It is hard when you have been through a long or difficult birth ending in a c-section, and you may even be feeling traumatized by it, and then you are expected to ‘get on with it’ after a short time. Many women end up reeling through their days still in shock, functioning over the top of what was a traumatic experience. C-section is not just surgery; your baby is being born! It would be natural to be in shock after unexpected major surgery alone, but when birthing is added to the experience it can be more complicated. Most pregnant moms have a birthing dream that they are dreaming about and weaving during their pregnancy, a dream about how they want it to be for both themselves, and for baby. This is a natural and important part of pregnancy and birthing, and it can be very upsetting when your birthing dream is lost. There is naturally much grief afterwards, and grieving is healthy after a loss. This is an important aspect of the c-section experience that needs to be acknowledged.
A small percentage of c-sections save lives, and are necessary. A large percentage of c-sections are not necessary, and many moms feel betrayed by ‘the system’ or by their doctor, or midwife, and are left with anger towards ‘them’ to deal with. They feel let down. For many women a hospital birth that ends in an unplanned c-section can leave them feeling disempowered as women, and as mom’s, and this can cause or contribute to post-natal depression. It can undermine our confidence both as women and as mothers to have our birthing taken over by others.
It is important to seek support after a traumatic or stressful c-section if you are feeling very emotional, or not feeling anything at all. There is a lot to process and your feelings are only natural and understandable. Your baby may need some gentle support too. A cranial sacral practitioner who is experienced with babies and birthing issues, or a practitioner trained in somatic prenatal & birth psychology can help both mom and baby to recover. Get help as soon as you can, you and your baby don’t have to do it alone. The sooner you can get support to integrate, the sooner you will feel better and get back to yourself.
The aftermath of a c-section birth can leave you with pelvic pain and discomfort, inability to hold or carry your baby due to surgery pain, and difficulty walking. A temporary ban on driving can leave you feeling isolated and restricted. You may have to take painkillers, which can cause internal conflict if you are breast-feeding and concerned about the drugs in your milk. I encourage you to get the after care you need to return back to full health. Acupuncture is wonderful for accelerating recovery from surgery, cranial sacral work can really help to support the body, and seeing a physical therapist who works internally can be very helpful if you had a long labor or complications. In France all women see a physical therapist after birthing, and that makes good sense. They can help make sure all your organs are in the right place so you are comfortable. Much of our insides get squished and moved around during pregnancy and birthing to make room for baby, that’s natural.
Some mom’s find it harder to bond with their baby after a c-section because one or both of them are traumatized by the birth, and because of routinely longer separations after a c-section birth. Ideally, mom and baby would not be separated at all at birth. After a c-section dads/partners often get to stay with baby who is taken away for observation, so they at least have one parent with them. Dad may bond with baby at that crucial time just after birth. This period immediately after birthing is the optimal time for connection and bonding, our oxytocin in a natural birth would be high and everything in us wants to hold our baby in our arms and take them in on every level – smelling, touching, looking, etc. It may take a little longer for mom and baby to find their feet after the longer separation, and if you’re feeling its not going well, do get some support as early as you can. Often a trained professional can help you with attachment issues quite quickly when they are caught early on. C-sections happen in an environment in which interruptions to attachment are not being considered at all.
Some moms find it harder to bond with their baby because they are numb from deadening anesthesia, or because baby is too dopey, from the same drugs, to attach or breast feed. It may take you some time to recover enough to be able to connect with baby after going through major surgery, especially if it was unexpected or preceded by a very difficult labor.
During your c-section a screen was up and your baby was taken out whilst you were anesthetized but conscious (usually). Mom’s naturally need to feel their baby coming out, to be able to touch their head, see them arriving, hold them in their arms, smell them, see them, touch them – this is normal and necessary and when this instinctual, deep and innate need is not met it can cause bonding to take longer and low self-esteem may sometimes set in for mom’s. Questions can arise like “Is this baby really mine?” “I didn’t feel/see her coming out”, “I didn’t push her out with my own body”, and “I only saw her for a second when she was out, and then she was gone”. There’s a powerful and very natural and important connection that needs to happen that can be hard to establish after a c-section birth because of how they are conducted in the USA. There are some people in the UK who are doing what they call “natural c-section” and although I don’t think there is anything at all natural about c-section, some of their input is valuable for those of you who truly need surgical birthing. They slow the c-section down, let mom feel her baby’s head as she comes out, let her see baby coming out in a way that hides the surgical cut, cut the cord more slowly, and try to keep mom and baby together where possible.
With a c-section birth we can feel we have lost the incredible sense of achievement and the ecstasy and euphoria that comes with feeling ourselves doing it with our own body and being. We need to feel this because that’s what feeds our confidence as a woman and a mother. It helps us to feel that our body is our friend, and that all is well.
If you are reading this in anticipation of a c-section, please read the article “How To Be Prepared for a Cesarean Section.” Those of you having an elective c-section would benefit from a course of acupuncture to prepare for the surgery aspect of it.
Remember, your baby is having his/her own experience, and will need to be supported to integrate their experience of their birth too.
2016 Karen Melton