10 Things To Expect Should You Have A C-Section

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c-section-tips Image via Shutterstock

When I was five, I decided I didn’t want to have kids. At that not-so-ripe age, birthing a baby seemed barbaric. “I’ll have one when they figure out how to beam it out,” I announced grandly. I was pretty disappointed when — 23 years later — I got pregnant and realized I’d have to do all the work myself.

I labored with my first child for eight hours, before his heart rate began to plummet and they whisked me into the operating room for a C-section. It was my worst-case scenario — a surgical birth. My mom had four C-sections, but I was adamant it wouldn’t happen to me. I’d read about all the dangers and heard all the negative chatter about surgical births. What I hadn’t researched were some of the surprising things that happen during and after the surgery. Here are some you can expect, should you have a C-section, too…

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1. The Shaking. When the anesthesia kicks in, sometimes the violent shaking begins. It feels like fever chills, and if you don’t know what’s going on, it’s disconcerting. Plus, it’s frigid in the OR.

Pro Tip: Ask for blankets in the OR. They draped one over my top half during my second C-section, and after I’d been stitched up, I asked for more blankets. They usually have a blanket warmer, so I was piled with blankets that had that fresh-from-the-dryer feeling.

2. The Table Strap-down. Sometimes they strap you to the operating table. That sounds really psych-ward-esque (but, hey, you’re crazy enough to want to have a baby!) Often, your arms splayed out, Jesus-style, to limit movement while the OBs do their thing. As long as I kept my arms (mostly) flat out, my hospital didn’t strap me down. My husband kept one of my hands in his, which helped.

Pro Tip: Ask to have your arms unstrapped. The worst they can say is “No.” Hey, you’re numb from the chest down. It’s not like you’re going anywhere.

3. The Pressure. You’re in the C-section club now. Rather than pushing a baby out, yours gets to emerge, cocoon-style, from your stomach. There’s no ring of fire here, but the pressure can be enormous. It’s momentary, it’s anxiety-producing, but it’s normal. You also may feel pressure when you’re first sliced open, supposedly due to the air pockets. With my first baby, I felt as though an elephant was standing on my chest. “Totally normal,” the anesthesiologist assured me. “It’ll pass in a second.”

“So I’m not having a heart attack?” I asked. He shook his head.

Pro Tip: You’re in a room with a team of people, working together to get your baby out. Keep a dialogue going. You’ll know when you feel the pressure, but it doesn’t hurt to ask what’s happening when so you’ll know. As my OB cut into me during my second C-section, I asked how much scar tissue was there from the first operation. My husband just shook his head in disbelief that I would deign to ask that while I was laying open on the table.

4. The (Potential) Vomit. There’s lots of cauterizing, squishing, moving of parts. Sometimes they have to pull your uterus out. Regardless, a lot of bloody stuff is happening behind that curtain. Plus, you’re lying prone and likely nervous, which doesn’t help. As a lifelong anxiety sufferer (and thrower-upper), during my first C-section, I told them I needed to vomit.

If you’ve never thrown up while lying flat on your back, it’s an experience. They told me turn my head to the side and vomit in that pink kidney-shaped pan. I did. I felt better. The second time around, when I walked into the OR, I informed them that I was a nervous wreck and requested the throw-up pan nearby.

Pro Tip: Don’t lift your head to throw up if you can possibly help it. The straining, mixed with the head lifting, during my second C-section caused a spinal headache that lasted for about 10 minutes. I also requested a wet washcloth that I could keep on my forehead and/or neck when I felt nauseated. It was a tiny bit of control that helped me to feel grounded.

5. The Gas Pains. Your body is sliced open and exposed to the elements (i.e. the Antarctic-chilled air that is the operating room). Baby pops out. Air gets in. It is what it is. And that gas can hurt. In weird places. Several days later. Like, gas in your shoulder.

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Pro Tip: If you’re concerned, ask the nurse. They’ve seen it all. More importantly, they can give you a gas relief pill.

6. The Numbness. They cut through a lot of nerves. A lot. Often, there will be some numbness around the incision site. It may or may not go away. Or may go away partially. I still have a few patches, 2.5 years after my last section, that are numb. It’s weird if they itch, but otherwise I forget about it. Also, due to the cutting through those nerves, your hands and feet may fall asleep more quickly than normal post-surgery.

Pro Tip: Remember, you had major abdominal surgery. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.

7. The Swelling. You know how an elephant’s foot looks? You’ve had surgery. You’ve been pumped with fluids. They make you wear those compression things. Blood pools places. And sometimes it makes your ankles and feet swell up. A lot. The ankle socks I wore in the hospital would only pull up to my heels. Oh, and the fluids can make your facial features puffy too.

Pro Tip: Just monitor the swelling. Try to keep your feet elevated whenever possible (ha!). Other puffy features should dissipate within a few days when you start sweating out everything. And you will sweat. A lot.

8. The Pooping. It’s hard to poop. And the poop is hard. Havoc has been wreaked with your body. And you’re taking medicine to manage the pain. And you’re gassy. A triumvirate of fun.

Pro Tip: Stool softeners aren’t just for your grandma. Ask for them in the hospital. Take them at home.

9. The Recovery. You hear the horror stories—the long, painful recoveries. But there are plenty of people who bounced back quickly. With both of my C-sections, i was up and walking to the bathroom within four hours. I took a shower within six hours. With my second C-section, I had managed my pain so well, I was walking the halls the day after surgery. The pain was not nearly as bad as I’d imagined. I was terrified of any surgery. When I had my impacted wisdom teeth removed, I was so terrified of having an IV, I opted to just take a mild oral sedative.

Pro Tip: Take the medicine on schedule. If you let the pain get away from you. Try to walk around as much as possible.

10. The Guilt. We are told that C-sections are often unnecessary. That a C-section doesn’t allow our bodies to do what they’re designed to do. But having a C-section is not a failure. It is not the easy way out. You are every bit as much a mother as someone who’s had a vaginal delivery. Having a C-section baby does not mean you won’t have a good breastfeeding relationship. It doesn’t mean that you won’t bond with your baby. I was allowed to hold both of my babies in the operating room, and I had them on my chest as I was wheeled to recovery. I nursed within the first 30 minutes of being stitched up.

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A Cesarian section is just one way to deliver as safe and as healthy of a baby as possible. That’s always the goal, isn’t it? Safe and healthy. You are not less brave for having had C-section.

Pro Tip: Find an online support group. Facebook is a great way to connect with others for assurance and empathy. Any birth is a life-changing event.

Bonus: When you tell your teenager, years later, about his or her birth, you can honestly say he/she came out of your stomach. That’s way less gross.

Maybe when my kids start to have kids, there’ll be some sort of Harry Potter-style way to “Accio” a baby out. But for now, a C-section was the closest way I came to having a baby “beamed” out of my body. I wasn’t given a choice the first time; I was the second time. And if I had to do it a third time, I would choose a C-section.

Related post: My Birth Plan, Dammit

I Refuse To Feel Shame Over My C-Sections

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There is something about the internet that makes people feel free to say the strangest things, to declare expert status on topics without bothering to find out the information. All it takes is one seemingly innocent comment on one mutual friend’s FB page and let the shaming begin!

Well, internet, I reject your shame.

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I will be having a scheduled c-section with this baby, like I did with my first, and guess what? I am still a good mom. Some women have scheduled c-sections just because, and honestly though the c-section rate is indeed high and we could do a better job of supporting mothers to deliver vaginally, it’s none of your business why they schedule them.

I don’t know their stories, but I do know mine. Perhaps it will help you understand.

With my first, we presented a birth plan to my OB at our 35 week appointment. It involved walking around the hospital, warm showers and as little intervention as possible. My OB was totally on board until the ultrasound showed that my son, Max, was not just breach but “jacknifed” his small butt stuck by my left hip, his head up near my right ribs and his feet both stuck over his head. There was no way he was coming out. I tried everything. Lay on an ironing board off the couch and hang with your head near the floor and your legs in the air with a pack of frozen peas on his head, the idea being that the cold and the change in direction would encourage him to move. Did it. Poor guy was stuck. He wasn’t able to move, even if he had wanted too.

I will never forget how quiet and still she was during that ultrasound, concern on her face as after what seemed like forever she said “I don’t think you’re going to get the birth you hope for, we will need to do a c-section.” Zach and I breathed a sigh of relief after she assured us that baby was fine, just stuck, and our immediate response was “Oh, is THAT all?”

That c-section can only be likened to the final scenes of Braveheart. Two nurses climbed on the table and pushed and wiggled as I was cut farther and farther open in order to finagle one very stuck baby boy out of me.

Yet, you judge, internet.

You don’t know that when you toss that out, and accuse my doctor of wanting an easy way out, what a struggle that surgery was. You don’t know that when Zach asked Dr. K when it was all over what would have happened to Max and I back in the pioneer days and she said very quietly “they both would have died in labor.” All you hear is scheduled C-section and you make assumptions.

I went into labor with Huck, my second, at 29 weeks, the exact same gestational age as I am right now with this baby. We were in and out of the hospital, on bedrest, on contraction stopping drugs and when my water broke at 36 weeks my entire team supported my decision to try for a VBAC.

Yet, you come on FB and say “Don’t let your doctor talk you into a c-section! You are a PERFECT candidate for a VBAC! You could deliver the right way!”

You don’t know what the doctors did support me. In the end, after the baby started showing signs of stress, my OB suggested a c-section and I agreed.

I knew then that if I had another baby it would be a direct ticket to the O.R. and I am at peace with that. I have had two c-sections. One with a swiss cut and one with a singular cut. To risk tearing and bleeding out is silly in my opinion. I have two sweet boys who want their mommy around. I have a baby girl in my womb who is hoping to be born and loved. I don’t think she cares how she gets out. Just that she does.

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So, internet, I reject your shame. You can keep it.

I wouldn’t even be here to be a mother to my baby if it weren’t for a scheduled c-section; scheduled in the nick of time as it turned out, as my contractions were two minutes apart when they checked me in with Max.

We can never know anyone’s reason for having a c-section and it isn’t any of our business. The only proper thing to say is  ”all that matters is mommy and baby are happy and here at the end of the day.” Then smile at the mama and congratulate her.

The end.

6 Things I Wish I’d Known About Having a C-Section

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My first son was delivered via c-section at 35 weeks after an ultrasound revealed he ceased growing due to placenta previa. I knew early on in my pregnancy that it was a possibility I wouldn’t be able to deliver vaginally, but being in denial, I never bothered to ask what the recovery process was like if I did indeed go under the knife.

I figured, by comparison to pushing a baby out and getting ripped from the rooter to the tooter, a c-section would be a cake walk.

Sitting in my OB’s office, hearing that I was heading over to surgery and would have a baby by happy hour, I was scared and ill-prepared.  I didn’t know what I was in for, exactly. I just figured they’d wheel me in, I’d lay there like a corpse, and then hours later I’d be sitting up in bed, holding a baby, looking glowing and happy in an adorable robe like Rachel in Friends.

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Sucker.

This is, after all, major surgery. I mean, my husband saw my intestines being pulled out, for crying out loud. If that doesn’t buy you a night out by yourself when the baby is older, I don’t know what will.

If you’re thinking that a c-section is a possibility for your next birth, perhaps my ignorance can spare you a few headaches and worry. Here are some things I learned:

1. The operating room is as cold as the polar ice caps and the stuff they put in your IV only makes it worse. With my first c-section I was shaking so much I was convinced the anesthesiologist would miss his target with the spinal block and I’d come out of surgery a paraplegic. I had absolutely no idea my body was capable of shimming that fast. Watch out, Shakira, those hips don’t lie. They’re scared shitless.

2. Think you won’t feel a thing? Think again. While you won’t feel them cutting or feel pain, no one told me I’d feel all this tremendous pulling as they pried my son out of my body cavity. My OB warned me “Okay, you might feel some slight pressure.” Slight? This is not a flu shot, people. I don’t call the sensation of someone yanking a bowling ball out of my loins a slight sensation.

3. Don’t say no to drugs. They get you pretty doped up in surgery and at first I willingly took the hard core pain meds they give me. But at around 28 hours post surgery I felt pretty good and thought, “Nah, I’ll skip meds this shift.” Bad idea.  Worst idea I’ve ever had. You’re not only dealing with the pain of getting your insides ripped open and sewn back together, but you’ve also being visited post-delivery cramping because the baby isn’t paying rent anymore. They tell you to stay one step ahead of the pain. I prefer to be a football field ahead.

4. Your ability to laugh like a normal human being will be put on hold. Ditto for sneezing, pooping and coughing.  The advice is to hold a pillow over your incision if you need to perform any of these actions, and though it may help a tiny bit, you’ll still find yourself making modifications. Your sneezes will become the tiny, restrained kind that only Disney Princesses can attain. While in the hospital with my son, my husband cracked a hilarious remark that caused my body to produce such a high-pitched hyena snicker that the nurses went running to call the psych ward.

5. Think your intestinal tract was screwed up when you were pregnant? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. With my son, I didn’t take a dump for seven days. SEVEN. POOPLESS. DAYS. Mass quantities of fiber didn’t get things moving along. Five days after delivery I finally got the urge and 50 sweaty minutes later, I came up empty. It was as if the kids climbed up the ladder of the high dive, tip-toed out to the edge of the board, took one look down and said “No way in hell, lady” then made the slow, shameful climb back down. Arm yourself with some goodies like apricot nectar and prune juice.  Think “retirement home beverages”.

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6. The area around your scar will never, ever, ever get feelings back. The skin around my incisions still has very few nerve endings, four years after my last c-section. That area will still get itches that I can’t scratch, but I power on, digging at it like a meth addict. I have high hopes I might regain sensation, but at this point, I have as much chance as Lindsay Lohan staying out of jail.

Yet, despite knowing all this, after my first born, I still had another baby via cesarean. Being prepared for what was to come definitely helped ease my jitters. That, and sneaking a case of prune juice in my overnight bag.

Related post: I Refuse To Feel Shame Over My C-Sections