While I'd remained open to the possibility of a c-section, I planned to deliver vaginally. So when it became apparent that I would need an emergency c-section, I relied on the guidance of my OB-GYN, who was calm and reassuring throughout. Fortunately pretty much all the things my OB-GYN said about my c-section were true. Despite the fact that an estimated 33 percent of mothers in the United States will have a c-section, it's often a procedure shrouded in mystery. I would guess this has to do with the fact that many women don't really consider that they will end up becoming a mom via cesarean.
Now, these are things that were true for me. Everyone will experience a c-section in their own way (you know, just like literally every other experience one could possibly have). Overall, despite the emergent nature of my circumstances, I look back on my son's birth with fond reverence. Reverence for the beauty of the birth, for the medical technology that made it possible for everyone to leave the operating room safe and healthy, and for my own body's stamina and resilience.
I attribute a lot of that positivity to finding a doctor I trusted, whom I felt respected my intelligence and choices and who would be able to give me accurate information for the best possible outcome for everyone involved. She returned that trust by speaking some damn truth regarding all my questions and concerns about my c-section.
"We Need To Do A C-Section"
Too often, women feel they have been pressured into an unnecessary c-section. Some are even misled in believing they have no choice or that they are facing a medical emergency only to find later on that their surgery was classified as "optional" on their official patient file. There's no way of knowing how frequently this happens, but the fact that the U.S. c-section rate is among the highest in the world (the international average is just under 19 percent while the U.S. is at 33 percent) suggests that many women are being offered (or even coerced) into surgery before it is strictly speaking necessary. As a result, a number of women have negative feelings or even trauma following a c-section.
I am tremendously lucky in that I felt empowered and respected throughout my delivery. Once surgery began and my OB-GYN could see everything that was going on more clearly, she discovered a number a factors (the baby's positioning being one) that would have rendered vaginal delivery very difficult and dangerous. Years later, when my midwife (for a subsequent pregnancy) read my patient file, she agreed that in the same circumstances she also would have recommended the surgery.
So while I would have preferred not to have a c-section, the fact that I did not feel patronized, pressured, or tricked is something I'm very grateful for.
"You Won't Feel Any Pain"
So, barring extraordinary circumstances, I know that the anesthesia given during a c-section numbs a patient. However, I didn't realize just how much it numbs you. True story: I didn't know surgery had begun until I heard my doctor say "I'm about to deliver." Everything happened so quickly and everyone was so calm I just assumed they were still prepping the area or something. Oh sure, I could feel the occasional jostle, but that was it.
Guys: there was a scalpel in my abdomen and I didn't feel a damn thing. That's some f*cking witchcraft.
"Shivering Is Normal"
Because that sh*t was getting intense and I was convinced I was having some horrible reaction to anesthesia. At one point I actually needed people to hold my arms down. "It's totally normal," my OB-GYN assured. The fact that neither she or any of the gaggle of nurses and anesthesiologists were concerned, alleviated my concerns.
It wasn't actually until my second delivery, however and when I also began shaking uncontrollably, that it had nothing to do with the anesthesia: it was just "labor shakes." In all my reading I somehow never came across this phenomenon. Weird.
"You're Going To Feel A Lot Of Pressure"
So, this is a half truth. I wouldn't describe the feeling of having an 8-pound baby pulled out of you to be primarily a sensation of "pressure," but it's definitely something. Honestly it's unlike anything else I've ever felt. I've described it in the past as the sensation of un-sticking your boot from a huge mud puddle only you're the mud. I guess the closest familiar feeling you can equate that to would be pressure.
Of course normally, when a medical professional tells me I'm "going to feel pressure," that's just code for, "Brace yourself, woman, this is gonna hurt." I was relieved when this was not the case.
"You'll Get To Hold Him As Soon As We Close You Back Up"
As with all my points, this is something that will vary from person to person and, more accurately, hospital to hospital. One reason I didn't want a c-section is because so many other moms had told me sad stories about not being able to hold their baby for hours after a c-section as they were whisked off in accordance with hospital policy. However, this is not an across-the-board inevitability. Fortunately for me, I was holding and nursing my son within 20 minutes or so of delivery.
"You'll Be Up And Walking In A Few Hours"
Again: witchcraft. Like, I was just cut open and had a baby taken out of me. I was stitched up within 20 minutes or so and then, within a few hours, I was walking around. Granted, I was a little slower than usual, but I was totally fine. I'm not going to lie: I was ridiculously impressed with myself. I felt like a figure out of Greek mythology or something.
"A C-Section Won't Ruin Your Ability To Breastfeed"
A c-section can affect a new mother's ability to nurse her baby for a few reasons: surgery delays the onset of milk production (since your body is doing a lot of work healing) and certain positions might be difficult to manage (on account of your incision). Still, having a c-section far from guarantees that you cannot nurse. Many a c-section mama has gone on to nurse fat, happy babies and, indeed, some have no problems nursing whatsoever. For others, there might be some additional challenges. But with guidance, persistence, and luck, they can be overcome.
"Keep On Top Of Your Pain Meds And You Should Feel OK"
FACTS. Both my OB-GYN and all my nurses stressed the importance of regularly scheduled doses of a couple of medications in order to "keep ahead" of the pain. This is probably the top piece of advice I give anyone I know who is having a c-section. Not to say there wasn't post-op pain involved in this whole ordeal, but thanks to those sweet, sweet painkillers, it never got debilitating or even especially bad.
"Walking Every Day Will Help Your Recovery"
First, let's take a moment to remember Joanna Rohrback, aka The Prancersie Lady depicted above. Look at her. Isn't she glorious? I wonder what she's up to lately.
You won't be mincing about like that delicate and graceful woman so soon after birth, but taking the time and effort to get up and move around for a bit every day absolutely aids in your recovery so you can go back to prancing ASAP. Start slow and just walk the halls of the hospital for a bit. Once you're home, try to venture around your block. Within two weeks I was walking a mile a day in my neighborhood and felt great. Everyone is different, so everyone's needs are different, but believe in yourself. After all: you're a badass who just had a baby pulled out of you!
"You'll Probably Feel Basically Back To Normal Within Six Weeks"
It was actually more like three or four weeks which, again, was goddamn miraculous. I couldn't believe it. Now, I wasn't like 100 percent at four or even six weeks, but I'd say it was a solid 90 to 95 percent. I'll take that after major surgery and a month and a half with an infant!
"You Should Be Able To Give Birth Vaginally In The Future If You Want"
Many people believe the old adage "once a c-section always a c-section," and with good reason. That used to be the most sound medical advice due to an increased likelihood of uterine rupture. But as methods of surgery improved, so too did a woman's ability to deliver vaginally for subsequent births. Nowadays, the American College of Gynecology and Obstetrics posits that most women are good candidates to attempt a vaginal birth after a cesarean (VBAC) and should be encouraged if they wish to do so. Unfortunately word seems to be spreading slowly, even among practitioners, many of whom make it a policy only to offer scheduled c-sections to women who have had a previous cesarean birth. But thanks to my OB's assurances, I felt empowered to seek a VBAC-friendly care provider for my subsequent pregnancy. Not everyone has to feel pressure to attempt a vaginal delivery, but without all viable options available to us, we're not really making choices about our births.
So there you have it, dear reader. Yes, c-sections sometimes get a bad rap, and sometimes for good reason, but with the right kind of OB-GYN to guide you through it really can be a positive, powerful, and empowering experience.