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July 5, 2016

One in four babies are born by caesarean in New Zealand and yet many women struggle with conflicted emotions afterwards. Tamara Mclean explains how to deal with those emotions, and why you shouldn’t feel any guilt.

Women who give birth by c-section are sometimes left with a niggling feeling that they failed. This feeling, dubbed caesarean guilt, stems from the new mum’s sense that she could have somehow avoided the operation if she’d done something differently.

“Often they’ll ruminate on their birth, replaying it over and over, wondering ‘Could I have eaten differently, walked differently, breathed differently?’” says Dr Natalie Flynn, a clinical psychologist at Emotional Health Services in Auckland. “It’s really sad to hear, because it’s not their fault at all.”

These women are often traumatised not by the c-section itself but by the circumstances that led to the emergency operation, like the baby’s distress or prolonged labour. Even women who opt for an elective c-section can wind up with guilt stemming from their deep fears of vaginal childbirth, she explains.

Natalie says caesarean guilt is driven by the ‘myths of motherhood’, the expectation of a glorious mothering experience. “In society there are very fixed ideas about the glowing pregnancy, the easy vaginal birth, the breastfeeding that comes naturally and the instant bonding, but this just doesn’t happen with all women,”
she says.

“They’re myths and when things turn out differently, you can feel a failure. If that feeling hangs around, depression can set in.”

Natalie’s advice for pregnant women wanting to avoid this path? “Be flexible. Sure, have a plan A for your birth but have a plan B and a plan C too.” She encourages mums-to-be to imagine different scenarios and talk to someone about any worries they may have.

It’s also helpful to remember you’ll only be advised to have a c-section by someone who is trusted to do the best by you and your baby, she says. Schooling up on what a c-section involves will also help empower pregnant women ahead of time.

Natalie also has some words of wisdom for new mums already suffering caesarean guilt: “Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Don’t feel guilty about feeling guilty when you’ve got a lovely baby in the house.”

Where to get help

If you are really struggling talk to your GP, midwife or Plunket nurse so they can help you to get help, or contact one of the services listed here:

(free Depression Helpline)

0800 111 757

Postnatal Distress Centre and Support Network Trust (offers free support services for greater Auckland area) 

Information about PND and anxiety with links to support services available around the country

Post and Antenatal Distress Support Group Wellington


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