No two c-sections are alike. I’ll start there as a kind of disclaimer. I mean, obviously no two birth experiences are alike, but I feel like I want to take special care to point this out when it comes to discussing the ol’ cesarean section. When it comes to c-sections, there’s often a lot of cultural and social baggage to unpack on top of the individual experience itself, which very reasonably colors people’s opinions, interpretations, and feelings about c-sections. This is probably especially true of their own experiences. I consider myself to have been incredibly fortunate in how my c-section went down, and that was due to a convergence of several factors:
I recognize that many women are not so lucky, and as a result their c-section becomes a source of trauma, guilt, anger, and/or shame. So as we approach the subject, I feel it’s important to disclose that despite the “emergent” nature of the surgery, I had a really wonderful (if unexpected) c-section. But I feel like one way or another, there are things many of my fellow c-section mamas learn through this experience.
Have you ever had your boot get stuck in mud and you have to work really hard to get unstuck and you feel this kind of suction break around your foot as you manage to get free? Now imagine that feeling, only you’re not the foot—you’re the mud. That’s what I tell people a c-section feels like. The doctor’s like, “You’re going to feel some pressure,” which I feel is what they’re trained to tell you in any situation where you’re going to say, “Oh shit!” Pap smear? “You’re going to feel some pressure…” Amniocentesis? “Just a pinch and little pressure.” Sweep your membranes? “Now you’re going to feel some pressure!” And pressure is never the primary sensation that’s going on. Having a shrieking infant pulled out of an incision (just as romantic as it sounds) is a completely different feeling from giving birth vaginally, and only c-section moms can know what it’s like.
You know how if you get a paper cut, like, on your thumb or something, you’re all of a sudden acutely aware of how often you use your thumb because you’re constantly irritating the cut? When you’re recovering from abdominal surgery, you notice every little core movement you will make over the next few weeks. God help your poor, unfortunate soul if you have a cough at this time (hold a pillow over your incision and never let go!). To the uninitiated, let me just tell you that you use your abs for everything. Sitting up, I mean, obviously. My husband helped me off our couch for about a month. Any tiny bend or reach, like putting things in cabinets, extension (like vacuuming), or sneeze can be annoying at best or really painful at worst. Speaking of pain...
The absolute best advice I ever received about having a c-section was to always keep up on your pain medication. Because sometimes you might think, “Oh, you know, I’m good. I really don’t need to take my next dose.” And that is when you will start to ache and you’d better hope you can catch back up soon. Many doctors will tell you to alternate the medication you are prescribed (usually percocet or vicodin) with something like Tylenol, which is damn genius. Granted, I am not every woman, but doing this kept my pain below a 4 (usually a 2 or 3) my entire recovery. But the painkiller goddess giveth and she taketh away — your ability to poop, specifically, which brings me to...
Post-birth poops are never pleasant, no matter how you’ve delivered. But I feel like c-section moms generally have a rougher go of this because A) Painkillers make us constipated and therefore make it harder to go (I went nine days without pooping. Nine. Days. NINE.) And B) We’re terrified of reopening our incision by over-exerting our muscles in any way. The combination of these two unfortunate circumstances basically makes your first postpartum poop like the vaginal delivery you didn’t have, but for your ass. After you’re done, you think, “Pushing out a kid would be child’s play right now.” (Remember: Stool softeners are also your friend.)
4 years after the birth of my c-section baby, gazing at my scar in amazement is still a favorite hobby. That kid was not small — 8 pounds 4 ounces and solid — and he somehow emerged from an opening less than 4 inches long that has faded to practically nothing. What witchcraft is this?!
When I mention that I’ve had a c-section, people usually just kind of go on discussing what we were discussing without batting an eyelash. After all, about one third of women who give birth in the U.S. will deliver this way. In fact, c-sections are the second most common surgery performed in the US. But not infrequently, I get one the following responses:
There’s another response I’ve gotten, but I’ll get to that in my next point.
In each of the instances above, people assume they know my experiences because of their own or what they think they know about mine. Sometimes that makes sense, especially from the other moms who have had c-sections. And I do appreciate people trying to connect with me, because they’re coming from a good-natured place. But I gotta tell you, whenever people project their own negativity (even compassionately) onto my experience, I get sort of bummed and it takes the wind out of my sails a bit. It’s like, “No! No! It was good! This is a happy story and I’m happy telling it! Please don’t think this is sad, because it wasn’t.”
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear your own experience and support you in feeling how you feel. It just means… that’s not my experience at all. I would never hear you say you had a c-section and be like, “Aren’t they amaaaaaaaaaaazing?! It’s like they cut you open and rainbows come flying out of your abdomen!” Because I know that may very well not be the case and indicating otherwise might be insulting or diminishing to the person who actually went through it. My suggestion to others would be to let the woman herself tell you how she feels about her c-section before you respond with anything but neutrality.
So I do get one more response, rarely:
“Oh. A c-section. So you didn’t actually give birth. It must have been nice to take the easy way out like that.”
This statement typically comes from the smug idiots who have either:
Assholes, is what I’m saying. These people are assholes.
Ah, yes. My emergency c-section was absolutely a matter of convenience. It was really convenient to be in labor for 18 hours before my baby went into distress. And I was definitely too posh to push. It had nothing to do with the fact that I physically couldn’t because I hadn’t dilated. Oh, and that surgery is super easy peasy to recover from.
There are lots of ways to experience a c-section, but there’s no doubt that for those of us who have been there, we belong to a badass tribe of mamas with the scars to prove that we had babies cut out of us and live to tell the tale.
Images: Kelly Sue DeConnick/Flickr; Giphy(8)