When I was pregnant with my first son, I had a very detailed birth plan for having an unmedicated, vaginal birth. I created a wish list for the nurses and practiced hypnosis and Lamaze techniques for six months. I was sure my birth experience would unfold magically exactly how I wanted it to. As a first-time mom, I just didn't grasp how truly unpredictable birth can be. I was in for a surprise.
At 37 weeks, we found out baby boy was in a breech position. I did everything traditional and alternative medicine had to offer for turning babies: acupuncture, chiropractic care, moxibustion…nothing worked. A few days before our scheduled cesarean, I woke up in labor. We arrived at the hospital and the baby remained breech, so a fast emergency cesarean took place. After a numbing shot to the spine and a cut through my abdomen and uterus, our son was born.
Recovering from that birth was a low point in my life, and it wasn't just because of the tough physical recovery. Having a birth that was completely opposite of anything I ever imagined also made it hard to mentally recover.
I had constant waves of grief.
I didn't know how a birth I planned for nine months was over in 30 minutes on a surgical table. I was mourning the loss of the vaginal birth I wanted. It took me some time to overcome my grief, but I did.
I took the time to heal
After going through such a major surgery on top of being a new mom, it felt so overwhelming being at home. My immediate thoughts were about all the chores and things I needed to be doing to get my life back in order.
I'm so thankful my family stopped me from exerting myself and let me rest. They plopped me on the couch, gave me everything I needed (blankets, food, my baby) and took care of managing my pain medication so I could really recover. I'm not sure I ever left the couch in those first few weeks. After the couch-potato phase, I was up and moving and felt like my body was normal again.
Giving myself that time to physically heal allowed me to mentally heal, too. Because I was back to my normal physical ability quickly, I could focus my energy on coping with the birth I just experienced.
Having that time healing on the couch also gave me ample time to cuddle and bond with my baby. That has healing power all on its own. (If you don't believe me just Google "baby smell endorphins").
I focused on my baby
Along with constantly smelling my baby's head, I found immense healing power in the act of getting to know my baby. Putting my focus on who this little human is continued to make me feel less sad about my birth experience.
I counted fingers and toes, I cuddled skin-to-skin, I stared at every feature of this perfect baby, and I felt the immense blessing that I was able to bring my son into the world. After a little while of being with my baby and being more in love with him than I ever imagined, I could see more clearly that having a healthy baby is far more important than how he got here. The sting of a birth plan gone wrong eased substantially by having my baby boy in my arms.
I talked to my family and friends
My personality type is extroverted when things are going well, but when tough situations come my way, I become extremely introverted. I tend to bottle my feelings up and work it out myself. But with this grief I realized I needed my people to embrace me and tell me it's okay.
I confided in my husband about the grief feelings I was having and simply saying it aloud helped me cope. He would remind me that I was amazing and went through a "knife fight" to get my baby here. His humor cut through my sadness and his love and praise were just what I needed to see my birthing experience for what it truly was—amazing.
I also told my birth story to anyone who asked with excitement and so much love for the ending where I held my baby.
Owning my story and sharing it with people—not being ashamed or feeling inadequate because it was a cesarean—helped me find joy in my experience. I also talked with other cesarean moms. Hearing their stories was so helpful in my grief journey. They are like me. I'm not an outlier. Feeling accepted and loved in a group of women who understand what I went through helped me build my self-esteem and work out my feelings in a safe space.
I accepted that every birth is different and special
Right after my cesarean, when I heard other moms' birth stories, I felt envious of moms who were able to have a vaginal birth. Once I began coping with my experience and enjoying my story, I was able to see all these birth stories with all their differences as special ones. Each story ended with a baby.
The scars we have from stretch marks or cesareans are amazing marks of motherhood. It's a miracle to grow a human in your body and birth that human out of your body. Whether vaginally or by surgery, it's a miracle to bring a baby into this world.
Having the experience of grieving over the loss of my "perfect" birth taught me so much. It taught me to lean on my friends and family for support, it taught me to be perpetually in awe of my precious baby, and it taught me to love my birth story with all its imperfections concluding in a perfect ending.