Ideas for Emotional Healing After a CBAC
- A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn. ~Author unknown
Many women who have CBACs will go on to have VBACs with subsequent children, but of course, not all do.
Some mothers will never have a VBAC, either because they are done having children, because of fertility issues, because of medical issues that make more cesareans prudent, or other reasons. How do you grieve not only your CBACs, but also the knowledge that you will never have the birthing experience you so desired?
Yet even when someone does have a VBAC after a CBAC, it doesn't negate the fact that she had a CBAC along the way, nor does it take away the pain of that experience. Regardless of whether or not women go on to have a VBAC, the emotional impact of a CBAC lasts for a lifetime.
So how do you heal from a CBAC?
The answer is different for everyone. Remember, nothing will magically take away the pain of a CBAC, but the following are some ideas that have helped some CBAC moms. Take what makes sense to you and leave the rest behind.
In The Beginning
First, it's important to acknowledge what an amazing sacrifice you have made for the love of your baby. When you had to, you put aside your own needs for the baby's sake. This is the heart of being a mother in many ways. We made the ultimate sacrifice; we gave up our own dreams and sacrificed our hopes and our bodily integrity for our babies.
Immediately after a CBAC, it may be helpful to focus on your physical healing and put aside the second-guessing over why the CBAC happened or what (if anything) could have been done differently. Focus on your baby, focus on bonding, focus on what you need to do to aid in your physical healing.
Set aside the "what-ifs" for a while and know that you can come back to them when you are ready. Give yourself permission to heal physically and have some "babymoon" time before you start grappling with the emotional healing.
If you can't put aside the "what-ifs" for a while, try to compartmentalize them so they don't take over your whole postpartum life. Find a time each day where you can start working through your anger, grief, and second-guessing without apologizing for it, but then find a way to close the door on that work for a while so that you can go be fully present with your baby too. Sometimes grief can be so overwhelming that we miss those precious early days of babyhood; try to find a balance that allows you to pay attention to both needs.
As the deeper emotional work begins, some women find it helpful to honor the hard work they put towards a VBAC, and all the preparation, emotional upheaval, and pain that was endured along the way. They learn to focus on what they did learn from the pregnancy and birth, and how this might enhance their own emotional growth.
Some women focus on having had an "empowered CBAC," where, although the outcome may not have been what they wanted, they realize that there were many good and empowering things along the way that help balance the experience. They learn to stop focusing so much on "success/failure" judgments, and remember that often the journey itself is just as important as the destination.
However, it's okay if you don't find anything positive in your experience; you don't have to be a Pollyanna about it. It may be that you will find something positive about it in time; sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees at first. Or it may be that the experience really was all negative but that you channel your anger and disappointment into making something positive from it. Sometimes really bad experiences are transformative forces in our lives. The experience itself may be negative, but what you do with it can take the negative and make it into a positive.
When you can, it's important to connect with other CBAC moms. They are the only ones who fully "get" what having a CBAC is like, and who really understand the ambivalence of that experience. Get involved in a CBAC support group, connect with another CBAC mom one-to-one, or reach out to someone on a birth trauma website. (See the page on CBAC support groups for links beyond the ones presented below.)
Longer-term healing can be challenging. CBAC moms often wonder if the pain will ever go away. The truth for most women is that the pain of CBACs never really goes away, not completely. However, it fades somewhat with time. It won't always be so sharp and bitter, but it's always there with you to some extent. Sometimes it just helps not to expect complete excision of the pain.
The answer for moving along the healing path is not the same for everybody. Honor the fact that the path may be different for you than for others. Seek out different ways of trying to work through the pain, and explore new modes of healing. Experiment and try to break out of old methods of coping to see if new ones might be more useful.
For some, it helps to think of CBAC like any other major disappointment in life. How would you integrate another challenging or disappointing experience into your psyche? How can it be at the table with all your other experiences, acknowledged for its disappointment and heartbreak --- yet just another player at the table, not the dominating force? Can you acknowledge the pain as having shaped your life, then move beyond that into a new place?
Or if you can't move to a place beyond it yet, can you let yourself take occasional vacations from it? Can you forgive yourself enough to take time away from the anger and grief? Can you make a conscious decision to compartmentalize the grief over this a bit so you can have some peace time, then schedule time to take the anger out and grieve it periodically?
Some women find help in moving through and beyond the worst sharpness of the grief by finding a ritual to help deal with it. Some find comfort in a healing circle, some in writing down all the anger and grief and sadness and then burning those papers, some via a funeral/memorial service for their lost birthing hopes, etc.
Some CBAC moms greatly benefit from counseling with a therapist, but only if they can find one that is truly "birth-friendly" and who doesn't try to impose external judgments about cesareans. Ask around your local midwives and doulas and see if they have any suggestions for therapists who specialize in pregnancy-related issues and who "get" cesarean-related grief without trying to invalidate or deny it.
Some women are helped by recreating/rewriting their births. Go back and write up the birth in extreme detail, then return to it and retell it but change one detail about the birth, something you wish you could change, big or small. Re-do it as often as you would like until you can find a bit more peace with it. Change the outcome completely if you'd like, or not if you don't. But experiment around with changing things and see if that brings any healing to you. It may sound trivial or hokey, but some women do find some powerful healing with this.
Many cesarean mothers find that they heal best when they transform their grief into advocacy. Some become childbirth activists, midwives, labor doulas, or other birth workers. Others find that working with other birthing women is too bittersweet, but that they can instead channel their energies into related fields, like nursing, lactation consultant, or postpartum doulas. Others find it too hard to actively work in any birth-related fields, but practice micro-advocacy in their personal lives, planting educational seeds and giving emotional support on a more personal basis to loved ones and friends. All of these endeavors, whether large-scale or small-scale, are worthy and powerful tools for healing.
These are only a few ideas for healing. Look through them, see which ones speak to you, and try some out. Start with the ones that appeal the most to you, but remember that sometimes it's the ones that least appeal to us that are the most effective. Or look around for other ideas and resources on emotional healing. Let your feelings be your guide on your healing path.
You may not heal from a CBAC to the point that it never bothers you, or to where you are never disappointed by it. Life gives us challenges and disappointments and sometimes these remain bittersweet forever. But at some point you may find that you have enough distance from it to not grieve as sharply or as bitterly, to find lessons or growth in the experience, to find that you can integrate the disappointment of that experience into your life, or to find you can transform that experience into a power for good for others.
You have the power of healing within you. You chart your own healing path, where it leads you, and how you get there. Give yourself the gift of time, distance, and emotional work, and you will find your way along the healing spiral, whatever that looks like in your life, and wherever that leads you.
You can heal from a CBAC, but your healing may look different from someone else's healing, have its own meaning, and take its own unique path. That's okay. But that point is that you can heal.
CBAC Support Groups
- http://www.facebook.com/ICANCBACSupport - ICAN's CBAC Facebook Page
- https://www.facebook.com/groups/cbacsupportgroup/ – ICAN's Private CBAC Support Group (apply to join)
- https://www.facebook.com/groups/111066659056348/ – Unplanned CBAC and Birth Trauma Facebook Support Group