I attended a wedding a few weekends ago and got to talking with a lovely fellow guest about the recent births of our babies (hi, K!). She had also had a c-section–hers under much more stressful emergency circumstances than my own–and, though she was one of those admirable tough warrior mama types, with a laudably calm “what are you going to do?” attitude about the whole thing, she did say that there was one day about a week into recovery where she felt as though she was never going to recover.
“I remember asking, ‘Am I ever going to feel better?'” she said. “And I posted something about it on Facebook, and suddenly all of these women–people I’d never known had had a c-section!–were sharing their experiences and cheering me on.”
It reminded me of two things. First, that I was–still am–bowled over with gratitude at the many words of support I received throughout my pregnancy when I blogged about it, and especially at the reactions to this post. Going through the experience of trying to get pregnant, then getting pregnant, then having minimagpie has made me feel so deeply connected to other women. Sisterhood. Such a powerful bond. And, second, that as I was flailing around (er, squirming/grunting around) in bed in those first few days of recovery, that I felt very similar to this lovely guest, and I remember thinking: “Oh my God, I’m never going to forget how horrible I feel. Will I ever be able to bend over again? Will I ever move around? I can’t believe I used to be able to actually run when just swinging my legs over the side of this bed feels like a gargantuan, possibly futile, task unto itself.”
But, I did, of course.
Reflecting on this, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on recovering from a c-section. Maybe they’ll help some mama-to-bes (I know there are several readers out there preparing for their first via c-section!). Maybe they’ll resonate with some current mamas. But mainly they’ll just complete a sort of catharsis I’ve been going through as I’ve finally moved beyond the first six weeks after having mini. So excuse me while I take stock, self-indulge, and reflect.
Please know, however, two things:
1) Everyone recovers differently. Some readers reported that they felt “recovered” within 3 weeks; others told me they felt the lingering effects for months. Several readers swore by one of these, but I never used one. And so on. So, be kind to yourself and listen to your own body.
2) If you’re heading into a c-section, YOU CAN DO IT. The last thing I want is for this post to sound intimidating. YOU GOT THIS. And soon this will be you:
Tip No. 1: Identify Your Coping Mechanisms.
When I was probably around twelve or thirteen years old, one of my sisters–the one who is four years my junior, for context–knew I was anxious about a solo trip to visit a relative. I was a major mama’s girl and, even in those pre-teen years, did not like to be away from her for long. It was my first flight by myself and I was intimidated. My wise-beyond-her-years eight-year-old little sis wrote me a note and tucked it into my suitcase the night before I left. I unfolded it on the plane, and it contained the following pragmatic advice: “If you’re scared or think you want to cry, bite the inside of your cheek.” As I headed into the c-section, I remember thinking: “Buck up. Bite the inside of your cheek. You’ll get through this.”
And I did. And you will.
I’ve heard this said before, but the scariest thing about giving birth is the unknown. Not knowing what things will feel like and–half the battle–not knowing how you’ll react, especially given that you’ll be reacting in front of an audience of both loved ones and strangers–what will Mr. Magpie think of me if I ____? What will the nurses say if ____? Etc. Just know that everyone cuts you a lot of slack, and that you’re stronger than you think. But, also, it can be helpful to head into the procedure with a few coping mechanisms in mind. For me:
+My sister’s practical advice–her voice, period–was a comfort to me. We FaceTimed multiple times in the days leading up to the c-section. I cried a lot. She made jokes. It worked.
+Mr. Magpie’s hand. I squeezed it through the most intense shakes (I was shaking uncontrollably throughout the whole procedure–so badly that they needed to give me a sedative of some kind at one point to help control them!) while on the operating table.
+The rosary. I must have said 239 decades of the rosary the morning of March 5th. Mary was definitely in that room with me.
+My mom. I needed her there. She wasn’t in the room with me, but knowing she was just through a few doors made me feel better. And the nurses broke protocol and let her come visit me just minutes before we went into the operating room. She squeezed my hand and gave me A Look and said: “Come on now. You can do this. What are you scared of? You’re going to be fine.” It calmed me.
Those were helpful to me both in the room and in the recovery room and in the weeks after. For other women, I know that reading birth stories can help, or doing a ton of research about the procedure can feel reassuring, or meditating, or listening to music. Whatever floats your boat. Think about the things that bring you comfort and line them up in a row for yourself.
Tip No. 2: Buy Granny Panties.
MAJOR shout-out to my girl S.K. for this tip. Both she and my sister-in-law (a two-time c-section veteran) urged me to buy a set of cheap cotton high-waisted granny panties, saying: “Trust me, you won’t want the elastic of a pair of low-rise underwear anywhere near your incision.” They were right. I got an inexpensive pair of Fruit of the Looms and ceremoniously burned them a month after giving birth (haha, not really, but it was fun to throw them away). Also, keep full panel/high-waist maternity leggings around for the first few weeks after birth!
Tip No. 3: Buy a Nursing Nightgown.
Related to the above, I couldn’t stand having anything pressing against the incision for awhile after the procedure. A nursing nightgown was my BEST friend during these times. Also, less for you to fuss with when using the restroom. I own this one in multiple colors and it is the softest, most comfortable thing ever. I also own one by Belabumbum that appears to no longer be online, but this one by the same brand is similar.
Tip No. 4: Force Yourself to Move.
The nurses were adamant that I get up and walk by the end of the day I’d had my c-section. At the time, it felt unfathomable that I would be able to not only sit up, but stand up and then move my legs. But you can do it! Moving around puts you on the path to recovery. Mr. Magpie was a great cheerleader, and would take me on short walks down the hallway, telling me he was proud of me. The actual walking is not as bad as you think. It’s exhausting, but not painful. Personally, I think the worst part is actually heaving yourself out of the bed, but that’s just a quick little jolt of pain you can brace yourself for.
It’s a fine line, though. I’m prone to push myself too far in general (this is how I gave myself a hernia — no joke — from barre class), and throughout my recovery, I had my mother telling me to take it easy and stay in bed and Mr. Magpie telling me to try one new thing each day. It was good to have these two conflicting voices in my ear. I moved around, but also took it slow. I just had to listen to my body.
Tip No. 5: Plan to Set Up a Station for Yourself on One Couch.
If you have a house with more than one floor, as I do, you’ll need to try to avoid going up and down the stairs too often. My doctor wasn’t too concerned about it, but advised me to only go up and down as much as was absolutely necessary. The first time up those stairs was tough. My legs were wobbly little jellyfish tentacles by the time I got to my room. There were tears involved. But you do it and you move on and then one day you realize you’re going up and down the stairs as if nothing ever happened.
I would usually stay in bed until around 9 or 10 in the morning and then have Mr. Magpie or my mom pack a bag of essentials for the rest of the day–medicines, a book (HA, as if I read any of it), my computer, those horrifyingly large pads you need to wear, nursing pads, my water bottle (a friend bought me this one and I carried it around with me constantly, which was a great reminder to keep taking fluids), snacks, etc. Then I would hang out on the first floor (usually on the couch) for most of the day, until it was time for bed, and make the trek back up.
Tip No. 6: Stock Your Medicine Cabinet.
One of my readers mentioned that I should pre-buy enormous pads because the last thing I’d want to do after the humbling process of giving birth would be to ask Mr. Magpie to go out and buy them.
Thank you, reader. You were right.
Echoing her counsel: go ahead and buy a big box (or a few of them) of the biggest pads you can find. You know, the kind that could double as a yoga mat for a petite woman or a flotation device in case of emergency.
Also, and I’m sorry if this is TMI, but one of the worst side effects of the c-section is the constipation. Your bowels slow because of surgery and the pain medication exacerbates things. They give you colace to help but…oh man oh man oh man, this was not a fun part of the post partem process. I had to send my mom out to get milk of magnesium, and then also Mr. Magpie out to buy a lot of natural aids–oats, bananas, bran, etc. So, so embarrassing. So, if I were to do it again, I’d just go ahead and buy those things in advance just in case. Also, these. My sister advocated that I buy them before I knew I was having a c-section, so I did, and they proved helpful with the aftermath of this whole situation.
Tip No. 7: Prepare Yourself for Your Incision.
I had a leg up in this category because I had a major abdominal surgery as a child and already had a scar that the doctor was able to re-open for the c-section–so, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a scar there. But I hear that many women struggle with this aspect of recovery; it’s a permanent marker of the experience. Many women refer to it as their battle wound, which I rather like, but I will be honest and say it’s not the prettiest thing to look at. It does fade over time, though.
I was really anxious about having to remove the steri strips. Some women get staples, I think, but they sewed me up from the inside — modern science, man! — and then applied these little white pieces of tape called steri strips over the incision to hold things together. About a week in, you have to take them off if they’ve not yet fallen off on their own. I took a hot shower to loosen things up, sat down on the shower bench, and said to myself, a la Thomas the Train: “I think I can, I think I can.” And it really wasn’t as bad as I thought. Not painful at all, just kind of gross and I was still pretty squeamish at touching the area.
One thing I did not know is that you lose sensation in the area around the incision because they cut through nerves to make the incision. I still lack sensation in areas around the incision, but my doctor told me that I’ll regain it within a year.
Around one month in, I started applying Mederma to the scar area to help reduce its appearance. I am probably just a pansy, but I still hate applying this to the scar. It just doesn’t feel particularly lovely to touch it.
Anyway. I say this because this was all news to me, and I wish I’d been a touch more prepared.
Tip No. 8: Text Your Mama Friends.
I took a lot of comfort comparing notes with my fellow mamas — both women who had had c-sections, and new/recent moms who were eager to share their experiences and compare notes on breastfeeding, sleeping patterns, etc. It was so reassuring. For example, I felt a LOT more pain on one side of the incision than I did on the other, and I texted my sister in law about it, and she said it was totally normal and explained that it probably hurt more on the side the doctor had been standing on, because they were probably sewing from that side. And she was right!
But GOOD LORD, please avoid those new mom forums online. I’ve never felt more anxious or desolate than I have after googling something and reading a few responses on one of those forums. They will fuel your worst fears.
What am I missing, mamas???
Finally: my latest mama magpie / minimagpie finds.
+A new nursing sweatshirt ($56).
+We still swaddle minimagpie, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep her in them. I have my eye on one of these sleepsacks ($37) for the near future, since I’ll want her covered when she sleeps but you don’t want any loose blankets in the bassinet just yet (suffocation hazard).
+I mentioned that I will soon need to upgrade from mini’s infant sink insert tub (see all of the items on my 3-6 month wishlist), and will soon need to kneel by the tubside to bathe her. This cushioned kneeler seems like a good idea.
+This will be mini’s first swimsuit!
+These diaper bag backpacks by Fawn Design ($159) are well loved by many-a-mommy blogger. And I gotta say, the idea of a backpack is rather appealing…
+I found it difficult to outfit minimagpie in the first few weeks after she was born because all of the sweet little dresses and bubbles were not seasonally appropriate and she was so tiny tiny. I would have loved a cotton one-piece like this ($29) at the time. I just snagged it for her in her current size!