This is an edited excerpt from Jennifer Hacker Pearson’s book, ‘I Wish Someone Had Told Me …’. A collection of first person and collated experiences of women’s labour and birth stories.
About to give birth for the first time? Whether you are expecting to deliver vaginally or know you will be having a c-section, it is good to be prepared and there are a few things mums wish they knew about caesareans before it came time to deliver. Thankfully we have them all for you here.
I wish someone had told me how quick a caesarean is
In an emergency, once your obstetrician decides you need a c-section because labour is not progressing, your baby is distressed or whatever other reason, the time until you meet your baby suddenly comes around very, very quickly. They don’t call it emergency for fun (not that any part of having a c-section is “fun”). The time from incision to delivery is usually less than five minutes! Bang, bang!!! No mucking around there. If you are having a scheduled caesarean it will take a bit longer, about 10 to 15 minutes, but it’s still very quick in the scheme of things. These times of course don’t take into consideration anaesthetics and the delivery of the placenta etc. but, you must agree, super quick nonetheless.
I wish someone had told me that “getting the baby out” during a caesarean would be so uncomfortable
I haven’t had a caesarean so I can’t speak for myself but I have heard from some mothers that yes, it can be quite uncomfortable when baby gets evicted. Some mums say that when the doctors push on their tummy during the procedure it feels like they might explode. Others say they hardly felt a thing. I’ve also been told that if you have an epidural getting the baby out feels more like a tugging sensation, whereas if you have a spinal block it may feel more like pressure. If you are not ready for it, either can give you quite a shock as it is a sensation you probably haven’t felt before. On the flip side, I have spoken to women who said they didn’t feel anything, regardless of epidural or spinal. And hey, even if you do, look at the prize you get for your discomfort.
I wish someone had told me I may need a general anaesthetic
If things become dire quickly or your baby is distressed and your labour is not progressing, your caregiver may opt for a general anaesthetic as a last resort. Yep, that’s the one where they knock you out completely. It is very uncommon and of course everything will be done to avoid it but sometimes it is just necessary, as it is the best thing for you and your baby. That’s why I can’t stress enough to make the main aim of your birth plan: get the baby out safely (oh, and keep an eye on mum while they’re at it)!
I wish someone had told me I could still have a forceps delivery even if I have a caesarean
Sometimes when a baby is in an unfavourable position, for example tucked in under the ribs (aka not deep in the birth canal), your obstetrician will use forceps or ventouse to deliver your baby via c-section. This can happen even if you are booked in for an elective caesarean. In fact, it happens more often than we realise. For some reason, many people think that a caesarean is like a short cut to the baby and that it can just be lifted out as soon as the incision is made. On the contrary, the incision of the c-section is often very small and if the baby is not fully engaged (in the correct position) an assisted caesarean delivery is called for.
I wish someone had told me that after the caesarean I would feel like I had been hit by a truck
Again, this will vary from woman to woman. Some women say that having a c-section made them feel soooo terrible that they wanted to stick the baby back in and go out to lunch rather than feel the way they did post-surgery. Whereas some women said they really could go out to lunch after having a caesarean. You can’t predict how you will feel, so maybe expect the worst and hope for the best on this one.
I wish someone had told me I may feel like a failure after having a caesarean
Having a firm plan in place is likely to end in disappointment because babies just do whatever they want, when they want. This is not specific to caesareans, but I know that there are many mothers that felt like failures after they needed a caesarean. Or they feel like they missed out, or let people, including the baby, down. The way you feel is the way you feel, nobody should ever tell you otherwise. Hormones are a bitch, we all know that, and coupled with the disappointment of what you expected, it is understandable you will feel a lot of things. Hopefully you will get through this time quickly by talking to family, friends and experts (if needed), because there is a brand-new baby for you to enjoy. To avoid disappointment all together, throw your birth plan in the bin or keep it to one sentence (not judging, just suggesting):
Birth plan: Bring baby safely into the world (however that may be).
I wish someone had told me what a positive experience it can be
Every birthing experience is different. Mostly, every mother finds each of their births different too (I sure did!). I have spoken to many women who found their caesarean birth really positive and some even say it was easy.
I wish someone had told me that I couldn’t eat after a caesarean until I passed wind
Imagine you have been in labour for 18+ hours and spent a good time of that pushing for dear life, only to end up with an emergency caesarean because your little poppet wouldn’t budge. Now it’s all over, you are starved and want to consume the biggest burger the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, you may not be allowed. When you can eat again will depend on your hospital’s policy and also your individual circumstances during the surgery but generally food, after a caesarean, works on a reward system. Classy – as giving birth is – you will be rewarded for bodily functions. Reward for no farts and no poo = nothing, other than clear liquids; reward for passing wind = light meals; reward for a bowel movement = eat pretty much anything you like. There is a reason behind this tummy torment though, because your intestines have been relaxed during the surgery your midwife/obstetrician need to make sure they are functioning properly again before you chow down.
I wish someone had told me to chew gum after my caesarean
OK stay with me here, I haven’t lost the plot completely, this is out-there but really interesting. As mentioned before, after a caesarean, or any abdominal surgery really, the bowels can become sluggish to the point where there can be a delay for a few days of regular bowel movements (poo-poos). This can also delay healing which means longer discomfort and longer stays in the hospital. Crazy but true, chewing gum after a caesarean can help return bowel motility quicker. It basically tricks the body into thinking you are eating and so kick-starts the digestive system again. Although this requires quite extensive and regular chewing, if it means you get more comfort quicker and out of hospital sooner, it’s probably worth packing a few packets of chewy in your hospital bag just in case.
I wish someone had told me I would have gas pain in my shoulders after a caesarean
OK, I know this probably sounds really cray-cray but there are a bunch of women that I have spoken to who will attest to this. Gas, aka fart/wind/fluff pain can happen when your bowels become lethargic after your caesarean surgery (that’s why your first poo is oh so interesting to your caregivers). The feelings of cheek squeak can be felt even in your shoulders (!!!) due to actual trapped gas or thanks to a medical phenomenon called referred pain. This means the pain is sent from other parts of your body, such as your uterus or tummy muscles. You probably couldn’t give two hoots about that at the time because it can hurt immensely, but it usually only lasts a short while. You may be offered some medicine to help reduce the gas, or you could just whack a chewy in your gob.