C-Section Guilt is Real and Mother-Shaming Makes it Worse

Women face intense emotions after having an unplanned C-section, ranging from happiness all the way to regret and guilt, and the questions and comments from others only encourage that C-section guilt.

Women face intense emotions after having an unplanned C-section, ranging from happiness all the way to regret and guilt. The questions and comments from others only encourage that C-section guilt.

When you have an unplanned C-section, you face a whirlwind of emotions. At first, you might feel thankful that your baby is okay; an emergency c-section may be because your baby was in danger. Later, you start to wonder if YOU did something wrong, leading to intense guilt. C-sections aren’t a “normal” birth.

Then, the questions begin. Well-meaning friends ask if your C-section was necessary. What led to that? You join a Facebook group, and they tell you that you did everything wrong. You should’ve tried harder, changed hospitals in the middle of birth, and other insane advice at times. Rather than simple congratulations, you find yourself having to justify your birth to everyone.

C-Section Guilt is Real

Whether these people mean harm or not is not the issue at hand. Mothers who have an unplanned c-section often feel guilt rather than happiness. Nine months were spent developing an idea of their birth in their head. As your baby kicked in your womb, you imagined the first moment you would hold him after birth. Then, for whatever the reason, all of your dreams crumble when faced with a C-section.

“These mistakes happened because of something out of my control, and I felt extremely ashamed and guilty for allowing. Consequently, I never wanted to talk about it with anyone, so I dealt with all of these emotions internally.” – L.

Instead of remembering your birth fondly, you wonder what you did wrong. Instead of looking back on the what should be the best day of your life, you look back with C-section guilt.

Unnecessary Comments and Questions

                “No matter how much pain I went through or how his birth had landed me with PTSD, I didn’t ‘go through childbirth.’ The guilt that other women make you feel is unreal because your story isn’t like theirs.” – C

Comments and questions made by friends and family further the guilt. Most mothers want to be told congratulations and that their baby is beautiful. We understand well-meaning questions, but many questions elude to the fact that we did something wrong. Rather than asking, “Was your c-section TRULY necessary,” try asking “I know you had a C-section. How are you feeling?”

Give us the opportunity to discuss our experience openly.

What YOU Can Do

“…A week later, I met with an LC who said she was happy I was breastfeeding to make up for not having a natural birth.” ­B

Everyone knows the C-section rate is too high in the United States. Efforts need to be made to reduce the statistics, but C-sections are a necessary procedure for many women. That doesn’t mean a woman who had a C-section needs to be told she is only increasing that percentage. Instead of questioning, offer congratulations.

Later, if your friend seeks advice, be there to support her in any decision, even if it is a repeat C-section.

3 thoughts on “C-Section Guilt is Real and Mother-Shaming Makes it Worse”

  1. Great article. As the demographic that is even on the mothering website, we have to be cognizant of this tendency to judge the less “natural” choices made by other mothers and parents. Shaming mothers for these kinds of choices is utter hubris, in my opinion. If being a parent for just under 2 years has taught me anything, it’s that these kids. will. humble. you.

    Having had a c-section with my first due to baby’s position (frank breech), and now anticipating a repeat c-section for my second in the next week (!), I just have very little patience for those who would judge the choices pregnant women and new mothers have to make. Oftentimes these decisions are last minute when women are under a stress and in a pain I haven’t even had to experience.

    I had hoped and planned for a medication-free, vaginal birth until I was told at 32 weeks that she was breech and I’d likely be looking at a cesarean. I spent the next 5 weeks (she came a bit early) doing everything I could think of to get her head down, then just accepting that things were out of my hands. I am so thankful that I had that time to come to terms with it all: the experience taught me [very gently] the lesson I assume we all have to learn at some point, which is that much of life is out of our control.

    Parenting may be the life experience that most typifies this undeniable fact. So when women hope and anticipate a straightforward, vaginal birth, and one (or more) of the myriad of things that can go haywire occurs in those last hours, I empathize with them that they must experience such a life lesson under so much duress and with such a short period of time to process.

    In choosing a repeat c-section over a VBAC, I’ve felt a very mild amount of this c-section “shame” – I assume most of it is coming from myself, as I tend more towards the hippy end of the spectrum amongst my friends and 90% of them have been completely supportive of my decision. They are mostly parents themselves so they have also learned the humility that comes with parenting. I have two friends I’ve felt judgment from for the decision, but as they are very new parents, still in the clouds following a blissful 2-hr, medication free, complication-free birth, I just shake my head at them because they haven’t yet been learned.

    …they’ll get there. Their newborn will make sure of it 🙂

  2. Doctors used to deliver breech/sacral presenting births up to the 1970s. The problem with breech births is not the lay or presentation, but the reason the baby prefers this position. Hydrocephalis, small/narrow hips, damaged pelvis, short cord, prematurity, mis-shapen uterus, are some reasons a baby may be presenting as a breech.

    If complications can be ruled out, a breech can be delivered vaginally. The fact is that medical schools do not teach their students how to deliver a sacral presentation, so all sacral presentations are scheduled to be delivered surgically.

    And the malpractice liability surge of the 1970s put all doctors, especially obstetricians on alert that all patients are potential plaintiffs if any thing goes wrong, so obstetricians practice defensive obstetrics. That and the practice of obstetrics is much easier when one can schedule one’s life if most patients are delivering surgically.

    The past forty-eight years since 1970 the maternal mortality has risen in the US and the infant mortality in the US is an embarrassment. Complications as placenta previa, – accreta, – percreta, and – increta have risen astronomically, yet before 1970, these complications were a rarity.

    Before 1970, an obstetrician whose c/sec rate was over 5-10% was a pariah among his colleagues. Today, the c/sec rate across the US approaches 40-50%-80% in some locations and more and nothing is done.

    I do not blame mothers for this trend. I blame the profession that benefits from this atrocity. Women want what is best for their families, and a scheduled birth with all of the controls and bells and whistles that the medical profession promises is what they go for to prevent unforeseen complications which sadly the interventions that the medical profession order up actually cause.

    Women died in childbirth before the advent of modern obstetrics and they continue to die from the misuse of technology. It was not the universal hospitalization of childbearing that saved women – it was transfusions and antibiotics, which do not require hospitalization. Universal hospitalization disrupts the family-mother-child bond and the breastfeeding bond.

  3. Ashley Cox, thank you for just proving the C-section guilt point. Lindsey just explained the reason why she and her health care provider choose a C-section birth, and you fired back with the anti breech C-section speech. You don’t know if she was seeing a midwife or doctor, if she was ever planning a home birth or not, or any information other than what she shared. Is my first C-section more justified because I was seeing a midwife but my blood pressure was so high they (the midwife brought in a doctor) were worried my internal organs would shut down ,or should I have just worked with my midwife so I could have a natural drug free birth that could have killed us both?

    Lindsey, congratulations on the new addition to your family and our birth stories are just as meaningful as every other mother’s on the planet.

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