When birth doesn’t go the way you thought it would

We don’t like to think about it, we don’t like to talk about it, but the truth is that sometimes things at birth don’t go well, and mom or baby might need resuscitation. Or maybe no one needed resuscitation, but your birth story wasn’t the one you had planned. The whole experience has left you feeling sad, angry, confused… basically you feel like you are emotionally fragile and you don’t think anyone will understand.

What’s wrong?

This is a time when people expect you to be joyous, and content, and if you aren’t, will often ask what’s wrong with you, as if not being happy is some sort of failure on your part. How many of us who have not had the birth story we planned, feel a sense of failure? How many of us who struggle to breastfeed feel that we must be awful mothers if we can’t even manage birth and breastfeeding?

Perhaps it can be as simple as being coerced into having an epidural that you really didn’t want and in hindsight could have done without, or perhaps you experienced a really complicated birth ending with the need for full resuscitation and you in ICU for a few days. Perhaps the nurse took your baby away to bath her, leaving you feeling as if you had no choice in the matter, because that is just what they do at that hospital. If there is something in your birth story that is bothering you, is making you sad, angry, or frustrated, you need to talk to someone about it.

Doctors and nurses don’t like to talk about it

As a health care provider, I know that there isn’t a lot of time to talk to families after birth. Where I work, a mom who had vaginal birth stays 24 hours in hospital and a mom who had a Caeserian birth stays 48 hours. I hate to say it, but it can be a bit like a conveyor belt. When there aren’t that many mothers, time can be found for harder conversations, but when we are busy it’s skates on and get the basics done. This sadly leaves families a bit short changed in the emotional care arena.

The other thing about us health care providers… well, we are taught to keep our emotional distance. “Don’t get involved, don’t let a patient see you cry and keep your eyebrows where God put them” was the mantra in nursing school. When you tell me about your birth story, and how traumatic you found it, I get sucked right in. I cannot keep my distance, and I am not sure
many of my colleagues can either. So, if we don’t talk about it, then everything is ok, right?


Not talking about your birth experience means that your emotions and feelings can fester and grow and get to a point where they can consume your life. Your birth experience will have a huge impact on how you approach motherhood. Your birth experience will have a huge impact on how your partner enters parenthood. You need to talk to each other and you may need to talk to someone who can help provide you with support and understanding, who is not related to you. Sometimes that’s your best friend, sometimes it is a mother you run into at the store and may never see again, and sometimes it’s a member of a
support team who help mothers with postpartum mood disorders.

Why you need to talk and why someone needs to listen

Talking, and being heard are very important here. They help us make sense of what happened, it helps us understand why we react in certain ways, and it helps us forgive ourselves. It helps to acknowledge just how scary birth may have been for you. Your partner may have believed that you could die, that your baby could die, that everything they hold closest in their heart may not be there after this ordeal is over. Depending on what happened in labour and birth, you may have believed your baby might die, that you might die. This may be the closest you have ever come to death, and it’s pretty scary. Acknowledging the emotions you experienced is a step towards healing.

When to seek professional help

If after talking to your partner, and to your best friend and to as many people as you can get to listen, and you still feel sad, still feel emotionally fragile, and you can’t sleep even though you are exhausted… You may need professional help. You may have a postpartum mood disorder and you should reach out to a support group as soon as possible. Some mothers need to go on medication for a while, others do well in group therapy, and others in one to one therapy. It doesn’t matter which mother you are, as long as you accept that this is a part of your journey and you don’t feel guilty about it, and you forgive yourself for whatever feelings of failure you may have.

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