When I think back to my C-section nearly six years ago, the emotions are mixed. On one hand, it was the best thing that ever happened to me because I got to meet my precious daughter, and on the other…well, it SUCKED.
There are a lot of things that no one told me about having a C-section, things that are rarely discussed and that I only know because I had one. That said, here is my list of 15 C-section shockers:
1. The Pre-Op
This entire adventure starts out a little rocky. You can’t eat or drink anything for hours before your surgery, so by the time you end up in the OR, your stomach is audible and the things you’d do for a single ice chip are probably illegal. About the time you’re instructed to disrobe, you begin to notice that the operating room is frigid—like, “Is this Arendelle?” cold—and the epidural, coupled with whatever the nurses put into your IV, only makes it worse. I was shaking like a detoxing heroin addict.
2. The Epidural
Confession: I’d worried about the epidural more than the actual slicing. After all, the idea of someone injecting a needle straight into your spine sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel. But really, it wasn’t that bad. An uncomfortable twinge of momentary pain, and then it was over. What I didn’t expect, however, was that I’d be propped up on a table, naked and hunched over, as my L&D nurse cradled my head into her bosom. I remember sitting there, shivering, with my head pressed in between my nurse’s breasts, and thinking, “How could no one have ever told me about this?!” Well, I’m here to warn you, ladies: When getting your epidural or spinal tap, you may or may not be poised to motorboat your nurse. Just roll with it.
3. The Procedure
It’s surreal, really: lying on that table, unable to feel anything from the waist down, patiently awaiting that first cut. Knowing the surgeon is doing his thing, you expect to feel pain, but you don’t—just pressure. If I could describe the sensation, it’s like someone placed a dozen water balloons on my abdomen and was jiggling them all at once. To me, the shocking thing about the actual procedure was how little you deal with your OB/GYN. We all think about the importance of having our doctor there during delivery, but in a C-section, your doc is busy. The one who talks you through the surgery? That would be the anesthesiologist. Mine did a great job of keeping me otherwise occupied, chatting it up about college football when he discovered our house divided status. I had never met the man before I was lying naked in the operating room, so I appreciated his lightheartedness is what was otherwise a very scary moment for me. It also helped me forgive him for the golf ball-sized “bone bruise” that appeared in the middle of my back the next day as a result of my epidural.
4. The Catheter
I worried about this, too, but truth be told, you can’t feel it when your catheter is inserted. What I didn’t know is that it would remain placed for about 24 hours post-op, and that it would completely eliminate all sense of urinary urgency. I’d expected it to serve as a “catcher” of sorts, but I didn’t realize it would take away my ability to pee by my own free will. I remember arguing with my husband the day after my C-section about whether I’d actually peed. I wasn’t convinced that it had happened until my hubby held up a container of yellow liquid attached to me via tube. “Oh.” Jeff: 1, Taylor 0.
5. The Uterine Massage(s)
“OK, Mrs. Henderson, I need to press down on your abdomen to make sure your uterus is shrinking back down to the correct size, OK?”
Excuse me? You’re going to push down on my recently-sliced open womb to make sure my stitched-up uterus is doing its thing? Won’t we be able to tell if it’s going back down to size on its own over the next few days?!
Alas, the answer was no, and like every other mom with a C-section, I had to endure daily “uterine massages” during my four-day stay in postpartum. Make no mistake: While it may include the word “massage,” there is nothing about this experience that is relaxing or enjoyable. In fact, I still shoot up in the middle of the night remembering the pain of uterine massages. Let’s just move on before I dwell on this a bit too long and decide never to have children again.
6. The Strange Sensations
Since I was a C-section baby myself, I knew from my mom’s retelling that there would be pain. What I did not expect was the sensation that my incision was going to burst open every time I stood, laughed, coughed, etc. I doubt that could actually happen, but in the beginning it honestly wouldn’t have surprised me if I’d glanced over after a good chuckle or hearty sneeze to find my guts spilled out all over the floor.
7. The Blood
Just because you don’t physically push a baby out of your nether-regions does NOT mean that you’re home free in the bleeding department. Oh, there will be blood—like, measuring cups full. Consequently, you will be graced with the luxury of wearing mesh, pantyhose-like undergarments during your postpartum stay. Cut like boy shorts—but definitely not the kind you see at Vicky’s Secret—these awful-looking skivvies stretch around any body size and can easily house a maxi pad the size of an adult diaper, which you will indeed need due to the aforementioned blood. What’s disconcerting is that the mesh material isn’t limited to just the front side—meaning, yes, your bare tush will be exposed in your see-through mesh panties in a way that it normally isn’t beneath cotton. What’s important to remember is that functionality trumps attractiveness in the postpartum world, and frankly, whether you realized it at the time or not, you checked all sense of shame when you decided to become a mother.
8. The Gas Drops
When you have a C-section, everyone suddenly becomes overly concerned about gas becoming trapped inside your body. I don’t remember why this is such a big deal, but it is, and they combat it by giving you simethicone drops so that you may pass gas more easily. The result is the very awkward situation of feeling like a college frat boy who’s had too many wings…while in the company of your loved ones. My husband and I have a very open relationship and don’t hold back much from each other, but gas is one thing we—or, should I say, I—save for private times. Having to politely ask your hubby to leave the room so you can let one rip is definitely a low moment in C-section recovery—definitely one that I hadn’t expected!
9. The Pooping
As the first of my close friends to give birth, I had zero warning about post-Cesarean pooping. And really, no warning could possibly do it justice. Pooping after a C-section is a monumental feat, comparable to scaling Mount Everest or persuading your children to eat all of their dinner. Drink all of the cranberry juice and take all of the stool softeners you want, but honey, nothing is going to ease this process when the muscles you usually use to “bear down” have been completely severed. My first postpartum poop took 45 minutes. No lie. If a camera had been present, I’m sure it would’ve caught me making some of the most horrible, grimaced expressions I’ve ever managed to contort my face into.
To add to the embarrassment is the fact that you must go #2 before you can be released from the hospital, so everyone is constantly asking you whether it’s happened.
“And have we had a bowel movement yet?” the nurses would ask, their expressions hopeful.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but no. No, we have not. Can we please talk about something else now? And would you mind waiting outside so I can toot again?
10. The Staples
After four days of the dreaded aforementioned uterine massages, you can bet that I was guarding my incision like a pit bull when my OB/GYN sauntered in to take out my staples. Despite his assurances that it wouldn’t hurt, I was terrified. To my surprise, he was right. It didn’t hurt. Not even a little. It was one of the most surprising things about my Cesarean.
11. The Recovery
I know many women who claim to have had relatively “easy” C-sections. They say they were up and feeling more or less like their usual selves by the next week. I’m not sure if I’m just a huge wimp or if mine was somehow “worse” than the norm, but I definitely was not one of these women. I was an aching, hobbling, sniveling not-so-hot mess for at least six weeks following my C.
I’ll never forget needing to go to the bathroom during my first night at home and discovering—duh!—I was no longer in a hospital bed that I could tilt up and down as needed. My husband had to create a “sheet rope”—literally, a rope made out of a bed sheet that he tied to the footboard—so that I could hoist my pathetic self up to a sitting position while my abdominal muscles were out of commission. I relied on the sheet rope for weeks. So much for being a trouper.
12. The Wardrobe Changes
When your abdomen has recently been cut open, let me tell you how awesome it feels for the waistband of your pants, jeans, and/or underwear to rub up against your sorest spots. (Hint: Not awesome. At all.) This may not come as quite a shock to women who were smart enough to think this through beforehand, but I did not. I returned home from the hospital, went to put on some of my usual pajama pants, and almost passed out. Then I promptly sent my husband out to buy scrub bottoms, sweatpants, and six pairs of high-cut, natural-waist Granny panties in much larger sizes than I would normally wear so that I could hoist them up past my belly button where they would no longer disturb my incision. Similar to the fashion of an 80-year-old woman, I rocked this look for two months straight following my C. Super hot. The upside? Those over-sized sweatpants now make amazing “fat pants” to slip into after Thanksgiving dinner.
13. The Scar
I expected a scar. What I was unprepared for was how long—or low—mine would be. Whoa. Mine is a solid seven inches across, and let’s just say I wouldn’t be able to show it to you unless I’d recently visited Waxing the City.
Even more surprising is how much my scar—and my feelings toward it—have changed over time. My C-section scar looked pretty gnarly in the beginning, but six years later, the tissue has flattened out and the scar has lightened in color—so much so, you can barely see the edges. In the beginning, I hated it. I thought it was ugly and unsexy, and I cringed when it glared up at me in the bathtub. Now? It greets me like an old familiar friend. It’s my battle scar, my reminder of the most miraculous thing I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
14. The Backlash
One of the most shocking things about having a C-section? The backlash from other moms. I was in no way prepared for this bizarre attitude that my daughter’s birth doesn’t really “count” because it was not vaginal. I developed preeclampsia in my second trimester; with my blood pressure already reaching near-stroke levels simply by my lying in a hospital bed, labor was out of the question. But that I have to include that my Cesarean was medically necessary is what’s silly, as though I should have to justify my birth to anyone else.
No, I’m not a labor warrior. No, I did not push a baby through my vajayjay. No, I can’t imagine what that must be like, and I am truly in awe of those who accomplish it. However, I did undergo major surgery and have my uterus sliced open—which wasn’t exactly a walk in the park—so, um, yes, THAT COUNTS. However you birth your child(ren) into this world, IT COUNTS. It’s shocking to me how many moms don’t agree. As my husband recently said while we were discussing this topic over dinner, “Moms are so strange. I guarantee you’ll never hear one dad tell another dad his vasectomy isn’t legit because he did it this way instead of that way.” Preach on, hubby.
15. The Love
I love my husband dearly, but being an excellent nurse isn’t something I would’ve recommended that he include on his résumé…until I had a C-section. Obviously, I’d expected my husband to be helpful and accommodating while I was—you know—giving birth to his first and only child, but I hadn’t expected him to rise to the occasion quite as much as he did.
Jeff was wonderful. He didn’t mind when I woke him up like nine times to help me to the bathroom on my second night in the hospital. He applied panty-liners when I was too sore to bend down and pulled up underwear when I was too weak to do it on my own. He insisted I was beautiful when I know I looked absolutely horrendous, and he always waited for me to put on my makeup before we went to visit our daughter in the NICU because he knew it would make me feel better. When a postpartum nurse made me cry—and cry HARD—over my request for pain medication, he demanded that the charge nurse assign someone else to be responsible for my care. He made things fun and funny at a time when I really needed them to be, and he assured me everything was going to be OK when I wasn’t so sure. He was my strength throughout the entire thing, and I’ll never forget it.
Now looking at my 47-pound Kindergartner, who turns six at the end of the month, I can hardly believe she was that tiny, three-pound preemie extracted from my womb in the operating room. And perhaps, when I think about it, that’s the most shocking thing of all: That as much as I adored that darling baby girl from the second the doctor cut her out of my body, I knew nothing about how much our lives would forever change because of her, how much she would affect every facet, complete us in a way that only a child can. I was instantly in love that day on the operating table, but I’d only scratched the surface of understanding a mother’s love. Six years and counting, one thing is apparent: She was worth every slice.