Last week I posted a Postpartum Survival Guide for a Vaginal Delivery. I really wanted to put together a survival guide for C-Section mama’s but I wouldn’t know where to begin, as I’ve never been there. So I reached out to my friend Alyssa. Alyssa has a blog called Chocolate is My Life. She also has an absolutely beautiful son who was born a few months after A. Naturally, we have a lot to talk about.
Alyssa has been gracious enough to agree to share some insight from her postpartum experience and what made her it a little more survivable (Is that a word? It is now.). Have a look and check out her blog as well!
I’ll start off this guest post with a really embarrassing confession. We all grow up knowing there are two ways that babies can make their exits. I never really gave c-sections much thought, in fact, when I was really young (like early 20’s), I thought it seemed like the easier option! I mean, as Jessy’s post showed, vaginal deliveries are no walk in the park. Of course, now I realize that getting a baby from the inside to the outside is a tough job no matter how you do it.
It wasn’t until Breaking Dawn Part 1 (the fourth Twilight movie) came out that I actually realized what a c-section actually was. THEY CUT THE BABY OUT OF YOU. Embarrassing, both admitting I’m a Twi-hard, and that I never really gave any thought to what a c-section was until I saw Bella Swan get one.
When we covered c-sections in my childbirth class, I found myself having to fight to stay focused on the instruction. At that time, I was no dummy (things have now changed due to lack of sleep/directing all my energy to keeping my baby alive) and I could understand the math – if approximately ⅓ of deliveries were c-sections, my odds for getting one were decent. My own sister had delivered my nephew that way just two years earlier. But something the nurse teaching our class said really stuck with me “Everyone thinks c-sections are something that happens to other people”. Yup, this rang true for me. But they do happen a lot, so even if you are like I was and don’t anticipate experiencing one, you never know.
Like Jessy, I have only had one baby, and he’s only 9 weeks old. So my experience is pretty limited. I sure do love to act like an expert anyway, though. I did spend nearly 30 hours in labor prior to hitting the OR (here’s Dalton’s birth story), so I did get to experience a bit of the other side. Here’s a few things I did/wish I had done before birth that I found helpful since my delivery ended with an emergency c-section. I would imagine they wouldn’t hurt for a vaginal birth or a planned C-section.
- Eat- You aren’t allowed to eat after a c-section until you pass gas (which is really fun to announce so you can finally eat). For me, that meant I didn’t eat from Monday until Wednesday night. Even if you aren’t hungry (and I wasn’t!) try to get down anything you can if you are in labor or think you might be, because you might not be eating again for a long time.
- Pack for an extended hospital stay- I ended up being there for four days and was really glad I packed some of my own clothes to wear after the first two.
- Pack a nursing pillow if you are breastfeeding- It’s hard to move and the closer you can get the baby to you, the better.
- Don’t buy everything they tell you to. After our birth class on postpartum recovery, I went to target and got the pads, witch hazel, numbing stuff, etc, etc. Now I want my money back because I never opened most of it. I hear they give you enough to start out with in the hospital, and then you can just send your husband out for more if you need it. I did use the pads because I was bleeding a good amount, probably not as much as a vaginal birth though.
In the hospital:
Jessy’s tips are pretty comprehensive no matter what type of delivery you have. I had trouble coming up with more that were c-section specific. So I’ll do my best to remember a few helpful things.
- Be honest with your pain level when they ask- It’s not time to be a hero, and you need to stay ahead of the pain. They just sliced your ab muscles open. That’s for real. They aren’t going to give you anything that will harm the baby. You won’t impress anyone by suffering.
Don’t get out of bed- I didn’t change a diaper for at least the first two days. I was still on the epidural and an IV of morphine, or something. I was definitely hooked up to stuff and getting out of bed required equivalent effort to running a marathon. Let daddy or grandma or a nurse do that stuff for now while you recover. You’ll be doing plenty of it soon enough.
Take advantage of the professionals- We were constantly asking the nurses “is this normal?!” Sure, you can call the doctor once you get home, but it’s a lot easier to just push a button and show whoever comes running that weird crap that’s coming out of your baby’s eye and get instant reassurance that it’s not the plague.
Take advantage of the nursery- If your hospital doesn’t have that option, find a new hospital. I know opinions are divided on this but this is my post and that’s what I think. I’m still waking up in the middle of the night two months later and can’t go back to sleep until I check if Dalton is breathing. Sending my baby away for an hour in between feedings while people who know what they are doing keep him safe was some of the best sleep I’ve gotten since he was born. This is also important because the nurses will hand you the baby when it’s time to feed him, so you don’t have to use those healing ab muscles to get up.
Stay as long as possible- At least for first time c-section moms (if I have another I will probably be eager to get home to Dalton). The hospital is the easiest place to recover. Meals are brought to you, the bed is designed so you don’t have to move, you aren’t tempted to do things around the house, other people are in charge of your pain medication, and you have nonstop support. My husband is amazing, but even he can’t compete with round the clock nurses. We used every second that insurance would cover, and I am so glad we did.
At home (once again, Jessy has a lot of great tips that can apply to anyone, so consider this an addition):
Set a timer for your pain medication- It’s really easy to forget about it with everything else going on, and really unpleasant when the pain reminds you.
Move slowly- You know how every few months you get this idea to do an ab workout and then you’re sore as hell and are like “WOW I had no idea how much I used my ab muscles for!” Maybe that’s just me. Anyway, you really realize how much you use them for after they get cut apart and stitched back together. It goes without saying to take it easy when walking, but getting out of bed, or up from a chair, or even just slightly adjusting your position can suddenly land you in a world of pain. Be careful!
- As much as possible, have someone around to hand you the baby, and take the baby; Especially if you are nursing- When you go to get up or sit, the best way is to use both arms to support yourself and really lean on your arms. Obviously you can’t do this if you are holding an infant, and then you have to rely on those ab muscles again.
- If you are nursing, figure out a comfortable position and place to nurse in- The more you need to be constantly adjusting yourself, the more you are making yourself sore and not letting yourself heal. Find something that works, and stick with it. I had a lot of family visiting, so I was constantly going into the other room and then trying to readjust and then getting up while holding the baby because nobody was in there to help me (and because I was dumb and didn’t speak up). In retrospect, I should have asked everyone else to just look away (if they were uncomfortable – by that point I didn’t even care) and stayed put.
- Get an ab binder (mine came from the hospital)- It’s like a tight girdle and holds everything in place and keeps you much more comfortable while you heal. I wore mine round the clock for 2.5 weeks. Also, you can wash it, even if the box says you can’t.
- Know that your insides will not fall out- I was convinced mine would. They did not.
- Get a pillow or rolled up blanket, keep it nearby, and hold it over your incision when you cough, sneeze, or laugh- That really helps those activities hurt less. In a pinch, just hold it with your hands. I had to demand that no one be funny for the first few days.
- Lay a maxi pad over your incision- and use the ab binder or your clothing to hold it on (soft side against the incision, not the sticky part). This keeps it clean and protects it.
- Wear either super low rise underwear or granny panties or that mesh hospital underwear to avoid something rubbing against your incision- Also try to wear very loose elastic band pants because you don’t want pressure on that tender midsection.
- Your baby will not live a depraved life of crime and misery if he or she cries for an extra minute- This was a real tough pill for me to swallow. Actually, it still is. The second Dalton would make a slightly unhappy noise, I would (do) spring up and run to him. This goes against all the advice I just gave – jumping up, moving fast, not being careful. One time in the middle of the night I jumped out of bed and ran to him because he was making a weird noise and completely wrenched my stomach muscles and was in pain for days. It turned out he hadn’t even made any noise, it was just a dream or something. After that I really tried to remember that even if he woke up screaming, he was safe, and he didn’t need me injuring myself to get to him 40 seconds faster.
- Take it easy- Really, really, really easy. Not “I’m going to just do a little light cleaning” easy. Not “I’m just going to go on a short walk” easy. Both of these were mistakes I made. Gather a huge water bottle, the remote, and some snacks, plant your ass in that comfy spot, and don’t get up unless the baby needs a diaper change or you need to pee. I really struggled with comparison traps here. All my friends had been up and at it shortly after giving birth, and I had just given birth, so I should be doing the same, right? Here’s what you need to remember. Yes, you gave birth, and you also underwent a major surgery. A nurse finally put it in perspective for me. She told me that anyone having the same surgery for a different reason would spend 6-8 weeks on bed rest – not driving, not working, not using stairs, certainly not caring for an infant. And that would be after a planned surgery, mine (like many unplanned c-sections) was done in under 5 minutes with people yanking my abs and organs around like crazy to get the baby out as fast as possible. The world is not going to end if you let dirt pile up on your bathroom sink and order takeout for two weeks straight. Once I finally accepted that my ONLY job was to care for my baby, I finally started to heal and feel better.
In closing, I just have to say this: one thing I’ve noticed is that there’s this attitude that a c-section is something to be ashamed of, or sad about. I’ve seen a lot of postings about remorse, guilt, and disappointment about c-sections. There’s nothing wrong with that. I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their feelings, and you need to experience them and process them. I just hate that women feel this way at what should be such a joyful time. The transition to motherhood is difficult enough as it is. Would I have liked to have the typical experience of pushing the baby out and then having him placed on my chest moments later? Of course. But I don’t look back on my own experience with even the slightest regret. I still look back on his birth with a smile. And in the end, it’s one day. I’m looking forward to a lifetime of wonderful experiences with him.
My “advice” is don’t have a birth plan. I know this is something that there are widely different viewpoints on, but this is mine, based only on my personal experience. I think most women have some idea of how they would like things to go – labor at home as long as possible, get an epidural, don’t get an epidural, who to have in the delivery room, etc. That’s only natural. I’m talking about when you type up a document of how things should go. There is one person in charge of how things are going to go, and that’s the baby, and he sure as hell isn’t interested in your birth plan. Second in command are the medical personnel. They have the education, training, and experience necessary to get your baby out safely. Delivery is too much of a wildcard to try to plan what’s going to happen.
Now, if a birth plan is important to you, of course you should write one and don’t let what some random blogger who has barely scratched the surface of parenthood change your mind. I can just speak from having a delivery where the nurses and doctors had to make a split- second decision about what to do, and there was no time to consult me, much less read a birth plan. I would just caution you to really think about whether you are able to view a birth plan as your wishes, and not putting undue pressure on yourself which could set you up to feel defeated if things don’t go that way.
A healthy child is not something to take for granted. Don’t waste a single second worrying about how he or she arrived! That precious baby will give you enough to stress about once they get over being born and wake up in a few days anyway.
Thank you so much Alyssa, for taking the time to share a little bit about your experience and the things that made your recovery a little more manageable. You can read more about Alyssa’s journey in her blog Chocolate is My Life (and see more photos of her beautiful family…kinda makes me want to have a boy next go-around…) You can also read my a Postpartum Survival Guide for a Vaginal Delivery for more helpful information on getting through that pesky postpartum period.