My c-section experience
I had a baby a couple weeks ago! Ahh! She’s an absolute delight and we love her deeply, but also… this has been the hardest two weeks of my life by far. It’s so mind-shattering how much life has changed. Everyone says that it’s the most intense thing you’ll ever experience, but those words don’t really explain it enough. It’s extreme moments of joy and extreme moments of sadness back and forth, all the time.
But anyway, I am writing down what happened with my c-section and hospital experience for anyone who doesn’t know how these things go, who might benefit from the knowledge, and who might be going through it themselves.
Content warning: I’m gonna be talking about surgery, babies, bodies, fluids, shots, the works. If you get queasy reading such things, you should probably stop reading now.
Prepping for the day of
In the days before your c-section, you’ll have to do some kind of bloodwork to make sure everything looks good. The results for that last 72 hours, and I recommend doing that as early as you can so that the needle prick can heal a bit. You’re going to have a lot more of those in the next fews days. You’ll also wanna… groom the downstairs area. If you don’t, they’ll shave you. You don’t want that.
On the day of, you can’t eat for 8 hours beforehand. If you’re going to have a planned c-section, plan it for the morning so that you can eat the night before and go straight to the hospital in the morning.
My c-section was scheduled for 7:30am, and we had to get there by 5:30am to be monitored and prepped. That involved getting in a gown, having things strapped to me, some light blood work, an IV added to the arm, and answering lots of questions about home life and health.
Side note: why did I get a c-section?
My baby was breech, aka upside down. I had actually tried to do the external cephalic version (ECV) procedure to flip her around, and that was probably the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.
If I were to give advice to anyone experiencing a breech baby: don’t do the ECV. It’s only successful about 50-60% of the time in flipping the baby, and it was more painful than the actual birth itself. I’m very happy to share my experience with you in more detail if you want, but just know that it’s multiple adult doctors physically pushing your baby while you feel your organs being crushed. Just get the c-section.
The build-up to the actual procedure
After the initial prep, a bunch of nurses and doctors come in to tell you all what to expect. They’ll say which rooms you’ll be wheeled into, they’ll give you some initial meds, they’ll tell you what key words to listen for, and they give your designated support person a bunny suit (my lovely husband Joe was my support person, and he did not know that a bunny suit was an actual surgical outfit, and thought he was going to actually be dressed as a rabbit for the birth of our child).
They gave me a super bitter, sour drink called bicitra before going in for the epidural. It was nasty. But, it’s supposed to help you not throw up when you’re strapped to the table. Throw it back like a shot and try not to taste it if you can.
When it was time for the epidural, they rolled me into the operating room. That room is COLD. I was so shaky from both the cold and the nerves that a nurse had to hold my arms and legs still while I curled up like a shrimp. The needle they put in your back is not comfortable. On the plus side, it’s the last time you’ll feel pain until after the baby’s born.
Okay, it’s c-section time, and it’s like you’re a race car and all of the doctors and nurses are the pit crew. A lot happens really, really fast.
You are positioned to lay out on the table like a cross, and you’re strapped down. At any point if you’re feeling nauseous, you have to say it loudly because otherwise they will miss it. They pull up a curtain so you can’t see anything below your chest, and they start poking you with something spiky in your arm, and then in your leg, to see how fast the epidural is taking effect.
I was getting particularly nervous at this point, because as you’re losing the feeling of pain, you can still feel them prodding you and positioning you for a while. It was really uncomfortable.
They brought my husband Joe in at this point, and he was on my side of the curtain holding my hand. I had him find a bunch of animal facts earlier to tell me to try and distract me, which was incredibly helpful and I highly recommend you do.
I was nervously crying as he was telling me the facts and I was trying to focus on that, and the anesthesiologist leaned in to say, “hey, I know you’re nervous, but if it helps, they actually cut you open already, they already started, and you felt nothing.” Which did help! But then the PRESSURE began.
You don’t feel pain, but whew, you feel a WEIGHT on your chest like no other. It felt like someone was sitting on me and shaking me, and I was struggling to breathe. The doctors said it was because the muscles around my lungs were numb, so I had to do extra work there. All I could really see were blood splatters (wee) on the curtain, and I was just focusing on breathing as much as I could while Joe talked to me.
The procedure’s total time was pretty fast, I think it was less than a half hour from epidural to baby exit, but it felt way longer. There was a point where I heard the baby cry behind the curtain, but I was still feeling pressure, and the doctors then gave me valium which knocked me out. Joe at that point was able to take pictures of the baby and hold her (he said he accidentally took a quick glance and saw way too many of my organs out as they were about to stitch me back up, be careful of that), and the next thing I knew I was being wheeled into the post-op room seeing him give the baby to me. I admit I was fairly loopy from the drugs for a couple hours after that, so I don’t fully remember what happened besides skin-to-skin time and being hooked up to some machines for monitoring.
And then… our baby was here. We were wheeled into the recovery room, and were there until Tuesday morning (the baby was born on Friday).
In that time we were in the room, the baby and I were checked every two hours for blood pressure and temperature (which does not make for very restful sleep). The nurses and technicians were all very kind though. They have lactation consultants who help with breastfeeding (and by the way, if you don’t want to breastfeed, be firm on that, because they are going to very heavily encourage otherwise), and the doctors come in twice a day to check the scar and bleeding.
Things I didn’t expect that you should be ready for:
- You’re going to have a catheter for at least the first day and that is how you’re going to pee.
- You won’t be able to move your legs for a while, but it’s important to try and wiggle your toes and move them around on the hospital bed until you can.
- When they remove the catheter, it’s gonna hurt, and suddenly you’re going to have to get up to go to the bathroom whenever you need to.
- It hurts a whole lot to get up and go to the bathroom.
- The nurses will show you how to get out of the bed to get up, and you will probably need help from them and/or your support person to get up for a while. I think I was able to get out of the bed on my own on day 3 or so, but it took a whole lot of effort and you gotta use the bars on the side of the bed to pull yourself a lot. Build up your arm muscles now.
- Walking is very, very hard. Your abs will not work, and the ligaments around your crotch are gonna hurt. You almost need a cane or a walker. Hold onto everything you can to help you move.
- You’re going to have a mega pad in the high-waisted underwear they give you because you’re gonna bleed a ton. It’s like a really heavy period. I’m a little over two weeks post-op and I’m still bleeding (less, but still). You should try to keep as many of the pads and underwear they have as you can. It’s not cute, but it’s effective.
- Your uterus is going to start to contract back into place and it hurts a TON. Imagine period cramps, but worse. Luckily the cramps don’t last long (maybe like a minute), but whew, hold onto something. You will also cramp every time you pee.
- You will take a long while to be able to poop again, but you’re gonna want to as soon as you can to ease the cramping. Ask for stool softeners. Also you should probably take stool softeners the week leading up to the procedure just to prep your butt. A lot of the pain meds they give you cause constipation so you gotta fight back.
- Your baby has sharp fingernails. Bring a baby nail file because those things are way sharper than they should be.
- If you don’t bring a pacifier, you can use the surgical gloves in the room and have your baby suck on your pinky finger or something if they’re fussy but not hungry. Amusingly, babies suck on anything they can because of their little reflexes. There was a point where the nurses said that a lot of dads come out of the hospital with little hickeys because they’ll do skin to skin time and the baby will suck on their clavicle or something (and about 20 minutes later, that happened to Joe).
- This could be a whole other blog post, but breastfeeding freaking hurts. It gets better over time, but dang, those first latches are like little razors on your nipples. Holy crap it hurts. Ask the lactation consultants for gel pads, nipple cream, shells for your bra, anything that can relieve you.
- We looked up all sorts of things to include in our go bag, and honestly… we hardly used any of the stuff we brought. I was never really “bored” because I was so tired so I just slept whenever I had down time between drug checks, so I didn’t use my book or my iPad that I brought along. I switched between hot and cold so often, I didn’t use the blanket I brought. I bled and leaked milk so often that I just kept using new hospital gowns instead of any of the clothes I brought. I think the main things I’m glad we brought along were extra little snacks for between meals, and our own toothbrushes.
- You can ask the nurses to help change and swaddle the baby, as well as have them help you put the baby to sleep. Take advantage of this. You and your support person are going to be so, so tired. You can also ask them to assess your diapering and swaddling techniques, which is a good learning experience.
- The hormone swings started to really hit me on day 3 or so (and I’m still dealing with them today). The way the doctor put it: “when you’re on your period, you have 2 major hormone changes that cause your mood swings, and after birth, you have 20. You’re going to be hit hard.” And boy howdy, they were not joking. This could also be a whole separate blog post, because I still haven’t kicked out all of my baby blues, but long story short: talk to other parents, talk to your doctor, go on walks, and… good luck. The mood swings are probably the hardest thing for me now (she says, still bleeding and slowly using stairs again).
- You don’t have to be sneaky about taking stuff from the hospital. On our last day, several nurses came by and would say, “oh wait, you should take more diapers” or “ooh, actually, take more of these ice packs” etc, and it was awesome of them. We’re still using a lot of supplies they gave us. If anything, just bring an extra large go bag that’s mostly empty so you can stuff it full!
Okay. Whew. I think that’s all I’ve got for now. Overall, obviously, we got a healthy baby out of it, so the c-section experience was positive. I think a lot of this is not talked about enough and I hope this can be a useful resource for anyone who wants/needs to know more about the procedures and what it’s actually like!