I Didn't Expect C-Section Recovery To Be So Hard

by Megan Zander

Once I got over the excitement of being pregnant, I realized, as many pregnant women do, that eventually the two babies inside me would try to squeeze themselves out of a very, very small opening. With this information in mind, the idea of a c-section seemed pretty appealing. So when my attempt at a vaginal delivery turned into an emergency c-section, I wasn't upset or even disappointed at first. It was only when I started the long road to recovery after my c-section that I realized that having a c-section isn't the easy way out.

At first, the idea of having a c-section appealed to me because I thought it would be less painful and easier to recover from than a vaginal delivery. I believed I would be able to better care for my infants after a c-section than with a vaginal delivery, because I wouldn't have to spend time icing my tender nether regions and fearing that first post-delivery poop.

I know not all vaginal births are difficult or even painful. My own mother loves to brag about how she gave birth to my sister and was back at home doing dishes four hours later (the 1980s were a different time). But I love a good story, so while I was pregnant I spent my downtime at work begging the moms there to tell me about all the horrible things that happened to them during labor and delivery. And let me tell you, they had a lot to say.

Courtesy Megan Zander

Frankly, the tales I heard made having a c-section seem pretty appealing. One mom of twins told me she ended up having a mixed birth, in which the first twin was born vaginally and the second via c-section, so she had to recover from both types of birth at once. "Get the c-section if you can," she told me, and wide-eyed, I believed her.

Although I was only 33 weeks into my pregnancy when I went into labor, the babies were in a good position and my OB felt they were strong enough to be delivered vaginally. So I gave it my all. For three long hours, I pushed as hard as I possibly could, hoping I could deliver them both without any intervention. I pushed for so hard and so long I pulled out a back muscle. But as the sun started to rise and Baby A was still struggling to get around my funky shaped pelvic bone, his heart rate began to dip. So my OB gently said he thought it was time to talk c-section.

I had managed to get into what I thought was the E-ZPass lane through childbirth.

For the most part, I was afraid. After all, my babies were still being born premature, and I knew they had an uphill battle ahead of them. But in the back of my mind, there was a tiny part of me doing the running man at the thought that I had managed to get into what I thought was the E-ZPass lane through childbirth.

I'm extremely fortunate that my c-section was boring AF. Nothing crazy happened: the doctor didn't leave a souvenir scalpel in my uterus, and I didn't get any scary infections while healing. In fact, my scar is so small and low I often forget it's even there. Still, I was totally unprepared for the fact that having a c-section is a legit surgery, one I would be struggling to recover from while navigating my role as a new mom.

Courtesy Megan Zander

After staying up almost 48 hours straight during labor and delivery and seeing the boys in the NICU, I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was get some much-needed sleep. But I had just gotten back to my room from the NICU when my nurse came in and told me it was time to go for a walk so I didn't develop a blood clot. I knew my legs would be weak because I had spent the last two months on bedrest, but I wasn't prepared for the ring of fire that had replaced my entire lower abdomen.

I couldn't fully stand up straight. Every step I took felt like knives thrust into my panty line. I did this tour of torture every two hours for the first week after the c-section. It eventually got easier, but I never really got over the shock of how much it hurt. I did have pain meds prescribed to me, but they left me foggy and sleepy all the time, so after a few days I talked to my OB and he agreed I could just stick with Tylenol.

I couldn't fully stand up straight. Every step I took felt like knives thrust into my panty line.

There were other aspects of having a c-section I wish I had known about before having one, things that were never mentioned in the dozens of birthing books I read while pregnant. For instance, I couldn't drive for two weeks, because the act of having to stomp on the brake pad could potentially suddenly could cause me to pop an external or internal stitch. Since I was traveling to the hospital to visit them in the NICU every day, this made finding a ride there and back difficult once my partner had to go back to work. During the last few days, I got desperate, driving myself slowly with a pillow braced against my incision. I left tons of room between my car and the one in front of me, but I was still doing major yoga breathing every time I had to brake.

The pain in my midsection eventually healed, but maddeningly slowly. With a vaginal delivery, most doctors will clear you to resume exercise six weeks postpartum. I've always been big into lifting weights, running and fitness classes, and I had to put that part of my life on pause while I was bedrest. I was eager to get my sweat on again, but at my 6-week checkup my OB told me that I'd have to stay out of the gym for a full three months. In all honesty, my incision was so sore I probably wouldn't have done anything other than hurt myself had I tried to work out sooner, but it was a long, hard wait.

Courtesy Megan Zander

The worst part of all was how recovering from a c-section affected my ability to parent my new baby boys. I thought I would spring up from my c-section ready for mom duty, but the incision pain made me walk much more slowly than I normally could, and I was unable to lift anything heavier than a single baby at a time. I broke down sobbing the first night we tried to put the boys in their cribs, because just the act of lifting and stretching so far down to the mattresses was so painful. I knew I couldn't do that multiple times a night.

We moved the boys onto our bedroom floor in laundry baskets until we bought co-sleepers the next day that I could more easily reach into, and kept them in our bedroom. It wasn't the gorgeous nursery I had planned for them, but at least I could feed them at 1 a.m. without pain.

It took a long time to feel like my old self again. Even months after the c-section, lifting both car seats out of the car and carrying them into the pediatrician's office for the boys' checkups would leave me whimpering.

I'm not knocking anyone who elects to have a c-section, and I have zero regrets about how my birth went down. At the end of the day, my kids are here and they're healthy and that's all that matters to me. I just wish I had known more about what recovery from a c-section looked like before I had one. It's definitely a serious surgery, not a simpler alternative to having a vaginal birth. And even though I thought having a c-section would put me in the clear, having two babies camped out on my bladder for so long means that c-section or not, I still pee a little when I sneeze anyway.