of C-Sections

Miranda Layton, LCSW-C, LISW-CP

When you find out you are pregnant, most of us are over the moon and immediately begin thinking about what it will be like to give birth. During your pregnancy your OB, midwife, doula and everyone else will ask you “what is your birth plan?”. Most soon-to-be-mothers do not respond with, “I am hoping for a planned or an emergency c-section”. We picture having our babies vaginally, with or without an epidural. Who wants to have major abdominal surgery then possibly breastfeed, care for a newborn, transition to the newest addition and be in pain when you cough, laugh, have a bowel movement, walk and sit? In addition to the pain and the 8-week recovery process, you then have to take some sort of pain medication, usually Percocet or Motrin, around the clock just to be able to tolerate the pain. That then carries the worry for a breastfeeding mother of how much medication your child getting through breastmilk. In fact, due to the c-section recovery and pain, some mothers actually give up hope of being able to breastfeed their baby.

Of course, there are many instances where babies have to be born via c-section for the safety of the mother and/or baby, but that does not mean that it is not traumatic for the mother and partner. A lot of mothers and partners go to the hospital in labor thinking they will deliver their baby vaginally and then a complication arises that prevents them from what they had dreamed. When it is an emergency c-section, the parents are barely given any time to process what is happening before the mother is whisked off to the OR, sans partner for a brief period of time, and within minutes is having major abdominal surgery to remove their baby. For some mothers, to further complicate things, they may be given medication that results in them being asleep when their baby is born, therefore, never experiencing the moment their child arrives into the world.

There are so many things that can cause trauma for both parents during and after a c-section. Some of the biggest feelings are loss and grief, fear, anxiety, feeling as though your body failed you and you are less of a mother. These emotions and feelings of grief and loss, in additional to the natural hormone shifts and adjustment to having a baby, mothers who have emergency c-sections are at a higher risk of experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety disorders.

What moms need most after having an emergency c-section is some nurturing, validation and maybe even some psychotherapy to process through this traumatic event. It is extremely traumatic for your birth plan to completely go haywire and turn into an emergency. It causes so many emotions including fear, pain, grief and loss among many others. Mothers need to be able to grieve the loss of their birth story after having an emergency c-section. Reminding mothers that “at least the baby was born healthy” is not helpful and invalidates their feelings. Instead you can say, “I am so sorry you had to undergo an emergency c-section, would you like to share your story and how you feel with me”, “I am here for you if/when you are ready to talk about it”. Any extra nurturing, validation and support will allow mothers to grieve the loss of their birth story and feel validated and supported in their feelings.

While this may not be everyone’s experience or they way they feel about having an c-section. I wrote this blog from my own personal experience and from that of working with other mothers who have had c-sections. If your c-section was a positive experience I am so extremely happy for you. I wanted to bring light to the effects c-sections can have on a lot of mothers.


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