A cesarean is a birth. And it is a surgery.
The room is cold. Metal equipment clanks. There is a distinct burning smell as doctors cauterize blood vessels to stop bleeding. Some women experience nausea, vomiting or uncontrollable shaking. It can feel unfamiliar, disorienting and overwhelming. Recovery is often physically difficult and sometimes breastfeeding is extra-challenging.
I asked a question of women from my classes and moms groups: what was the hardest, most challenging part of your cesarean and what helped? Here are some of the responses I received.
Hi Mary Esther, I wanted to share my experience with a cesarean. Since we were not expecting to have a cesarean I hadn’t researched the symptoms during recovery and the gas was the most unexpected and hardest thing I dealt with. Your abdomen gets a lot of air trapped in it from surgery and that air causes pain sometimes in unexpected places like your back or neck. I thought I was having back spasms but it was just the gas pain manifesting in my back. Had I known ahead of time, I would have asked for the gas meds (tums-like chewable) and eaten only easy to digest things like soup after surgery.
Also, firmly request that the baby stay with you in recovery so you get skin to skin right away and for hours. Charlie was in our arms for the first two days of life-we literally didn’t let the nurse take her for anything without one of us holding her and I really feel it helped her emerge into the world from a safe place. The nurses don’t want you to sleep with the baby because of the pain medication you’re on from surgery but we booked the private room and convinced our nurse to let me sleep with her on my chest and it was the best thing. We are loving life as parents with our beautiful Charlie Rose. – Tiffany and Tom
Hi Mary Esther, Hope all is well!! It feels like ages ago that we were attending your class! Enzo was born May 19 – and is a lively little critter. We couldn’t be more in love!
As you know, we ended up having to have a cesarean. While the actual birth in the operating room was one of the strangest and outlandish experiences I have ever had (for Eric too), we were able to keep it very personal and intimate. Eric pressed his cheek against mine for comfort and had rubbed peppermint essential oil in his hands for me to smell when I became nauseated by the pain medication. Also, the use of a diffuser in the hospital room before the cesarean and post birth was GREAT! Lavender and lime mixed was my go to aromatherapy! Love, Kathryn
Hi Mary Esther, I would have to say the shaking was the hardest part for me. I am so glad the nurse told me to expect it. This way my fear didn’t make everything worse. I think I would have really freaked out if I hadn’t known it was normal. I breathed deep and held my husband’s hand. I’m really grateful the nurse told me to expect it. – Mary Kate
Hi Mary Esther, I’m really glad my friend, Mary Kate, told me to expect the shaking. When my daughter turned breech and I had to have a cesarean, it was really helpful to know about the shaking ahead of time. – Anna
Hi Mary Esther, For me, one of the most unexpected parts of my cesarean birth was how fast it seemed to go. After laboring for so long, this surprised me. And strapping down my arms. I hated that. I also thought that I would be able to hold Jackson. I desperately wanted to hold him (even if it was just for a minute). Holding him would have made a world of difference for me. Just to have a few minutes with my sweet newborn baby before they whisked him away. Thinking about it makes me tear up even now. That was probably one the hardest parts about it. Another hard part was healing from the cesarean physically and emotionally. Both were really hard for me. Physically, I had some complications with healing because I had fluid buildup around the incision. And emotionally it was hard because I felt like I failed and was cheated out of my birth experience.
My husband was a big part of my emotional and physical healing. Not only did he change my incision dressings daily (because of the complications I had–sooo gross!), he also reminded me every day how I didn’t fail and how hard my body worked to create this perfect little human. And he is. He is absolutely perfect. My husband continues to remind me to this day. Another huge thing that I think really helped me so much to get through the emotional part of it was breastfeeding. I can’t tell you how grateful I was that Jackson and I made an immediate connection when I was able to breastfeed him for the first time! He latched right away without any struggle and with very little help. It felt like we both sighed a breath of relief that we were finally together and connected. It was a precious moment I will never forget. And to be able to breastfeed (still to this day) without any real issues has been so rewarding. After feeling like I “missed out” on my birth experience, to have this intimate connection with my son has been an amazing experience. I have to say that truly played a huge part in my emotional healing. So grateful beyond words. Jackson is absolutely amazing and the joy of my life. – Jenn
Hi Mary Esther, Greg and I ended up having to go through a cesarean. Because I had a bunch of expectations in my head as to how I wanted this birth to go, the possibility of cesarean when our son turned breech was devastating. I was fully prepared to go through a natural, unmedicated birth and I even got my old-school thinking husband on board to support me – which made me maniacally attempt to turn the baby through any means necessary. I tried chiropractors to Chinese medicine and everything in between. But the baby was stubbornly a footling breech and we had to schedule a c-section for September 28 which put him at 39 1/2 weeks.
There were other blows to deal with, like when the OBGYN said we couldn’t do delayed cord clamping because she didn’t want to leave me open for a second longer than necessary, and that they couldn’t place the baby on my chest in the operating room because “there would be no room.” Most likely with some research other women can find doctors who would be willing to make it work, but I was unprepared because I could not imagine a different scenario than the one I planned.
However there were certain things I decided to do to that gave me a measure of control. These things made a tremendous difference in terms of how I have come to think of my birth experience –in a much more positive light. For example, I had some food (juice and yogurt) on that day, even though the doctors said no eating for 12 hours. From my friend’s bad c- section experience, I knew my body needed some energy for what was about to happen, or it could crash and lead to more interventions which is what happened to her. My doula also suggested we swab the baby with vaginal fluids after birth, and we made a plan with my husband of how to sneakily do it since my OB was absolutely NOT on board. I also requested that no one wash the baby, to keep that protective layer on him for as long as possible.
The day of the c-section was pretty uneventful in terms of the procedure. I just remember being terrified of getting the epidural, especially because my husband could not be present at that moment. It helped tremendously that my doctor held my hands and helped me lean on her. That little bit of human contact made a world of difference.
The rest is really a blur at this point. Greg was there to hold my hand and tell me everything was okay. Hearing the baby’s cry without seeing him was definitely a surreal moment.
Greg knew how important skin to skin contact was to me, so as soon as they handed him the baby in the operating room, he stuffed him into his scrubs, right onto his naked chest. The nurses were horrified he didn’t wear a shirt underneath but at least the baby got some of our bacteria! Greg also had the gauze with vaginal fluids in a plastic bag that we sneaked in his pocket and he swabbed the baby’s face when no one was looking.
They finally handed me the baby in recovery. It was strange emotionally. I was excited to hold the baby but also felt a bit detached from him and detached from what was happening to me. In the coming months I would wonder if the pain of birth activates the motherly instinct in some sort of immediate way, because I did not get to experience the insta-love or euphoria that everyone talks about. The love for him grew slowly, over the months as I grew used to the idea of being a mother and taking care of the small details of his existence.
But back the birth. When the nurse took us to the recovery room, she placed baby Marcel on my chest, and my doula helped latch him. I remember being shocked at how STRONG his jaws were. In that moment I decided to commit to breastfeeding him even if it killed me, and it almost did since the pain was tremendous. I cursed like a sailor and screamed every time he would latch on and scare the nurses. But I am so happy I stuck with it and I”m still breastfeeding him at 15 months. I think if it didn’t work out, I would be even more upset about the c-section. Fortunately the drugs did not prevent my milk coming in on time, though the extra fluid caused his birth weight to be overinflated which led to some drama with the pediatrician when he tried to pressure me to supplement with formula. Figuring out breastfeeding was definitely the biggest learning curve I had to make. But it was so worth it and so healing. It made me believe in my body again. I could grow this child, and I could nourish him even if I couldn’t birth him vaginally.
The decisions I made and the small measure of control I was able to take, and the nurses who respected my wishes definitely made a major difference in how my birth experience went. It made it not a bad one, just different from what I really wanted. I hope if I have another child, I can give birth naturally. This last experience will make me appreciate it that much more. Best, Natasha and Greg
Hi Mary Esther, I’d be more than happy to share my story. I remember all the apprehension I had as an expectant mom and how I craved real world experience stories.
To answer your question: The most unexpected part for me was the unexpected aspect of it. I was completely mentally prepared for a natural birth, I was even somewhat ready for a medicated vaginal birth. But I never considered having a cesarean, especially since I had a healthy pregnancy with no complications.
In the end, I wish I had prepared myself and my partner more for the unexpected. We went from waiting for my body to dilate (I was fully effaced, but only dilated to 2 centimeters after 36 hours) to being rushed into an operating room because the baby’s heart rate had dropped.
Truthfully, the only thing that helped was the complete and unwavering support I had from my midwife. I trusted her completely and knew she would only do what was best for me and my baby. She agreed a c-section was necessary so we went ahead with it. – Sugereis
Hi there. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl September 28th. Here is a little bit about my natural birth that turned into a cesarean.
My labor came on hard and fast, with my contractions only 2 minutes apart shortly after we arrived at the hospital. The baby had pooped inside so I had to go on the monitor right away. I labored through the night with back to back contractions for most it. I used what we were taught to help get through. We used a ball, the shower, constant massage from my doula. I pushed for a few hours with little progress. I ended up trying a small dose of pitocin because my contractions had slowed. I pushed and pushed and eventually my midwife recommended we try the vacuum. After 3 attempts failed they let me try pushing with more vaginal massage by my midwife. After almost 5 hours pushing I was told we needed to do a c section. It was so hard to hear and there were tears. I had labored naturally for 30 hours and was feeling disappointed in myself that I couldn’t do it. My husband and doula kept telling me how amazing and strong I was and that this was not my fault. Their support was crucial in that moment. My doula kept bragging about how strong I had been. She told me that all the nurses thought I had an epidural because I was so in control. That encouragement propped me up when I really needed it.
They let my husband and doula in the room with me once I had the spinal tap. Having a doula who knew what was happening was so calming. She stood by my head and talked me thru it all. And then our midwife told the room that we didn’t know the sex of the baby and she let my husband stand up and be the one to announce it. Everyone thought it was a boy, but I knew it was a girl deep down. Hearing her cry was the best sound. She was a healthy 8 pounds 4 ounces and the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. My husband cut her cord and carried her wrapped bundle to show me her face. I still get emotional when I think about that moment. The nurse from my labor knew how much I had been thru and brought her to me as soon as I was out of the OR for skin to skin and breastfeeding. While I was disappointed to miss that immediate contact, we bonded instantly. She breastfed like a pro and never cried the rest of the day.
Her birth did not go at all like we had planned. But she came out healthy and at the end of it all, that’s what matters to me. I still feel sad that I wasn’t able to go all the way, but also very proud that I labored so long without pain meds. My husband and doula were a huge reason for that. It wasn’t what we wanted but her birth was still beautiful and she is a happy two-month old today. – Christina Franklin
Hi Mary Esther, Dean is 13 months old and now the happiest little guy!
My cesarean birth last November after a failed “version” was hard not only because it was surprising, but because Dean was only 37 weeks and so small. Since it was technically an “elective” c-section (that’s a long story) we were able to request a Gentle Cesarean and in the moments Dean was born there was only a clear plastic sheet in between him, the doctors, and Kyle and me. We saw him briefly before they went to clean him up and then they put him on my chest while they sewed me back up. I remember he was crying and I just kept saying, “It’s ok, sweet baby,” over and over again.
He was so small – 5 lbs 15 ounces when he was born and 4 lbs 14 ounces a few days later – that he even spent a night in the NICU because his blood sugar was too low from not eating. Every two hours I’d be wheeled down to the NICU with my tiny vile of colostrum to feed him; It was so hard to see him lying in that hospital crib surrounded by all the preemie babies. I truly believe he just wasn’t ready to be born at 37 weeks and needed time – 4 to 6 more weeks – to be ready to do baby things… like eat.
I’ve wondered many times if it was the right decision to do the “version” and I still don’t know. I don’t think I would do it again knowing what I know now. But now Dean is healthy, happy, and in the 61st percentile for weight so the story has a happy ending. – Betsy