mommy guilt and the long sigh after birth

I have some mommy guilt. My first child was born via emergency c-section and I struggled with postpartum depression (and probably some type of PTSD if we are going to be completely honest) regarding his traumatic delivery.  So with my second baby, there was no way I would allow history to repeat itself.  I would have a vaginal birth no-matter-what.  And I did.  But what I did immediately after delivery surprised me and still gives me a bit of this mommy guilt.

The first thing I did wasn’t to ask about the baby and wasn’t to exclaim in excitement that the pushing phase was over.  Instead, I told the midwife “thank you for letting me have a VBAC.”  Yep.  Not, is it a boy or girl.  Or is she ok?  But instead I was thinking about myself and my desire for birthing normally was so strong that the outcome of having the vaginal delivery was more top of mind in my subconscious than the outcome of having a healthy baby girl.

My first baby (c-section) and his little sister (vbac)

My first baby (c-section) and his little sister (vbac)

What I have come to realize, and it eases my mommy guilt just a little, is that my reaction was not a bad one.  Nor was it atypical.  I’ve attended multiple births where mom was just so tired, relieved, and joyful that she also took little notice in the human that had just emerged. Its not AT ALL that she didn’t care.  Its because she just worked really hard and I’m sure it was her mamma instinct that assured her that baby was okay and it was alright to allow herself a moment to internalize and not focus on the baby. It is okay.  Time to let some of that mommy guilt go.

First Hours after Birth

The drama after birth sometimes unfolds with comments like these from the mother: “I did it! I did it! I can’t believe I did it!” “Oh my, is that our baby?” “What is it—a boy or girl?” “Is she all right?” “She doesn’t look like a baby!” “Look at her little hands, and her feet!” “We made her!” “She’s so big!” “Look, she has your dimple!” We’ve all heard these outbursts of joy and relief right after the baby comes out, sometimes among kisses, tears of joy and exhaustion or happy laughter.

We’ve also all heard expressions of exhaustion and relief from the mother and seen a temporary lack of interest in her baby. The exclamations might sound more like these: “It’s over! I can’t believe it’s over!” “Can I just lie here for a minute?” “I can’t hold the baby right now. You take it.” “Please just leave me alone right now.” “I’m so glad it’s over.” “We’re never doing this again!” Sometimes it takes a while before the mother can turn her attention from the intensity of the birth to her baby.

The mother may respond in silence and stillness, moaning a bit as tears flow or crying from relief, joy, exhaustion or simply waiting for the next feelings to come as she holds her baby on her chest; feeling him, but not yet really looking at him.

Regardless of how the drama unfolds, the mother’s reaction is correct. Once the intense experience of labor and birth is over, whether ecstatic, triumphant, tedious, disappointing, exhausting or traumatic, she may need time to internalize the reality that she is no longer in labor—it is over and she has her baby. We should trust that her reactions after the birth are correct for her and are the result of a lifetime of experiences, her current circumstances and the nature of this birth experience. No woman should be rushed to hold and suckle her baby any more than she should be rushed to get into labor, dilate her cervix, push her baby and placenta out or latch the baby onto her breast. Nor should her ability to mother her baby be judged by how she responds in these moments.

Penny Simkin
Excerpted from “First Hours after Birth: Family Integration and Mutual Regulation,” Midwifery Today, Issue 102

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