The morning after my son was born, I was a bit shell-shocked by the procedure. I was glad to finally have him on the outside, and I felt more or less optimistic about his recovery. He was born by c-section, and it was a prolonged and miserable labor, but as I held my brand new infant in my arms in my hospital bed, I felt a surge of joy and excitement about our new life together, in spite of my exhaustion.
Then, almost as if on cue, a nurse came in to ask if I had tried to “stand up and walk around” yet. I’d only had three hours of sleep, and I felt like I was still catching my breath, but it seemed that people already wanted to know why I couldn’t just get a move on. It was a good introduction for what my life was about to become, because as happy as I was to have my child, my c-section recovery was truly hellish.
While C-sections are fairly run of the mill, accounting for nearly 33% of deliveries in the United States, they’re still a major surgery. While the recovery from c-sections tends to be a big longer and more arduous than recovery from a vaginal birth, the process can vary quite a bit from person to person, because no two bodies are the same.
Nonetheless, a c-section is a major surgery, and c-section moms are often learning how to care for their babies, while also recovering from the surgery as well. If you’re breastfeeding (as I was) you’re also getting the hang of that, and waking up approximately every two hours at night to feed the baby.
Can you imagine telling a person recovering from surgery that they can only sleep in two-hour increments? It's a lot to handle at once.
Nonetheless, a c-section is a major surgery, and c-section moms are often learning how to care for their babies at the same time that they're recovering from surgery. That's even tougher for new moms who are breastfeeding (as I was), which can entail waking up approximately every two hours at night to feed the baby. Imagine: you're recovering from major surgery, and a nurse tells you that you can only sleep in two-hour increments. It's a lot to handle at once.
From that very first day, I felt like the hospital staffers were pressuring me to speed up my recovery. My legs were still numb and I was still nauseous from the c-section meds, but the nurses kept asking me why I wasn’t up and walking around yet. To make matters worse, the hospital's instructions were ridiculously contradictory. I was told to rest, yet I was woken up every time I dozed off. I was told to walk around the halls, yet whenever I tried to leave I was told that I needed to be in the room for yet another thing.
I thought that once I moved my recovery to my own house and my own bed, everything would be much more simple. I was wrong.
I felt so frustrated. The hospital staff made me feel weak and inadequate, as if I were too lazy to follow their instructions and recover from the surgery on my own. couldn’t wait to get home. I thought that once I moved my recovery to my own house and my own bed, everything would be much more simple. I was wrong.
The first thing that went wrong was my pain medication. The doctor wrote me a prescription, but the hospital pharmacy was closed before he gave it to me. My partner and I were so eager to get home and get the baby home that we figured we’d head home first, and then fill the script at the closest pharmacy. That all seemed simple enough, but in practice it was entirely another matter.
For three miserable days, I was dealing with intense pain without adequate medication.
I live in Detroit, Michigan, which it turns out, is an area with a lot of opiate addiction (or, at least, it is perceived to have a lot of opiate addiction), so pharmacists are often nervous about giving out the pills at all. I was prescribed Percocet, which is an opioid pain medication. I was three days post-op, with bruises all over my arms from multiple IVs in the hospital. I was so hormonal and in so much pain that I could not stop crying, and I had a prescription from an out-of-town doctor. The pharmacist took one look at me and sent me away.
It took three days of going to multiple pharmacies before I finally found someone who would fill my prescription, which meant that for three miserable days, I was dealing with intense pain from major surgery without adequate medication. Basically, it felt like there was a knife in my guts 24/7, which made it impossible to focus on anything at all, including my beautiful newborn.
To make matters worse, two days after I finally got my meds, I noticed something was wrong with my incision site. While everyone told me that the odds of infection were extremely low, the wound was oozing and painful, so I went back to the hospital. There, I was greeted by a friendly and compassionate nurse-midwife, whose confidence turned to horror when she took a look at my incision. I was given morphine for the pain, as well as lidocaine at the actual incision site, but it wasn’t enough.
The treatment for my infected incision was literally to cut it open with scissors and pull out the infected tissue. The pain was so intense that I thought I was going to vomit. It was far worse than the pain I experienced while waiting for my meds, and may have even been worse than labor itself. Afterwards, I was left with an opening where the neat row of stitches had been, and twice a day it needed to be cleaned, packed with clean gauze, and bandaged.
The bandaging, while not as painful as the initial re-opening procedure, was still worse than any pain I had felt prior to becoming a mother. It also meant that my incision took longer to heal. I couldn’t swim or take a bath, and I was constantly covered in sticky medical tape residue. Instead of having a speedy recovery and being able to spend time with my beautiful baby, I was plunged into what felt like an endless nightmare, which was compounded by the fact that my incision took more than two months to fully close.
Plan ahead, expect the unexpected, and above all else, be kind to yourself.
In the end, my hellish recovery only really taught me one thing: how much pain and discomfort I could endure. Did it leave me depleted, depressed, angry, and feeling at times totally lost? Yes. But I survived. I had lived through the nightmare, and suddenly, it was just a story. It also led me to caution other C-section parents to go easy on themselves during recovery. The fact is, there are just more opportunities for complications with a surgical procedure than there are with a vaginal birth, so plan ahead, expect the unexpected, and above all else, be kind to yourself.