My first son was born via a non-medicated vaginal delivery. I felt like a mama warrior after I delivered him. (I was all—“I am woman, hear me roar!”—and everything.) So when I went into labor with my second son after my water broke at 34 weeks, I knew I would be having a much different experience.
His birth would not be about me, I realized. It would be about the fastest, safest way for him to enter this world. And with the doctors and my doula, we decided a C-section was inevitable and was the best route for me and my baby.
As you could imagine, going into labor at 34 weeks was scary enough, but the icing on the cake was the fact that I would need a C-section—something I was completely unprepared for. I had no idea what to expect.
Many of my friends had delivered babies this way, so I had a vague idea. But there were many things about the process and the recovery that surprised me.
1. How much you will still bleed
I thought with a C-section I would bleed so much less—but that was not the case. I still bled for 14 weeks. Granted it tapered off much faster than a vaginal delivery, but I did not think I would need to stock up on panty liners.
2. Learning about things I never knew existed—belly binder, silicone strips, keloids...
Pre C-section, I had no idea what any of these things were. I thought the belly binder they handed me in the hospital was a joke. I remember thinking, I’m not trying to waist train like a Kardashian…
Little did I know how helpful it would be. It gave me additional support and made me feel “sucked in” so that I felt more secure. And silicone strips? They confused me at first, but they have helped the keloids and have minimized the appearance of my scar. They also create a protective barrier against underwear and clothing.
3. Wardrobe preferences
The beauty of maternity leggings during the first few weeks (okay, months) after a C-section should not be diminished. I LOVED these from Target! That was the best $20 I’ve spent in my life. (Or should I say $100, since I bought a bunch of pairs?...) They did not hit my scar, they were great for nursing in public, and provided a nice skin barrier from the aforementioned waist trainer.
And did I mention how thankful I am for granny panties? (A sentence I never thought I would say, but motherhood makes you do and say some surprising things). There is a real need for soft underwear that reach above the incision. So, do yourself a favor and buy a pack of these.
4. It’s real surgery
My doula asked if I wanted pictures of the birth. I said no. She took them anyway, and I’m so grateful. But it took me a while to look at them. Like, months, honestly. But when I did, I realized...this was a real surgical procedure. I guess I never just thought about how serious it is since you hear about C-sections pretty regularly.
5. My husband wasn’t allowed in for the spinal
It seems like every anesthesiologist is different, but my husband had to wait in a lonely folding chair—all scrubbed up, with nowhere to go—in the hall, while I was getting the spinal. Luckily, they did allow my doula in, thank goodness.
6. How fast they got my son out
From the time the spinal kicked in, to the time I was looking at my son, was probably less than five minutes. I was shocked how quickly it went. We didn’t even have time to finish one song my husband was playing on his iPhone to keep me calm. The longest part was stitching me up, and counting surgical tools. I remember a lot of counting and taking inventory of the room.
7. No need for the vaginal recovery I experienced last time
With my first delivery, I sat on an egg crate for weeks. For some reason, I was still prepared for the lidocaine spray and witch hazel pads that came along with a vaginal delivery. But I quickly realized a C-section is very different. Your lady parts are still very much intact and pain-free. Now there’s a silver lining!
8. The gas, oh the gas!
I experienced gas pains all the way up to my neck. I’m still not sure how that’s possible, but however it gets there—it’s not pleasant. The two tips I learned were to take the gas medicine they gave me (all of it!) and not to invite anyone to come see me in the hospital who I would be embarrassed about passing a little gas in front of.
9. The incision took some getting used to
I had a big fear of looking at or touching my incision. I’m not sure why, but it took months for me to be able to touch it. It’s a strange sensation. Plus, it was always numb, but only on one side. In the beginning, I felt sharp pains on the one side. The doctor informed me that usually one side hurts more than the other because it’s where the stitches end.
10. It seems like your incision area is a target
You pick up your son, he accidentally hits that area. You burp your infant, he sits on that area. You rest a Boppy on your lap, right on that spot. For months following your C-section, you may feel like your incision is getting in the way.
11. Lifting and bending limitations
I was told I couldn’t pick up my toddler, or laundry, or anything really. When things fell on the floor, my toes became my best tool. Scrunch those toes and pick things up, mama! I also struggled to get my pants on and shave my legs. This is when a super loving and supportive partner makes such a difference. (Thanks, babe!)
12. Daily activities become an Olympic-sized feat
Laughing, coughing, sneezing all hurt. Like really hurt. I would have to push a pillow down on my lap for counter pressure if I had to do any of these things. So don’t invite any funny friends over. ?
My husband also got a sneak-peek of what life is going to be like when I’m 80 years old. Sitting down, standing up, getting in and out of a car. These things took time. We'd start 10 minutes before we actually had to leave the house because the act of getting up from the couch, putting on shoes, walking to the car, then actually getting in the car—took quite a bit of time.
13. I still missed sleeping on my stomach
After being pregnant and only being able to sleep on my sides, I looked forward to the time when I would reunite with my face planted in the pillow, while soundly sleeping on my stomach. But I couldn’t right away. Only just recently, four months later, do I feel comfortable doing that again. It had been almost a year since I was able to sleep on my stomach, but the reunion was oh-so-sweet.
All births come with challenges. No one ever has a completely smooth road from conception to delivery. But having a C-section reminded me to slow down. That it’s okay to ask people to help me. That it’s okay to feel vulnerable. That it’s okay to wonder when you will feel “normal” again.
Like with anything else, but especially with parenthood, show yourself some love and grace, mama. This too shall pass.
In the meantime, enjoy the down-time and the sweet baby snuggles you so deserve.