As I went through my most recent C-section with Zion, I could not stop thinking about how I wanted to write a blog post sharing practical details about the surgery, what to expect pre- and post-op, and an insider’s encouragement/tips. I know how nervous I was to have one with our firstborn, so my goal is to put your mind at ease if you have to have a C-section!
Before we get started, let me preface all of this by saying that every woman’s story is different. Every woman’s body is different. And every woman has a different doctor and hospital. Some of what I share today might not apply to you! But, for the most part, the information below is pretty standard for planned C-sections. And I am hoping that other C-section mamas will chime in with their comments below and we can all support one another!
So here we go!
Why do people have C-sections?
There are lots of reasons why C-sections happen. Here are a few…
- Baby is in the breech or transverse (sideways) position.
- The placenta is covering the cervix (this condition is known as placenta previa).
- You have had C-sections before.
- The baby is predicted to be too large to pass through the pelvis.
- Emergency situations like baby’s heart rate becomes irregular during labor, the flow of blood/oxygen through the cord is restricted because of cord or baby’s position, the placenta has started to detach from the uterine wall, or the baby is not moving down the birth canal.
I have had 2 more surgeries since! They don’t necessarily get easier physically (I am getting old, people), but they do get better mentally. I am thankful that knowing what to expect (as well as having an amazing team of doctors, nurses, and family support) has helped us through each one.
BEFORE Surgery –
- Exercise! Stay as active as possible throughout your pregnancy! This will pay off HUGELY on the other side of surgery. I wasn’t as good about exercising this last pregnancy and I can totally tell. There is grace for that, but if I can encourage you to do it – do it! I wish that I had known more about the Tummy Team before my C-sections!
- If you have to have a C-section, do some research to make sure your doctor is experienced with them! I will never forget the night before I had to have my first surgery, a friend texted and reminded me that my doctor was known as one of the best C-section surgeons in South Florida. It was such a comfort!
- IMPORTANT >> Get your fingers and toes painted the day before surgery. I like to have one part of my body feeling glamorous throughout this very unglamorous ordeal. 😉
- You will not be able to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery. My first two surgeries were early in the morning, so this wasn’t too hard. My most recent surgery wasn’t until lunch time, so my hugely pregnant and food-dependent self was a little hangry about this.
- You won’t be allowed to wear jewelry during the procedure.
- Take a shower before heading to the hospital and do your hair/make-up – C-sections are great because you don’t have to sweat your face off after having contractions for 22 hours. You will look great from start to finish!
- When you check in at the hospital, they will put you in a room and give you a super attractive hospital gown to wear. Once you have that on (and nothing else), you will also put a belt on over your belly that will keep a monitor in place to track baby’s heart beat until you are ready for the OR.
- The nurses will give your hubby scrubs to wear.
- You will be asked to shave your lower regions (this is something that you can do at home beforehand and save time! Have your husband do it for you as one last super sexy pre-birth rendezvous – wink – since you won’t be able to be physically intimate for about 6 weeks post-surgery). 😉
- The nurses will start an IV to allow for fluid and medication administration. I had a super sweet nurse who asked if I planned to breastfeed because if yes, she would put the IV further up my arm so that my hands were free for nursing the baby.
- They will put some compression things on your legs that will periodically squeeze to help keep your blood flowing from the time of surgery until you are able to get up and moving again.
- They will give you one of those blue mushroom-shaped surgery hats to tuck away your hair.
- At this point, you are basically naked, shaved, and attached to an IV pole. But you will have your painted nails!
- You will head into the operating room with the nurses. Hopefully you will have a nurse who thinks to cover your shoulders and back with a blanket so that you don’t moon the labor and delivery hallways on your way into surgery.
- Heads up – Hubby has to stay behind for about 15 minutes while you are getting prepped.
^^^ NOTE MY PAINTED NAILS 🙂 ^^^
DURING Surgery –
- Once you are in the OR, they will have you sit on the table to get ready to receive an anesthetic. For planned cesareans this is typically a spinal. Your anesthesiologist will have you hug a pillow while he/she inserts a numbing medicine into your spine. That part is a little uncomfortable. Then they will add the anesthetic,
- They will help you lay down on the table. At this point your legs will begin to feel heavy. It is the craziest feeling because you can totally still feel things from the abdomen down, but you won’t be able to feel pain.
- They will butterfly your legs (classy) so that they can insert a catheter. This is the part where I like to break down any lingering embarrassment on my part by introducing everyone to my who-ha.
- Everyone was SO nice in all 3 of my surgeries. It is SO important to have a strong team of compassionate eyes in the room (since everyone is wearing surgical masks). I cannot even tell you what a comfort the nurses and doctors were to me through this process! Feel free to ask lots of questions! It’s their job to help you feel as comfortable as possible.
- They have you lay both arms outward, in a cross position. I asked if they were going to strap me down and they said only if I didn’t behave. Ha!
- They will hang a big blue drape at your chest. Mine had a little window that one of the nurses asked if I wanted to peek through during the surgery and I politely declined. That would have taken way too much mental energy for me to not throw up or freak out.
- Next the doctor comes in and and everyone in the room introduces themselves. I liked that part. It gave me a chance to say thank you to specific people being so instrumental in my care and our baby’s!
- The doctor begins the surgery.
- An incision will be made through the wall of your abdomen and then the wall of your uterus. You will probably feel slight pressure at the incision site, but not any pain.
- Note – You may smell something not great during the procedure. It might be burning flesh. It sounds awful and it is, but you will be okay. I just wanted to make you aware of this possibility so it doesn’t alarm you.
- At this point, Hubby can join you! He will enter the OR looking better than Dr. McDreamy and you will be so relieved to have him by your side again.
- When the doctor is ready to pull the baby out, he will tell you to get ready to feel some pressure. This “some pressure” is more like a rhinoceros sitting on your chest. I did not like this part and had to speak a few of my favorite Bible verses out loud to keep my mind on what is excellent and praiseworthy instead of wondering how many people in the OR were piled under my boobs.
- Baby will be pulled out and everyone will get to work making sure the baby is healthy. Hubby will get to cut the cord. For us, the doctors did all of their initial examinations on a table that was within my eyesight. I got to see our baby flailing and crying and I basically told everyone to hurry up so that I could get my hands on him! 🙂
- Once baby was ready, they laid him on my chest and I got to talk to him for about 10 minutes while they began to close me up. It was the best distraction.
- After that, hubby got to go with baby to our room for skin to skin time while they finished the surgery.
- Your uterus and abdomen will be stitched up. The stitches in your uterus will dissolve on their own. Depending on your doctor’s preference, your abdominal incision will be closed with stainless-steel staples or nonabsorbent sutures, which can be removed anytime after three or four days, or absorbable sutures below the skin surface, which dissolve on their own.
- They will cover the incision area with large pieces of what feels like Duct Tape and then you are ready to go be with baby!
AFTER Surgery –
- You will be lifted onto a hospital bed and rolled to your room. They put baby right to my breast as soon as I got settled. This was such a blessing to me because I wasn’t able to nurse so quickly after my first two C-sections.
- ITCH CITY >> Y’all, as the anesthesia was wearing off I had a serious case of itchiness. Like I wanted to just rub my face on a porcupine for relief. Be warned.
- Also, get ready for some serious gas. Your abdomen was just open to the universe of elements and now you have some extra air floating around your insides. This was probably the most painful part of the surgery aftermath for me! My incision pain was a piece of cake compared to the gas pain I was feeling up in my shoulders post-surgery. There is medicine you can take to help with this, or you can manage it naturally by drinking some hot ginger tea and get moving as soon as they allow you to.
- BEST C-SECTION RECOVERY TIP – GET OUT OF BED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! My hospital said I could get up within 12 hours of my surgery, so around 1 in the morning I asked for my catheter to be removed so that I could get out of bed. Take it slow. If you move too quickly, you could pass out. You have been sitting for a long time and you have not eaten. This is a recipe for disaster if you try to conquer too much too fast.
- There will be a lot of blood. For the first day, the nurses will change your bed regularly – nurses truly are heroes. Once you are moving on your own you will wear a giant pad and a pair of Mesh Underwear. GIRL, LET ME TELL YOU RIGHT NOW HOW MUCH YOU WILL LOVE THOSE MESH UNDIES – SO GET YOUR HANDS ON AS MANY PAIRS OF THEM AS YOU CAN.
- It will be a big deal for you to pee and poop on your own. They may give you stool softeners to help your body get ready to go #2 again since it will take some time for your insides to figure it all out again.
- Find out when you can eat/drink again. They had me start out with liquids about 18 hours after surgery. This was probably the lowest point for me post-surgery, I was STARVED, struggling with the gas pain, and still attached to the IV. And I was sipping soup broth. I just had a baby and I wanted a filet mignon. I deserved a filet mignon, But hang in there. It will get better!
- Medication >> I chose not to take the Percocet that the doctor prescribed. This was a totally personal decision! I really wanted to be present with my family after everything was over and I also wanted to be mindful of what I was putting in my body on top of everything else it had endured, so I stuck with Ibuprofen here and there to manage any discomfort.
- Tip – Do not look too closely in a mirror after your surgery! You will be puffy from IV fluids and may look like a swollen pickle. You will have a big giant surgery area. You will have mesh underwear and a pad the size of a meter stick. GRACE AND PEACE TO YOU SISTER. BUT you will still have your painted nails.
- Drink lots and lots of water. The goal is to flush your system to get all of the extra fluid out. Drinking and peeing was SO helpful in getting me back to feeling somewhat normal again! Staying hydrated will also help your milk supply if you are breastfeeding.
- KEEP MOVING. You will probably not like it, but you have to keep getting out of bed. Take walks around the postpartum hallways. Pray for the other mamas going through their own postpartum issues as you pass closed doors. Make friends with everyone at the nurse station. Just get moving!
- Hug a pillow >> It is going to be super painful to do the following three things: laugh, cough, sneeze. Holding a pillow to your tummy will help with this. My husband is a funny guy always but for some reason after I have C-sections, he suddenly becomes like Jim Gaffigan’s humor twin and I had to ask a nurse at one point if someone has ever split open their incision from laughing too much. (For the record – no.)
- We had our baby on a Friday, so by Sunday morning the nurse removed the tape from over my incision and I was encouraged to take a shower. This will be a completely wonderful experience unless you forget to bring your own bath towels. The hospital ones are basically like sandpaper cocktail napkins, so make sure to add towels to your hospital bag. They will tell you to let water and soap wash over the incision (do not apply directly) and then make sure the area is patted FULLY dry when you are done.
AT HOME –
- Yay! You made it home! This is no small feat, mama. I am so proud of you! You will love being home for the rest of your recovery. The only thing you might miss from the hospital is the support bar next to the toilet in the bathroom. 😉
- You will not be allowed to drive for 2 weeks post-surgery, so if someone offers to help – say YES, PLEASE. Have friends and family bring a meal, drop off groceries, or take your older kids to the park. It takes a village, girl, so let your village bless you.
- For me, Day 5 post-surgery was a definite turn-the-corner kind of day! I still felt discomfort getting up and down and my incision was tender, but overall I felt so much better!
- Incision care at home – my doctor told me not to do anything to the incision except wait for the little adhesive strips to fall off and to make sure I patted it completely dry after showering. I also found it helpful to wear super loose clothing so that nothing was rubbing against that area. I LOVE the Nursing Dresses from Undercover Mama for this very reason – I basically live in mine these days!
- Don’t miss your follow-up appointment with your OB so that he/she can check on your incision and make sure it is healing well.
- And above all, show yourself a truckload of grace, girl. You just had major abdominal surgery. It does get better, but as you recover, remember to be patient with the process and enjoy those newborn snuggles while you sit in a comfy chair with a pillow in your lap.
Finally, if you had a C-section and you are struggling with feeling like you “missed out” on a “real” birth experience, let me speak over that real quick >>
I GET IT. I struggled for a long time to get over the disappointment that I couldn’t have a natural birth. Even during the months leading up to my 3rd surgery, I prayed fervently that I would accidentally have the baby naturally! There is a part of my heart that just really wants to know what that is like. Obviously, that didn’t happen, so I have found it very healing and very helpful to remember a few things…
Take your disappointment to Jesus. He wants you to lay your heart – disappointment and all – before Him. Tell Him everything. Then find a way to land at these 4 words, “YOUR will be done.” There will always be hurts and disappointments in life. The goal is to surrender it all in faith, recognizing that He is a good and loving Father and does what is best for His kids. I may not fully understand why my birth stories happened this way, but I am choosing to trust that His ways are higher and always way better than mine!
And, by golly, I will make the best of this story He has written for me for His glory!
Also, who cares?! You have a super adorable, perfect baby in your beautifully manicured hands and that’s really all that matters.
Well, this was a novel. God bless you for reading it. If you are having a C-section (or have had one already), I am praying that you found something here that was encouraging and helpful as you join the incision sisterhood.