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Emotional Trauma Following an Unplanned Caesarean

What is emotional trauma? What does ‘trauma’ really mean to you? And what is an emergency versus a non-emergency caesarean?

Let me start by explaining the difference between the two types. An emergency caesarean is when you’ve laboured, something life-threatening to you or baby arises and they need to get baby out ASAP. A non-emergency caesarean is when you are labouring and complications arise that aren’t life-threatening but could potentially get to that point and surgical birth is then being recommended. So no, not all cesareans are emergency-based. BUT, when it comes to emotional trauma, either scenario can be traumatic to a mom. Each individual experiences trauma in their own way.

Emotional trauma is when you experience something distressing and the overwhelming amount of stress surpasses your ability to cope.

So what do you define as trauma? And would you say an urgent, life-threatening caesarean is way more traumatic than someone who had a non-life threatening one? Or even someone who had a vaginal delivery but didn’t quite expect it to feel that way? Whose is more traumatic?

The answer is all of them. Each birthing woman will experience her own form, or level of trauma. It doesn’t mean that your emergency caesarean wasn’t traumatic as someone who may have decided to go that route after a labour that failed to progress. It just means that every mom’s interpretation of emotional trauma is valid to them. All scenarios of birth, whether surgical or vaginal, may come with some emotional trauma attached.

Most common feelings of emotional trauma are:

  • Shock, denial, disbelief

  • Confusion

  • Anger, irritable, moody

  • Fear, anxiety

  • Guilt

  • Withdrawal

  • Sadness, hopelessness

  • Feeling disconnected or numb

Chances are if you’d had an unplanned caesarean, you can relate to some of these feelings, whether they felt traumatic to you or not. Let’s face it; a caesarean is not your top choice on how you want to birth your baby.

So the key to reducing the risk of trauma is...

Talk about it!

I’m a mom of two, and having experienced my own caesarean birth, I can relate and understand why many of us DO NOT want to talk about caesareans. For some it could be a fear of it, for others they don’t want to even think of Plan B, when Plan A doesn’t work. Plan A is GOING to work! (That was me!) But talking about it, learning everything you can about caesareans, learning the reasons that may cause an emergency, and the reasons that cause a non-emergency can help you understand it when/if it happens. But also thinking ahead. Sit with your partner and your Doula and discuss what to do in this scenario. Talk about what to do if an emergency happens. Believe me, I know you don’t want to discuss it, but talking about it before it happens or IF it even happens can reduce the shock and fears that may come afterwards. And if you do still come out of birth feeling traumatized in some form, there are support people and groups out there you can talk to. Your Doula can help you find the right people if you need it. Your Doula is also a great person to lean on; we are built with strong shoulders to cry on.

In part, I leave you with these words:

Birth has its own plans, it is very unpredictable and often out of our control. Flow with it, think of it like a rushing has its smooth moments, and then it has its strong currents with rocks, and bends and maybe even waterfalls. But you don’t have to go it alone! I’ll bring a big enough raft so that the bumps feel less bumpy, and we’ll make it to the end of the river together.


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