Second-oldest Duggar daughter Jill Dillard welcomed a baby boy earlier this month, but wasn’t able to have the natural birth she’d planned. (Photo: Duggar Family)
When Jill Dillard — the second-oldest daughter of the famous Duggar clan — gave birth to her healthy son Israel on April 6, she was of course thrilled. But there was another emotion that clearly crept in: disappointment. The midwife-in-training had planned a home birth but wound up with a cesarean section, and though she and husband Derick put a positive spin on the birth and 70-hour labor, it was clear they would’ve preferred a more natural ending — one they are already planning on the next time around.
“We told the doctor, ‘Stitch me up really well,’ ” Jill, 23, told People, referring to her determination to have a vaginal birth after a C-section (VBAC) with her next baby. Obstetricians often advise against VBACs, but, said Jill, “The doctor told me he has no doubt I’ll be able to have a vaginal delivery the next time.”
While Jill had initially hoped for a natural birth at her home in Rogers, Arkansas, she realized something could be wrong during labor when she noticed stains of meconium — a newborn’s first feces — in her amniotic fluid, which can be a sign of infant distress. So she made the decision to head to the hospital, where doctors performed C-section surgery to deliver Israel.
“She had labored for so long,” Derrick told People. “There’s no shame in that, there’s no shame in not progressing, there’s no shame in getting a C-section.”
But for many people (possibly even Derrick and Jill included) there is. Celebrities including Molly Sims, Jennifer Lopez, Amber Rose, and Kate Winslet have spoken publicly about either the disappointment, shame, or regret they felt over having unplanned cesareans. “I’ve gone to great pains to cover it up,” Winslet told Gotham magazine in 2004, four years after the birth of her daughter. “But Mia was an emergency C-section. I just said that I had a natural birth because I was so completely traumatized by the fact that I hadn’t given birth. I felt like a complete failure.”
This sort of emotional reaction to a birth not going the way a woman planned is common, though it’s often swept under the rug, according to Ellen Chuse, a longtime childbirth educator and postpartum counselor based in Brooklyn. “The woman’s experience of birth is so diminished in our culture — given no weight at all,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “So if you should express any sadness or anger or anything vaguely negative about it, people say, ‘Well, you had a healthy baby! Isn’t that what you wanted?’ Of course. But no value is given to the experience of the woman, and she carries that experience with her for her entire life. Many women need to mourn the loss of the birth they wanted.”
In addition to doing individual post-partum counseling, Chuse leads Cesarean Birth Healing Circles, which act as support groups. “There’s trauma, there can be anger, there are feelings of sadness,” she says. “Often women internalize it and blame themselves — ‘I should have done this, I shouldn’t have allowed that’ — and it can create a lot of depression.”
According to Michele Giordano, executive director of Choices in Childbirth, a New York-based organization that advocates for and educates women about healthy, safe childbirth experiences, reactions to cesareans can range from trauma to sheer joy and empowerment, depending on the individual. “There are a lot of different dynamics to C-sections, and not every woman experiences it the same way,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Women need support and education to know all the risks and benefits of C-sections, no matter what type of birth they’re planning.”
Situations leading to unplanned interventions differ greatly, of course, with some women having to be transferred to the hospital from a planned home birth and others being advised to choose cesarean during an in-hospital birth that they had planned on being natural.
“What’s happened since the ’90s is that the medical establishment has coopted the natural-birth movement, with nicer curtains in the rooms and doctors assuring women they’ll work with them toward a natural birth,” Chuse says, noting that the national C-section rate stands at over 32 percent. “So women step into this situation expecting it will ensure the birth experience they’ve been planning for. But unfortunately it’s not often what happens, because hospital protocols and routines of medical birth take over.” And learning the hard way that birth is out of our control is not always an easy thing to swallow.
“We’re in such a period of perfectionism — we eat organically, go to yoga, read all the right books — but birth is not within our control, even under the best circumstances,” she says. And even when a medically necessary cesarean might be the perfect birth for a baby, Chuse notes, “that doesn’t necessarily make it the perfect birth for the mother.”