Musings + Essays

9 Things That Surprised Me about Having a C-Section.

By: Jen Shoop

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?!

+Another fun Shein find

+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.

+A fun statement dress for fall.

+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.

P.S. The lopsided dance of motherhood and she was how she kept time.

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17 thoughts on “9 Things That Surprised Me about Having a C-Section.

  1. I had no idea they don’t usually let hubby come with you until my second C/S (I had one, two VBACs and another). The first time, my hospital let him stay with me every second and it was heaven. I was TOTALLY shocked when the second hospital wouldn’t let him stay. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask! It’s a scary thing to do by yourself!

    1. !! I had no idea this was a hospital-by-hospital call! Wow — that must have come as such a shock for you during your FOURTH DELIVERY (!!!)


  2. You β€” and every other mother who has given birth β€” is amazing in my eyes. Thank you for all this information; it’s so interesting to be aware of the different aspects of c-sections.

    Also, pointelle β€” my favorite!!


  3. This post contains such great information. I experienced a csection and vaginal delivery. The shaking occurred with both for me, but different. With the csection the shaking felt due to being so cold. My teeth were chattering as well. Warm blankets were the best! Birth is such an overwhelming, but incredible experience. The more relaxed and prepared the better. Glad micro’s arrival was safe and recovery better for you. Congrats!

    1. Thanks, Betsie! Tried to keep it as real as possible here…so interesting that shaking is so common for so many moms, no matter how they deliver. And that it’s so disturbing to so many of us, too! xx

  4. PLEASE, please purchase those gorgeous Chanel flats!!! I bought a similar color of Ferragamo flats and wear them ALOT! They go with jeans and dresses perfectly! Love

  5. Oh man, no matter how you birth, it seems kinda terrifying. My BFF just had a drug-free vaginal birth last month and ended up with very serious third-degree tearing that has since sent her back to the hospital. Hang in there and i hope you heal up soon!

  6. Jen – thanks for this. I’m due with our second in January, and can attest to the fact that #3 can happen when you have a vaginal birth as well! I think it was perhaps a reaction to the epidural? I remember shaking uncontrollably and that my teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. I had a spot of vomiting prior to delivering as well. Glam!

    The anesthesiologist told me that husbands/wives/birthing partners couldn’t be in the room when they place the epidural because they’d had husbands FAINT and hurt themselves (!) before. Imagine.

    I will say – that at the time I gave birth to our first, my best friend was due with her first in just a few weeks. I remembered thinking ‘I can’t tell her how bad this is, she’ll be terrified.’ Two days later, I couldn’t remember what it was that I didn’t want to tell her. The magic of a new baby really is a cure-all.

    1. Yes Jenna, I think you are correct and the shaking is from the medication. I had it with all three deliveries (epidurals) but for some reason the last one was the worst!

      Number 7 is also true of vaginal deliveries. The nurses have you up and out of bed far before the epidural wears off and into the bathroom where they clean you off and then ask you to get back into bed to take you to another room. I’m always shocked by this because it feels too soon.

      I read this sitting here awaiting my fourth baby (who is currently breech at 34 weeks) I’m terrified of having a c-section. You are so, so brave Jen!

      1. That is SHOCKING. Another friend who delivered vaginally said the same thing — and that she’ll never forget the “angel nurses” who escorted her there, blood gushing out. AHH. My goodness. Women are tough. And so are you, whether you end up needing a c-section or not!! Hopefully this list helps you mentally prepare a little bit! xx

    2. OMG – that makes sense w/r/t husbands. Can you imagine the drama of having to deal with a fainting husband just before giving birth?! AHH.

      And you are so right. The magic of a new baby is a cure-all πŸ™‚

  7. Thank you for sharing this, and congrats on the micro addition to your family! I’m not expecting, but it was super “interesting” to read the similarities with abdominal surgery I had as a young teenager (which they told me was similar to a c-section at the time). I so vividly remember #7… I could not BELIEVE they wanted me to walk so soon after the surgery (could barely keep my eyes open), and the threat of the catheter was terrifying. My whole family cheered me on as I sat on the toilet with the door open, willing myself to pee and avoid yet another traumatic tube – yikes. The recovery at home was tough, but I can’t imagine doing it with a newborn to care for! Though I can see how that would be a constant reminder that it was very much worth it πŸ™‚ Congrats again!

    1. Ahhh the re-catheterization threat!! So horrific! I was SO happy when I peed, ha! It sounds like you’ll be in a good spot if you ever have a c-section — it’ll all be old hat, only even easier because a baby will be there at the end of it! xoxo

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