Awake or Asleep During C-Section: Which is Best?

Whether you’re reading this because you have a c-section planned and upcoming or planning on a natural delivery and want to be prepared, thinking of c-sections can be a little scary. I don’t think I know a person on the planet who is like, “Yay! I’m going to have major abdominal surgery! Woohoo!”

Surgery of any kind can be scary. There are always risks, and while low, they are definitely on your mind. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the US has the highest maternal death rate during birth, but this data isn’t broken down into what caused it. In other words, some of it is because of complications during a c-section, and others are due to complications during vaginal deliveries.

The key takeaway though is that the hospital you choose is the most crucial decision you make for your birth. Even if you’re not planning a c-section, you should look into the hospital, the doctors, the statistics of all births there, and so on.

I know that for myself, when we found the hospital I had my daughters in (which was hard to do in China), I felt much more at ease than the other places I’d seen.

Are You Awake for an Emergency C-Section?

I started panicking when it was evident that the only way we were getting my eldest out of me was through a c-section. I was terrified. I remember being thrown onto a gurney, wheeled into a freezing and very sterilized room, and having a bunch of doctors and nurses standing over me, barking at each other in Chinese.

It felt like an alien autopsy. 😮

I was crying, and the few that spoke English were desperately trying to calm me down. I felt the catheter go in, a little pop, and as I winced at that, someone else began poking me with a pin on my leg. They kept asking me if I could feel it. I yowled in pain that I could. They kept poking and asking, and I still thought it. Why were they doing this to me?

And then suddenly, I felt nothing, and the room spun out. And I was under. I felt like I’d fallen into some hole on the other side of the universe, but I was no longer scared. I knew what was going on but was, for lack of a better word, tripping. When I heard my firstborn cry, I knew it was my baby.

As Tom Petty famously sang in the song, “Learning to Fly,” coming down is the hardest thing. That was rough. Thank goodness for pain meds.

Can You Ask to Be Put to Sleep for a C-Section?

In the case of an emergency c-section, it is generally safer for them to knock you out as they did to me. This is because everything has to happen fast, and you’ve likely been in labor for a long time.

But when you plan your c-section, you don’t have to be put to sleep unless you want to. As you know, I scheduled my second c-section because I was afraid that I’d be in the minority again with the statistics and that I wouldn’t be able to do the VBAC successfully. I felt it was better not to endure the stress I’d had the first time.

For my second c-section, even though I did go into labor first, I didn’t ask to be put to sleep. The anesthesiologist sat by the head and made sure I was numbed from the waist down with local anesthesia, just like the first time, but this time, I had a choice of whether or not I wanted to go under. I chose to remain awake.

I felt nothing below the waist. It’s such an odd feeling being awake and unable even to wiggle your toes. Once I was numb, they extended a screen across my abdomen so that I couldn’t see the surgery as it happened. Believe me; you definitely don’t want to see it. How they do this every day is a miracle to me. I’d likely throw up.

The anesthesiologist told me that at any time, if I wanted to go under just tell her and she’d put me to sleep. I was afraid of going under, though so I just asked her to make small talk to me to help me relax. Without going under, it felt like the c-section took forever, but that was only because the first time, I’d been under general anesthesia and it felt like just seconds after I was being sent to my hospital room.

Which Anesthesia is Better for C-Sections?

For c-sections, if they’re planned, you’re given local anesthesia, which is a must so that you don’t feel any pain. If you don’t want to be put to sleep, you’ll feel a weird tugging and pulling, but it doesn’t hurt. It’s just a strange sensation.

Believe me; they will poke you repeatedly to be sure you can’t feel anything below the waist before they start cutting into you.

If you have already been in labor and need an emergency c-section, chances are you’ll have had an epidural, and then they’ll send more medicine up through the catheter. You can get more details about the types of anesthesia doctors to use for c-sections here.

In a Nutshell,

C-sections can be scary, even when they’re planned. The best advice I can give you is to know all about the hospitals in your area – even if you don’t intend to give birth by c-section. This way, you can have a backup plan in an emergency, one you’ll feel confident with. I’m so grateful for our hospital; our doctor was among the best in China.

If you have an emergency, please know they will put you to sleep for your good. And if you plan it out, you can choose to be put under if you’d like though you’ll have to request it. I highly advise you to stick it out with local anesthesia. It’s less risky, and you won’t feel as awful after the c-sections as you go into recovery.

No matter what, they give you something for the pain afterward, and as you recover, you will feel better and better with each day. Try not to worry and just plan, which is always the best course of action.

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