For so many women who hope to experience a vaginal birth, the prospect of a cesarean–especially unplanned–is the akin to a birth plan “kiss of death.”
But even when things don’t go as planned, a C-section doesn’t have to be a terrible thing. With a little preparation, even an unplanned C-section can be a beautiful method of childbirth. But it really helps to know what to expect.
Having had two scheduled C-sections (the first a result of prenatal complications with the baby and the second a repeat C-section), I’ve come up with a list of things I wish I had known going into my deliveries.
1. Don’t be surprised if you walk yourself into the operating room. While being wheeled into the OR would be the case for an emergency cesarean, for a scheduled one (as both of mine were), you walk your own self in and sit your own self on the operating table. This blew my mind. I’d always envisioned being wheeled in to the operating room and was shocked—as was my husband—when the nurse explained what was about to happen: that I’d walk myself in–lugging my IV.
2. Operating rooms are really bright. In every medical TV show and movie I’ve ever watched, the operating room is always dim and dark, but in actuality, it was anything but. The lights are SO intense and, since you’re awake for the surgery (weird in and of itself), you can see all the surgical instruments and gear as soon as you walk in. But don’t worry; the anesthesiologist probably won’t let you waste any time scouting out your surroundings: he/she has a spinal to administer. If you look for anything, let it be the little warming table that will hold your screaming bundle of joy once he/she is born. My eyes found that both times, and suddenly I found comfort in the midst of all the unknowns.
3. You partner may not be allowed in the operating room until after your spinal is administered. No one told me this … and the spinal was the part I was most freaked out about during each of my two deliveries, something I feared more than being cut open. I had banked on having my husband’s hand to hold during the spinal but (at least at my hospital) partners aren’t allowed in the room so it can be a sterile environment. Fortunately, the nurses I had were great both times and served as awesome pep-talkers. But I wish I’d known that little nugget ahead of time.
4. You won’t feel pain, but you will feel tugging during the surgery. I was glad to have OBs who asked me if I wanted them to walk me through what they were doing (vs. just telling me … or, worse, not saying a word). I did want to know, and was grateful for the forewarning about the tugging, in particular. There was no pain, but there was definitely a hard push on my upper abdomen, some tugging, and then a shallow hollowness, followed by a wail and commotion as baby came out. At this point, you forget all about the fact that your abdomen is split open and your heart just explodes a thousand times over, hearing your baby’s first cry. There’s just nothing like it.
5. You can get in some skin-to-skin while being stitched up and you can breastfeed—usually in recovery. This is called a “gentle cesarean.” Just let your OB and nurses know ahead of time that you want that ability to touch your baby and nurse as soon as possible. In both my deliveries, my arms were not tied down so I could “hold” my babies (this meant my husband cradled the baby above my shoulder so we could touch and get skin-to-skin, even in my gown). I nursed in recovery as soon as my babies were bathed and swaddled, and both latched immediately. The main difference with breastfeeding following a C-section is that not all breastfeeding positions are easy post-surgery. The lactation consultants recommended the football hold for the early weeks–but it can take a while to find a position that feels comfortable for both you and your newborn.
6. Post-op, you may want to keep the catheter in as long as possible. You will be encouraged to get up and walk about six hours post-delivery–definitely do that!–but unless your OB or nurses say otherwise, there’s no reason to ask for the catheter out until the next day. It’s so hard getting out of bed those first 24 hours–might as well skip some bathroom visits to make your life just a little bit easier.
7. You will bleed postpartum. I don’t know why I assumed I’d escape this aftermath of childbirth having had a C-section, but sure enough, you will bleed for up to six weeks. This was a complete shock to me and something I wish my baby class had discussed.
While I wasn’t aware of lot of these things leading up to my first C-section, having the experience in my back pocket made it significantly easier the second go-around.