More than 30 percent of births in the United States are cesarean sections. So, if you’re planning on giving birth at some point, you could end up having one too. Here’s what moms who’ve been there (like me!) want you to know before forming an opinion on the operation.
1. Stop talking about C-sections as if they’re as minor as a paper cut. Before I found myself strapped down on the icy operating table, I’d always had a cavalier attitude about the procedure. “If I need to, I’ll just get a C-section, no big deal, ” I’d say casually, as if I were talking about picking up a pair of shoes at Target. If only I had a time machine so I could travel back to 2010, during my first pregnancy, and shout, “Girl, no!” in my own face.
This ain’t no splinter removal, or a bad cut from a kitchen knife slip while slicing apples. This is straight up slice-open-your-abdomen-and-dig-out-a-baby surgery. I was rolled out of my emergency cesarean with staples in my stomach, a catheter shoved way up in me, and weird booties strapped to my feet to prevent blood clots. I couldn’t eat solid food until I could pee and fart on my own, which finally happened over 24 hours after my daughter was born. As if that weren’t enough (seriously, peeing after giving birth is way harder than it sounds), I ended up with something called a spinal headache from the spinal block jammed into my back right before the procedure.
Oh, and did I mention I had to deal with all this while also mothering a brand-new baby?
2. The recovery might take longer than you think. “Don’t walk more than four blocks at a time,” my doctor instructed as she checked me out of the hospital. I scoffed at her warning as my husband pushed me in my wheelchair toward the exit. “Four blocks? Doesn’t this woman know we’re in New York City?” Cut to: Me taking 10 minutes just to walk from the car to the steps of our building. (My second kid was a vaginal birth, and I was walking around and eating a bagel just two hours after she popped out of me.)
Here’s the deal: This shit hurts. Some cesareans are scheduled, but others occur after hours of labor and pushing. Either way, you’re back at home with a fresh battle wound and a baby on your boob.
Even after my scar healed, the thing still burned like hell for four to six months. Anything that even brushed up against it – my kid’s foot while in the carrier, the seam of my yoga pants – felt like someone stabbing me with a million tiny thumbtacks. Then, it was tender and numb for almost a year. Not to mention that even your insides can sometimes feel like a bunch of Cold Stone Creamery toppings mushed around with some strawberry ice cream and shoved into a sugar cone, because…
3. They move your effing organs around! What, you didn’t know that doctors do this, so they can get to a woman’s uterus? Well, allow me to blow your mind: C-sections are often gorier than your favorite true crime podcast. Because my C-section was unexpected, the result of a baby who flipped to breech position in the middle of labor as I tried to push her out in a birthing center, I had no idea what the procedure entailed. So, you can imagine my surprise when other cesarean moms at my Baby and Me group started complaining about their organs feeling “weird” inside their bodies. “My organs feel weird too!” I shouted a bit too loudly, because I hadn’t had contact with an adult human other than my husband for four weeks. But it was true – ever since the procedure, my insides had felt like someone had stacked them back inside me just slightly out of order.
In most C-sections, your bladder and intestines are moved aside to get to your uterus, which then may be lifted a bit out of your body. Because your fallopian tubes are attached to the upper part of your uterus, they may also make the journey into the outside world. And get this: Occasionally – if harmed during surgery – your intestines might also need to be lifted out to receive a bit of TLC from your doctors. Feel free to drop this knowledge on any ding-dong who acts like women who have C-sections aren’t tough.
4. C-sections can be considered “natural birth” too. Birth is birth is birth is birth. All birth is “natural,” and there’s no ideal or perfect way to do it, whether your baby entered the world through a vagina or a cesarean, with or without an epidural. Taking the shame out of how we talk about birth will make it a better experience for all women. When in doubt about how to describe the different kinds of childbirth experiences, try these terms instead: vaginal birth, unmedicated birth, birth by C-section. Or just do the next best thing, and kindly STFU!
5. Don’t assume I’m upset about my C-section. But don’t assume I’m not either.There’s a lot of talk about women grieving after a cesarean. While some do feel disappointed their original plans for vaginal birth didn’t pan out, not all women with C-sections scars are devastated by the outcome. Some may even feel empowered and emboldened by having been given the choice to do what is best for their heath and needs. Don’t make an ass out of you, me, and my baby. You can just ask a woman how she feels about it – the end.
6. C-sections can also be ~*magical*~. You’ve heard about moms meditating,orgasming, or zen-ing out in a bathtub during vaginal birth. But you can get down with hippie-dippy stuff during a C-section too. For example, some women with scheduled C-sections request to have certain music played, or practice hypnobirth on the operating table.
Even if you’re planning a vaginal delivery, there’s always the possibility that you could end up having a emergency cesarean like mine. So, it doesn’t hurt to spend time thinking about how you might want a C to go too. You can deliver surgically and still welcome your kid into the world with the sounds of Lemonade blasting all ’round you in the OR.
7. Yes, it’s possible to have a vaginal birth after a C-section. Trust me – I did it. Oh, how people go clutching for their pearls when I tell them I had a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). A lot of doctors are still hesitant about performing VBACs, but the procedure is actually very safe. (Uterine rupture – the main concern with VBACs – occurs in less than 1 of 100 women.) Certain factors – like what kind of C-section you had and your personal health history – may affect whether you’re a good candidate for a VBAC.
If you want to try for a vaginal birth, assemble a squad of doctors or midwives who will be on board with your plan. But if a VBAC is not your bag, no sweat. As many of my mom friends tell me: Scheduling your C-section, knowing exactly when you’re giving birth, and planning around that day is pretty sweet. Yes, get your mani-pedi the day before. You’re about to have a kid – you’ve earned it.