The emotional after-effects of an emergency caesarean

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 Photo: Stocksy

As I lay on the hospital bed, fully dilated and numb from the waist down, I heard the words I was dreading: "I think it's about time for a C section".

I didn't want a caesarean. I didn't want my baby to come into the world 'the easy way'. I wanted to work for this; I wanted to push. I started to cry at the loss of what I saw as a rite of passage, but at the same time knew this decision was a necessary one. My daughter had had 15 hours to make an appearance, but for reasons unknown at the time, she hadn't come out to meet us yet.

Not long after the decision had been made I was in theatre, being cut open as the doctor and her team endeavoured to welcome my little girl into the world. Not long into the procedure she was carried over to the waiting medical team, and within seconds we heard her cry. She was fine.

Fiona and her baby girl on the day of her birth.
Fiona and her baby girl on the day of her birth.  Photo: Supplied

The next thing I knew I felt I was in shock, shaking uncontrollably and feeling like I needed to vomit. I did, then felt my epidural wearing off. The doctors moved swiftly and within a minute my husband had been asked to leave the room and I was advised that I be put under anaesthetic to finish off the procedure.

I woke up in recovery what felt like minutes later, but in reality it had been about an hour or so. I was wheeled through to the ward to finally hold my baby for the first time. Feeling her against my skin as she searched for her first feed was the moment I had longed for. She was perfect. I was exhausted and groggy but pleased the 'ordeal' was over. But it wasn't. Far from it.

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Three days later we were both cleared for discharge.

The section incision itself, especially after the first uncomfortable week, never gave me any issues. For me, it was the knock-on effects that affected me most. As my body was busy trying to heal and hold onto any iron it could after a lot of blood loss, my body moved producing milk to the back burner. Within six weeks my daughter was off my breast and was fully formula fed.

The inability to provide my child with my own milk brought emotional distress. I felt I was failing as a mother – not only was I "unable" to birth my child naturally, I was also unable to feed her the way nature intended. As with any new parent, I was sleep deprived. This combined with raging hormones and mounting after effects of the delivery started me on a downward spiral.

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It was a difficult period but at the same time I had this beautiful shining light of a perfectly healthy daughter. I knew I had so much to be thankful for – I had the baby I had always wanted, yet I couldn't help but feel distressed about the whole situation.

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I realised I needed help and thankfully sought out support that allowed me to gradually move from my dark mental space to my normal self as I settled in to my new role as a mother. I managed to pick myself up and make sense of my experience. It took time, but slowly all the pieces came together and I felt stronger in myself for getting through it.

Looking back, I view the experience in a different light. A caesarean is a major medical procedure with a lengthy recovery time. It may not bring the same physical pain that a natural delivery can bring, but it has its own complications. It is by no means easy.

Being unable to provide for a child the "natural way" does not make a woman an incapable mother, or any less of one. Be it through the bottle or the breast, you still feed your child. I remember feeling guilty that my daughter was being fed milk from a tin, but I had no choice. The decision was taken away from me but still I felt like I was letting her down. In hindsight I shouldn't have felt that way, of course – she was putting on weight and growing well and that's what mattered.

When I think back to being told I'd need a c-section, I remember feeling that I'd failed to complete the natural process that is childbirth. What I've since realised is that how your baby is brought into the world isn't important. As I lay waiting to go into theatre, visibly upset, the midwife came over and said, "Remember – it doesn't matter how your baby is delivered, you still give birth."

These words still ring in my head. A caesarean section was not my first choice, but it allowed for the safe delivery of my daughter – and for that I am eternally grateful.