I’ve had two C-sections in the last 3 years, and with each of them, I’ve learned more and more about the myths women are sometimes made to believe about them, namely, that C-sections are the easy way out.

My first C-section was an emergency. I went in for a regular check-up and my midwife discovered that my amniotic fluid was alarmingly low. After a quick huddle with other providers, it was decided that my baby needed to come out and he needed to come out fast. To say that I was unprepared for major surgery is an understatement. I had not read anything about C-sections because I was fully convinced that I was going to get the birth I wanted (the fairy tale, unmedicated vaginal birth with no complications). I cried from the moment they told me my emergency C-section was happening until I finally had my baby in my arms (which was about 6 hours of crying). It was rough physically and emotionally and, 3 years later, I still have some feelings I haven’t fully processed yet.

Introduction to Cesarean births class

My second C-section was planned. I was carrying twins and one was very stubborn and decided to stay breech my entire pregnancy. This time I knew what to expect in terms of the process, but at the same time, every surgery is different and I was thrown a curveball when I lost copious amounts of blood which made my C-section recovery even harder.

Why C-sections aren’t the easy way out

1. You’ll feel what’s happening during C-section surgery

Here’s the thing: you’ll feel things. You shouldn’t feel pain and if you do you should absolutely speak up. Right before my second C-section started, the anesthesiologist had everyone pull their hands up because I told her I could fully feel my abdomen as they pinched to test if it was numb. She adjusted my anesthesia, triple-checked I couldn’t feel pain, and the surgery started. That said, you will feel pulling and tugging, which I wasn’t prepared for and also can be a lot to deal with on top of excitement, anxiety and adrenaline.

2. You’ll need strength to recover

I took notes when the doctor said to take it slow the first weeks and to not lift anything heavier than the baby to help my incision heal. I took of the peri-strips exactly the day they told me to, without really looking because I was terrified somehow my stitches were going to pop, and I took my pain meds around the clock.

Still, recovery was so hard. So much harder than I anticipated. Especially because major surgery takes way longer to heal from than 6 weeks (when women in the US are having their first and last check-up with their providers). I was surprised when at 6 months postpartum my abdomen was still numb. So listen to your doctors, listen to your body and take it as slow as you can. I am currently 10 months postpartum and still massaging my incision to soften the scar tissue and help my body heal from the inside.

3. Your body has not failed you

I was so bombarded with the messaging of “your body was made to birth babies” that when I had to be wheeled into an operating room the one thing I kept thinking was that my body failed me. That somehow, I was already a bad mom because I couldn’t even push out my son and instead needed modern science to help me with the process.

Here’s what I’ve learned since: Thank goodness for modern science and for all the technology that has allowed us to figure out when babies need help coming out. My body didn’t fail me. Pregnancy and birth are not a 1+1 sum and a lot of factors go into it. My body created a beautiful human being from scratch, which is far from being a failure.

4. It’s OK to ask for pain medication during your C-section recovery

Like I said, for my first C-section I was totally unprepared. Especially for recovery. While my husband was taking our son to get weighed and measured, I laid in post-op recovery and I struggled a lot. I was in so much pain but the nurses didn’t believe me. Because this was my first time having surgery, I did not know how to advocate for myself. Luckily, my doula was allowed to sit with me in recovery while my husband was dealing with paperwork and she kept telling the nurses that I needed more pain medication.

It took her five times, FIVE TIMES, for them to listen to her and double up my dose. I felt judged, like no one in the hospital had my back. It was a rude awakening as to what birthing in US hospitals can be like. The second time around I came prepared to speak up for myself, but also thankfully had a wonderful nurse taking care of me that immediately noticed I was in discomfort and gave me more meds before I even had to ask for them.

5. You ARE “giving birth”

Someone who I considered a friend told me after I had my first, “Well, you didn’t give birth, you had a C-section” and three years later I still feel my blood boil when I think of it. I birthed all my children. I created them from scratch, grew them, nurtured them with my own body, and then they came out of the emergency exit. Any type of birth is birth. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

6. You are not “lazy” or “selfish”

I heard this over and over and over and over again. Again, the toxic messaging that society has institutionalized on what type of birth is worth celebrating and what is not. Major surgery is not easy. Recovering from major surgery is not easy. Doing so while also trying to bond, establish feeding, manage hormones and sleep deprivation, is not easy. It’s not lazy or bad or selfish to have a C-section. Babies are born the way they need to be born and no one should ever judge anyone for their choice or necessity, only they and their providers know the full picture.

7. Your birth is no less magical than a vaginal birth

Both times I got to advocate for myself and, given the circumstances, ask for as much as I possibly could of what I wanted my birth experience to be like. With my first, his umbilical cord was ‘milked’ since delayed cutting was not an option, I got to do immediate skin-to-skin in the OR while they closed me up which lasted upwards of 45 minutes. With the twins, I had a clear drape and was able to see both babies come out, one of their cords was milked, while the other we discovered as she was being born had a true knot in it, something that shocked everyone in the room, all while “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blasted in the background. I got to hold the twins next to my chest before it was time to move us all to recovery.

Not everything was possible, but some things were, which is a lesson everyone should take and talk to their providers about what they want regarding their birth plan, what is possible and what is not.

A version of this story was originally published on Jan. 13, 2021. It has been updated.