Honestly, I don't think we, as a culture, talk about C-sections nearly enough, especially considering so many mothers experience them. And because of a number of factors, the little we do talk about it always seems to be a familiar narrative: "It's not a great way to give birth, but be thankful because everyone is healthy." As a result, people don't know what to expect, so I asked moms to share the most surprising part about having a C-section. In the end, and always, we deserve to know what we, as pregnant women preparing to give birth, might be in for.
In talking to women about C-section delivery for a few years now, I have learned (perhaps not surprisingly) that there is no one C-section experience. The truth of the matter is that there are so many reactions to (and feelings that can go along with) this specific kind of birth. Yes, lots of women are disappointed. Yes, many women simply don't like it. But other women loved the experience and choose it for subsequent births gladly, even if vaginal delivery was an option for them.
That variety came through when I asked my fellow C-section moms what they didn't see coming. There were some commonalities (the main one seemed to be among women who'd had more than one C-section stating that planned ones were usually easier to manage, before, during, and after), but in general it seems there's a lot we can learn from each other.
"That I had to re-learn how to do all activities that involved engaging my abdominal muscles. I was shocked to find that I could not flush the hospital room toilet, as it required engagement of my abs."
"How great the whole process was. It was a scheduled C-section ... the procedure took 45 minutes. [I] got to hold my babe once I was in the recovery room, but got to see him right away. [I] had a quick recovery and felt great. Pretty much the same with my second, except she decided to come earlier than my scheduled date. I would do it all again in a heart beat. I feel like C-sections get a bad rap but, honestly, I felt my recovery was much better than some of my friends' who had vaginal deliveries. I really think it’s a case-by-case situation."
"The smell! I was convinced someone was burning popcorn nearby."
"That I bled just as much as if I had had a vaginal birth! And that my second C-section was much easier than my first!"
"Most surprising thing after [was] the shaking/shivering uncontrollably when I was still in the OR. I'm pretty sure I have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the overall experience. I never even considered that could happen."
"That in order for you to eat solids you have to pass gas."
"I was so sick after my first one! I spent, like, 12 hours after my C-section unable to sit up without puking. My second was much better."
"I was not expecting how easily I recovered from my scheduled C-sections. I'd had 'minimally invasive' abdominal surgery and the recovery was dreadful (terrible nausea/vomiting from the general anesthesia, terrible gas pain in my chest and back). I was lucky enough to have the surgery go smoothly, quickly, painlessly, and then I was up and walking before the end of the day (well, shuffling). The soreness was unpleasant for a couple of weeks, but not unbearable and I didn't need anything more than Motrin to recover (I kept the epidural in for 48 hours after the surgery, which I highly recommend). Your mileage may vary, but I just want to put it out there that it can be a relatively easy experience."
"I still can’t feel from my belly button down to my scar. It’s been 17 months."
"The most surprising part for me was how badly sex hurt after. How sore and dry I was despite not pushing a baby out of there."
"My most surprising one was feeling panicked right before the surgery began. My C-section was elective on emphatic recommendation by my OB after significant/traumatic tearing from my first (vaginal) birth. I had been thinking about how easy it all seemed, breezing into the hospital and all, and then while they were still getting my husband into his [scrubs], all of a sudden I just got panicky and almost cried. It was just so surreal to think of the doctor cutting a baby out of me while I was awake! It freaked me out! ...
Later, people asked me which birth was easier: the scheduled C-section or the vaginal birth with level-4 tearing. I’m honestly not sure, and I still maintain that the options for birthing a kidlet are both pretty terrible."
"I had one emergency and one scheduled. The amount of vaginal bleeding/discharge was ridic. I was hopeful I’d get off the hook with that. Nope."
"Not being able to feel yourself breathe is terrifying! So, your anesthesiologist is your best friend, letting you know your oxygen levels are perfect and your breasts are not suffocating you. Also, I had my arms strapped down which was a total surprise."
"I expected soreness and itching at the incision, but not numbness. Six and a half years out from the first of two C-sections and I am still numb around the incision. I also did not expect the fear of having the incision open the first few weeks. I walked around with a pillow against me so I wouldn't open back up and have my insides fall out. Totally irrational fear."
"That I would still feel pain. With both of my C-sections I had razor sharp pain, in a straight line, from my belly button to my throat."
"The super ridiculously swollen Shrek-like feet from all the fluids they’d pumped into me. Like way more swollen than I’d ever been while pregnant. I couldn’t even wear flip flops for over a week!"
"How different my recovery was between an emergency C-section after pushing for three hours, and then a scheduled C-section with my second. Like night and day. How small the incision was. How holding a pillow on the incision site really does help when you have to laugh, cry, sneeze, etc. (That pillow was my baby, it went everywhere with me, and was always at my side.) Gas pain in the shoulders. I was shocked at how that happens, and how painful it really was. How much sex hurt after."
"The judgement! Not sure why other people care how my baby got into this world."
"What was most surprising was how easy I found my recovery to be. I know that's not the norm, and people kept urging me to sit down and rest, but I felt fine. I stopped taking my pain meds five days postpartum."
"Well I certainly didn’t think I would have an allergic reaction to the meds. Almost immediately after the surgery I was violently shaking and was both freezing and sweating at the same time! Not a joyful moment!"
"I was most surprised by how terrified I was. My irrational mind took over and I was certain that I would die and my husband would have to care for our sons alone. So maybe I was most surprised by the fact that I lived and recovered."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.