The birth of Sandy MacAulay-DeBoice’s son Finn didn’t go according to plan. She’d expected it to be on par with the by-the-book delivery of his older brother, Noah, two years earlier—an 18-hour labour, an epidural and a vaginal birth—but she was out of luck.
“The week Finn was due, my husband, Noah and I contracted the H1N1 virus, and I landed in the hospital on IV fluids,” says the London, Ont., mom. “That’s when the doctors discovered that Finn was breech.” To avoid a Caesarean section, she asked her OB/GYN to wait to see if the baby would flip on his own. Her doctor agreed. Finn did turn head-down, and a few days later, now overdue, she was in the hospital being induced. “Then it all went downhill,” she recalls. “The resident came to check on me and asked the nurse to page the doctor right away. When I asked what was happening, the doctor explained that the cord was presenting; I needed an emergency C-section right away or the baby would suffocate.” When the on-call obstetrician turned up, MacAulay-DeBoice was whisked away from her hubby and taken into surgery.
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“I was petrified and blamed myself for deciding to wait on a vaginal delivery,” she says. “I remember being panicked going under the anaesthetic, because there wasn’t enough time for an epidural to take effect, and then waking up to a perfect baby boy. But I was miserable because I didn’t get to experience the birth—it was like he was someone else’s child. I felt robbed of hearing his first cry, holding him right away and watching his little eyes see me for the first time.”
Stories like MacAulay-DeBoice’s are not uncommon; most of us don’t get everything on our labour-and-delivery wish lists. Coming to terms with your little one’s arrival—while settling into your routine as a parent—isn’t easy, and can be a catalyst for postpartum depression. Be on the lookout and talk to your caregiver if you start showing classic signs of postpartum depression; continuous crying, sadness, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness.
Whether you harbour negative emotions about your delivery depends on several factors, including how tied you were to your birth plan, your personality (especially type-A perfectionists) or trauma during childbirth (including emergency C-sections or severe tears), says Megan Sutherland, a clinical social worker in Vancouver. In these cases, it’s important to give yourself a break.
Almost every mom has an aspect of her labour and delivery she wishes had been different. New mamas need to share their feelings with loved ones, friends or mommy groups. “Certainly women can have negative birth experiences, and they should be heard and validated,” says Marina Golts, a psychiatrist who specializes in perinatal mental health at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. That said, Golts encourages moms to remember the purpose of the pregnancy in the first place: “How the baby arrives is really just a means to an end. Everyone has an ideal, but it’s really out of our control.”
If you’re having a hard time letting go of what might have been, says Sutherland, you need to forgive yourself for decisions you made during labour, which may ease up on the guilt new moms so often feel. If you’re upset you screamed for that epidural you swore you’d never get, don’t let your regrets take over. Allow time to grieve and work through your disappointment.
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MacAulay-DeBoice coped with her experience by letting friends and family know she was struggling. “The hospital set up an appointment with a psychologist before releasing me, and that helped, too,” she says. Finn’s arrival may not have been heartwarming movie magic, but MacAulay-DeBoice’s disappointment has faded over time. She explains, “If you dwell too much on how things could have been, you’ll miss the beauty of the moment you’re in.”
A version of this story appeared in our August 2014 issue with the headline "Labour letdown," p. 44.