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Post C-Section Depression

Post C-Section Depression

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I am the mother of two kids- a 3.5 year old and 2 month old. They are happy and healthy and I am very lucky. For my oldest, I had a home birth. For my youngest I planned a hospital birth due to insurance reasons but still planned to go without medications or any interventions unless absolutely necessary. It did not go well. He was very overdue, I had day-after-day of labor starting and stopping, scheduled an induction due to the risk of him dying without warning due to how overdue I was, cancelled the induction after labor started, went from no interventions to an IV, oxygen, not able to get out of bed, and pretty quickly, a c-section.

He is fine. I am fine. I should be and am grateful. But I’m also broken-hearted. I don’t know why. I wanted a natural birth but also was pretty realistic that if it didn’t work out it didn’t really matter. But now I’m not okay. I have a lot of trouble with medical procedures and get very scared and squeamish easily. The induction hanging over my head for days was not good for me. The interventions felt like a violation (even though I know, I KNOW they saved my baby). I spent the first hours after his birth vomiting from the anesthesia instead of holding him. But then I was fine! I recovered quickly and was happy.

But a few weeks later I started not feeling so fine. I am constantly replaying what happened in my mind. I feel sad, angry, cheated. I hate my scar. I hate my body. It doesn’t even feel like my body anymore. But I also feel so ashamed and embarrassed about feeling this way. When I am with my husband and children I am genuinely happy. But it’s always in the back of my mind. I’m always replaying the c-section over and over in my mind. And when I’m alone, it’s all I can think about. I want this to go away. I don’t want to care. And I can’t talk to anyone about this. Who would I tell? My friends who are pregnant? I don’t want to put this in their heads as they prepare for birth. My friends battling infertility?

I’m ashamed to even think about it. I feel bad even emailing you because I know you had c-sections and I don’t in any way want to make it seem like having a c-section is wrong. But… did you ever feel this way? Will these feelings go away? I want to look back on my son’s birth and feel happy. I would even take just not thinking about it at all. I guess overall I am just so confused- constantly feeling happy, sad, angry, grateful, everything all at the same time. But also, I don’t feel “depressed.” I really am happy at the same time that I’m… not happy. I don’t know. And this email is on the verge of making no sense, so I’ll stop now.

Thank you for listening.

I’m so sorry. Thank you for reaching out and writing this all down. It’s an important first step.

There is nothing “wrong” with anything you’re feeling right now — my first c-section was also an emergency procedure that I too, struggled to come to terms with, despite knowing perfectly well that it was wholly necessary and life-saving. Your son’s birth didn’t just not go as “planned,” it actually came pretty close to going completely off the rails, and it’s perfectly understandable that you might develop a bit of PTSD from the experience.

Which is why you DO NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT IT. Not your friends, but your husband and your doctor. IMMEDIATELY. What you are describing here sounds very much like some flavor of postpartum depression (PPD) or perinatal mood disorder. The timeline of the mood shift (you were fine for a few weeks, until you weren’t) and the symptoms you’re describing (replaying the surgery constantly, the hotbed of conflicting emotions and your shame/guilt for even having them in the first place, etc.)…it all points very, very strongly towards this not being something you’re going to be able to simply “snap out of.”

Postpartum depression doesn’t necessarily manifest as what most people would consider “feeling depressed.” Take a look at these symptom lists from Postpartum Progress and you’ll see that both PPD and anxiety/OCD have many, MANY different symptoms — most women don’t check off every box; some only identify with one or two. But even that doesn’t mean you can or should ignore those one or two symptoms. Please don’t look at those lists and go, “Well, yeah I’m really sad and angry and feel really guilty for feeling sad and angry BUT at least I feel bonded to my baby so that must mean I’m fine.”

And here’s the thing: While it is possible that your mood issues are directly stemming from an upsetting/traumatic birth experience, it’s also entirely possible that they’re NOT. That even if you had a perfectly pleasant natural birth, you might still have woken up a few weeks later in a confusing smog of negative emotions about something else entirely. PPD is sneaky like that.

I do believe you’ll reach a point where you come to terms with — and maybe even peace with — the circumstances of your son’s birth. You’ll be able to matter-of-factly acknowledge that yeah, actually I went way overdue and nothing went as planned and in the end, it totally sucked but at least he and I made it out okay — without the soul-consuming sadness and anger and intrusive thoughts.  Your scar will heal and fade and this experience will begin to shrink in the rear view mirror of your mind. It’s NOT YOUR FAULT that you aren’t at that point yet, by the way! There’s no set timeline for this sort of thing. But please please PLEASE promise me (and all your fellow readers) that you won’t go at this alone, keeping your feelings bottled up out of guilt. Call your husband right now, send him what you sent me, then call your doctor. We now know that perinatal mood and anxiety disorder are temporary and treatable with professional help.  Love and hugs to you, Mama.

Photo source: Depositphotos/Syda_Productions

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Kristen Raney

    This was me. And it would go away kind of and come back with a vengeance for almost two years. Please don’t make the same mistake I did and get help. I wish I could have enjoyed my son more when he was a baby, but I didn’t because I just couldn’t make peace with my C-section, my scar, and my body until MUCH later. Much love to you, and thank you for being so brave in sharing this and reaching out.

  • Molly

    Birth trauma is a real thing! It can go along with PPD or it can manifest in PTSD-like symptoms. Don’t try to talk yourself out of it with the “all that matters is a healthy baby” narrative. Your physical and mental health deserve equal scrutiny and care. I got a lot out of the book Healing Your Birth Story by Maureen Campion. I hated my scar too, and now a year postpartum I don’t hate it anymore. Along with speaking to a counselor, I would recommend finding a local practitioner of Arvigo/Mayan massage — I had an incredibly healing scar treatment session.

  • Rose

    I am almost the opposite of your story, but I completely identify with you. My first baby was way overdue, his heartbeat was very low when I arrived for my induction, so I was rushed to an emergency c-section. I was put under full anesthesia and woke up not knowing if my baby survived. I was so happy he was alive and healthy.

    I struggled a little with anxiety after that, but I was fairly happy, all things considered. Then I got pregnant a second time. My anxiety ramped up and was justified due to several complications, or so I told myself. After he was born, a successful VBAC, I have struggled even more with PPD and anxiety. I don’t understand why my body is working against me after my “normal” birth. My son is now 6 months and I am still working with my doctor and a counselor to figure out what will help me most to get out of this fog.

    I know it will get better, but it is hard. Get help, talk to your husband and your doctor.

  • Karen

    I’m so sorry. I had a shitty hosp birth with my third. I had him vaginally, no epidural, just walked in and pushed him out after a 1.5 hr labor. But it was very scary and traumatic thanks to this terrible nurse and her terrible decision. So who can complain and feel immense emotional pain about a 1.5 hr labor and one push? Me. Because thanks to this nurse I almost gave birth to him by myself, on the toilet. Honestly hospitals do all sorts of things to make them seem like warm, rosy places to have babies, but they aren’t. I still panic when I have menstrual cramps. I’m pregnant again and having the home birth I should have had two kids ago. It will get better but it’s a pain that will always kind of be there.

  • Caroline Bowman

    Oh this is horrible. I know truly how you feel, though mine started differently, it ended the same! I knew so well that things weren’t going well, that I needed intervention and was ignored until it was a blood bath and an emergency and all those things I so, so wanted to avoid And yes, my son and I were both so fine and well and medically, we were treated professionally, and fortunate and all that great stuff.

    Yeah. That makes no difference. That disconnect and upset and replaying over and over… you want to get that sorted out with your doctor and your husband. You are evidently quite rational and not ”a danger to yourself or your baby” so no, you are NOT NUTS. You have suffered a trauma, a drawn-out, scary, painful trauma and that is a profoundly shocking thing for anyone. You can ignore it, sure. But the coming months will be sad and upsetting and ruin what is already a tiring and very fleeting time. Don’t let that happen. You are not crazy. You have been traumatised and need good help! Best of luck, this WILL be fixed and in time, it will be one of those ”OMG remember how awful that was” experiences that fades and just is a very small thing that happened once years ago.

  • LISAatUND

    Because of a ridiculous set of circumstances (my mother was undergoing chemo and then a bone marrow transplant 12 days after my scheduled induction and the complications eventually killed her), I was forced to “hold it together” during my hyperemesis gravidarum/gestational diabetes pregnancy and after medically necessary induction and emergency c section for nearly 4 months. A couple weeks after she passed both my husband and I had this massive realization that he nearly lost us both. (Side note: your husband may be in a similar place to you and just trying to hide it…) We then had to go through the whole grieving process for basically “all the things I had lost during the process of becoming a mother.” But talking with the right people really did help! Never be ashamed of your feelings. My LO is almost 3 now and while I may never “be over it” I am so far from that horrible place where both my husband and I were at that point.

  • Sending you hugs and love.

  • MR

    ((hugs)) Birth trauma is a VERY real thing. There are books written about it, although, I’m not sure you want to read them at this point. When you are ready, look for “Cut, Stapled, and Mended”. I bought it while going for my vbac after my first was an unexpected C-section. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read it yet. I didn’t want to read it while pregnant, and then a bunch of other stuff happened after I had her, and now I don’t really feel the need. But grief is a very real and normal feeling after an experience like yours. You had hoped and dreamt for one thing, and got another. There is a grief in that. That’s ok. Your feelings are normal, and totally ok. I heard a description of grief that I found really helpful, that grief is like a figure 8. You start in the middle and everything is raw and painful, and that’s where you are right now. But you slowly start travelling out towards the outer part of the circle, where things seem great and the pain is far removed. It is still there, for it always will be a part of your history, but it will seem far more removed. And then something will happen and you will find yourself right back in the middle again. This isn’t hopeless though. Right now, you are going along at a very quick pace around the circles, so you are spending a lot of time in the raw, painful middle. As time goes on, your pace will slow on the outer part of the circle, and you will go through the center more quickly. It DOES get better. I promise! And humans are perfectly capable of multiple and complex emotions, which is why it drives me nuts when people tell new moms like you that you should just be happy that you and baby are healthy. It dismisses you and your emotions completely. You can be happy baby is healthy, and sad about the birth, and angry that you are recovering from major surgery, and grieve the loss of your dream birth all at the same time. When you feel ready, go on YouTube and search for “The 18 month cry.” It will make you cry, but it will hopefully be cathartic and also make you realize you are SO NOT ALONE. ((hugs))

  • CJ

    I ended up having an emergency C-section with my first (turning 3 tomorrow) due to HELLP syndrome – general anesthetic, my husband couldn’t be in the operating room with me, I missed the first few hours of my daughter’s life, and came very, very close to my liver and kidneys shutting down. I cried about it, and would tear up when I talked about it, but thought I was mostly ok. Then, 3 months later, my friend’s husband posted from the hospital, “Susie achieved her goal of a completely drug-free, perfect birth!” and I *knew* they and all the rest of our friends were pointing and laughing at me because my body couldn’t handle it and Susie’s could (spoiler, they were not actually doing anything of the kind). It always gets a little harder around my daughter’s birthday, because I relive the most terrifying day of my life, but I have her – and we are both safe and healthy – and her baby brother (and the same thing started happening with him, but I was being closely monitored and his C-section was scheduled, and it was SO much better this time). Other people have been where you are. You will heal, and you will still hurt, but not as much, eventually. Talk about it, and allow yourself to feel. *hugs*

  • Jasmin

    You are not alone!

    My first OBGYN wasn’t great. He was a man that ignored my health concerns until I came to him about infertility and to my recollection never explained anything throughly. Even the parenting classes they recommend only glance over PPD. So after years of fertility treatments when we lucked out to having a baby we were ecstatic! The birth felt rushed to me – it was in a hospital where you can tell they like to fill in slots quickly. The doctor decided to give me an episiotomy and even though I knew I didn’t want it I agreed because I was scared and exhausted. My daughter came our beautiful and healthy. I felt run over and a failure for not sticking to my guns but otherwise fine. You can imagine my internal confusion and shame when upon bringing my baby home I would collapse sobbing. It’s hard to describe both loving something and wanting it to not be there. I thought it was extreme baby blues – but I was wrong. My anguish turned into rage. Not at my baby! But everything else. My husband was amazing and supportive – my best friend suffered with PPD for years before getting treated – and I knew I needed to get help.

    My doctor again wasn’t a great source of support or help. He only dealt in one drug for ppd, which didn’t work for me. I found one who did listen, who had a far greater knowledge of women’s issues and I am so much better now! Please please please ask for help! It gets better! Find a doctor who will listen to you without judgement and do not be ashamed! **hugs!**

  • SW

    More hugs. So many internet hugs. I had an emergency c-section after a difficult pregnancy over five years ago, and there are moments of my labor/that day that still haunt me. My son’s heart beat stopped at one point, and though I feel like I’m at peace with everything, that one memory will probably never fade. But, like another commentor said, it’s like an eight! I love that, I do spend way more time on the outer loop and when I occasionally circle back its short and easier to get through each time. But it took help (not medication in my case, but amazing, thoughtful supportive friends and an amazing husband who was just as scared as I was and struggled after as well!!) to get to this point. Absolutely tell your husband, and tell your doctor. If they don’t listen, get a new one and keep telling people until you find a healing path that works for you. You are incredible, your body is incredible, and I know it doesn’t seem like it now but someday this won’t hurt as much as it does now. I promise! Help will speed the process – grab on to it and don’t let go.