6 Things Not To Say If She Didn’t Get The Birth She Hoped For

6 Things Not To Say If She Didn't Get The Birth She Hoped For

Even the neatest, nicely typed out birth plans can end up being thrown out of the window during childbirth.

After months of meticulous planning and preparing, it can be a shock to accept that the longed for birth will not become reality.

Some women find it this difficult to accept, and many find themselves grieving for the birth they didn’t experience.

For some women, what they did get was a traumatic, clinical, disempowering or distressing birth.

A birth reclaiming ceremony can be a very healing thing for these women to do.

Society seems almost uncomfortable with the idea of a woman feeling disappointed with her birth experience. There is an assumption that as long as the baby was born happy and healthy, then a mother should want nothing more. The truth is, however, that women do want more. Of course, a healthy baby is by far the most important concern, but that doesn’t mean that women are happy to settle for less than desirable birth experiences.

Medical interventions, emergency c-sections, induction and episiotomies – these things may be necessary at times, but that doesn’t mean they are welcome. Do not assume that just because an intervention was deemed necessary, your friend welcomed it with open arms. She may feel raw, disappointed, guilty and let down by her body, as well as being overjoyed about the birth of her beautiful baby. All of these feelings are valid, normal and healthy.

Sadly, most women are met with almost choral-like dismissal of any negative emotions they may feel about the birth. Here are seven things women do not need to hear when birth doesn’t go to plan:

#1: “All That Matters Is That The Baby Is Healthy!”

This simply isn’t true. Of course, any mother’s first priority is the health of her baby, but that doesn’t mean her own health no longer matters. Yes, having a healthy baby is wonderful, but that doesn’t take away from the shock or hurt women experience during medical birth interventions. If the mother is upset that she was cut, medicated or drugged during the birth, then this matters too.

Read more about the harms of saying all that matters is a healthy baby.

#2: “I’m Sure It Was Worth It”

Please do not exclaim what damage to the mother’s body you feel is acceptable during the birth of a baby. It was not your body, or your birth, and this means that you simply cannot speak for its worth.

#3: “Hey, At Least It Was… [Insert Here]”

Whatever you’re about to say – quick, pain-free or a good way of avoiding vaginal birth – just don’t. Please do not try to dismiss the birth experience as a convenient way of bypassing the less pleasant aspects of birth. A quick birth is not necessarily a good thing, and a medicated pain-free birth is not everyone’s idea of heaven. Some may long to experience a vaginal birth, and by joking about how they lucky they were to avoid it, you can leave them worrying that their feelings aren’t valid.

#3: “Pass The Popcorn… [Rolls Eyes]”

Ok, you’re unlikely to actually say that phrase, but as a society we tend to approach birth like a freakshow. Traumatic birth experiences are re-told, often for dramatic effect, as though they are simply horror stories. Birth is an extraordinary experience, and this is probably one reason why we discuss it in such a dramatic way. It’s important to remember that your friend isn’t just telling you her birth story, she’s telling you her story – something that happened in her life. Please react as you would to any other emotional or upsetting news, with empathy and compassion, not as though you are taking notes so you can later share the story with friends.

#4: “I Don’t Know Why You Even Bothered With A Birth Plan”

This is an incredibly unhelpful comment, but sadly one that many women quickly get used to hearing. All pregnant women are aware that births don’t always go to plan, that somethings unforeseen circumstances dictate a change in direction. Women still write birth plans for a number of reasons – firstly, they are advised to by their healthcare professional. Secondly, it helps them to communicate their wishes to the team delivering the baby, so things like immediate skin-to-skin may still happen even if birth doesn’t go to plan. And finally, it helps women to prepare for birth. By writing a birth plan, women learn about the different birth options available to them.

#5: “Very Few Women Get The Birth They Want”

You may think that this comment is normalising the woman’s feelings of disappointment, but in fact she may simply feel that you are brushing her concerns to the side. As you may know from your own experience, knowing that terrible things happen to other people to provides little comfort in times of emotional hurt.

#6: “Anyway…”

If a woman has chosen to share her raw feelings about the birth with you, please do not change the subject.

It can be hard to hear that your friend is upset, especially if you are cuddling her beautiful newborn baby in your arms at the time, but you need to offer her support. Put aside your feelings of discomfort, or the fact that you don’t know what to say, and support her by listening to how she feels. Do not change the subject, give her the space and time to tell you how she feels, and make sure she knows that you are there for her, and that her feelings are normal and nothing to be ashamed about.

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Fiona Peacock is a writer, researcher and lover of all things to do with pregnancy, birth and motherhood (apart from the lack of sleep). She is a home birth advocate, passionate about gentle parenting and is also really tired.


  1. this is such a necessary list of talking points and I hope people will take them seriously and really honor the story that a mother unfolds to people who she feels that are her friends…we have such traumatic births in the US and women really need to work through them .

    As an aside take note and spend time planning your own birth so that you’ll have the best experience he possibly could have. It seems that people spend more time researching strollers and crabs and they do their actual births and don’t forget the time right after the birth is just as important to use a lot of things that happen then to that you made one or not want to have to happen.

  2. this is such a necessary list of talking points and I hope people will take them seriously and really honor the story that a mother unfolds to people who she feels that are her friends…we have such traumatic birthsF in the US and women really need to work through them .

    As an aside take note and spend time planning your own birth so that you’ll have the best experience he possibly could have. It seems that people spend more time researching strollers and crabs and they do their actual births and don’t forget the time right after the birth is just as important to use a lot of things that happen then to that you made one or not want to have to happen.

  3. This bothers me more than anything. To complain about your birth experience when you and your baby are healthy is the epitome of first world problems. After struggling with infertility I have no patience for people who are depressed about their c section when they have just had a healthy baby. There are way worse things in life that can happen to you besides a c section. I labored to a 10 and then had an emergency c section and I was honestly just grateful my baby was ok and never thought to whine about my poor birth plan.

    1. Hi Sara,

      I am glad that you thought this way about your own birth and have been able to accept what happened. On a personal note, I however have not been able to. And because I feel like this I am sure that there are many others. It may seem like a first world problem or just a problem, especially after suffering with infertility yourself, but when your have to do things that are at war with your own personal belief system, then it can be a very hard thing to accept.

      I did have a healthy baby and am glad for that, however, to have a healthy baby (and keep myself healthy as well) I had to go against some of my personal beliefs. Beliefs that I have held dear for many years and long before I was even planning a family. 17 months after the birth of my child I am still struggling with the feelings that I have from my birth experience. I was very fortunate not to have to have a c-section however other medical interventions were necessary because my body was not playing ball with pregnancy. I did the things I did because I did not want to lose my child or have my child lose their mother because of the things that I chose to do. This does not mean that I made them lightly or accepted them happily. And there was much research that went into them as well.

      So yes this may be a first world problem. But this is most likely because there is now so much information out there that we can read and make informed decisions on. The information that we have access to allows us to know what is involved in birth and all that may be required to happen or not happen. This information is not necessarily known or interventions undertaken because of they way that birth is handled in other countries. Also some people have different belief systems, as well, that may impact on feelings around pregnancy and birth. If these belief systems have to be comprised during pregnancy and birth because of health concerns then it can be a very hard thing to accept.

      I am glad that you were happy and comfortable with your birth, however please remember that this may not be the case for everyone. Everyone is allowed to feel the way they do and gain support when these feelings are negative so that they can heal them. There are people out there that have struggled with what happened during giving birth. I know because I am one of them. It is not an easy thing to have to go along with things that you completely disagree with because you don’t want to harm the precious life inside of you.

    2. So are you basically saying that people have no right to feel upset or distressed by a traumatic birth? That because we are lucky enough to live in the UK we should just suppress our feelings? Because we have a baby now, we have no right to feel disappointed or let down by professionals? With respect, I fully disagree!

  4. I for one, disagree with Sara. I’m actually surprised that a person struggling with infertility would have this response, as, with every c-section, your chances of conceiving due to adhesions interfering with Fallopian tube function actually goes up. I also labored to 10 cm, and then had an emergency C -section after 29 hours, and, I was not happy about having to have a C-section at all, because I wanted 4 kids, and, a quick google search will pull up the risks associated with repeat C-sections. I now have to scale back to 3 kids if I don’t succeed with this VBAC, and, so honestly, I feel I gave up on the 4th child with the the first C-section. Would you tell someone who had to have bypass surgery they should just be glad their heart still works at all? But, to some degree, I can see where the comment is coming from – but only for people who only plan to have one child. For those planning two or more – welcome to increased risks for placenta previa, accretia, uterine rupture, bladder complications, adhesion pains, and a host of other things. I can’t imagine a Mom concerned about her subsequent children NOT being depressed over the increased risk.

    1. i agree COMPLETELY with alice, my first daughter was natural and i didnt get any pictures of her when she was first born and the doctor holding her after she came out, so with my second daughter i wanted someone to take pictures of my baby (no pictures of me or my parts) and i was then told after 3 days of waiting to dilated more i wasn’t going to have her so i had to go in for a c-section. i cried for so long because all i wanted was to have pictures of her to see everything. i was scared more then anything to be cute open, and the recovery was horrible compared to natural birth. i couldnt get up to breast feed my daughter, i couldn’t move to play with my 3 year old and i felt useless and depressed. i felt like a horrible wife/mother because i was in so much pain i couldn’t move. my husband had to do everything he was my muscles to get me in and out of bed and he had to wake up in the middle of the night to help me get up, then pass me our daughter wait for me to feed her and then put her back in her basinet all when he had to get up at 4 am to go to work….

      SO yes i was a little upset with having to have a c section. everyone is different and but a mothers choice maters just as much. lucky i had a wonderful husband by my side saying everything will be okay and had my had. he knew i was upset with what i had planned and it didn’t end up happening. and NO I AM NOT SELFISH AT ALL

  5. Sara, your comment has left me shocked to my core! I’m a birth trauma sufferer, for 28mths so far. Yes, I have an amazing daughter but the treatment I received from nothing short of incompetent ‘care’ providers was absolutely appalling. They were also responsible for me almost dying in childbirth. That was after they assaulted me whilst in labour. I find your comment so unbelievably ignorant that a woman’s psychological well-being is non existent! Of course I’m grateful I have a healthy daughter, that is what everyone wants, their baby to be born safely, but that does not mean we can be treated with utter contempt whilst birthing our babies and that that is acceptable. For it is totally unacceptable.

    And for the record, I’ve now been left unable to have anymore children, but I should just be grateful for what I have, right? I should just suck it up and not give a second thought to how the Health Practitioners have left my body and mind broken, right?

    Childbirth will be remembered until the day a woman dies, it is very important a woman is emotionally at ease with what happened and for you to show such disregard for the mental well-being of mothers is despicable.

  6. Both perspectives have validity… It is ok to feel the sense of loss when the birth does not go as hoped and it is also ok to be grateful for having the lifesaving options through the skills of a physician. My first lesson as a mother was that I don’t have control over many “things” and as a result I have learned to be more accepting of what life presents. Accepting but not nonchalant or complacent. I still do my homework and research options before making decisions but I also acknowledge that matters may not go as planned. I have learned to live life on a broader road and be thankful when opportunities present. Who can truly weight one person’s desires against another? I am not trying to diminish the emotional struggles of what is being discussed but truly, if this is a persons biggest challenge in life, this person is blessed and has much to be grateful! I wish you all peace with whatever life has in store.

    1. I completely agree with everything you say here. Yes, I can understand disappointment in your birth not going as planned, but we have to remember our bodies and birth cannot always be controlled, this is life! However, and not to diminish those feelings, let’s also be grateful worse alternatives didn’t happen. I’m speaking strictly to those who left the hospital with baby and all health intact. So many far worse things can happen during pregnancy and birth then birth plans going awry. Mourn the disappointment and move on to enjoy your baby and motherhood.

  7. After being in labour for 3 days i was told i had to have a c section as my baby was in distress… i am greatful for my healthy baby however i felt depressed as i wasnt able to give birth to him naturally. My whole pregnancy was difficult i kept getting infections nd i had GBS and then finding out i couldn’t give birth to gim naturally i really felt useless nd kept say what a great mother i turned out to be with the infections nd then not being able to give birth to him… a friend of mine read this article nd noticed that she had been doing those things. She came to talk to me about it and helped me through it all

  8. I didn’t have a birth plan, my delivery wasn’t the picture they painted, I asked about my strep b results and I was negative, negative and tested positive the day my water broke the hospital staff were unsure what to do, I wasn’t given antibiotics during my labor my baby wasn’t breathing and was blue when I delivered I passed on the strep b infection to her she spent 14 days in the nicu and that was tough because there was no communication there at day 7 she stared to desat it was a really tough time.

  9. It kind of bothers me too when people complain about not having the birth they wanted. I think being disappointed when things don’t go as you plan them is normal but eventually you move on from it. There are alot of women that would give anything to be in your shoes and just have a healthy baby. As a mother that has lost a child I find it insensitive and cruel to go on and on in front of them about how your birth plan didn’t work out.

  10. I wish we could look at birth like any other major medical event (yes, even home-birth can be a major event!) I had a very unwanted c-section. There are photos of my baby being born where my intestines are outside my body. It was horrific. I could barely move for days afterward. I still have pains in my abdomen if I work out or move in a funny way. If a person had a major surgery and recurring pain and bad memories, we wouldn’t say we were tired or offended by it. Why judge a mom so harshly?

    And also, my milk was delayed so long that my baby was losing weight. I will never forget how scared and guilty I felt. These photos of my baby losing so much weight while docs told me to just wait for the next appointment, not the gruesome ones of my body after birth, are what really hurt me. It took months for me to be able to produce enough milk, so once again I was attached to machines while others held my baby. I felt robbed not only of birth, but of the newborn period. Yes, I know some women have it worse. It’s not a competition. Yes, I do feel grateful that I am alive and my baby is alive, and I finally managed to breastfeed her and take care of her. But it does make it hard when people say all this stuff doesn’t count, or doesn’t matter.

    Bless you mamas!

  11. I never made it to the third trimester, my daughter was born 3 months early weighing 529g via emergency c-section. Obviously she was NOT born healthy- we have already spent 2 months in NICU and although she’s doing quite well at the moment we are still here for awhile longer.
    I’m disappointed that I never got to the stage where I actually looked pregnant. I never felt any kicks, was just starting to feel flutters before I was admitted to hospital (anterior placenta, first baby etc). It is hard not to think that my body failed my daughter as I watch her through the enclosed humidicrib- receiving countless x-rays, blood tests, PICC lines and cannulas and gastric tubes inserted, a failed lumbar puncture because despite using their smallest needle she was still too tiny. Watching her gasping for breath or not breathing at all because her brain is so immature that she simply forgot to breathe. It was hard waiting for 20 days before I even got to hold my daughter. And it is so hard going to the hospital every day and then coming home without my little girl.
    We thank God that she is alive and for the blessing she already is to us. But yes, I am disappointed in my experience of birth.

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