It’s a while ago now, but I remember lying on the bed in our apartment in China, reading all the typical baby books my parents and friends had shipped over from the states to prepare me for my first baby. I’d dutifully read the chapters as instructed as if this would really prepare me for anything.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
Well, not entirely. It seems less foreign when you’re in the trenches of motherhood, and you recall that one chapter you read that seems thousands of years ago when you could sip tea peacefully while watching trash TV. Ah, the good old days!
I also remember as I got further along in my first pregnancy, there was a section about c-sections. I glossed over it, but since I had planned to deliver vaginally, I didn’t really think much about it. And you know what they say about life and babies…they happen when you make other plans.
So, I’d love to enlighten those who are either planning a c-section or have a birth plan similar to mine, just in case you have to go in for an emergency c-section. There are so many things I wish I’d known. Enjoy!
1. It’s one thing to read about it…it’s another thing to have it
As I mentioned, I skimmed that c-section section in the baby books. I had a slight idea of what would happen, but since I didn’t think it would be possible because I didn’t want to have a c-section, I didn’t put much stock in it.
So read it. Read it all. And if you’re planning on a vaginal birth and all goes well, you will have fun facts to randomly spout out your next evening among adults on how c-sections are performed.
2. It’s considered major abdominal surgery 😮
If you read up about the procedure of a c-section, you’ll see it involves cutting through your abdominal wall to get to your uterus. It’s one thing to read, though, and another to live it. It’s not minor surgery, and even though it’s widespread these days, mostly with a horizontal incision (though, on rarer occasions, vertical), it’s something we seem to forget.
3. It’s scary AF
I’m not trying to freak you out, but it’s a little frightening whether you have a planned one or wind up with an emergency c-section. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wasn’t nervous about going in for any kind of surgery.
For my first, it was an unplanned emergency c-section. My second c-section was planned, though. And even though I knew more of what to expect the second time around, I was still scared.
Do know that your doctor and the surgical team will be there for you every step of the way. I think the hardest part with the emergency c-section was that I was exhausted; it was chaotic because I’d been in labor so long, and I was in a foreign country where people were talking in a language I barely understood.
The second time around, the staff had improved in English speaking tremendously, and since I wasn’t put under, they spoke to me throughout the procedure to help me stay calm, which helped a lot.
4. And that OR is freezing
When they wheeled me into the OR for my emergency c-section with my first baby, aside from being scared, I was freezing. I was in some flimsy hospital garment, and it was like ice from the operating table to the air in the room.
5. You won’t feel your legs for a bit, and that’s ok
I remember lying there on that cold operating table, thinking that this must be how fish feel before they’re ripped off their innards. Do fish even feel? I’ll have to look that up.
Anyway, I remember the doctor asking me in halting English if I could feel it. ‘It’ being something they were using to poke me with in the legs. I cried and cried, “Yes! Ow! It hurts!”
And then suddenly, I felt nothing from the waist down. I couldn’t wiggle my toes. I couldn’t feel a thing. The room spun out, and I was under, yet I knew what was happening. I’m glad they put me under for my first, but I decided against it for my second. The only difference was it felt so much faster when completely doped up compared to being awake while my doctor sewed me back up again.
6. You might be slightly terrified when they hand you your baby
So, we’ve all seen movies where someone has a baby, and they are handed that baby for the first time, and it’s lovely and happy and full of sunshine. Maybe that happens to other moms, but not me.
I had requested in my birth plan that I wanted my baby handed to me as soon as possible after delivery so I could breastfeed. Here she was, a nurse’s arms extending this bundled-up thing toward me. “Ahhhh! What have I done?!? Help! Help! What do I do now?!? How do I take care of this tiny person?!? She doesn’t even look like me! Someone helpppp!”
And then, just as suddenly, I looked into her watery eyes and realized I loved her like nobody I’d ever loved before in my whole life. It is a huge change, so don’t be hard on yourself if you freak out first.
7. You’ll be a little disappointed when that catheter comes out
When I was in the OR, I remember feeling a little pop and pinch when they put the catheter in. It was uncomfortable, but soon the numbness would come, and I wouldn’t notice.
Once in the hospital room, it was nice not to get up to pee. All those months of getting up dozens of times in the night to go pee, I didn’t have to. Then they take it out, and you must start walking around again. To the bathroom is likely your first excursion.
8. The first walk is awful
First of all, trying to get out of that bed just sucks. Have someone help you. In the first few days, you are definitely going to need assistance, especially in the hospital. I felt like an older person, clinging to my husband, the nurse, and my mother-in-law as I slowly moved at the pace that a snail could beat to the bathroom.
It is so hard to walk. I couldn’t stand upright and felt like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, wondering if I’d ever get my sexy back (I did, finally, but it takes time, so hang in there).
9. Everyone is waiting for you to fart :p
So, you might be up doing your old-lady shuffle to the bathroom and down the hall. But now, there’s a new milestone to achieve. You have to fart. I just posted about gas after a c-section, so you might want to head over there and read about that too. But yeah, you won’t get any real food until you let one rip, so be prepared for that.
10. You will get better each day
In the beginning, it sucks. But take it day by day. You can’t wallow in the moment of feeling feeble. Every day you’ll improve, but you won’t notice it until you look back on the week. Do as you’re instructed by hospital staff, and you will soon feel more like yourself.
11. Accept the pain meds
As I said before, this is major abdominal surgery. You will be sore afterward, so please, take the IV pain med drip. Take the prescription when you leave the hospital. It will help you get the rest you need and allow you to recover. Proper recovery is vital as a sweet little person needs you to be at your best. You won’t be good for anybody if you don’t manage your pain.
12. Sneezing, coughing, and laughing all hurt like crazy
Obviously, it’s worse immediately afterward. But even in the coming weeks, you will hurt in the site of your incision whenever you cough, sneeze, or laugh.
This is interesting:
While still in the hospital with my first, my husband was changing her diaper. It was his first diaper change with the meconium, and he was completely grossed out. But for me, it was like watching a comedy routine. I started laughing so hard I couldn’t stop. It hurt so much that I asked him to get the nurse because I thought my incision had torn open. It didn’t, and yours won’t either, but man, if it doesn’t feel like it!
13. You’ll retain lots of water
I remember feeling like a beached whale, and it wasn’t until I got out of the hospital that I realized why. They give you all these IV fluids, adding to your overall feeling of buoyancy. It goes away, of course, but if you’re wondering why you look and feel more like a beachball, that’s why.
14. You need people to help you
I had these lofty aspirations: we’d come home from the hospital and be a little family. Only my in-laws were hovering around in my space. Annoying as that was, it was definitely necessary to get that extra help. They cleaned the house, cooked, and cared for my new baby so that I could get some rest.
15. Don’t forget about yourself, physically and mentally
Your health is important too. In addition, to rest and take it easy, the only job you should have right now is feeding that baby. Everyone else can do the rest. You’re doing enough.
So many people encourage new moms to let their husbands and other family members help out, which is something I encourage too. But mental health often gets overlooked. There are baby blues, which is normal from your hormones adjusting. That disappears within 2 weeks, though. If you feel blue after that or even randomly months down the line, reach out to your doctor and get the help you need. I posted about that here, so please take a look.
16. Move carefully
You can’t go from lying down to sitting up like you used to, at least not for several weeks. Learn to roll onto your side and push up with your arms. If it’s too much, sleep in a recliner instead. You’ll be able to move normally soon enough. Now’s the time to be extra careful, so you heal faster.
17. Bind it, at least in the beginning
While you shouldn’t use it forever, in the first couple of weeks after your c-section, an abdominal belt will help stabilize your incision and muscles. I woke up with mine on me at the hospital, which definitely helped keep things together.
18. The soreness will linger
So, you’re home for 2 weeks, and it still feels sore. It’s totally normal. It’s going to be your new routine for a while too. Sometimes it might be more tender on one side than the other. The next day that may change. Your muscles and tissues are all healing inside, so give them time, and it will eventually pass.
19. Even when you feel better, take it easy
There will come a time when you feel so much better. You might be sitting there as I was, nursing your lovely baby and thinking about how you felt when you left the hospital compared to how you feel now.
You might even get wild and decide to do a little more. I thought I would try cleaning. But that proved painful. I stopped at once and let my mother-in-law take over. There’s a reason your doctor sets your postpartum checkup for 6 weeks later. You shouldn’t be doing anything more than simple walking until then to allow your body time to heal.
20. And that means no lifting
My doctor told me not to lift anything except for the baby. She said anything that weighs more than the baby, I should have my husband or in-laws take care of. Even in the first days after the c-section, it was painful to lift my girl, and she was just under 7 pounds. You’ll be able to lift more soon, but please take it easy, or you’ll only make it take longer to recover.
21. You may swell around the incision
A little swelling around your incision is normal. Your doctor will give you a rundown of what to look for when it comes to spotting an infection. Keep an eye on things and care for your incision and the rest of your body as instructed. Everything will be fine!
22. Your hormones will make you nuts 🙄
My cycle always clues me in. Mid-cycle, I cry over the most insignificant things and have very standard cravings for food. I can set my watch on it. But after having a baby via c-section, your hormones will be even crazier.
Women that deliver vaginally also have those hormone fluctuations, but we have that whole post-surgery thing, which is another thing to cope with.
So, surgery, the new little person you’re trying to care for properly, and hormones = significant mood swings.
23. That recovery time feels like forever
Because it’s such major surgery, you’ll have to keep from intensive exercise. It’s frustrating because you want to slim right down again. Guess what? You’ll have to wait. I was delighted that breastfeeding helped me drop some weight, but I couldn’t wait until my doctor said I could do more than take walks. Waiting it out is tough, but it’s worth it to not further damage that sensitive tissue that’s busy healing inside you.
24. Try to prep as much before you go to the hospital
My eldest caught me by surprise in my 38th week. I was prepared with a hospital bag, but even then, there were things I wanted from home. Honestly, you will ask your husband to bring you more socks, that baby outfit you left on the bed because you weren’t sure, another book, and about a dozen more things.
The night before the c-section is crucial. Read how to get prepared.
You’ll also want to try to have food ready. In my case, I would have loved to have meals I liked ready to heat up. I’m grateful for my mother-in-law, but she and I have vastly different views on comfort food. I wanted mashed potatoes and gravy, and she served me dumplings.
25. That scar fades 😉
At first, I felt like anyone could see my scar. But once I started wearing normal underwear (not the ugly granny ones I had my husband buy because I didn’t want to ruin my good ones with the overflow of lochia), I noticed that it was covered by those even though they rode lower.
In other words, when the weather warmed up, I knew that in my bikini, no one would be able to see the scar. And now, years later, you can’t see mine at all.
Relative: The best bet would be to buy a few postpartum underwears.
26. It’s just as scary the second time around
I know we’re talking about the first c-section, but the second time is scary too. Not because you don’t know what’s happening, but because you DO! You know how much it will hurt the first time you try to get out of bed and walk. You know everyone will be standing around waiting to hear the slightest whisper of a fart, and you know you have a long road to recovery. Another thing you will see this time too…it’s all worth it.
27. It may take you a moment to bond with your baby
My fear of my firstborn vanished in seconds. With my second one, I was delighted to have her and hold her, but I didn’t really get that bond until a couple of days later when I was able to walk and hold her on my own (read how important skin-to-skin contact is to create a bonding with the newborn after giving birth). I stood there with her in my arms and cried about how much I loved her. Ah, hormones. You old devil!
28. You need to be comfortable to get your rest
Remember what I said about pain meds? That helps, but another thing you need is to be comfortable. After my second c-section, because it was summer, it was hot. In China, they have this crazy idea that air conditioning and fans will kill you.
My husband was about to kill them for turning off our air conditioner. It was so hot in our room, and the baby and I were very uncomfortable. It wasn’t until he threw a screaming fit that they hustled in, fixed the air, and gave me a shot of something lovely that I was finally able to rest.
And here’s something else…your baby can sense that too. Once I felt better, she felt better. She even latched on better. The nurses were amazed because, “It’s so cold in here,” they marveled. Be comfortable as you like it, and you’ll be able to recover faster.
29. Sleep really helps
I’m a big believer in sleep, and while my girls were babies and toddlers, I didn’t get as much as I’d liked. So, do it when your husband, in-laws, or friends offer to take over so you can squeeze in a nap. Get as much of it as possible because it will help the cells in your body repair at the incision site and get you back to normal faster.
30. Check for diastasis recti
Even in women that deliver vaginally, diastasis recti can occur. I was lucky and didn’t have it, but thankfully, one of my friends did tell me about it and how to check for it. You’ll need to be careful with your abs to get them back together again. After that postpartum checkup, start doing the exercises to remedy it before jumping into a routine of planks and crunches.
31. Stairs suck 😕
China is a place with stairs. Lots of stairs. Great for exercise. Not great right after a c-section. While your home surely won’t have as many stairs as I encountered, try not to go up and down your stairs often in the first few weeks as you recover so you don’t strain anything.
32. Food never tasted so good once you’re allowed to eat again
I was just thinking about how great it was to eat real food after passing gas. It’s glorious. It’s like being born again. Aside from feeling that love of holding my new baby, this is right up there with remarkable experiences.
33. You’ll swear you’ll never do it again, and then you’ll immediately want to go for it again
I remember lying there in the hospital, still groggy from the drugs, and I thought, “I’m NEVER EVER doing this again!” But as I got into a routine with my daughter at home and watched her grow while fumbling to be a good mom, I knew I wanted another one.
She brought us so much joy, so we did it again. But that was it for me. I put my foot down after that.
Today, both of them bring me so much joy and pain all in one. There are the moments they tell me about school and the ones where they bicker and fight. There are moments when I get hugs and kisses and then when they hate me because I told them, “No.” And there are also the moments when they’re sick, and my heart hurts because I want them to feel better.
But all in all, the whole process is worth it. It doesn’t matter if you plan your c-section or if you have no choice but to be rushed into the OR for an emergency c-section delivery. You’re a mom either way, and you’ll do great; I know it!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.