Having a C-Section is not super fun.
Gross details, awesome tips from my doula, and weird tricks I invented…I think.
(This is my first requested post…which is very exciting and makes me feel like a real blogger! Yippee! But that also means it will be super long and detailed…consider yourself warned)
Guess what? You get to have a newborn baby AND recover from major surgery! Lucky you!!
A C-Section is the most common surgery in the world, and because of that people tend to equate it with being easy.
Common…yes. Easy…no. It’s still surgery. Abdominal surgery with lots of organs being smushed around.
Not ideal. You get an awesome tiny human out of the deal so it’s worth it.
I hope this post helps you prepare mentally, physically, and emotionally if you’re about to have a C-section. The most helpful thing I did beforehand was talk to other mamas who had been through it, and got real stories…REAL ideas of what to expect. For instance, check out Leah’s beautiful birth story with her son, Ford. I spoke with her a few nights before my surgery and her experience helped ease my fears. That being said, while my “on the table” experience was pretty similar to hers, the recovery afterwards was not.
Please note that I don’t think my recovery experience was particularly “standard” since I’m allergic to most painkiller and it was a process to find something that worked for me after surgery. I have plenty of other friends who had C-Sections and took beautiful, full pain-numbing drugs and felt pretty darn good.
I hate them.
No, I don’t hate them…I’m just super jealous.
Ok. First things first. Preparation.
(Note- I had a planned C-section, and knew about it 2 weeks beforehand. I understand that this is not usually the case, but as someone who was fixated on the idea of a “natural, vaginal birth” for 9 months… trust me, you can never be too prepared.)
I read birth stories, reached out to everyone I knew who had a C-section (planned or unplanned), and wrote an insanely detailed list of questions for my doctor. I went overboard. But knowledge is empowering and helped ease the anxiety. Knowing what to expect made it not as scary in the moment.
I hate that it’s called this. But make it. My doula recommended this recipe and it was great. I drank it everyday for a week leading up to the surgery, brought a thermos to the hospital, and had it at home for a week or so afterwards. I may have hippy tendencies but I also eat a lot of cheetos so I’m not exactly a health freak when it comes to food… this was a step out of my comfort zone. But it was warm and nourishing and really did make me feel better. (Tip- add salt and some lemon)
Even though you’re not technically “in labor” meditation will still help. I can’t express how necessary it was for me to focus on something other than the operating room I was in and what was about to happen to my body. I practiced for two weeks before the birth: visualizing a happy, healthy baby, working on relaxing my body parts one by one with breath, and focusing on the most important mantra- “I’m about to meet my son“.
You are about to be hunched over like Quasimodo for at least a week, if not more than that. Your back and neck and legs are about to hate you very much. Your stomach won’t talk to you for at least a month. Be nice to them while you still can. Do gentle, relaxing stretches or yoga up until the moment you walk into that room.
I got SUPER lucky, and one of my girlfriends has a good friend who’s an anesthesiologist at the hospital I delivered at. She gave me his number, and I called him twice before the surgery with questions and concerns. Even if you don’t talk to your actual anesthesiologist, ask around, maybe you know someone who knows someone. It’s helpful to talk to them before you actually get to the hospital so you have time to process the information. Especially if, like me, you have any allergies or adverse reactions to pain medications, it’s good to talk to someone about your concerns beforehand.
Just fucking cry. Get it out. Get all the fear OUT. A few nights before my son pooped his way into the world I had a complete breakdown. I sat on the bed crying, boogers everywhere…TV drama level boogers…
“I’m scared I’m going to die.”
“I’m scared the baby is going to die”
“I’m scared that all the complications are going to happen, all at once.”
IT IS OK TO BE SCARED OF THESE THINGS. THEY ARE VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY UNLIKELY. BUT IT IS STILL OK TO BE SCARED!!!! IT’S SCARY!
And once I cried it out, the fear was…if not gone…much, much farther away.
You walk to a super bright, super sterile (duh) room. There are a bunch of nurses and the anesthesiologist and a doctor or two. Hopefully they are nice. They probably will be talking about their vacations, or their weekend, or the last episode of Scandal. This is super normal for them. Which is extra weird for you…but probably a good thing.
Make jokes, express your fears, make them like you or at least not hate you because it’s their hand you have to hold when you get the spinal or epidural. Your partner or support person is not allowed in the room until you are prepped and ready.
I got a spinal. I asked them to tell me everything they were doing as it was happening so I was never surprised by any sensation. I realize that’s not the best tactic for everyone but it worked wonders for me. When he numbed the area with an injection, I took a deep breath to prep and exhaled with the needle. Same thing for the spinal. And honestly…it didn’t hurt. There was pressure, and a small pinch, but no pain.
I know they sometimes strap down your arms. I asked my doctor if mine could be free and he agreed. As someone who can get claustrophobic, this was KEY.
If you want to. The anesthesiologist will be talking to you the whole time. You will feel pressure and some movement of your lower body, but TELL THEM if you are in pain (you should not be in pain), or uncomfortable or scared or literally anything you are feeling. It’s their job to make you feel better. Use them.
Use their eyes to calm you. Hold their hand and concentrate on how it feels in yours. They will ground you. When my son was born and my husband went with him to the NICU, my doula stayed with me. She saved me… stroking my head, holding my hand, telling me everything would be ok when I wasn’t sure it would be.
My doula is worth her weight in gold. Not only for the birth, but for helping us prepare for months leading up to it, talking me through breakdowns, and being the difference between successfully learning to nurse and not. The woman is an angel. If you live in Los Angeles…hire her.
Even if you’re not pregnant.
Ok….no. That would be weird. Her name is Kate and this is her website.
Think about what relaxes you. What keeps you calm and centered. And then do it. We brought a “joy” essential oil spray for the prep room (not the operating room), and my husband played the “relaxation” station on spotify. I had coconut oil to make whoever was closest to me massage my feet. You can make a playlist for the birth if you want to.
It’s still a birth. Let it be as special and unique to you as possible.
You are wheeled from the operating room to a recovery room which you will probably share with someone else, divided by a curtain. In our hospital only one support person is allowed with you, so my mom and doula took turns with me while my husband sent updates from the NICU approximately every 7 seconds. The nurses will be checking your vitals, giving you drugs for pain, and massaging your belly to make your uterus contract. (This does not feel good. BUT! One good thing about a C-Section- I would imagine it feels better than if you had just shoved a watermelon out your vagina on no pain meds!)
I got the shakes. I know not everyone gets them, but I did. It’s completely normal. Your body will tremble and your teeth will chatter like you’re on Everest in a bikini. It’s ok. Keep breathing, keep holding the hand of whoever is closest. It will pass.
Don’t be a hero. I read that before I went in and I STILL tried to be a hero. Don’t. Morphine is awesome and you only get it for a short period of time so take advantage. It did make me sleepy but it didn’t take away anything from my experience.
Once you’re back in your room, they put these sleeve-like things on your calves to prevent blood clots. It’s like a gentle massage…and when the rest of your body DOES NOT FEEL GOOD…it’s damn nice to concentrate on something that does. They only keep them on for a day or so but I asked to keep them the whole hospital stay and it was awesome.
Speaking of massages. The best part of my days in the hospital that didn’t involve snuggling my son involved head, neck, back, or hip massages from my husband, mom, or best friend. They basically rotated massage duty. Once again. You feel like shit. If someone can make one part of you feel good, take advantage. Let them bring you cookies and if you are hopped up on morphine- let them feed them to you. You will (hopefully) not be this incapacitated again until you are 112 years old, take all the help.
And speaking of help. Yeah. Recovering from major surgery is humbling. The nurses will help you get up to go to the bathroom the morning after surgery and literally hold you up while you pee. You have a catheter. I had to use a bedpan on the second day because the pain was so intense I couldn’t get up and let me tell you it is not a good time. The nurses have to check your bleeding and change your giant, Delaware-sized sanitary pads. You will get more up close and personal with them than you ever thought possible. It really helps if you like them. I had some stellar “crying-tears-of-hormones-and-despair-when-they-had-to-change-shifts” nurses…and some really shitty “I-have-no-patience-for-you-leave-this-room-before-I-throttle-you-with-my-hospital-grade-breast-pump” nurses. I prefer the former. If possible, learn their names, and see if they’re working tomorrow. It’s worth it.
I was on morphine for the first 2 days. This is not standard, but we had trouble finding a pain killer that worked, and after a nurse (the evil kind) makes you stand up 10 hours after surgery with no pain killer in your system and you start making uncontrollable dying cat noises that scare the shit out of your husband …they make an exception. So I was pretty damn drugged anytime I had to get up. I would fall asleep constantly. Mid eating. Mid breast pumping. Mid attempting to nurse. Make sure someone is nearby to catch the food/milk/baby you are about drop onto your very tender stomach.
Or anything that gives you gas. Literally do everything in your power to not get gas. Bring fiber-y, easy-to-digest snacks to the hospital with you. Drink prune juice and take the stool softener they provide. Your bowels literally shut down for a few days after surgery. It’s your body’s natural WHAT THE FUCK response to someone putting their hands on your internal organs.
You DO NOT want to have gas pains that close to where that shit went down. (Pun intended)
Also, you might get shooting pains in your shoulder. This is referred gas pain and it’s super weird but also totally happened to me. If I hadn’t known beforehand that this was a possibility I would have thought I was having a heart attack. You’re not.
It’s just run of the mill shoulder-gas. It’ll pass. (see what I did there? It’ll pass??? Gas joke.)
It. Will. Suck.
It will absolutely suck.
But do it. It will heal you. Make visitors pry their eyes off your perfect baby for two minutes to hold your arm as you walk down the hallway. I didn’t walk as much as I would have wanted to (damn painkillers), but as soon as I did, everything started to get better.
You look SUPER HOT. Standing up straight? No way. Walking faster than a snail? Yeah, right. Those giant mesh granny panties they give you at the hospital? Those giant pads? Rock them out. No shirt, no shoes, no bra… just granny panties. Maybe a silk robe that you keep open to channel a 1980’s druglord’s girlfriend. Don’t wash or brush your hair for awhile. Find a nest of small birds in it. Befriend them. Boobs leaking everywhere? And are the size and weight of giant bowling balls? Show them off. Make your husband SUPER UNCOMFORTABLE in front of your mom and friends. Do whatever the fuck you want.
Just don’t laugh…
If someone makes you laugh. You are credited one punch to the face. Or the testicles. Really make it count.
Same goes for sneezing and coughing, so if someone gets you sick…just kill them. Because how the hell do you nurse a newborn while trying not to sneeze/cough/touch them???
But seriously, tell anyone that comes over that if they make you laugh they have to leave.
This includes your baby. I would take yoga blocks and prop up my breast feeding pillow on them to create a solid barrier between the angry, squirmy thing trying to rip my nipple off, and my incision. It worked pretty darn well.
My mom found a medical supply store nearby and rented me a kick-ass recliner. The kind that has a remote control and not only lets you move up and down but actually lifts you right out of the chair. I slept in it for the first week and nursed there for another week. It meant my poor husband didn’t have to hoist me out of bed every time I needed to pee…which, for some annoying reason, was still every 7 seconds.
(Added bonus- you now sleep in the same chair as your 91 year old grandfather. Win.)
In the form of family staying with you to help with cooking and cleaning and errands, friends who bring over food or hold your baby while you shower or nap, or your friendly neighborhood drugs who mask the shooting knife pains in your abdomen.
Take it. Take it all.
Don’t feel guilty.
I say this but I felt more guilty those first few weeks than I ever have in my life. I regret that. As my husband repeatedly said to me “You would do the same for the people you love…just take it and be grateful and go take a nap.”
TAKE THEM ALL. I know it’s so tempting to have everyone you know come over and oogle your adorable baby…but that hour might be the only hour you can nap. So fuck them. NAP.
We did not do this the first week. The second week no one was allowed near the house. NAPS.
(all in the first 6 weeks…since I’m writing this at 6.5 weeks post-partem)
6 Weeks later
I feel almost normal. There is still some very minor soreness where the internal stitches are, but I massage the areas a few times a day when I’m laying down and that helps. I just started to exercise (besides walking), and it is HUMBLING. Balance? No. Stamina? Hah. Abs? What are those?? But I’m up, I’m healthy, I can hold my baby…dear god he smells good…so everything is OK.
How was your birth experience? What helped you?