I’ve now had ample time to reflect on both of my children’s births via c-section (the above picture was taken exactly a week after micro was born, and now I am closing in on three months; miscellaneous dispatches from the trenches here), and thought I’d share a few things that surprised me about the experiences, as I know there are many (!) expecting moms reading this blog, several of whom have written to say that they are anxious about the imminence of a birth via caesarean.
A caveat, of course: everyone experiences birth differently. I have one friend who claims the c-section was “a breeze” (insert bulging eye emoji) and that her recovery felt easy. I have another friend who cannot even talk about her c-section without tearing up, even now, over two years later. I fall closer to the latter camp; I found both c-sections emotionally difficult to muscle through and the recoveries, frankly, brutal — but the second one was far, far easier, in part because I knew what to expect, and in part, I think, because my body understood what was happening. (Maybe there was some muscle memory?)
At any rate: 8 things that surprised me about having a c-section.
1 // You lose sensation for inches around the incision because the doctors cut through nerves, and you don’t get it back for months. No one told me this and I worried that something had gone wrong the first time. “Is it normal that I feel…numb? Like, for a huge section around the scar?” I finally asked my doctor. Yes. And it takes months and months to regain feeling incompletely — even up to a year.
2 // One side of the scar can hurt more than the other. This happened with both of my c-sections and the doctor assured me that it was totally normal. I have no idea if this is true, but my sister-in-law (three-time c-section veteran) and I both think it tends to hurt more on the side the doctor stands on because she pulls harder/stitches more tightly while pulling towards where she is standing. At least, this was the case for all of our surgeries — the side the doctor stood over tended to hurt more.
3 // You might shake uncontrollably. For some reason, this aspect of delivery was the most upsetting during mini’s birth. I was shaking so wildly that I felt out of control, and could not have held mini for the life of me. I even had a difficult time clutching Mr. Magpie’s hand. Before the second c-section, I spoke with the anesthesiologists and nurses about this multiple times prior to entering the OR, and they were incredibly kind — they suggested draping warm blankets over my body to minimize the shaking and also taught Mr. Magpie that he could apply pressure to a point on my wrist to help with it. Both did help, to a certain degree, but, as they’d warned me: some of it is inevitable owing to a potent combination of medicine and the shock of enduring surgery. When I did start shaking this time around, the anesthesiologist looked at me with the kindest eyes and said: “Oh SHOOT, Jen. I was hoping we’d avoid that. Here, let’s get more heat on you.”
4 // Related to the above: you can advocate for your own preferences during the c-section. Because a c-section is a surgery, for mini’s birth, it felt to me as though I had to just go with the flow and endure what I needed to endure. With micro’s birth, I realized that I could explain my biggest concerns — that I was anxious about the uncontrollable shaking, and that I wanted desperately to be able to hold my baby the minute I could — and that they would work to help on both fronts. Holding micro to my face just after he was born made the second c-section a million times more bearable. I can’t emphasize enough how big a difference this made and strongly recommend you make the same preferences known!
5 // It doesn’t hurt, but it feels bizarre. I was surprised, during both births, that I had no awareness as to when they had started the surgery. You feel absolutely no pain. They could have been caressing my stomach for all I knew — at least at the start. Then, once they are actively helping the baby out, there is a lot of tugging and pulling happening beneath the blue sheet, enough that sometimes it feels as though you might fly off the table (!)
6 // Your husband is not permitted to be in the room while the anesthesiologists place the spinal. During my first c-section, I was distraught over this. I remember feeling so very alone as I shuffled into the OR with my weird baggy socks and my oversized belly, wondering how long it would take before I could see Mr. Magpie again. Even though the room was crowded with doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists (literally 8 or 9 people attended both c-sections, I think!), I remember staring at the wall of the room with tears in my eyes, willing him to appear at my side. A doctor finally asked — “Did it just become really real?” I nodded vaguely, although it was more that I felt completely isolated during one of the most intense moments of my life. I was better prepared for it this time around and found the nurses much more attentive to my emotional state anyhow — one held my hands and asked me all kinds of questions that I barely had the wherewithal to answer. In fact, I had a protracted conversation about this blog with one of the nurses while the anesthesiologists were placing the spinal! I have no idea what I said. Probably mumbled something about Amazon caftans and called it a day.
7 // You will be asked to drag yourself from the surgical gurney to your hospital bed when you are wheeled up from recovery to your hospital room, within hours of the c-section. I was…astonished that I was being asked to do this because I had just barely regained movement in my legs as the anesthesia wore off, and I was beginning to feel that burny-sharp feeling radiate through the painkillers. But you can and will endure this first step in recovery — the first of many relatively minor though temporarily overwhelming physical challenges as you recover. This, and the fact that the nurses threaten to re-catheterize you if you cannot urinate on your own the first day, loomed large over me as they wheeled me upstairs.
8 // You will get through it–and forget about (most of) it. If you’re anything like me, there will be a day about seven or ten days into recovery where you think, “Oh my God. I will never ever feel normal again.” The recovery feels endless and even though you are making progress, you long for the days when you could laugh or cough without wincing and not have to think for a minute about whether or not you feel up to stooping to pick up your toddler’s toys. I learned to look for the minor milestones: I remember celebrating when I felt comfortable enough to lay on my side in the hospital bed. And then, one morning, I temporarily forgot about the incision. “I didn’t even think about the c-section for the past few hours!” I exclaimed to Mr. Magpie. And we cheered. I turned a major corner at five weeks on the dot. Just the week prior, I had been running around the Hamptons, lifting my toddler when I shouldn’t have, and I felt absolutely awful. I felt so badly, in fact, I thought I might have torn a stitch or something. I told Mr. Magpie I felt I’d regressed to how I’d felt a week after surgery and had to take Advil to cope with the burning. But then, as if by magic, at exactly five weeks out, I felt normal again. And now, at almost three months out, a lot of the details feel blessedly hazy and remote.
But the main thing — the most important thing — the most clicheed thing, but the most true thing — is that
9 // You are able to cope with the unpleasantries of a c-section and its aftermath because you are so wildly in love with and distracted by your perfect baby. There is no better medicine than laying in bed, cradling your squishy newborn. I am weepy with nostalgia when I reflect on those early days with both mini and micro.
Post Scripts: Things that Help with Recovery.
If you are preparing for a c-section or have a girlfriend who is, a couple of things that would be good to have on hand:
+High-rise underwear. I absolutely loved these and especially their soft and forgiving waistband. (Also, not hideous!) You won’t want anything low-rise for awhile…
+Nursing nightgowns. I hated anything that pressed against the incision; loose nightgowns were far more comfortable for me. I love these ones from Gap and actually wore them through much of the third trimester, too.
+Text check-ins from girlfriends. Nothing helps you through the recovery like an empathetic friend.
+Stepstool for getting into and out of bed.
+A water bottle and snacks pre-stocked at your bedside.
+Milk of Magnesia, colace, and GasX. Having any major surgery stops your digestive system and it takes awhile to get back to a place of normalcy. God willing, you’ll be right as rain in no time, but I’d have all of these stocked in your medicine cabinet just in case. But my God. This second time, the gas pain was worse than the incision pain at some points. Horrific.
+Chic mules/slip-ons for the first few weeks, when you won’t be able to bend over and tie your shoe with ease. These are so adorable!
Finally — a couple of totally random finds:
+My favorite inexpensive-but-look-like-designer-sunnies are on sale for $58 right now! Meanwhile, these $11 Celine lookalikes are garnering quite a bit of attention across the blogosphere these days!
+I am so loving pointelle right now. I ordered one of these for mini, am coveting one of these (the prettiest color) for myself, and am contemplating one of these, which has such a delightful innocence to it.
+I had one of these bracelets made for mini as a gift for her when she goes off to school in a few weeks, but how fun would it be to have one of these for me and one made for mini, saying something like “mama” and “mini” or some other personal message?!
+This is marketed as a laundry bag, but I saw it and thought it’d be ideal for a car trunk. We sold our car earlier this year, but I always had random bags and miscellaneous items rolling around the back. What a great way to keep things organized.
+Two really fun H&M scores: this Chanel-esque tweed (pair with some gently used Chanel flats, scored on Real Real for a bargain — these are in my size and I’m dying over them for fall) and this floaty linen-blend floral.