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Giving Birth: Definitely NOT the Happy Fantasy

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Jennifer Ginsberg: When I was pregnant with my first child, I had an idyllic vision of what childbirth would be like. I imagined I would have a quick labor and easy birth, then my son would peacefully latch onto my breast and we would sail off into maternal bliss.

Mother looking at newborn baby

After all, I had been healthy all through my pregnancy -- I carefully avoided caffeine, shellfish, and unpasteurized products. I ate organic foods and diligently took my pre-natal vitamins. In fact, the day my water broke, I walked for an hour and took an intense yoga class! There was no reason for me to anticipate anything other than my romanticized fantasy of labor and delivery.

The reality was not quite so pretty. After my water broke at home, my OB sent me to the hospital, hoping labor would begin naturally. After spending the night in the hospital, my cervix was not even dilated 1 cm, so I got induced. Twenty-five excruciating hours of labor passed, and I watched in panic as my baby's heart rate dropped with each forced contraction.

My OB came into my room with a concerned look on her face and broke the news to me
-- the news she had been broaching for hours but which I didn't want to accept -- I needed a C-section, and I needed it NOW. I remember being wheeled into the painfully bright and sterile room, filled with strangers wearing masks and gowns, and seeing all the operating tools glistening on a table next to me. I was sobbing in fear and exhaustion, but couldn't even speak. I was racked with terror.

After my son was unwillingly ripped from my body (at least that was what it felt like!), I was paralyzed from the anesthesia and couldn't even hold him. He was whisked off to the nursery while I was wheeled away to recovery, completely traumatized by the entire experience.

After a few hours, we were united, and I was so exhausted and doped out I could barely stay awake. I slept with him that first night in my hospital bed, my tears splashing onto his tiny swaddled body. I desperately wanted him to crawl back inside of me and forget that the entire thing had ever happened.

When I got home from the hospital, I was overwhelmed by feelings -- feelings so complicated that even as a psychotherapist, I couldn't understand them. My anxiety was off the charts -- I literally felt like I was jumping out of my skin. I was terrified that I wasn't equipped to take care of my son. I was incredibly lonely and sad, in spite of the fact that I had friends and family members around. I felt like, along with my body being ripped open by the C-section, my soul had been ripped open emotionally. And I had no idea how to begin to heal.

I did my research and discovered that many women suffer from post-traumatic stress symptoms following an emergency Cesarean birth. Not only did I feel completely robbed of my fantasy of a vaginal delivery, I also felt like I was cheated out of that magical moment of bonding when the baby lies on your chest after you give birth. I was certain that because my son and I had not experienced that precious moment together, we would never be fully bonded and he wouldn't have a secure attachment to me. All of this seems far-fetched and hyperbolic now, but at the time these feelings were very real.

I also felt like I couldn't express my dark feelings -- after all, I ended up with a healthy baby, and I was supposed to be feeling maternal bliss and gratitude. I was also having major breastfeeding problems, and I told myself that if I couldn't even feed my baby, what kind of piece of sh*t mother was I? This distorted thinking, which was compounded by severe sleep deprivation, only further consecrated my feelings of guilt and isolation.

Shortly after I brought my baby home from the hospital, I was sitting on my bed struggling to latch my tiny, writhing, little beast onto my engorged breast. My husband walked into the room and observed the mayhem. "Maybe he just doesn't like breastfeeding," he said quietly. This was a particularly low point.

The people in my life were getting frustrated with me, and telling me to "snap out of it." One family member actually said, "A lot of people have C-sections -- what's the big deal?" There was no acknowledgment that I was recovering from a major, unplanned surgery while trying to navigate the complicated road of new motherhood. I was dripping in shame.

I was fortunate to find a support group for new moms where I could talk about my trauma and express my authentic feelings, rather than the candy-coated bullsh*t that some people seem to want to hear. I also found wonderful resources and information online about emotional healing after a Cesarean. One suggestion that I found extremely helpful was to start referring to my experience as a Cesarean birth, rather than a C-section. This simple shift in language reframed the experience in my mind from being a surgical procedure to an actual, legitimate birth. I was fortunate to find an incredible lactation consultant who helped me correct my latch so I could successfully nurse my son, which built my confidence as a mother.

If there are any women reading this who can relate to my experience, there is help available. I strongly encourage you to find a supportive place where you can connect and relate to other women. Isolation only makes everything exponentially worse.

I am currently developing a support group for new moms where they can express all of their postpartum feelings in a safe and non-judgmental environment. My hope is that more services will be available to postpartum women to help them through this emotionally and physically challenging time.

Motherhood is not meant to be endured alone.

18 comments so far | Post a comment now
Melgirld September 18, 2009, 6:18 AM

For women who experience feelings like this after a cesarean, the International Cesarean Awareness Network ( can be a great resource. Local meetings and the online support group can be a good way to process what happened. And for women wanting a VBAC, getting connected with ICAN is essential, since getting a VBAC these days can be a battle. ICAN mommas can be passionate and opinionated, but you will never hear “why are you upset, you HAD a healthy baby” from any of them. Good luck to you Jennifer.

lisa September 18, 2009, 8:49 AM

i felt like this after i had my baby, reading this now made me realise its normal to feel that way, I to also felt that I didnt get to bond with my baby in the begining, I hope if anyone has these feeling after having your baby, go to a support group and talk to women that feel the same way..they are really the ones that will make you feel better

anonymous September 18, 2009, 10:59 AM

I had a large baby, a contracted pelvis, and other health issues, so my doctor scheduled me for a cesearean. I caught flack from my then-sister-in-law, who’d just had a vaginal drug-free childbirth four days previously. I also caught flack when I announced what was going to happen in my last Lamaze class, as the instructor asked the other parents to pray “that she at least goes into labor so she’ll have some idea of what a real birth feels like.” I never did get to breastfeed successfully either (long story there), leading to more feelings of failure. My daughter’s six now and we’re both healthy, that’s the important part - but it took me a few years to get past all that. I wish I would’ve known I had support back then. I sure could have used it.

Marisa September 18, 2009, 12:15 PM

You should watch the documentary: The business of being born. That induced labor and C-section may not have been necessary.

Anonymous September 18, 2009, 2:20 PM

Get over it!

Anonymous September 18, 2009, 2:32 PM

I had the classic perfect vaginal birth, an emergency preemie c section where we both almost died, and a planned c sect. All different all special. No major emotional issues over any of it. Try not to be so dramatic over it and just enjoy your baby. After all, your child is here to love. Many people don’t get to take home a healthy child and many people lose children. Those are the ones that need support. It’s time to be emotionally stable and move on.

brianna September 18, 2009, 3:00 PM

wow anonymous….it is tough out there in Judgement Land- the author was simply describing HER experience and feelings, and reaching out to other women who felt the same way.
what truly ugly women troll this site and post nasty comments!

Sheila September 18, 2009, 3:38 PM

OK - so it’s clear that the author had a challenging birth. Having an emergency “C”can be an emotional experience for many women and this is a vivid story that too many can relate too. Why are we passing judgment OR making statements that her surgery wasn’t necessary? Since when did momlogic become a place that trolls hang out - simply to criticize the thoughts and feelings of it’s writers. The world needs more people who openly and honestly talk about their experiences!

MessyMom September 18, 2009, 5:16 PM

So great you are starting a support group like this. It is so needed!

Serenyd September 18, 2009, 5:41 PM

I don’t blame the author for being traumatized. These feelings are real, and healing takes time. Like the author I was given pitocin after my water broke to speed up my labor. My son did not tolerate it well and has permanent damage because of this. If his heartrate had not come up when they turned the pitocin off, I would have needed a c-section. Even though I didn’t have an emergency section, it took me a long time to deal with the trauma of his birth. I made sure my next birth was a HOMEBIRTH. If there was ever an advertisement against hospital births, this is one. It is beyond the scope of imagination of most women, that birth can be AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE. Of course, you’ll rarely find it in a hospital setting - the hospital environment is just not conducive to having a peaceful, natural birth. They use too many interventions, which are rarely called for, and the interventions they use are NOT without risks, for both mother and child. It seems when childbirth came into the hospital, the hippocratic oath went out the window - “first do no harm” because these doctors today like nothing better than to interfere in a natural process that does not need to be interfered with!

Read more:

Lisa September 18, 2009, 6:13 PM

I’m so sorry the author had a difficult time during and after her C-section, but I’d like to say that not all C-sections are negative experiences. I had a scheduled C-section because of a prior C-section-like surgery. My OB/GYN and the assisting doctor and the anesthesiologist were all wonderful through the whole thing. The nurses helped me with the nursing, which was challenging, but I did nurse for a full year. I’m a quick healer, so I was up and around very quickly. And I agree that motherhood is not meant to be endured alone and I think it’s wonderful that you’re creating a support group. One thing I didn’t and don’t have is a lot of familial support. I really missed that, but thankful that I have a great husband.

Good Luck!

tapenade September 19, 2009, 7:19 AM

No one understands what a person goes through after surgery. B/c surgeries are so common they treat you like you just got your hair cut instead of your stomach cut open. I had an unplanned c-section and an unplanned gall bladder removal w/in 11 mos of each other. the emotional toll it takes on you is insane and, the drs. and family/ friends blase approach to your feelings is completely isolating. Thank you for sharing your experience :)

Heather R September 19, 2009, 9:19 AM

What I love most about this author is her HONESTY. It may not be politically correct, but lots of us contemplating becoming Moms have fears, and it helps to know we are not alone in that. Also, it is good to know that women can endure emotional ups and down and still be good mother material.

JB September 19, 2009, 9:39 AM

Shame on the persons criticizing the author!! Maybe you handled it just fine, but everyone is different and the experience is individual and REAL. Motherhood is tough from beginning till the day we die. Maybe you had it ok, but I promise you, one day you will need help and support from other mothers for something. Hopefully they will be there for you in spite of your Sh***y attitude!

JB September 19, 2009, 9:40 AM

Shame on the persons criticizing the author!! Maybe you handled it just fine, but everyone is different and the experience is individual and REAL. Motherhood is tough from beginning till the day we die. Maybe you had it ok, but I promise you, one day you will need help and support from other mothers for something. Hopefully they will be there for you in spite of your Sh***y attitude!

steph September 19, 2009, 9:51 AM

Wow..sad i ran upon this article so late. This really hit home. i am an MFT intern..and recently had my first baby over a year ago. And experienced so much of the same feelings and thoughts. On top of a Csection birth…difficulty breast son did not sleep well for the first year of his life. I had studied post partum..i had given support to many women for it..and here i was not knowing what the heck was going on with my feelings. And i was fed all the sugar coated crap before having my baby….which i think is a disservice to many mamas..makes them expect pretty perfect images of having their baby when it may not be so. And the judgement from other moms..can be excruciating! I was judged so much. We all feel pain differently..i am a wimp with pain..and the c section was the worst pain i had ever felt..and my first experience in the hospital. Anyways props to you for speaking out and starting support groups! We need them out there. And from now on..i dont go along with the sugar coated talk about birth..i say the real deal to my girlfriends that are becoming new moms..because i wish i would have been spared the fake talk.

Lauren H September 20, 2009, 8:50 PM

Trauma is in the eye/experience of the beholder. If the author felt traumatized, she is certainly justified in feeling so. I commend her for writing about her experience, for starting a support group, and bringing attention to such an important topic. Thank you.


Globals October 3, 2009, 4:39 AM

all good things

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