The cool thing about becoming a mom is, all of a sudden, you're the one making the rules. It's pretty neat. Of course, in these exhilarating times one can become mad with power and, in that madness, think themselves above the laws of nature and eventually self-destruct. I'm talking about postpartum recovery. Alas, even though you are the one in charge now, you still need to take care of yourself and listen to your doctor or midwife. There's no getting around the fact that there are rules to follow when recovering from a c-section, and if you try to play with those rules, honey, you're only playing yourself.
Look, I get it: you just met your little human after months and months of wanting to meet them. Plus you've been pregnant for ages and being pregnant was potentially miserable and now that you're no longer growing another human being inside your body you want to make up for lost time. Plus, there's a massive amount of stuff to do and learn and clean and you want to keep on top of it all. Now, this is the part where doctors, nurses, and midwives will tell you, wisely, that you need to give your body time to heal before you dive into all this stuff. Your healing is more important than getting the dishwasher emptied or the laundry folded. In fact, let me give you some #momtruth that will perhaps be more convincing. Ready? You're going to do all that stuff better and more efficiently if you let yourself heal first.
When you try to do everything before you're ready, one of two things will happen. Scenario One: you try valiantly, but you can't quite do it all so you feel upset that you have a ton of half-finished projects around the house and you start to assume you can't manage and before you know it you're stuck in a defeated-feeling shame spiral. Scenario Two: you magically manage to do it all, but you feel as though you were hit by a truck. But now you feel like you've set your standard for yourself and you spend weeks, months, or even years pushing yourself to a breaking point for things that, ultimately, aren't all that important in the long run and certainly not more important than your mental and physical health. In both scenarios, you're only prolonging the time you're going to feel crappy.
So, instead of putting yourself in a no-win situation, let's just avoid all of that by adhering to the following rules:
Rule 1: No, Seriously. Rest.
People say they're going to do this, but then they don't. Because you think, "Oh, rest. Do nothing. How hard is that going to be?" But rest often takes effort, especially when you have a newborn and (not unlikely) a lot of people who want to come over to see that newborn. However, it's effort well worth it.
Resist the urge to tidy up or finish a project you didn't get to before you went into labor. Find a series you can stream, maybe something you've been meaning to get to for years and never found the time, sit on your couch and buckle in for a few weeks of marathons.
Rule 2: Keep On Top Of Pain Management
Seriously, talk to your doctor about a pain management plan; what you'll take and for how long, what's normal, what's not, and what you should do if your plan is insufficient to your needs. Don't try to be heroic about managing the pain on your own. You just had surgery (pretty intense surgery). In fact, you had a humanectomy.
Don't not take a painkiller because you think, "Eh, it's not so bad right now," because I can tell you it will probably get worse and by then it's going to be harder to make it not hurt. #voiceofexperience #igotcocky #justthatoncethough #oncewasenough
Rule 3: Stop Lifting Stuff
What did I just say about resting, woman?! Seriously, you need to heal so please, don't lift anything all that much heavier than your baby. You really want to avoid any activity that's going to engage your abdominal muscles too much (which lifting does) and you run the risk of harming your incision and just in general hurting yourself.
Rule 4: For The Love Of God, Don't Vacuum
Or reach to get something out of a high cabinet, or dust, or mop or all of the above. Seriously, go easy on yourself. Remember, your abdominal area is crazy sensitive right now and physically exerting yourself, especially by making motions that are going to overextend your rectus abdominis, is going to wind up causing you more trouble than you think you're avoiding by doing housework in the first place.
Rule 5: Walk (But Don't Go Nuts)
It sounds counter-intuitive to all the resting I've prescribed, but making sure you're getting some activity in there — daily and as soon as possible — is going to help tremendously with your recovery. It might be painful at first, and you might have to work through that.
Just remember to push yourself, but don't punish yourself.
Rule 6: Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help
Because you're doing two really difficult things at once: you're learning how to mom and you're recovering from surgery. The fact that this surgery is common (about 30 percent of moms in the U.S. delivery via c-section) doesn't take away from the fact that it's major.
Its ubiquity, however, should enable you to find some particularly sympathetic friends, neighbors, and family members who will want to help you out. Reach out to your tribe and let them know how they can help you, because we all need help as new parents (so don't let pride or timidity hold you back).
Rule 7: Always Have A Pillow With You
A pillow is a c-section mom's best friend (for a while). There are going to be times when you can't avoid using your poor sore abdomen and, in those times, it's best to have a pillow to hold close to your body to alleviate some of the ouch factor.
Rule 8: Take Stool Softeners
For the love of God, friend. Take them. Take them and drink lots of water and avoid any and all binding foods. Between the constipating pain killers and the aching abs and your still healing incision, that first postpartum dump is going to make up for all the struggling and pushing you may have avoided in the delivery room. If you didn't avoid it, it's going to bring you right back because, yes, you will have flashbacks. It's not fun, so you really need to do everything in your power to make it as not-horrid as possible. Oh, and godspeed.
Rule 9: Don't Get A Cough, Cold, Or Stomach Flu
Because even a little cough can hurt a lot when you're rocking a low transverse scar. Coughing and sneezing fits — or, heaven forbid, throwing up — is going to be downright agonizing. So stay healthy and make well-wishers wash their hands for your sake as well as the baby's, or delay their visits all together if they're not feeling well.
If you do happen to fall ill, remember: your pillow is your friend and we hug our friends tight.
Rule 10: Don't Stress About Your Scar
I caught a glimpse of my scar in the hospital when the staples were still in. It was a nightmare. I can only compare it to the gaping maw of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. I was assured it would get better, but I was dubious. However, by my six-week postpartum appointment with my OB-GYN it had shrunk significantly. Today, five years later, it's faded almost completely. If you had showed me then what it looks like now I never would have believed you. So seriously, don't let your scar occupy any worry-space in your head.
(And also, if you don't shave or wax your pubic region there's a pretty good chance it's going to be completely hidden by hair anyway, so there's yet another reason for some people not to sweat it.)
Rule 11: Don't Be Discouraged If Recovery Takes Longer Than You Thought
Most people are pretty much back to their usual levels of activity around six or eight weeks. Some are feeling tip top even before that. Others still take several months to get back into their groove.
Talk to your provider if your recovery is taking longer than usual, but remember: every body and every c-section is different, so don't get too nervous. Continue to be kind to yourself, rest, and allow yourself to heal.
Rule 12: Talk About How You Feel As Much As You Want Or Need
Some c-sections are planned, some are emergencies, and there are a million reasons to feel a billion ways about any scenario. A lot of women don't talk much about their c-sections — especially their negative feelings about their c-sections — because they don't want to sound like their "whining" or worse, like they're not showing enough gratitude that "everyone is healthy."
But any birth can potentially come with a flood of emotions (even without a massive hormonal disturbances), and c-sections often have lots of conflicting and complicated things going on behind the scenes. So I'm officially making it a rule that you have to talk about it if you feel so moved, because your mental wellness is just as important as your physical recovery.