When I fell pregnant with my son, I had my sights set on a drug-free, vaginal birth.  A normal birth.  I was a woman, after all.  Billions of women did it before me, and billions would do it after.  Our bodies were made to do this, why should mine be any different?

Well things didn’t happen that way.  It all started to go wrong as I approached my estimated due date and showed no signs of readiness for labour.  After going through several “stretch and sweep” procedures, I was induced.  First with cervidil, then a cervical balloon, and then after both of those failed to put me into labour, my waters were broken and I was put on a syntocin drip.  I didn’t cope with the sudden onslaught of labour, and my son’s posterior position probably didn’t help.  I accepted gas fairly quickly.  The gas made me nauseous and vomit, but it also masked the fact that my body was involuntarily pushing.  I was only 3cm dilated, so I was given an epidural.  Sadly the uncontrollable pushing caused my cervix to swell shut, and 12 hours after my waters were broken, my son was pulled out of my via an emergency csection, 10 days after his due date.

I felt so good about my body during pregnancy that I never considered it might not do what it was supposed to during birth

When I was pregnant with my second baby 2.5 years later, I felt determined to do better.  I did special exercises to try to keep my baby out of a posterior position.  I walked and swam as much as I could to keep myself strong and make sure my stamina was good leading up to birth.  And I rested more.  I eliminated stress from my life.  I made a point of informing myself better, and this time around, when I showed no signs of labour I politely refused the stretch and sweeps.  I stonewalled conversations about induction because I was healthy and my baby was healthy and I didn’t want to submit my body to unnecessary procedures just so I could conform to the hospital’s preferred timeline of events.

Seven days after my due date I woke to contractions – I had gone into spontaneous labour and I could have been happier.  But despite my best intentions, my labour followed the same route as my first – I began pushing involuntarily when I reached around 3cm dilation, resulting in cervix literally closing the door on any chance of a VBAC.  I was eventually taken in for another emergency csection, except this time we had to deal with a torn cervix, bladder adhesions and serious damage to my uterus.  I was told very seriously that if I ever decide to have another baby I will need to have a csection scheduled before 37 weeks, because it would be very dangerous for me to have even one single contraction.  I will never have another chance to get the birth I wanted.

I was trying to look happy for the photo but I feel like my face gave away the other emotions I was feeling too

I am a successful breastfeeder and an advocate for it too.  I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to not be able to breastfeed.  To do so would feel disrespectful to those who have actually lived it and feel hurt over it.  But I do know what it’s like for your body to fail at something that it should have been able to do.  I know what it’s like to prepare for something and then find that it’s just not going to be possible.  I really wanted vaginal births, and I thought I did everything I could to make them happen, but my efforts weren’t good enough.  Is this what it’s like when someone wants to breastfeed but can’t?

When I think about my birth stories, I feel a lot of feelings.  I have grieved for the birth that I wanted but didn’t get.  Even though my daughter turned 2 last March, my grieving process doesn’t appear to be over yet (the tears in my eyes as I type this out are proof of that).  I accept that my kids face some increased health risks because of their delivery and although I strive to learn more about them, I still sometimes feel indignant and defensive when someone else brings them up.  I feel confused about what went wrong – did I do something wrong?  Is my body built wrong?  Did my care providers do something wrong?  I feel frustrated because when I ask questions to piece together exactly what happened it seems everyone is more concerned with reassuring me that everything is OK and that I did my best, and that method of delivery doesn’t even really matter.  They ignore the fact that I want factual, objective and honest information to help me move past this.

I am thankful that I don’t feel guilt or anger.  Guilt and anger are toxic feelings because they revolve around blame, and the idea that something could still be done about my situation, and they can’t.  Nothing can be done because it’s already happened and I can’t change the past.  I think some people use guilt and anger to hide away from their feelings of sadness, without realising that this stops them from moving on and finding their closure.  Talking about my story still makes me feel really sad, but each time I open up about it, I feel myself let it go a little bit more.

My c section births didn’t meet my expectations, but I love my kids more than I ever could have hoped

I guess the reason I’m talking about this today is because when talking to a pregnant friend about their breastfeeding goals, someone else chimed in that I shouldn’t get her hopes up so much because not everyone can breastfeed, and that I have no idea what it’s like to deal with the disappointment of being unable to do something I thought I could.

It may be true that not everyone can breastfeed and not everyone can have vaginal births.  But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hope we can.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

If you are struggling with your feelings about birth or breastfeeding, please talk to a trusted health care professional, or get in touch with PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia

Have you ever felt like your body failed you? 

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  1. I completely get this. For me, I really, really wanted a natural vaginal birth with no induction (and hopefully no drugs) and knew that if I was unable to achieve this I would have really struggled with it. Fortunately I was able to do all of the above. I am however yet to breastfeed my 5 week old at all due to some ongoing issues.

    In no way do I feel like a failure – I have total respect for my body and what it is/isn’t capable of – however I think I can accept this more easily because while I can’t breastfeed, I can still feed my son breast milk.

    I still hope that it will happen, that we’ll sort our issues and he’ll breastfeed. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t, but like you said, it’s still worth trying.

  2. Your story touched a nerve with me. I was lucky to have the opportunity to experience birth four times, induced and natural without any major consequences. However, I did suffer a miscarriage between my two younger children. The doctor who performed the D & C was not my regular physician and refused to give me any details regarding the gender or reason for the miscarriage. This from a father of 12 or 13!!!

    There is a gap of 10 years between my two older children and the younger ones. I breastfed wholeheartedly with the older two being in my early 20’s. However, upon marriage and have the next two children, I was that much older but wasn’t expecting the subsequent feelings of failure at not being able to produce enough milk or stop the nipples from cracking. I persevered for two months both times but proved too distressing for myself and the babies. I had to let go of the natural process and this allowed my husband to participate in a way that he couldn’t before.

    This brought about an amusing situation each night – I would still wake up to check on the baby but couldn’t find her in the crib. Looking round I found her nestled in the crook of her father’s arm, holding on to a handful of chest hair. Each hour she would tug on the hair, the two of them would roll over to the other side and she would latch on to the hair with the other hand!!

    As a result, each night I would find that she did not need feeds or nappy changes from 3 weeks of age and she slept through the night!!! My son was similarly treated too.
    I learned to go with the flow, adapt to my body’s changes with age and realise that there are some things that are just not meant to be. There is a little person relying on you for their needs, you must move on and accept that you have a role to fulfill in a magnificent capacity – motherhood. There are so many who cannot, no matter how hard they try and I feel for them too.

  3. I always feel sad when women don’t get the birth they wanted. People say it doesn’t matter as long as the baby is okay but this is so dismissive and short-sighted.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your story, it is brave to do so and I am sure it will help others. Somehow we have to make peace with the fact that every person’s journey and body is different and a lot of things to do with pregnancy / birth / breastfeeding / parenting are out of our control. I had some of the same feelings when I struggled with extreme sickness during both my pregnancies. I felt as a woman I should be able to have the pregnancy I wanted and had always pictured. Sorry to hear your births didn’t turn out the way you imagined, and I agree it is not enough for people to say that the method of delivery doesn’t matter. Sometimes it does.

  5. It’s interesting the different reactions we can have to birth (and breastfeeding, and all sorts of aspects of being a mother). Both of my children ended up being born c-section (one elective and one which was to be a VBAC but turned into an emergency caesar). I never felt my body failed me – I’ve got two very happy healthy children now nearing teenage years, and if not for the way they were delivered, that might not have been the case, given the way they presented, and possibly because I WAS then able to breastfeed – but I do feel defensive about it still (so clearly there’s some sort of expectation I still haven’t let go of – maybe societal, that I took on board?). Interesting …

    1. I’m glad you were able to feel good about your births Helen, albeit a little defensive. It’s hard to step back

  6. Thanks so much for sharing your story… I think women should always get the birth they want…

    1. It would certainly make for a nicer introduction to parenting!

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