I didn't know my son was going to be a C-section baby. In fact, most signs indicated that he would not be. After all, I was in my 20s, healthy, and had had an uncomplicated pregnancy. I went into labor on my own, a few days early, and began contracting regularly — another sign of a completely "normal" delivery. But after 18 hours of insufficient cervical dilation and erratic fetal heart rate, I was whisked to the operating room. At that point, I was glad there were questions I made sure to ask my OB-GYN before my C-section.
A piece of advice I give all new moms is to prepare for the birth they want and the one they don't want. Because you never know how things are going to go, and it's when things aren't going the way you'd like that you're going to want to be as empowered as possible. Knowledge, my dear reader, is power. And in my case, even though I didn't want to have a C-section, being open to the possibility and aware of how it would go down made it a truly enjoyable, beautiful experience and even though it was technically a medical emergency.
It can be difficult to know where to begin to talk about Cesareans with your doctor — you don't know what you don't know, right? — so here are some questions you can bring up with your doctor to get you started:
"What Are The Risk Factors For A C-Section?"
Sometimes there is no indication you will need a C-section until you find out you need one. But some factors may influence whether you might be more or less likely to have a C-section — placenta or fetus position, weight, age, predicted size of baby, previous c-sections, and genera health all may be indicators that you have an elevated chance of needing a C-section. While not all of these factors will require a Cesarean, it's good to have some idea as you move forward in your pregnancy.
"What Is Your C-Section Rate?"
This is an important question to ask, since recent studies indicate that one's highest indicator of having a C-section often rests in their zip code. So chat with your doctor about their individual C-section rates. The national average is around 31 percent of births, though the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests it should only be around 10 to 15 percent. While a doctor's individual stats alone can't tell you whether or not you'll require surgery during delivery, they can nevertheless help orient your expectations.
"Could You Walk Me Through A C-Section?"
It's useful to talk to your OB-GYN about what actually happens during the procedure. Despite the fact that it's incredibly common, most people really don't know the play by play, which can make things confusing or even scary. (Especially if your partner then swears they saw your intestines on the table, because they didn't.) Knowing what will happen before, during, and after delivery will make everything less stressful and will better equip you to be a more empowered participant in your birth experience.
"Do You Use Staples, Stitches, Or Glue?"
Once your baby is delivered, the incision from whence they emerged (and it's so much smaller than you'd imagine it would have to be), will need to be closed back up. Stitches, staples, and surgical glue are all options, and any of them are just fine but it's always helpful to know what to expect. My doctor used staples and while that didn't cause any issues at all it was still a little bit jarring. I was expecting stitches.
"Will I Be Able To Hold My Baby Right Away?"
This is a point of concern for just about any C-section mom I've ever talked to, and the answer depends on two things: the circumstances of the C-section and the hospital policy. While you can't know the former until it happens (obviously), knowing the hospital policy on the matter can help you assert your right to snuggles ASAP.
In my case, I had an uncomplicated C-section and was able to bond as soon as my incision was closed and I was wheeled into the recovery room, where I began breastfeeding right away. Other hospitals take longer. Other hospitals will allow skin-to-skin contact while you're still being worked on in the operating room. So know what to expect so you know what you can insist upon.
"How Long Will I Be In The Hospital?"
This is particularly important if you have a child or pet at home that you'll need to make plans for (even if you don't think you're going to have a C-section, it's good to have someone on standby just in case). It's also good to know so you can prepare your hospital bag with the appropriate amount of stuff (though, honestly, if this is your first delivery you're probably going to wind up packing some truly silly stuff that you'll look back on and laugh).
"What Is The Recovery Time?"
Again, for planning purposes, this is a good fact to know. It's also good to have a set of expectations so that you can gauge whether or not something is amiss as you recover. (Generally, you can expect to be actively recovering for six weeks or so, though your mileage may vary and it may take you much longer to get completely back to 100 percent.)
"What Painkillers Will You Prescribe? Are They Compatible With Breastfeeding?"
If you're not planning to breastfeed this obviously isn't as big a deal (though it's always a good idea to know about any medications you're taking), but chat with your doctor so they can prescribe the best painkiller for you. And trust me, you will need painkillers after a C-section, if only for a little while. This is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of major abdominal surgery.
Rest assured, doctors are aware that most women are at least going to give breastfeeding a whirl and therefore routinely prescribe medications that are compatible with nursing.
"What Prohibitions Will Be In Place During Recovery And For How Long?"
There's a long list of things any postpartum mom is discouraged from attempting in the first few weeks after delivery, from inserting anything into the vagina (yes, that still holds true if you've had a C-section) to exercise to driving. There are some things that will have to be changed and accommodated in the following weeks, too, and that list is just a little bit longer for women who have had C-sections.
"What Should I Know That I Wouldn't Think To Ask?"
There's lots of things about C-sections and recovery that you won't think to ask because how do you know what you don't know, you know? For example, my OB-GYN mentioned that I shouldn't make any "extending" movements after surgery, like reaching into a high cupboard or vacuuming. This can put strain on the incision. She also told me to keep taking stool softeners, because your first postpartum poop is a doozy anyway and those painkillers we discussed? Often constipating. This never would have crossed my mind and I'm so glad I had a head's up.
Hopefully your OB-GYN will be forthcoming with advice and information, but don't be nervous about asking as many questions as you need in order to feel completely comfortable with this routine, safe, but nevertheless mysterious way to give birth.