When things don’t go to plan in childbirth

Unfortunately, childbirth doesn’t always go as we may have hoped for, or expected. When things don’t go to plan at the birth this leaves many parents feeling depleted, disappointed and in need of support.

“After all the anguish (of the birth) we had suffered, there was no happiness; I just felt cheated and bitter.  The baby in my hands was something I had been waiting all this time for, but now he was here, I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything for him.”

Mark Williams

In some cases the birth event may have been quite dramatic. There may have been complications in the pregnancy or at the time of birth, and/or unplanned medical intervention may have been required. The baby may have arrived early or late, and it may have been necessary for the baby to be taken into a special care nursery or taken away for tests – leaving you feeling confused and vulnerable and concerned for the welfare of your baby. Some parents may, for various reasons end up leaving the hospital without their baby, as they need ongoing medical attention. Being faced with these unexpected circumstances can be stressful, whilst you also experience ongoing concern for your new baby.

Rachel Watts from Yummy Mummies talks about her traumatic birth experience

Rachel and her partner Jason spoke candidly about their traumatic first birth experience in our YouTube and podcast series The Mum Drum:

Trauma can occur without such an eventful birth too. You may have found yourself feeling powerless, out of control, or felt that your needs were not met, and that you needed more support than you received. This may have been at the time of the birth itself, or relate to the care you received around the time of the birth.

I felt so helpless and anxious. You don’t know what is happening and we were pushed towards an ending where we didn’t know what the outcome would be. I was in the background trying to help her (my wife) and didn’t realise what I was going through at the same time … It was a shock seeing someone you love being put through pain and torture.

These feelings may continue on, and become more intense. They may also be compounded by additional feelings of shock, frustration, disappointment and/or grief. You may find yourself wishing that you had done more at the time to influence what happened – even though at the time you would be unlikely to have been able to do much at all.

If your birth experience has left you feeling distressed – you are not alone.

Following a negative experience, you may find yourself feeling a range of emotions that may include shock, numbness, anxiety, anger, guilt, disappointment or resentment. Some parents describe feeling very emotional, alone or isolated.

Due to having intervention at the end of labour, I think I was in shock and this needed to be addressed and discussed with me. I remember walking around for the first month feeling like I’d been hit by a bus and kept asking myself what happened? What is all this about?

Following a difficult birth some people report difficulties bonding with their baby, and find they want to avoid any personal contact or intimacy. Reflecting on the birth and or talking about what happened can also be highly distressing. As a result you may find yourself avoiding thinking or talking about your birth to avoid you reliving the experience.

Whatever range of feelings that you may be experiencing, it is important to recognise and acknowledge how you are feeling. Let yourself feel what you feel and know that you have done what you could.

A traumatic birth experience can greatly affect either partner, depending on their individual reactions to the traumatic birth. Both parents and deserve support and help from extended family and friends.

The way you feel can vary greatly from one person to another – you may even feel very differently to your partner who was in the room at the time. Sometimes a partner may not be able initially to fully understand your feelings and process what you’ve gone through, as well as what they may have gone through.

We all cope with situations differently and there is no wrong or right way to go about recovering from your experience, but there are some strategies that may be helpful to assist you to recover at this time: