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Processing Disappointment in Birth

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

We prepare for our births in our minds, our souls, our bodies...and as much as we can know ABOUT birth, we know nothing about how this particular birth will play out. That is exciting and part of the beautiful process of surrender surrounding labor and birth, but it can also feel big and overwhelming. And the vast array of things that can happen that we weren't anticipating can also.

Let me start by saying this: It is OKAY to feel disappointment surrounding your birth. Whether it's an aspect of it (say, your baby didn't get the optimal cord clamping time you requested), or the entirety of it (perhaps you needed a planned surgical birth when you had been planning a home water birth), and anywhere else in between. It doesn't have to be a traumatic experience in order to have disappointment either. I say all of this in order to let you know, it's okay to be super in love with your baby and still be a bit bummed about how you came to meet them.

You may one day truly "be okay" with how things turned out, and you may not - do not feel like you have to tie this experience up with a perfect little bow. Time heals, but you may never feel wholly "okay" with the experience. There is space in life for things to not be okay, but we know for a fact that YOU will be okay!

Our culture doesn't often give space for women to voice these experiences. "You have a healthy baby? Are you alive? Great, now be quiet and just deal with it." is the general feeling most women get from their care providers, from their family members, even other women. But oh mamas, there is so much more depth to these experiences than that gives light to. Of course a healthy mom and baby are important, but there is room for other adjectives besides healthy in there, too: respected, empowered, heard...

You may experience things like grief after your birth, or perhaps anger, guilt..regret. You need space to process these things, whether or not the culture at large provides that space or not.

So, what do you do with these feelings? We have some suggestions we're sharing here. We want to encourage you to work through these feelings, invest in yourself and your healing (it's not "just" physical healing that happens after a birth), you will be so thankful you did!

- Talk about it. Well, talk about it with specific people that you know are safe to do so. You don't have to walk this road alone. It is important to hear mirrored back to you that yes, you have all kinds of feelings surrounding your birth experience and, guess what, it's possible to hold all the feelings at one time. You may want to talk to your partner about this, a family member, a friend you know holds similar values as you, your doula, a therapist...there are a lot of options out there. I have witnessed people connecting in Facebook groups over these things and it brings tears to my eyes with the original posting mama receives comments of encouragement and normalization and love. We can help you hold this space and be a non-judgmental listening ear...

- Tell people what you need. Sometimes when you're feeling a lot of disappointment surrounding your birth, your postpartum experience can feel more lonely and more chaotic. You are working through your feelings, all while not sleeping well, getting to know this new baby, breastfeeding, etc. Yes, this is true, but it is also true that creating a self-care plan can be vital to your well-being, physically and emotionally. We are not saying you need to go to the spa every other day (but hey, you can if you want!), but think about things that make you feel rejuvenated. What makes you feel connected with yourself, your body, your mind? Talk to your partner, your family members, etc about these things and work. them. in. Is it showering? Getting dressed in "real" clothes? A slow cup of coffee outside while someone else holds your baby? These small pieces of real-life can help you manage your physical and emotional state newly postpartum, and allow you to feel more prepared as time goes on to tackle larger goals (like therapy, etc). This is all about communication and is an important aspect of your healing.

- Try not to be so hard on yourself. I have heard women tell their birth stories hundreds of times, and I often hear self-critical words flowing easily from their mouths. "I didn't..." "I should have known too..." "I can't believe that I..." "I'm so mad at myself for..." We are so quick to be so hard on ourselves, but if you heard a friend speaking that way about themselves, or your child, or anyone else you had compassion and care most likely would help them reframe the situation with delicate care. Not that you need to sweep things under the rug and never deal with them, but a recognition of how hard we are on ourselves, and a subsequent release from the torment of negative self-talk, can be incredibly freeing and healing as you walk through these feelings.

- You may need to process your experiences and discuss your concerns with your care team if your disappointment is with the care you received (or didn't receive)- whether that's sitting down with your midwife, calling a patient advocate at the hospital, making an appointment with your OB, or writing a letter to any of them if that feels more cathartic and realistic. Improving Birth has a great accountability toolkit found here that can help you organize your thoughts and file grievances as needed, etc. By discussing these feelings with your care provider, or with your birthing location, you are voicing your needs and concerns as a consumer, and also advocating for yourself and finding your voice. The hope is that these feelings are met with validation and concern, and hopefully helping them take a moment to reconsider their words, actions, or policies moving forward. Along this same vein, requesting your medical records may be a very helpful aspect of healing as well in order to see timelines, etc- but it also may be very triggering, or could be frustrating if certain things aren't mentioned in those notes. As with all things, proceed with caution dear mama.

You are not alone. Ever. If you need more immediate support, we want to be able to connect you with resources!

Postpartum Support International Warmline: 1-800-944-4773 or

Postpartum Health Alliance:619.254.0023

Although we are licensed midwives by profession, we are not YOUR midwives. All content and information on this website is for informational and educational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Although we strive to provide accurate general information, the information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice. For more information, click here.

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