The Grief of Cesareans

April is Cesarean Awareness Month.  People all over the internet are recognizing this month, reminding us that one in three first-time mothers in the United States will deliver via cesarean.

I had a cesarean birth with my daughter in 2011. It was not the birth I planned. I struggled to heal physically from that birth – extra swelling from the fluids, increased pain in my core, an infection at my incision. I still struggle sometimes with healing emotionally – grieving the loss of the birth experience I had planned, the impact on my obstetric future, the hurt of the days of separation between me and my newborn necessitated by the circumstances that led to that cesarean.

My story – my grief and triumph – is unique to me;  I will not pretend to speak for every other mother.  But I am able to speak as a supporter of people who have had cesareans – a daughter, a friend, a relative, a doula.  For those who are not sure about how to support their friend, family member or partner who had a cesarean, I want to offer you a two things to consider:

Firstly: Let them grieve. You should also let them celebrate and let them feel neutral. A person is entitled to their own feelings and perspectives. They also do not need your “permission” to feel certain ways. Telling another how to feel is not conducive to any sort of growth or momentum.

You may find that different, maybe even opposing, emotions come up for you when you are with others who are grieving a birth experience.  You can feel your own emotions… without imposing them on others.  This can be tough for some, but to be an effective supporter of people, one must learn to focus outside of their own experience and to be careful with how they direct their passions. You can advocate for reduction in cesareans, or the option of Vaginal Birth after Cesarean (VBAC) as a public health issue without negating the personal experience and perspective of a parent who did have a cesarean.

Secondly: If they are grieving their birth, you do not have to “fix” it. It can be incredibly uncomfortable to see someone grieve. It does not matter our relation to the person – some of us just have natures that drive us to want to make them happy. We want to “do something.”  But often the best “something” we can do is to just be present with our friends in pain. Be with that person, there in that moment. “Puddle sit”, if you will. You do not have to find the silver lining in the situation – “well, at least you didn’t tear up your yoni!” You do not have to educate them on what you think went wrong – “it was that cascade of interventions,” or, “your doctor was quick to cut you.” You don’t have to find anything nice to say – “Your scar is very tidy,” or, “at least you have a healthy baby.” All you have to do is be there and listen.

For some, having a cesarean birth is not something they need to grieve – they may even celebrate it.  That is okay.  For those that need to grieve the birth or an aspect of that process, that is just as valid.  Be there for them by giving them the space to grieve and lending them your ear.