You don't know what you don't know, and when it comes to C-sections, there's a lot people don't know, from the procedure itself to things people don't realize happen when you're healing from a C-section. I think this is unacceptable, especially because a C-section is a common procedure. I'm not saying all schoolchildren should take a course in cesarean birth, but I think the nitty gritty of the procedure should be more widely discussed so that, should the need for one arise (or if a woman decides she wants a C-section) people are better prepared for the process and recovery.
I will admit, however, that even with research, there are still some things that take you by surprise. I made a point to delve into the logistics of every kind of labor and delivery before I gave birth (preparation is clutch: once a Girl Scout always a Girl Scout) and I was still thrown for several loops after my emergency C-section. They weren't insurmountable or all that awful, to be honest, but they were still jarring.
Your mileage may vary on any one of the following points, because (and this may shock you) everyone is different, but here are some of the things I've discovered many people don't realize happen when a person is healing from a C-section.
You're Recovering From Birth & Major Surgery
I feel like people just see C-sections as just another way to have a baby which, on the one hand, is true. On the other hand, a C-section is a much more involved process than a vaginal birth. On top of all the stuff any new mom has to deal with, there's also the fact that a skilled surgeon had to cut through several layers of muscle, fat, and other tissues and now you have to recover from that. It's a lot, and it bears mentioning. Even though most people know that, I don't think they always really consider everything that means.
Your Milk May Take Longer To Come In
Because a C-section is (typically) more physically stressful on the body than a vaginal birth, C-section moms often find that their milk doesn't come in until the later end of a normal range, say, four to six days after birth as opposed to two to three. It can be frustrating if you're hoping to breastfeed, but it is manageable. Talk to your hospital's lactation consultant before you're discharged to find ways to move the process along and cope with a potentially waiting longer for the onset of lactation.
You Will Still Bleed *A Lot*
This surprises some people. It's not like they can vacuum all the lochia (technical term for all the various fluids and gunk that have been chilling out in your uterus for the duration of your pregnancy) while they're in there. Just as with a vaginal delivery, all that stuff (blood, tissue, and amniotic fluid) will shed gradually over the course of several weeks.
You Will Likely Be Prescribed Heavy Drugs
Because, I'll repeat, you just had surgery. Often, ibuprofen all by itself isn't going to do the trick. Your doctor will prescribe you more powerful painkillers that are also compatible with breastfeeding (not that you have to breastfeed, but if you want to you don't have to choose between it and not being in excruciating pain, which is a plus).
I've met a lot of new moms who express feeling guilty about taking prescribed medication for pain and please let me assure you that there's absolutely nothing to feel bad about here. Talk to your doctor and take your medication as prescribed. Suffering when you don't have to is neither necessary nor heroic.
You May Experience Weird Shoulder Pain
So this is one of those "bodies are weird" issues, and I didn't experience it personally but it's definitely a thing! Anesthesia can make your bowels all weird, which can result in gas build up that can extend as far north as your shoulders. Anti-gas medications and regular movement can help alleviate this very strange symptom.
You Will Have To Be On The Lookout For Blood Clots
A C-section puts you at higher risk for blood clots, but don't worry: your medical staff will take precautions to help minimize this risk, including some really weird, robotic compression leg thingies (they're actually called "sequential compression devices" and, personally, I thought they felt like mini leg massages sporadically given during my hospital stay).
Pooping Will Be Particularly Challenging
Pooping after birth is already sort of low-key horrible. There was a lot that just went on down there, no matter how your baby made their exit/entrance.
But a C-section mama has a harder go of it. Because on top of all the lower-body stress you've already endured (I was convinced engaging my core muscles to poop was going to pop my incision back open) the anesthesia and, most likely, the painkillers you're taking are constipating, so pooping is mentally and physically difficult.
Repeat after me: stool softeners are your friend.
The Contractions Aren't Over Yet
If you had a C-section, there's a chance you didn't actually go into labor on your own. Perhaps you feel delighted (or even sad) that you never got to experience a contraction.
Wait for it, though. Your uterus has gone from the size of a pear, has expanded the size of a watermelon and, magically, will shrink back down to its pear size and shape within a few weeks.
Actually it's not magic. It's science... and contractions.
Some moms don't necessarily feel these contractions, or they mistake them as general cramps, but they happen and they can be intense (especially if you're breastfeeding and/or this is not your first delivery). This is something non-C-section moms experience as well, but I thought I would give my fellow scalpel sisters a heads up.
Your Feet & Ankles May Swell In The Hospital
I escaped my entire first pregnancy without having any of the all-too-typical "pregnant lady swelling" and was so happy. Then, after delivery, I was pumped with so many fluids through my IV that I didn't even have ankles anymore.
Don't worry. This is normal and it will go away once you're off the IVs for a while.
Your Incision Has Special Instructions
Minimal touching, no scrubbing, let the surgical tape fall off on its own (which takes for freaking ever sometimes, let me just tell you). And, fair warning: it will probably look a little scary at first but over time it gets better and better until you may even find that you either can barely see it anymore or have a sort of affection for it.
You Might Be Surprised By How Fine You Feel
I had heard horror stories about C-section recovery and I don't doubt a single one of them, but this led me to pleasant surprise when I manage to get through my recovery pretty well. I think people don't realize that a worst case scenario isn't a forgone conclusion when it comes to C-sections!
You May Feel All The Feels
Any new mom can be emotional (again, blame it on the hormones) but a C-section mom may also be grappling with any number of emotional issues that can be stirred up by having a C-section or even just not the kind of birth you expected. Those feelings are all OK and mentionable, because part of postpartum healing is healing emotionally.