Failing at Birth


I’ve spent almost 2 years unpacking my feelings about my daughter’s unplanned cesarean delivery and having discussions about birth and maternal health. I still have questions and uncertainty as I think about the possibility of trying for another child.  What could or should birth after cesarean look like for me. One thing that I do not question is that having a baby via c-Section is most definitely NOT a failure 

I wish we had different terms to describe the ways tiny humans emerge from our bodies. “Successful” vaginal birth is one that does not end in cesarean even though it could result in tears, pubic dysfunction, hemorrhage or other complications. A “failed” trial of labor after cesarean has more risk than a “successful” vbac (vaginal birth after cesarean) or an elective repeat C-section. We use terms like success and failure even though the difference is basically luck of the draw. 

We speak about birth in terms of trial and accomplishments and wonder why women have guilt and trauma after various birth experiences. No person who has had a child emerge from you is a failure. A live birth and healthy baby is not “all that matters” either because still births and babies in need of treatment matter too. 

Natural birth is a fine thing to strive toward if you have personal beliefs against medical intervention. We tell moms you can do this, your body was made for this, babies know when to come. We need this affirmation to push us through the hardest thing most of us will ever do in life. Except sometimes your body is not made compatibly with your baby’s. Sometimes they don’t come on their own, or the signals don’t connect with the perfect timing and intensity. Sometimes things go wrong. Not most of the time and maybe not even as much of the time as cesareans are done (which is, thankfully, being addressed in the child birth field.) But things can and do go wrong. They did before modern medicine and they do with animals in the wild, literally the most natural setting imaginable. We are fortunate to have life-saving resources if and when needed. Utilizing them out of necessity or choice is brave, perfectly acceptable, and honorable. Being sliced open is just as badass as pushing without epidural. (And why do we glorify women suffering through pain anyway?) 

The things your body and brain go through in this short but dramatic time do not or should not define you as a person. If you are going to give birth, here is my best advice: 

  1. Be informed as to the methods that will give you the best chance for the birth you desire. Ensure those things are based in facts and not fear 
  2. Have open communication with your health care provider 
  3. If at all possible, hire a doula to support you and your partner through the experience including  when tough decisions must be made. Pro-tip A postpartum doula is also pretty clutch.
  4. Try not to wrap yourself up in what will and will not happen but have faith that the provider you trust has the best interest of you and your baby at heart. (If you don’t believe this you should choose a different provider) 
  5. Be open to adapting to changes in your birth plan. Have faith that if things don’t go according to plan it is 100% not your fault 

Birth is an involuntary bodily function. It is not a contest. It is a physically challenging process, but it is not an athletic competition. If you go home with a baby you are a success. But if you cradle an angel and kiss them goodbye you are not a failure. Whether you get up and walk out 4 hours later or spend a few weeks in recovery from surgery you are a winner. 

You did not fail at birth.


  1. This is so on point. Honestly, I clicked on this post from the email because I was ticked someone would ever frame birth as “failing”. I’m so glad I did – because now I see you are, too! Thank you for talking about this and pointing this out.

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