How to cope when your birth doesn't go as planned

Like so many of us do, I made big plans for the birth of my son. I wanted him to be born in a loving, peaceful environment surrounded by the people who would care for him throughout his life.

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  • Like so many of us do, I made big plans for the birth of my son. I wanted him to be born in a loving, peaceful environment surrounded by the people who would care for him throughout his life. I wanted to do the work of getting him to earth myself, for reasons that had to do with him and reasons that had to do with me.

  • In reality, he was born in a loud, bright room full of people I will never see again. The first time I saw my son was on the screen of my husband's phone. The first time I held my son was a full 30 minutes later, after he had been measured, weighed and cleaned up. I was beyond grateful that he was safe, but it was still, in many ways, a disappointment.

  • When the birth that you had planned doesn’t work out, it can be traumatic, both for you and for your baby. Learning to cope and moving on is essential for you and for your baby. Here are some ideas to help.

  • Give yourself permission to be sad

  • The first thing that helped me was to give myself permission to be sad. I felt, very acutely, that I had lost out on something and it was necessary for me to grieve that loss. Sometimes pregnant women are made to feel that the only outcome they are allowed to hope for is a healthy baby, and if we get that much we should be happy and not complain.

  • Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond grateful that my baby is here safe and sound, and I love him more than anything, but the process was important to me too. Grief can be a funny thing, it comes and goes, and when we think we’re done, it comes back again. Give yourself permission to feel however you want to feel about the experience you had.

  • Gain perspective

  • In your grief, try to remember that what you are feeling right now may be partly hormonal. Looking back, now I can see that at first I had a hard time separating things that were a big deal from things that were not. Having someone to talk to openly about your experience can help you find the needed perspective.

  • Give credit where credit is due

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  • While you are grieving, it’s also important to give credit where credit is due. However things turned out for you and your baby, you preformed a miracle. Don’t shortchange yourself, you grew a baby!

  • Have gratitude.

  • It’s also helpful to remember to have gratitude for what you had. Much of my sadness stemmed from the way I was treated at the hospital, but in all reality, the hospital saved my life. Sure, they could have been nicer about it, but at the end of the day I’m glad I had options and I’m glad to be alive.

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  • Have hope

  • I hope someday to have another child, and when I do, I hope I can get more of the things that I want out of my birth experience. This hope for the future has really helped me to frame my sadness in a more positive light.

  • Instead of always thinking back on what I would have done differently, I try to think about what I will change next time. If you don’t plan to have more children, perhaps offering to help someone you are close to prepare for her birth can help give you the same feeling of hope.

  • What happened in between the birth I wanted and the birth I got doesn't really matter as much to me now. It was, by far, the hardest work I've ever done, and almost nothing went as planned, but it was still an incredible, transforming experience. I can see now that what I got was what I really needed, assurance that I can do hard things, a chance to prove to myself that I am strong, and my beautiful son.

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Melissa Spencer practices being a wife, mother and homemaker. She plans to get good at two of the three eventually.

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