Why is having a c-section a big deal?
This is an idea that makes me a little crazy: the largely accepted cultural perception that c-sections just aren’t that big of a deal. The myth is mostly created by OBs (who purposefully chose to become surgeons, not midwives) and then passed on to mothers, who pass it on to other mothers.
So, while some mothers are going through the hardest few months of their lives, they also have friends and family looking at them like they’re overreacting, being overly dramatic, complaining or being ungrateful. At least, that was my experience.
It made me feel isolated and unaccepted. I already felt like I was a woman cursed with “the other birth story”. The one where everything goes wrong and no pregnant woman or starry-eyed, wannabe-pregnant woman wants to hear. I have the birth story that a lot of people dismiss as “rare” and “bad”.
Unfortunately, because stories like mine are so often untold and silenced, a lot of people don’t realize how common a story like mine is. An “emergency c-section” or, more accurately, being bullied into a c-section by an implied emergency, is not uncommon. In fact, U.S. researchers estimate that about half of all c-sections in the U.S. are unnecessary.
So, for all the people in our lives who need a reality check, here are 15 reasons c-sections are anything but “a breeze”.
15 Reasons C-sections Are a Big Deal:
- They hurt. A LOT. I shouldn’t have to justify this point of view, but I’ll tell you that healing from my c-section hurt ten times worse than 10 hours of unmedicated, swift back labor from 1 to 8cm. It hurt much worse than my umbilical hernia surgery as a child. I took one Percocet instead of my allotted two the night after my surgery, and I woke up nauseous from the pain. I was going to throw up. You know what would hurt most after abdominal surgery besides someone dragging you behind a car on a rope? Throwing up.
- Your body does feel like it has been cut in half. And you use your core for everything. There’s a reason that magic trick with the magician sawing a woman in half is terrifying. It’s probably in a lot of people’s top ten fears to be cut open and gutted while awake. Sadly, after the epidural or spinal wears off in a couple hours, that’s exactly what it feels like happened to you. You can’t move a muscle without disturbing your core, which has been sliced and stitched several layers through. An incision about 5 inches long has been stretched open. You can’t cough, laugh or cry without extreme abdominal pain for a couple months. Months. I’m talking breaking into a sweat and feeling dizzy kind of pain. And bonus, if you labored at all before the surgery, your abs will hurt much worse.
- You’re awake as your organs are removed. Most people know that this surgery takes place while you’re awake, but let’s all just let that sink in for a bit. Awake, while some of your organs are being pulled out and laid on your chest. My husband watched as they laid my uterus on my chest. He had tears streaming down his face. Some people aren’t allowed to bring their partners into the room and they have to suffer this alone. Most hospitals don’t allow partners in until the surgery has already started.
- Contractions obviously hurt worse after abdominal surgery. Those postpartum uterine contractions from nursing and the Pitocin they gave you to stop you from bleeding to death post surgery and to help close up your uterus hurt SO much worse than labor, now that you’ve had your abdomen cut open several layers through. Imagine going through transition again, only this time you’ve just had your stomach cut through and stitched hours before. Yep, that bad.
- Nursing is going to be much harder. Not only were you probably in recovery without your baby for a couple hours while she spent the first few hours of her life alone in a plastic bin, but once hospital staff give you your baby, you will have a hard time holding her and you might not be able to lift her. Most babies nurse immediately out of the womb, and your baby was denied this. This can negatively impact bonding. Then of course, once you are able to nurse, there’s about one position you can do that in, since you’ve had debilitating abdominal surgery. And it’s not side-lying, like your sadist nurse is suggesting. The fact that they even suggest this is laughable because you won’t be able to lay on your side for weeks. Since you can’t completely sit up for a few days, and have to semi-recline, it’s hard to nurse the traditional way that moms are always photographed nursing in. That position takes a semblance of ab muscle to support you in an upright position – and you don’t have that. No, the position you get to try is the one that possibly hurts the most. It’s lying down, with your baby on top of you. The baby sucks up. It hurts.
- You can’t get on and off the toilet to pee by yourself. Since your ab muscles were spread apart (and not gently), it hurts/is impossible to lower yourself to the toilet and engage your ab muscles to get back off the toilet. Think hot flashes and cold sweats kind of pain. At the hospital, the nurses (are supposed to) help you get on and off the toilet by lifting and pulling you. At home, you’re on your own. I was lucky with my husband being home for a week (just a week) to help out. After that, I admit I did some peeing while standing up in the shower to get through.
- You’re going to be peeing a lot. Since you were pumped full of IV liquids during your surgery and you probably resembled an unseemly puffer fish afterward, you will be peeing a LOT to get rid of all this fluid. Like every hour. It’s a great ab workout, though! Wait, we’re not cleared for that, yet?
- That first poop is hard, in so many ways. And speaking of relieving yourself, since you had major abdominal surgery, your brain sent a message to your bowels to stop working. Seriously, your digestive system stops working during and after surgery for a bit, and then tries to kick into gear again. Because of this, and because of constipating painkillers like Percocet are constantly in your system for weeks, you can become very, very backed up. THEN, one fateful day, you will need to push it out. Hopefully within a week of your surgery. Guess which muscles you use when you poop? Yep, all the ones that are in screaming pain. So much that you can’t actually push. Like pretty much everything having to do with a c-section, it hurts. Some people have to have it pulled out of them it gets so bad.
- While healing from likely the most major surgery of your life, you will have to take care of a newborn, also one of the most challenging parts of life. If you have other children, you will be taking care of them, too. Just imagine chasing a toddler around on little sleep and feeling as if your body has just been cut in half. Modern maternity care doesn’t think twice about this.
- It’s difficult to heal from. When you have any other type of surgery or illness or something physical your body needs to recover from, medical professionals are quick to tell you the most important thing is rest and sleep. Guess what you’re not getting with a newborn? It takes so much longer to heal. Plus your immune system is compromised – little sleep plus extreme stress plus being exposed to a less than sanitary hospital environment? It’s almost a recipe for maternal morbidity.
- C-section surgery creates a lot of painful gas. In addition to not being able to poop, it turns out opening your body up and shuffling around and removing and putting back organs will also give you major bloat and gas post-surgery, because, again, your digestive system shut down and has to reboot. You know how bad gas bloat hurts? Imagine gas bloat pushing up against layers of healing incisions in your abdomen. Pain for days. For some reason, my nurses thought this was funny and asked if I was passing gas about every hour, in front of my family and friends in my room. And your hospital room probably smells.Or maybe it was just mine. My husband actually bought an overpriced essential oil diffuser from the lobby. Bless him.
- Going anywhere you have to go within a month of surgery hurts. Have you ever tried to ride in the passenger seat with a full latte without a cap on it? That’s kind of what it’s like going home after your c-section, and anywhere else for two weeks. Much like the capless latte, you will feel as if your organs might spill out of your body at any minute. Every bump and turn in the road feels like all your ab muscles are stretching to the breaking point. I literally imagined my muscles thinning and snapping like so many violin strings as we drove home from the hospital, to the pediatrician’s and down to my aunt’s for Christmas. (And if your family expects you to travel a week post c-section for a holiday like my family, instead of going to see you, just say no. It’s not worth it.) I had to hold my stomach to keep my guts from spilling out and my incision from opening up. Too bad you have to take your baby to the pediatrician in a couple days post-op and like every week for a month. Hope they’re nearby and you have someone to drive you because…
- You can’t drive post-c-section because you’re on painkillers. Turns out, that’s dangerous. You also don’t want to get into an accident or stop too fast post-c-section because it will really hurt. Hope you have help around the house and you have enough savings to not return to work for a bit.
- Speaking of, you might be back to work before you’ve completely healed. Speaking of working, since most of the U.S. kindly “offers” only 6 weeks unpaid time off without your workplace legally being able fire you (although they easily get around that by just eliminating your position altogether) just about the time that you’re returning to work you will start to feel less like you’ve just been cut open – right around week eight. Hopefully your job doesn’t entail any lifting, twisting or turning or walking for a while. Hopefully your job is one of those butt-in-seat kind of gigs. Hopefully you have enough money to cover those 6 weeks of unpaid time off. Hopefully. As for bonding with baby? If it was an emergency c-section, you might still be having nightmares, but you might be coming out of the dark a bit and ready to bond with your baby. Too bad your time’s already up.
- Speaking of nightmares, you might have PTSD. Especially if you had an emergency c-section (or other interventions, or your baby went to the NICU, or all of the above), when those moments leading from labor to the OR might have been less than ten. That’s not a lot of time to wrap your head around a surgery that will change your life forever – and not in the miraculous way you probably imagined. Your med staff probably did not speak to you during surgery. It’s kind of an out of body experience, probably the furthest one from orgasm. Worse than having PTSD, your OB most likely isn’t trained to look for it or even know what to do or who to refer you to if she suspects you have it. It’s a relatively newly recognized truth that PTSD accompanies poor maternity and delivery care.
- You also probably have postpartum depression and anxiety. C-sections and especially emergency -sections increase risk of postpartum depression. Why? My guess is see all of the above. It’s also entirely likely that what an OB might call postpartum depression is actually misdiagnosed PTSD. Oh yeah, plus all the hormonal changes after birth and during nursing.
There you have it. Sixteen reasons why c-sections are indeed not “a breeze” and why OBs should be less cavalier about prescribing them.