The “Healthy Baby Card” Part One:
Why we grieve the loss of our dream birth

By Bethy Young

A beautiful new little one arrives- it’s a time of celebration, beauty, and excitement as the world expands to fit this tiny new person. Everything seems amazing and Mama is smitten with her new bundle - but a sadness hides behind the love and joy the new mother has in her eyes as she holds her little one close. At first she may hide it, not admitting her secret to anyone. She may feel guilt over any emotion that is not undiluted joy about finally having her baby in her arms. She may even try pushing her emotions aside and hiding them, even from herself.  But a time comes when she slips a comment that lets you know that this mother is disappointed with her birth experience. You watch as her heart breaks all over again as she reveals the sadness of not having that amazing birth of which she dreamed. Her eyes search for compassion and a tear slides down her cheek and splashes into the soft fuzz of her baby’s hair.

You watch as she holds her new love close as she expresses the sadness of her birth experience being lost. You can’t fully comprehend her emotions and you say the thing she has heard countless times: “At least you have a healthy baby. Really, that is all that matters.”  The mother looks at you blankly, nods, and changes the subject - hiding her tears by digging in her new diaper bag.

Birthing our babies is one of those things of which many underestimate the importance. The truth is that we live in a society where many don’t feel a connection to birth. The majority view birth as a painful thing that must be persevered in order to get your prize.  These people, may not understand why a mother feels pain when her birth goes awry. Maybe you interpret it as if she is letting a simple event obstruct the way of connecting with her baby. Maybe you see her as selfish, but this could not be further from the truth. For those who do feel that connection with birth, the experience can be life changing; it is almost a being of itself. It can be a separate entity we grieve while we celebrate the life of our new little one.

Birth represents the time when a woman is at her strongest. It is the all-powerful action that brings us roaring into motherhood. It’s when we are the ‘all-powerful women’ doing what only women can do: bringing life into the world. We are in charge of our bodies, powerful and vulnerable simultaneously. It’s raw and beautiful and we come crashing into motherhood as we push our babies from our bodies and pull them up into our arms. At that moment, we become new mothers and that event of birth has given us everything we need to get an amazing start with our new little ones. We are in awe of this beautiful life that is still slippery and still connected to us by a nourishing cord. At that moment, we are connected to our child, to our bodies, to the significance that we gave this child life.

However, when things go wrong and the experience is taken from us, we lose that moment where nature gives us the hormones, strength, and clarity that we are meant to have when bonding with our baby. We are left to interpret the feelings on our own. If the baby is brought by a c-section - especially a traditional non-family centered one - we are left naked on a table, hands tied down, vulnerable, sedated, and at times, alone. We are often so busy throwing up, purposefully medicated, or completely knocked out that we lose track of time and have no idea if we are cut open yet or if our baby is safe. Our babies go unseen by us until someone else decides it’s time to plop this clean, wrapped up and often lethargic little bundle into our weak arms. It’s as if we have no idea how they arrived there. One minute, our baby was inside us kicking and connected to us and then we halfway wake up from a fog and are expected to connect to that baby, who is now earth side after a blur of events.

We can love that baby with all of our beings, they can be the reason we breathe, but we lost a precious memory and will grieve that moment we lost. We went from being birth goddesses to being vulnerable and scared. We lost a priceless gift. It does not mean we don’t love our babies if we grieve the birth and everything it means. You can adore and love your baby and still be sad that you lost a birth that made becoming a mother and bonding second nature.

For those of us with SS, the traumatic birth is often paired with that related moment when the doctor comes in and declares us broken. We have just had our moment of strength ripped away and are now going through still beautiful but very complex emotions of acquainting ourselves to our new babies. We are sedated, unable to fully sit up on our own and often trying to breastfeed for the first time. We have not even begun our journey to healing from surgery when we are delivered something else to grieve about: the loss for our future births. The doctor or nurse tells us we have a Special Scar and explains that we can kiss the idea of future vaginal births goodbye. They rattle off a rundown of the dangers we face and pair it with expiration dates for the future c-sections that have future children being cut from us before term. Sometimes the news comes with discouraging warnings about having any more kids at all.  In this moment, our birthing future seems predetermined to be surgical, if not completely lost.

So let’s sum that up: we have to process the pain of healing from major surgery, meeting the newest love of our lives, bonding without the hormones a natural  vaginal birth gives, loss of the birth we always imagined, loss of the birth our babies deserved, loss of control, typical postpartum body changes, the lost faith in our bodies, the feeling that we did not give our new babies the perfect start, hearing that future birth experiences will be on a hospital’s terms and processing what it means to have a Special Scar.  Depending on different women's experiences, you can throw in learning to breastfeed, other health concerns, extreme medication like Magnesium, having a baby in the NICU, a partner’s disappointment, postpartum depression, or loss of faith in medical professionals. That is a huge list of things to process all at once!

Birth is more than just how we get a baby. It is a moment where the next chapter of our life opens. No matter if you are a first time mom or a mom of six, you are still meeting the newest love of your life and opening that new chapter. How a chapter starts matters.

Next: The “Healthy Baby Card” Part Two: A card not to pull