I didn't really see my c-section coming. Believe me, if I had I would have skipped the 18 hours of labor. It wasn't a complete surprise, in that I knew one out of every three pregnant women in the U.S. will have one, but I had every plan and sign of delivering vaginally. Still, sh*t happens as they say. Due to the emergent nature of the situation, I hadn't done as much research on the subject as I probably should have. So there are things I wish I'd known before having a c-section that I had to learn as I went along.
In my experience, when it comes to birth women tend to dedicate the majority of their research learning about the birth outcomes they want rather than giving equal time to all possible options. I'm not knocking it, because it makes sense. If you want, say, a medication-free, vaginal delivery, you should devote your reading to checking out how to avoid interventions and, as a result, reach your goal. That said, I would encourage everyone to get some idea of what one can expect for any possible outcome, even if the idea horrifies you, because you just never know. Besides, when has extra knowledge been a bad thing? Just think, whatever you don't use in the delivery room or during your recovery may come in handy during a trivia league championship. (Again, you never know.)
And so, if I could travel back in time, first I would visit Restoration-era England because I would rock the hell out of very elaborate wigs and false hips. Next I would let pre-cesarean me in on a few things that would have made my experience that much more enjoyable, including the following:
It Can Actually Be Wonderful
The very idea of a c-section can be the source of a lot of anxiety for many, many women. Some are horrified at the thought and do absolutely everything they can to avoid one. This fear makes sense: it's major surgery, and an unplanned c-section can mean the presence of risk to mother or child or both. That said, speaking as someone who had an emergency c-section, I can personally guarantee you that a cesarean, even one that takes you by surprise, can be a beautiful, moving, wonderful experience. From talking with a whole lot of other moms, I know I'm not alone either. Many women enjoy and appreciate their cesarean birth.
Recovery Sucks, But It's Usually Managable
This is an area that runs the gamut. I was up and walking within a few hours of surgery and I never went above a 4 on the pain scale (throughout my entire recovery). I know other women who compare having a c-section to being gutted and complain of intense pain for weeks after. This is one I'll simply chalk up to pain being relative and everyone is different. (Other factors can come into play as well, such as whether or not you labored and/or pushed.)
Still, there's something a lot of people forget to tell you: recovery from a vaginal delivery hurts like hell, too, and they don't give you painkillers to deal with that. After a c-section you get sweet (necessary), heavy-duty, breastfeeding compatible pain-killers. Keep ahead of the pain, keep on a schedule and you can largely feel pretty good and recover nicely. Had a vaginal delivery? Bully for you: here's some generic Tylenol and an icepack for your poor battered vagina. Good luck, kid.
It Doesn't Mean You Failed
Sometimes it feels like childbirth is made out to be some sort of weird pissing contest between moms. Who labored the longest, who had an epidural, who had a "natural birth," and in this creepy world of competitive birthing, c-section moms are often looked down upon for "taking the easy way out," or "not doing what their body was supposed to."
To this I say. "The point of childbirth is to have a baby. You had a baby. You didn't fail." Then I drop the mic and walk away, looking all badass, of course.
The Majority Of Women Who Have C-Sections Are Good Candidates For VBACs, If They Want One Later On
I knew I wanted to have more kids after my first, and while I was OK with the idea of only experiencing cesarean birth, I knew that my ideal would be the ability to have a vaginal delivery at some point, too. So, I was a bit concerned as to whether or not I would be able to do so, and about my ability to find a practice that would work with me to go for a VBAC if I was a good candidate. This didn't put a huge damper on my c-section, but had I known then that most women are good candidates for VBAC and about 74% of those who attempt a vaginal delivery after a c-section will be successful.
And hey: that's just me. Many women will have one c-section and think, for any number of reasons, "This is the delivery method for me!" That's awesome, too! Hooray for options!
Postpartum Bleeding Is Still A Thing
It's not like once the doctor removes your baby during surgery they're going to go ahead and vacuum out all the contents of your uterus. Postpartum bleeding and discharge is healthy and normal after any type of delivery: the c-section didn't eliminate your need for those monstrously huge, diaper-like pads and mesh underwear they give you at the hospital.
No, Really, Take Stool Softeners
A woman's first postpartum poop is a troubling time for all new moms. The general "bottom area" is still very tender and has been through a lot, no matter how the baby came out. C-section moms have the added "benefit" in the form of those lovely painkillers they are usually prescribed. You see most of those painkillers will be opiates, and opiates have this nasty little habit of making you super constipated. So, not only do you have to poop, but you're going to have to work for it. So please, please, don't think that the stool softeners are among those pills you should be skipping out on. Take. Them. Your butt (and abdominal muscles and adjacent incision site) will thank you.
Rest Is Important To Recovery
My maternity nurse chided me about this as I sobbed uncontrollably at three in the morning three days after I gave birth. "You need food, water, and rest. Why does no one ever believe that rest is important? Lie down." Then she tucked me in and held my son so I would sleep knowing he was being taken care of. Seriously, mamas, your caretakers aren't just saying this for fun: you really need to take it easy for a while. I know it can feel pointless to just sit in bed doing nothing, but that's going to be clutch when it comes to eventually feeling better.
Walking Is Also Important To Recovery
It sounds like I'm contradicting myself here, but I'm not. Rest is very important, you should spend most of your time resting. However, you should walk as soon as you are able (this will vary person to person, but most can manage within a few hours) for short distances, increasing that distance a little bit every day. This helps improve blood flow and will even help the aforementioned constipation issues.
Shivering Is A Normal Part Of Labor For Some People, So There's Nothing Wrong And You're Not Dying
I didn't realize this until after the births of both of my children (one c-section, one vaginal), but intense shivering is often just part of labor. When I was having my son the shivering was so intense I had an anesthesiologist on either arm holding me down while my doctor performed surgery on the other side of the curtain. They assured me it was normal, and while I knew I was in good hands (literally) I still didn't believe them. I figured they were saying it to make me feel safe. Then it happened again during my second delivery.
When I asked my midwife about it after birth, wondering if it was perhaps a side-effect of the epidural. She said, "No, it's a side effect of having a baby." Somewhere amid my extensive reading a research about birth I missed this little tidbit. It would have been nice to have been aware.
Treasure Those Extra Days In The Hospital (And Stock Up On Free Stuff)
Seriously, guys. There are people there to help you, you're not paying for diapers, wipes, or formula (if you're using it), you get a bed with a remote control that helps you sit up and you don't have to find your own food. It's awesome. Enjoy it. Take all the diapers and formula samples. Get all possible advice from your nurses. Snag an extra session with the lactation consultant if you can. Make the most of this time.
Your Incision Site Gets Better, But For A While It Looks Like The Basis For The Next Season Of American Horror Story
Between the fact that it's a large healing wound, the staples and tape, and the swelling, it's seriously a horror show down there for a while. In the hospital, I couldn't see over my still round, postpartum belly, so looked in a mirror to catch a glimpse of my child's "emergency exit" and almost cried. I didn't realize in that moment that things were going to get a lot better. And, I promise, things do get better. Even in the first few weeks that scar is going to improve dramatically, and over time you won't even be able to believe that it was once so scary. For real, it's been five years since my c-section and you can barely make out the scar (which is only about 3.5 inches across).
The Surgical Tape Will Eventually Fall Off
After the staples are out your doctor will likely put a whole bunch of surgical take across your incision, which will make you look a little bit like a railroad track. "Don't peel off the tape," they will instruct, "Just let it fall off naturally." Well, weeks later half the tape was still there, all dingy-looking and gummy. That stuff is tenacious. However, it's not so tenacious that it won't eventually fall to the floor like so many autumn leaves. Patience.
Pillows Are A Girl's Best Friend
Just go ahead and feel free to bring one wherever you go from now on. In the car, to the dinner table, on the couch. If you're breastfeeding they'll be useful to give the baby a boost since you don't have the same mobility as a non-cesarean mom. Stick one behind your back whenever you sit down so that you don't fall too far back and have difficulty getting up. Hug one to your incision site when you cough or sneeze. Trust me on this; aside from painkillers, you will likely be most grateful for your pillow in the days following your c-section.
Postpartum Sex Can Still Be A Challenge
If you're anything like me, you will think that your baby bypassing the ol' vagine exempts you from awkward postpartum sex. Without getting personal, allow me to assure you that it does not. This information would have been very useful. Very useful indeed.
Other People's Opinions Are A Reflection Of Their Own Ideas, Not You Or The Truth
It's only natural that people will have a lot of thoughts and opinions about childbirth; it's a very personal experience and why shouldn't they. But for whatever reason they will often feel the need to pass off those opinions as facts and let you know exactly what it is you went through that they disapprove of or pity or condone (and why). Those people's opinions tell you much more about them than about your experience. In fact, they cannot tell you a damn thing about your experience because they didn't live it. Never feel compelled to view your own life through someone else's lens.