My first child was born via emergency c-section and, in the five years since, I've thought a lot about the experience. While delivering by means of abdominal surgery wasn't my first choice, I'd always had a funny intuition that's what was going to happen (though, to be fair, I also had a feeling he was going to have black hair and he was born a redhead so you win some you lose some). Intuition prompted mental preparation and the result was an enjoyable lovely, birth. I decided to ask other women what it feels like to have a c-section, as I know I'm not alone in the experience. In fact, an estimated 32 percent of US births are caesareans. Predictably, the answers I received ran the gamut from upset to delight and traumatized to relieved.
When I talked to my Sisterhood of the Traveling Scalpel (new band name, called it), I let them in on my personal term for a c-section: a Viking Birth. I find it really empowering and, in a way, more descriptive than "c-section," which sounds really non-intuitive and nothing short of clinical. Because, really, having a baby cut out of you and then getting up and walking, usually within a few hours, is pretty awesome. Like, that's something out of Norse mythology right there (or could be). I feel like it paints a prouder picture for us moms who, for whatever reason, opted for (or required) a "non-traditional" birth.
So what exactly did these fierce warrior women have to say about their c-sections? It turns out, a lot.
"With [my first child], mentally relieving. He was such a long labor with complications and interventions, that it felt 100 percent relieving that he was OK and finally here. With [my second child] I was less tired and remember the physical sensations more, which was a medium amount of tugging and pressure and then a massive suction as she was being ripped from my body. Standing up for the first time (with both) [was] burning hell, like someone had sliced you in half...oh wait that's what did happen*!"
[*Writer's note: I feel the need to assure our readers that you are not, in fact, sliced in half when you have a c-section. But in addition to being cheeky, Christy is wise and experienced and sometimes it really does feel like that. So... #truerthantruth.]
"[I am the] third generation of all women in my maternal line having to [give] birth through c-section — even grandma way back in 1948 had three. So my experience was like, drive to the hospital, get ready, hang out, and wait to freeze your naked ass off on the table for a while. In both cases, I remember during the c-section the sensation of pulling and being "shaken" while they extracted my kiddos. I didn't want to see, but hubby got to pull baby #2 out which was pretty badass. The during was pretty straight forward, the after was fairly brutal. I got extremely nauseous from my first and ended up puking for hours after just being cut wide open. Not ideal and made my recovery incredibly long because I was so sore.
[A c-section is] having surgery and for the first time in your life there is no one taking care of you and you have to take care of another person. Thank goodness for the baby endorphins or I don't know how I would have gotten out of bed."
Remember that Tom Petty video with the Alice in Wonderland cake that is aware and freaking out that she's being sliced up and eaten*? It's something like that only you signed up for it and it's magical. But totally powerless and bizarre and terrifying. But wonderful!
[*Writer's note: if you escaped the '90s without having to see this video, count yourself #blessed, because that sh*t gave me nightmares.]
"I was so upset when the doctor told me I was going to have to have a c-section. I started crying and made the doctor upset. I was nervous. I felt nothing. No push. No tug. Recovery was easy for me. When I already had a "zipper" (as my husband calls it) I felt relieved that I knew exactly how my 2nd birth would happen ... until my water broke the day before my scheduled c-section. 2nd c-section I felt nothing. No pressure, no push, no tug. Recovery was easy.
Currently: My scar itches like a son of a b*tch 3 years later."
"I had been in labor 36 hours [before my emergency c-section]. I was exhausted and terrified when they told me we were going into surgery. The nurse told me it would feel like someone was suffocating me and it did for a few seconds. There was tugging and pulling sensations. I was in and out of consciousness. My child was rushed to NICU and I was tended to and forced to stay awake. It was terrifying and confusing given my state. Recovery wasn't bad-- within a week I was walking and driving, doing everything like normal.
[My second c-section] was planned. I was in labor when we arrived. Nervous, scared and anxious. Felt tugging and pulling but no pain. Was awake and fully aware this time. I remember shaking from the meds they gave me and itching like crazy. The recovery was horrific. I slept in a chair for a week it felt like my stomach was going to rip open every time I moved. It took 2 weeks before I could drive or walk somewhat normal."
It felt like when I got teeth pulled as a child, except instead of teeth it was a human and instead of my mouth it was my stomach. Lots of twisting/shaking back and forth and a good amount of pressure and tugging. No pain at all during. Afterward I got really cold. Also, the first time I had gas after the c-section I literally thought I was having a heart attack.
"My first was a "viking birth" and the one thing no one told me about was that after the surgery, weeks and months after the surgery, a part of my pelvis area would be completely numb. I asked a friend of mine and she said it happened to her too and took forever to go away. Why don't any birth books talk about this*?"
[Writer's note: Well now you've talked about it, Zimra, and we're talking about it, and now maybe even more people will talk about it. Be the change, girl!]
"I had to have [a c-section] because I'd had some uterine fibroids removed years before baby, and that increases the risk of uterine rupture, so it was planned "Viking Birth" all the way. And while that wouldn't have been my first choice — that would have been gloriously swift vaginal delivery — it was actually pretty awesome. I was never in a minute's pain. I was anxious, because the idea of getting a spinal block is inherently anxiety-inducing what with the needle going into my spine and all, but no part of it was truly painful, just a little unpleasant. I showed up feeling good and strong and happy. They numbed me up, there was a lot of pushing and pulling — for about 10 seconds it was hard to breathe as they wrestled my innards — and then the doctor held up a screaming newborn.
... [F]rankly, I was never in much pain at all. I don't think abdominal surgery is the ideal way to give birth (the weeks of sore abs and not being able to lift anything was a drag) but giving birth with no pain is pretty f**king awesome, and the dream of millennia of women, so I'm not going to knock it."
I felt nothing. Between the curtain where I couldn't see anything and the total lower body numbness, I didn't even know what was going on. I remember the doctor saying I was going to feel some pressure, which I didn't. I didn't even realize [my son] was out until I heard [my partner] say "Look at him, there he is." I was clueless and felt kind of dumb that I didn't even realize what was happening and how quick it was.
"After 50 hours of being in the hospital laboring, my body and mind were too tired. It was horrible. The worst pregnancy restless leg syndrome x 10 all over my body, shivering and shaking, and my eyes wouldn't open I was so tired, but my mind was racing all over the place. [I] couldn't move my body at all. I was also catching glimpses of the actual procedure in the reflection of the light fixture or something on the ceiling. It really was horrible. Starting to remember why I was one and done again..."
"For me there were two scary points; getting the spinal and the point [when it took] effect. Then there is a lot of weird noises, tugging and pulling. It's really bizarre especially because I couldn't see or feel anything. And then you hear your baby and everything is wonderful. For the next 24 hours I was stuck in a bed with these things wrapped around my legs that periodically apply pressure (P.S. this is actually pretty amazing because after months of swollen calves it's like having your own personal massage therapist).
The next day my nurse got me out of bed to stand up. Walking is so important for recovery, except for me because every time, like clockwork, within minutes of getting out of bed, I faint. The second time was bad because I was left by myself in a chair when I started to black out. I managed to hit the call button but I have no idea how long it took. All I know was I was on the floor with smelling salts when I came to. By the third time I knew what to expect and warned everyone not to leave me alone for the first time up!"
I had a c section after a vaginal that turned into a 4th degree tear. C-section was so much easier.
"My son was breech. I had a scheduled c-section. [I] never had a contraction. I'd had 10+ surgeries in my pre-mom life, so I wasn't scared. The nurse said I was like "a statue" for the spinal block. No prob, I thought. I got this. I put my brain elsewhere as my beloved OB announced "We're cutting." I was scared! I didn't think I would be but I was. Ridiculous pressure and pulling as they got my son un-stuck. His butt was wedged in my pelvis and all his limbs were on my right side and his head was in my chest.
He came out butt-first and the doc cried "He's pooping! He's pooping EVERYWHERE!" Cleanup was not on my radar. I was actively sobbing looking at my husband holding my baby for me to see. Today, two years later, I have to look really hard for my scar. However I do have persistent numbness and I swear when I get bloated it's lopsided. Overall I never think about it because I'm too busy chasing the result!"