Alright, time for another dose of C-section real talk. Back in January, I shared the story about my decision to have a C-section with the hope that some of you would share similar stories. The week it went live, I got loads of texts, Facebook and Instagram messages, and emails filled with kind words, intense stories, and a few pro tips. I had done a reasonable amount of research into C-sections, asked my doctor tons of questions, and felt as prepared as possible. But, as you’ve probably guessed because you’ve already read the title of this article, there were a bunch of things I had no idea were going to happen! Good things, uncomfortable things, weird things — all of ‘em.
Before I launch into the list, it’s worth noting that I had a pretty much “perfect” C-section without any additional complications. No emergency situations came up in the hospital or during recovery, so aside from having two metal rods in my back (from scoliosis surgery 20 years ago), my C-section was as standard and average as they come.
I was happy with every aspect of my delivery and would do it exactly the same if I could do it over again. My doctors and nurses were awesome, and my gorgeous baby girl Anokhi Paranjpe Temple legit came out of the womb smiling ;) (The photo above is from Day 2 of this kiddo’s life!) Now, let’s get to this list.
You’re going to FEEL things during the procedure. This is the #1 thing I was NOT prepared for, so I’m getting right to it. I knew I wouldn’t need to be put under general anesthesia and was stoked to know I’d be totally awake and lucid during the C-section. What I didn’t know is how much of the process I would actually feel. About an hour beforehand, my anesthesiologist told me I would “feel things” and that he’d heard it described as someone rummaging through a purse. Wait, WHAT NOW? A purse. A purse full of organs? Truth be told, it’s an uncomfortably accurate description.
Here’s how it went down for me: The surgery started and within about 15 minutes, Anokhi was out and about and crying and then on my chest! During that first 15 minutes, it made sense to me that I could feel tugging and pulling and shoving. They were pulling a baby out of my body after all. The part I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that after the baby came out, they had to spend about 30 minutes putting me back together. During that time the pulling and tugging and shoving was really intense and actually made me feel pretty nauseated. I had this baby snuggled close to my chest but was still feeling a lot of really crazy sensations. It was perfectly normal, but I didn’t realize it would *feel* as much as it did. So now you know.
Your anesthesiologist is the most important person in the room. Besides your partner and new babe, obviously! I assumed the surgeon would be my go-to but I was mistaken. The anesthesiologist is absolutely the captain of this ship, your C-section cruise director, conductor, and maestro. In my case, I’d consulted with an anesthesiologist a few months before my surgery, to discuss pain management options due to the metal rods attached to my spine. The morning of my C-section, I met the anesthesiologist who would be with me during my surgery. He told me that because of my rods, they may need to poke me a few times to get to the right place. He advised that I bring my husband in with me during this part, in case we have to make the decision to choose general anesthesia. He managed to be very direct and warm all at the same time. It only took one poke (phew!) and he was there with me throughout the entire C-section. He talked me through every single moment of it, calmly and thoroughly, so I wouldn’t miss a beat. While the nurses and doctors conversed about shows they watched last night, plans they had this weekend, and the like, my anesthesiologist was completely present with me, my husband, and my baby, and it made a huge difference.
You can’t see the delivery, but your partner can. If you’re considering a C-section, you likely already know that it’s physically impossible for you to see what’s going on during the birth of your babe. The good news is, your partner totally can! There’s a sheet hung up between your chest and the rest of your body, but your partner can stand up and peek over at the moment of delivery. In my husband David’s case, he stood up, saw a lot of blood, a pile of my organs, and our baby girl Anokhi. In his words, “it’s something you can’t unsee” — and he would absolutely want to see it again :)
Your partner can still cut the umbilical cord. Just because your baby’s coming into the world through surgery doesn’t mean you can’t participate in some of the traditional stuff. David was able to cut the umbilical cord and said it was surprisingly tough to cut through!
You can opt for skin-to-skin time with your baby IMMEDIATELY. A lot of mamas get stressed about the idea that, when you get a C-section, your baby is going to be taken out of your uterus to some far away location. I was under the impression that I wouldn’t get to hold the baby for at least 20 minutes or so, and that made me feel antsy. The truth is, unless there are medical complications, you can request your baby be placed on your chest within a minute of their first breath. In some hospitals, this is called a “family-centered” or “gentle” C-section. In San Francisco, it’s the standard. The photo above was taken two minutes after Anokhi was born! She cried loudly the minute until they placed her on my chest, and then she immediately starting rooting around, looking for her first meal on the outside.
If you plan to breastfeed, you can get started within an hour of baby’s arrival. The photo above is from about an hour after Anokhi was born and was my first time breastfeeding! Honestly, the moments from that morning are such a blur but the sensation and feeling of this moment are absolutely clear. After the C-section was finished, Anokhi was taken to the nursery to get cleaned up a bit more, and David went to get her once I was wheeled into the recovery room. He brought her in and a nurse came to help me get set up to breastfeed. Fortunately, Anokhi latched on and my milk let down immediately — we’ve been attached at the nip ever since ;)
You’re going to bleed for a while. I didn’t realize that I would need to rock disposable mesh underwear and gigantic maxi pads for a few weeks after my C-section. I thought that scene was reserved for VBAC. But that is not the case! The other thing I didn’t know is that the more active you are, the longer you’ll likely bleed for. In the first 4-6 weeks, Anokhi wasn’t a great daytime napper unless we were moving, so I ended up walking upwards of 10 miles a day so that she’d nap in her stroller (or in a carrier on me). This extended the length of time I bled for, but after about two weeks, I was able to wear normal underwear and liners instead of the industrial setup.
Your legs will be numb for MANY hours after your C-section. So I knew my legs would be numb, and I heard about the leg compression devices they put on your legs to keep things circulating, but it felt really crazy. I don’t know how to describe it, but I had a few moments throughout the day of numbness where I wondered if my legs would be numb forever. The pins and needles finally wore off in the late afternoon, and I was able to very carefully stand up around 6pm (my C-section was at 10am that day).
You likely won’t be able to eat anything that day. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat the night before and morning of, and I knew it would be a few hours before I could eat legit food after the C-section, but I did NOT know it would basically be a no food day. My mom and mother-in-law brought us pizza when they came to visit in the hospital, and I couldn’t eat it until 2am that night. Be prepared for a day of fluids, and plan on your favorite meal for day two of baby’s life.
You have to re-learn how to pass gas and go to the bathroom. It is impossible to describe the sensation of feeling like you don’t know HOW to go to the bathroom, but it is real. Your body is so contracted that, for lack of a better way to describe it, your bowels are just not operating like you’re used to. Going to the bathroom takes a real effort, and you’re going to feel like you deserve a medal when it finally happens.
Bathing is a little bit complicated for a couple weeks. Because your incision is healing, they recommend not letting the bandage and area around it get wet. This makes showering a little complex, and you can forget the idea of taking a bubble bath during week one. When I showered, I ended up always showering with my back facing the showerhead. I also used a blow dryer to dry the incision once the bandage came off because I was worried about the friction from towels. Not a huge deal but something to be aware of.
You might not be able to drive for 6-8 weeks. Depending on your recovery, you’ll likely be on some form of pain medication for a while and definitely should not drive. If you need to take your babe to doctor’s appointments and have to go it alone, be sure to avoid taking any pain relief medication until you get home after the appointment. I ended up avoiding driving for about three weeks but had weaned myself off of any pain meds at that point so was comfortable driving.
Some super basic things will be uncomfortable. These are just a few of the things that were surprisingly uncomfortable in the first few weeks. Bending down to load a dishwasher or pick things up off the floor just didn’t feel right. Reaching up for things also seemed to cause strain around the incision area. This discomfort should only last a couple of months max, but be sure to ask your partner and family members for help with some of this basic stuff. If you’re like me, it can be tempting to prove to yourself you can do everything — but it’s not worth pain. Your focus should be taking care of your baby. Let the people around you take care of YOU.
You can’t wear low-rise anything until your incision is fully healed. You do NOT want anything to rub your incision! It feels weird, is painful, and I still don’t love if something hits right on my scar tissue and it’s been almost eight months! For me this meant a lot of robe time ;) I also stocked up on Gap Body high-waisted cotton undies and continued to wear my maternity leggings for many, many months. Soft cotton skirts that you can wear higher on your waist are also a great option. Dresses would be great for the healing but can be tough to breastfeed in (especially in public), so I ended up living in my maternity leggings and soft t-shirts.
A soft wrap-style baby carrier is key. After a C-section, even the idea of a flimsy elastic waistband touching your incision is terrifying. Same goes for most baby carriers! I opted for a fabric wrap carrier (specifically the Solly Baby Wrap) and this worked great from week one. You wrap it closer to your waist than your hips, so you’re able to avoid the incision area. Plus, it’s soft and stretchy so doesn’t cause as much friction as other carriers. At around two or three months post-partum, I was able to start using a standard ErgoBaby carrier, but I still love using this Solly Baby Wrap from time to time.
Let me introduce you to the C-section SHELF. Remember that big beautiful belly of yours? If you’re reading this, maybe you still have one! Or perhaps a friend of yours is rocking one ;) Well something SUPER weird happens to that belly after you have a C-section, and it’s been dubbed the C-section shelf. Personally, I kept referring to it as a shelf right away and then Googled to find I was not alone in this descriptor. Everyone knows that you’ll still have a belly after you have your baby. Some people look like they’re nine months pregnant, some look like they’re three months pregnant. No matter what, you’ve got a whole bunch of extra skin and swelling. With a C-section, your incision acts as a hard line and the belly actually stops abruptly above the scar tissue. So, you end up with this thing that looks and feels like a hard shelf holding up that belly skin. It’s a bit odd but it’s totally normal, and supposedly will fade away with time. Seven months later, I still have a bit of a shelf situation, but it’s nothing a thick waistband can’t alleviate.
Walking is legit, but avoid the hills. If there was a theme song to my maternity leave, it would definitely be The Proclaimers’ 1988 classic, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” Babygirl would NOT sleep during the day unless on the move, so I found myself walking anywhere from 5-15 miles per day to make sure she got the right amount of daytime sleep. I would set out for the day and walk from my house (a block from the Panhandle into Golden Gate Park) all the way to Ocean Beach. It was awesome and meditative and borderline obsessive. It was all peachy keen unless hills were involved. Walking uphill presented a very strange physical challenge, and basically my body told me to avoid hills until I had healed a bit more. I brought hills back into the mix about two months after my C-section — we took a family vacation to Hawaii a couple weeks before I had to go back to work and did lots of hiking with the babe.
Share your baby stories with us @BritandCo.
(Photos via Anjelika Temple, Illustrations via Yising Chou)