5 lessons learned about Attachment Parenting after a cesarean birth

Editor’s note: April is Cesarean Awareness Month, an observance of the International Cesarean Awareness Network designed to reduce unnecessary cesareans, advocate for VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and help women heal from the sometimes-difficult emotions surrounding a cesarean birth. While Attachment Parenting International (API) promotes childbirth options with the least interventions, we also recognize that there are certain situations that necessitate interventions. What is most important is that parents research all of their options to be able to make an informed decision:

kelly shealer C sectSometimes, moms who know during pregnancy that they want to practice Attachment Parenting worry that it will be more difficult or impossible after a cesarean birth. But as with any birth experience, the first few days or weeks don’t define your relationship with your child. Attachment is an ongoing process.

Practicing Attachment Parenting after a cesarean may be a slightly different experience than after a vaginal delivery, but it is still absolutely possible.

From my personal experience, I have learned the following 5 lessons of Attachment Parenting following a cesarean birth:

  1. Breastfeeding — It’s a myth that you can’t breastfeed after a cesarean or that it’s always harder for the baby to start breastfeeding. My 2 cesarean babies were champion nursers in the recovery room. But, in some cases, it may take a little more time to get started. Sometimes it takes more time for the milk to come in, and it may be more difficult to find a comfortable nursing position. The football hold is one of the best positions for a mom who has just had a cesarean, as it keeps the pressure away from the incision area. In any situation, a challenging start to nursing doesn’t mean that one can’t successfully breastfeed long-term, and with help and support, most moms certainly can breastfeed after a cesarean.
  2. Babywearing — In the first few weeks after a cesarean, babywearing is difficult, if not impossible, because many carriers will put too much pressure on the mom’s abdomen. Even having the baby positioned higher up on mom’s body for too long can lead to some internal discomfort later in the day. So, it may be best to wait on babywearing, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen at all! Missing out on wearing my son soon after birth didn’t affect our future babywearing, which we did comfortably until he started crawling and no longer wanted to be contained. In fact, I wore him so frequently over those months that it was difficult for me emotionally to realize that this chapter of our relationship was ending.
  3. Cosleeping — It was also possible for us to cosleep after the cesarean. It was actually easier that way than having my son in a crib, because it wasn’t possible for me to bend down and lift him out. The only concern was to be sure that the baby’s feet weren’t going to kick or bump the incision area.
  4. Preparing for a family-centered cesarean — In some situations, moms know in advance that they’re having a cesarean. In this case, moms can try to make it a more positive experience by looking into a family-centered, or gentle, cesarean. This looks different for every family, but it may include having the cesarean performed slowly with the baby walked out gently, having one arm unrestrained in order to hold the baby as early as possible, playing music in the operating room, having the screen lowered at the time of delivery, and breastfeeding in the operating or recovery room. When I learned that my third baby was breech and that I’d be having a repeat cesarean instead of the VBAC I desired, I created a gentle cesarean birth plan, which helped me take control of my birth experience.
  5. Negative birth experience — In some cases, a cesarean is not what a mom wants. She may be unhappy with the way events progressed during her labor or with interventions she didn’t want.  She may feel that she didn’t have enough control over her body. Women are sometimes even told that they shouldn’t care that the birth didn’t go as planned, because all that really matters is that the baby is healthy. It is important to acknowledge that negative feelings about any birth experience can sometimes make it more difficult for a new mom to bond with her baby, and what a new mom in this situation often needs is support. Support comes in many forms. It may be from friends and family, from your local API leader and API Support Group, from a postpartum doula or a medical professional. But even moms who are unhappy with their births or suffer from postpartum depression after the birth can successfully bond and parent in an attached, connected way throughout the child’s life.

Additional API Resources on Gentle Cesarean Births

API’s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

Personal stories on APtly Said, API’s blog:

— “A special door

— “I took back control of my cesarean

Professional insight on The Attached Family, API’s online magazine:

— “What Goes Into a Family-Centered Cesarean Birth Plan

— “What to Do When a Cesarean Becomes Necessary

Attachment Parenting doesn’t make me a perfect parent

Attachment Parenting doesn’t make me a perfect parent. It makes me an involved parent, a loving parent, and well… an attached parent, but certainly not a perfect one.

*****

jillian_amodioIt sneaks up rather quickly. It consumes my thoughts and drags me deeper and deeper into the same vicious cycle. All seems well, and then out of nowhere, it launches an attack on my psyche. It plagues my subconscious mind more than I care to admit. I’m sure it has an effect on the way I parent and the way in which I interact with my children. How can it not?

What is this mysterious thing that infiltrates my parenting and causes me such distress? Guilt.

Guilt over not spending enough time with my children, spending too much time on housework or not spending enough time on housework. Guilt for having a gassy baby. Guilt over not giving as much attention to my husband. Guilt for taking a nap rather than doing something “productive.” Guilt for not working outside the home. Guilt for losing my patience and not being creative enough, fun enough or energetic enough. Guilt for allowing screentime. Guilt for not allowing screentime. Guilt for wanting me time…

Now don’t get me wrong. Overall, I am happy. I adore being a mom. It is my calling, my purpose. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult, and that doesn’t mean that I’ve got it all figured out. More often than not, I’m clueless. I’m learning as I go. But for some reason, learning from my mistakes often results in feelings of failure.

After having my daughter, my first child, I was burdened with more guilt and sadness than I had ever known. There she was lying in my arms barely 24 hours old, and I sat there covering her with tears of guilt. I sobbed, feeling like a failure for having a Caesarean section when she went into fetal distress. I sobbed harder when I found breastfeeding to be one of the most difficult and confusing things I had ever tried to do. I had just begun my journey as a mother, and I already felt like a failure. For months after her birth, I would call my mom crying, telling her that I wasn’t good enough.

I remember almost dropping my daughter the first day I was home alone with her while trying to get the stroller out of the car so we could go on a walk. I sat in the parking lot out front of our townhome and sobbed, clutching her to my chest telling her how sorry I was. A few minutes later a jogger came by and asked what he could do to help. I handed him my phone and said, “Please just call my mom. I can’t do this.”

More often than not, I cried myself to sleep. Once I finally did fall asleep, I would dream of my baby crying or wake up in a panic thinking that something was wrong with her. One night, my eyes popped open and I was drenched in sweat. I kept screaming at my husband that something was wrong. I was convinced that my daughter’s soft spot had caved in. I was inconsolable. He had to grab her out of the bassinet and place her in my arms to get me to believe that she was OK.

This kind of self-doubt continued throughout her infancy — and quite honestly has yet to disappear completely. I was always anxious and worried. What if we get into an accident? Was her car seat fitted right? Did she have the right toys? How early is too early to start music lessons? Was she getting enough milk? Was my diet to blame for her being fussy? Should I supplement with formula? Should I feel guilty about even thinking of supplementing with formula? Was my house quiet enough during her nap? Should I have classical music playing in the background? Am I providing enough stimulation for proper cognitive development? The questions were endless, and I was completely overwhelmed.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but after doing research for a book I was working on, I began to realize that I was most likely suffering from some degree of postpartum depression or anxiety.

While still anxious and often guilt-laden, those feelings began to decrease in severity as time went on. Then along came our second child, my sweet boy.  This baby is the calm that I desperately needed. He is mild-mannered and snuggly.

Even so, I could feel that same vicious cycle starting again. Even while pregnant, I worried if I would bond with him and adore him the way I adore my daughter. I felt guilty for not being able to focus on each week of gestation with the same intensity I had with my daughter. After he was born, the tears and feelings of guilt and inadequacy began to surface even more. I felt guilty over having a Cesarean section for the second time. I felt guilty about having less time with my daughter. I felt guilty about being tired. And I wanted so desperately to be perfect for both of my children.

This time however, I recognized the warning signs. I read an article written by Birdie Gunyon Meyer with Postpartum Support International. Several things stuck out to me:

  • “Depression and anxiety occur frequently, affecting 1 in 7 women.” I am not alone…
  • Some symptoms of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders include “frequent crying, sleep changes, …feelings of loneliness, sadness, or hopelessness, …anxiety, panic, excessive worry, feeling overwhelmed…” Check, check, check.
  • “If you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms beyond 2 weeks, it’s not just the blues anymore.” It might be time to get help.

It has been more than 2 months since the birth of my son. I am slowly starting to feel like myself again, but this time, I know that these lingering feelings are not normal. They are not founded on any basis of truth. I have opened up to friends and family and have been seeing a counselor. I am learning to be confident in my role as a mother and to not be so hard on myself.

My point in this is, that while being a mom is a great honor and brings me much joy, it’s OK to not be perfect. Seeking perfection is setting myself up for failure.

Above all else, there is no shame in asking for help. Motherhood is hard, and I just want all moms to know that I’m rooting for you. We all need to support each other and let each other know that “Hey, I’ve been there. You’re not alone.”

Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders don’t need to be taboo. They need to be talked about. It’s the only way any of us are going to feel better. And when we feel better ourselves, we can better love our children. Happy moms make happy littles, and that’s really all that matters.

If you think you may be experiencing a perinatal or postpartum mood and anxiety disorder, don’t hesitate to get help. Postpartum Support International connects mothers and their families with volunteers, support groups and other resources, many of them at no cost.

A special door

Editor’s note: April is Cesarean Awareness Month, an international observance designed to reduce unnecessary Cesareans, advocate for Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) and help women heal from the sometimes-difficult emotions surrounding a Cesarean birth. Attachment Parenting International‘s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting advocates for parents to research their options regarding childbirth choices. While API promotes choices with the least interventions possible, Cesareans are necessary in some situations. It’s important for mothers to fully process their experience, not only for their own emotional health but also for their bond with baby, so their Cesarean birth story can be beautifully retold, again and again:

1339476_sand_heart“Tell me again, Mommy,” says my daughter. “Tell me about when I was born.”

I gather her in my arms and feel her head rest against my chest. “You were ready to run out!” I say, and she giggles as she always does. “I could feel your head right here by my heart and your feet were straight down and ready to go.”

“I wasn’t upside down like other babies,” she adds, looking into my eyes.

“No,” I reply, “you were special and so excited to come out and meet the world.”

“I was ready to run,” she repeats. “I’m a fast runner!”

“Yes, and that’s why you got to come out a special door in my tummy,” I say, putting my hand over the spot where my Cesarean scar is. My daughter puts her hand over mine and echoes, “a special door.”

“And when you were born,” I remember, “Daddy and I snuggled you and kissed you and said, ‘Welcome!'” My voice gets husky and tears spring to my eyes.

“Did you cry, Mommy?” my daughter asks.

“Yes, I did,” I reply. “A little, because I’d waited for so long to meet you, and because I was so happy to hold you in my arms.”

I took back control of my Cesarean

Editor’s note: April is Cesarean Awareness Month, an international observance designed to reduce unnecessary Cesareans, advocate for Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) and help women heal from the sometimes-difficult emotions surrounding a Cesarean birth. Attachment Parenting International‘s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting advocates for parents to research their options regarding childbirth choices. While API promotes choices with the least interventions possible, Cesareans are necessary in some situations. But a Cesarean does not need to prevent a gentle delivery:

When I was 7 months pregnant with my third baby, we learned that the baby was in breech position.

That had been my concern all along. My second baby had been breech as well, only we hadn’t found out until I was at the hospital in labor. Since I’d already had a vaginal delivery the first time around and now had a midwife and a doula, I felt confident about my ability to have a VBAC if my baby was in the right position. Apparently my baby had plans of her own.

My midwife gave me a list of 17 things to try over the next several weeks that might encourage the baby to flip. Searching the internet, I found half a dozen more, plus variations of several of them. I was incredibly overwhelmed. I felt like I had to try everything. What if I didn’t do one thing and that was the one that would have made the baby turn? What if I only did something twice a day when I should be doing it three or four or 10 times? What if I was doing it wrong altogether?

The idea of a second Cesarean had me overly stressed and anxious. I was so preoccupied with doing things that might help me avoid it that I felt like I was taking time away from my sons, and I wasn’t enjoying my pregnancy.

Finally my doula helped me realize that I couldn’t do everything. I had to pick the few things that felt right to me. I was still giving my baby plenty of opportunities to turn. My doula helped me remember that some babies simply don’t want to flip, or can’t for some reason.

For the rest of the pregnancy, I was able to focus on doing what felt right for my body and my baby. Hypnobabies helped me relax. I reminded myself that even if a chiropractic adjustment didn’t give the result I wanted, it was still good for my body. Instead of worrying about the things I tried not producing automatic results, I turned my attention to making the impending Cesarean a positive experience.

I took back control of my birth.

I researched gentle Cesareans, where the baby is walked out slowly, and created a Cesarean birth plan. I spoke with an obstetrician about my desire for immediate skin-to-skin contact and having the baby with me in the recovery room. He took the time to go through my birth plan with me and addressed his concerns in a fair, respectful way.

Going into the Cesarean, I was able to feel at peace, to feel prepared. Unlike with my previous Cesarean, which I didn’t know would happen in advance, this time I was lucky to be able to process the emotions surrounding it beforehand.

kelly shealer C sectMy baby girl was born on April 30, 2014, eight days after my oldest son turned 4 and 18 days after my second son turned 2. After the doctor told me my baby was a girl, everything became a blur. I do know that once they gave her to me, she never left my side. She rode with me to the recovery room and stayed there the whole time, nursing. All that night she wanted to stay cuddled up against me, and that was fine with me.

I took back control of my birth.

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