Like a lot of people, having a c-section wasn’t exactly my first choice when it came to birth plans. C-sections are often medically necessary, and there is nothing wrong with having a c-section. But it's a rather invasive procedure (I mean, we’re talking major abdominal surgery here) and like so many others, I had something a little more low-key in mind when I was planning my birth. As I was planning my cozy, intimate, home birth, the fact that I might end up in the hospital, and might even need a cesarean, was always in the very back of my mind. And yet, as informed as I was on birth issues in general, I was woefully ill-prepared for the possibility of a medicalized, surgical birth. I thought that I knew everything I needed to know, but I wish I'd known more about what to expect with my c-section.
Looking back on my birth experience, it seems sort of silly, to be honest. I think that in my pre-birth imagination, I saw a c-section as the worst-case scenario, a last resort that couldn't happen to me. That, in and of itself, is naive, because of course there are worse things than a c-section. But for better or worse, that was my attitude. It didn’t seem like there was any point in planning for the worst-case scenario because I figured, and on one level I was sort of right, that if it got to the point where doctors needed to cut me open, they'd take charge and I'd be whisked into the operating room. And because I was so afraid of surgery, I didn’t want to think about it anymore than I absolutely had to. So I mostly didn’t think about it at all.
But because I didn’t think about a c-section as a real possibility for my birth, I didn’t inform myself on how drastically different the recovery process would be from what I was expecting, and preparing myself for.
I don’t think anyone expected me to agree so readily, but I just needed it to be done. To tell the truth, it was a relief to finally have a timeframe for when it would be over.
Despite the intensity of my c-section fears, the actual procedure wasn’t that bad. Maybe it was the endless labor, the fatigue from lack of sleep, or just plain being sick of all the pain, but by the time the doctor brought it up, I was all in. She knew I was one of those "weirdo" home birthers, and she nervously sat down next to my hospital bed and explained that it was time to have a serious discussion about the possibility of a cesarean. I nodded stoically, and then she said that in her opinion, we should do it sooner rather than later. At this point I'd been in labor, off and on, for nearly a week, and to say that I was losing steam is an understatement. I don’t think anyone expected me to agree so readily, but I just needed it to be done. To tell the truth, it was a relief to finally have a timeframe for when it would be over.
I'd planned to take a relaxing herbal bath with my newborn after delivery in my giant bathtub at home. Instead, I was in a hospital room waiting for the drugs that made me feel loopy, nauseous, and just gross all over to wear off.
It was unpleasant, but then again so was squatting in my shower sobbing through contractions, so I dealt with it. And it was quick. It took them longer to sew me back up than it did for them to take the baby out of me, which I guess makes sense, but it totally surprised me. Almost before I knew it, it was over, and me, my wife, and our brand-new little human were off to recovery.
I knew, sort of vaguely, that on the off-chance that I ended up needing a c-section, things would be different. But I didn’t know, and I didn’t really take the time to process, exactly how different they would be. I'd planned to take a relaxing herbal bath with my newborn after delivery in my giant bathtub at home. Instead, I was in a hospital room waiting for the drugs that made me feel loopy, nauseous, and just gross all over to wear off. I was thirsty from the hours without eating or drinking anything, and a nurse gave me an apple juice box. I slammed it down as fast as I could, and demanded another. She seemed nervous about me drinking so fast, but I didn’t care. Then I fell asleep.
When I woke up, the drugs had worn off, and my entire abdomen felt like it was on fire. The pain was shockingly intense, and totally different from the labor pain I'd grown so accustomed to. Then I immediately vomited up all of the apple juice.
The reality was that I had tried my best to prepare myself, but the challenges I had prepared for ended up being totally different than the challenges I was actually facing.
I had no idea how much pain I would be in. I had no idea how much harder it would be to breastfeed, or to even just hold my baby, around the incision site. I had no idea how the drugs would affect me, or that it would be hard to even stand up the next day. I had no idea that my ability to function, or even sit up without crying, would be totally dependent on pain medication. Basically, I was clueless. And I felt like an idiot. Here I was, a thoughtful and responsible new mom who had spent all of this time preparing for her postpartum recovery period, and yet I was completely lost. The reality was that I had tried my best to prepare myself, but the challenges I had prepared for ended up being totally different than the challenges I was actually facing. The witch hazel pads for relieving vulva pain sat in the bathroom, unused and unopened, meanwhile I was carefully monitoring my incision site and trying not to strain my abdominal muscles. And while it wasn't the only thing that made the postpartum period a huge challenge for me. Recovering from my c-section definitely contributed to those early weeks being a confusing and miserable blur.
I’m glad that I was confident going into the birth, but in retrospect, I was a little cocky. It might have been a little stressful to think about the possibility of a c-section while I was nervously waiting for labor to start, but knowing something — anything — about what I was in for could have saved me a lot of stress and shock in the long run.
Looking back on it, when I was reading about postpartum issues prior to the birth, every time I read the words “if you have a c-section,” my eyes sort of glazed over, and I spaced out and ignored everything that came next. I was so certain that it couldn’t happen to me, the odds felt low enough that I was confident it wasn’t a real risk. And so I didn’t read up on it, I didn’t plan, and therefore I had no idea what I was in for. I wish I had paid more attention. Honestly, I’m glad that I was confident going into the birth, but in retrospect, I was a little cocky. It might have been a little stressful to think about the possibility of a c-section while I was nervously waiting for labor to start, but knowing something — anything — about what I was in for could have saved me a lot of stress and shock in the long run. The great irony here is that I am a chronic over-planner, but because I was afraid of this one possibility, and confident in my ability to birth vaginally, I ended up not planning for the very thing that happened to me.
It’s true that in the vast majority of cases, babies are able to be born vaginally. But it’s also true that sometimes people need c-sections (it’s kind of why the procedure exists in the first place) and despite what we may think, in most instances there’s really no way to know how a birth is going to go until it's happening. I happened to be one of the unlucky ones; there was just no way my baby was going to come out without help. I’m thankful to all of the doctors and nurses who helped me to bring my child safely into this world, but I also wish like hell that I'd been just a little bit more prepared. I wish I'd had the foresight to inform myself about what c-section recovery might be like before it happened, but since I didn’t, I had to scramble to get my bearings afterwards.
It wouldn't have made recovering from major surgery while learning to care for a newborn a walk in the park, but I have to believe that it would have made it a little bit easier.