view from over a woman's shoulder as her baby nurses
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When your birth doesn’t go as planned

Creating a birth plan during pregnancy is a great way to prepare for delivery. It can function as a dry run, helping you walk through the experience of delivery and outline your preferences at every stage. Many parents-to-be feel more confident heading into the big day with some key decisions made. However, it’s important to remember that a birth plan is a guideline, and sometimes bodies and babies don’t follow the script you’ve created. When birth doesn’t go as planned, new parents can feel a mix of emotions alongside the happiness and excitement of meeting their baby.

Parents may feel sad, disappointed, or angry for not getting the experience they had envisioned, like their body has failed them somehow, or even that they failed their baby in some way. Whether these feelings stem from a traumatic birth or the loss of a hoped-for moment, they are valid. If you’re struggling to accept your birth experience, here are some ways to navigate complex emotions and honor your own strength.

Be open to your negative feelings

You might put pressure on yourself, or receive well-meaning advice, to focus on the outcome of your experience instead of dwelling on the difficult details. But the truth is, giving your genuine emotions space to surface can actually help you process them. This doesn’t mean you need to speak freely with everyone about your birth and listen to their input and advice. It’s okay to set boundaries for yourself and have a few good responses for when you’re not ready to talk about it. Simply saying something like, “This is still a very sensitive space for me and I’d like to talk about something else,” is perfectly acceptable. Your birth story matters, it is yours to share on your own terms. And holding parts of it close and/or grieving any part of it does not take away from the love and gratitude you feel for your new baby. 

Processing your story when birth doesn’t go as planned

When birth doesn’t go as planned, it can be helpful to talk with your doctor or midwife afterwards (when you’re ready). They can help answer any lingering questions you might have and provide clarity on why things unfolded as they did. Having insight into why your provider made certain decisions might help you view your experience in a new light or just better understand what happened that day or night. It can also be therapeutic to write out your birth story and/or the story you had envisioned for your birth. The writing process can help you identify and validate the emotions you are experiencing. You don’t need to have writing expertise or even show your story to anyone for it to help. Finally, talk about your feelings with a loved one or counselor if that’s possible for you. Ask loved ones just to listen so you can fully express how you feel.

Give yourself credit

It took considerable strength and a whole lot of love to carry and give birth to your baby. Your body accomplished an incredible feat, and you adapted as best as you could when your story didn’t go as planned. Acknowledge the courage it took to face the uncertain moments and keep moving forward. You did what was necessary for you and your baby and you have so much to be proud of. You are not less of a mother or parent because you grieve any part of your birth experience. It might be hard to feel this way right now and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel robbed of what you had anticipated and grateful for your baby. It isn’t straightforward and tidy. Emotions can be really messy.

Ask for help when you need it

The postpartum period can be full of complex and overwhelming emotions in addition to the physical healing you’re doing. Lean on the close relationships in your life and let people you love know when you’re having a tough time. It can also help to seek out a group for new moms in your area. Finding friends who relate to your experiences can be comforting. If your emotions feel too heavy to handle, even with your support system, or impact your ability to get through the day, talk to your doctor so you can be assessed for postpartum depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You don’t need to face this alone, and there are treatments (including counseling) that can help. You can feel better.

The bottom line

When birth doesn’t go as planned, it’s essential that you allow yourself space to grieve. It’s understandable to have expectations for such a big life moment and to experience disappointment when things happen differently than you hoped. Take it day by day, treat yourself kindly, and know that as difficult feelings surface, they can also begin to heal.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical team 


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