When most people hear the words “cesarean section" they think a woman is rolled into the OR, gets a little incision, and out pops a baby. Perhaps that's why there's such a stigma surrounding women who have C-sections: that they haven't "suffered" like moms who gave birth vaginally. As a C-section mama twice over, I can tell you there is a
lot of suffering involved. Let me clue you in on the many painful things most people don't realize C-section moms deal with. The list may surprise you.
From where I stand now, I am
healed and perfectly healthy three years postpartum from my second C-section. Both surgeries were a success, and helped me deliver two healthy babies. I can't "complain" or anything, but that doesn't mean having a C-section was "easy." In fact, at the time there was so much to complain about. I am not the kind to suffer silently, and after my surgeries I was in a lot of pain and discomfort. C-sections are truly no picnic. They are, after all, surgery. There is no whitewashing the fact that your body is being sliced open, your insides are being rustled about, and then you're basically stapled back together. Pampered princess? Lucky gal? I think not.
If you don't believe me, here are some specifics:
The terror of what’s happening behind the blue curtain
This one may not be physical, but it sure as hell feels real. When that blue curtain that separates you from the half a dozen people (OK, physicians and medical folks) tooling around your lower half goes up, you start to wondering, "What's so awful that they need to bar me from looking at it with this physical barrier?" I'd heard about the blue curtain in my birthing class, but it was one of those things I noted in the back of my head as I was scrolling through my phone but didn't really hear, because, you know, I wasn't ever getting a C-section. Or so I thought.
Fast forward to my emergency C-section and I'm in some kind of horror movie where up goes the curtain and suddenly I'm Brad Pitt in the movie,
Seven, but instead of asking, "What's in the box?" I'm all, "What's behind the curtain?" The throbbing, sometimes blinding pain at the incision site Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images News/Getty Images
When you get out of surgery, you feel all fine and fancy-free, but let me be clear: those, my dear, are the drugs coursing through your veins. The pain-numbing drugs are beautiful, beautiful things, and you should take them every time your nurse tells you to. And yes, take them even if you're not in pain but your nurse says it is probably time to take your next round. Because let me tell you, now is not the time to be a warrior. Oh no, you will have plenty of time for that when you’re faced with mastitis, and chapped nipples, and the nightmare of sleep training. But on this first day of your child's first day of life, do yourself a favor and take pain medication because without it, your C-section mama self is going to howl in pain when that stuff wears off.
The stomach-churning gas
Oh, you thought that IBS-related gas you suffered in your early 20s was horrible? Ha! And a bigger "ha" after that! A C-section mom becomes a snow-globe of gaseous substances after her surgery, because of all the air that gets into the body during the procedure. Sometimes you won't know what's a cramp, what's a stabbing pain from the incision, or what’s gas pain. It all feels miserable.
The same horrible first bowel movement every other postpartum woman experiences
Some might think that the C-section mom gets away without having to experience the full scope of the delivery experience that her vaginal birth sisters go through. Not so. C-section moms have to hunker down for hours just like everyone else and hope that nature takes its course before its time to leave the hospital and take your baby home (because they're kind of big into you having a bowel movement before letting you go, in some hospitals).
My body was not having it in the hospital, despite our five day stay. The miracle didn't strike for me until I was home, about three days later, and by then I think I gave birth to a volleyball. Except, you know, not through my vagina.
The insane amounts of vaginal bleeding
Once again, after my emergency C-section I mistakenly thought I would be bypassing all that
postpartum vaginal bleeding. Apparently, bleeding happens after c-sections, too. For me, it was weeks of heavy bleeding that required the Grandma Sized pads. The lesson? No one is spared. The cramping
You know how the elderly or war veterans sometimes say they can feel it in their old wounds when it is about to rain? My C-section scar had the same magical ability to sense the weather. It would suddenly tingle and seize up when the skies got cloudy, and the air began to fill with an electric charge. I didn't need a weather app in those first few months after giving birth. I needed only to consult my scar. And on regular weather days, the pain deep into my lower abdomen would keep me up at night, or rouse me from deep sleep.
The itchy stitches
Stitches are itchy and uncomfortable and no one should be surprised about this.
The tender tissue at the site of the incision BSIP/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
The tissue around the incision site is usually red and tender in the early days post-surgery. For me, the skin puckered up around the stitches, giving my incision area the effect of a warped zipper and my lower abdomen the look of a pouting fish. Sometimes the area felt warm to the touch. I had to be careful about the pants I wore, lest they aggravate my stitches or the wound itself. There were so many things I never thought about that could be painful about having a C-section. I'm kind of glad I hadn't, or else I may have never wanted to get pregnant in the first place.
The super painful postpartum sex
Surprise! C-section moms experience painful
postpartum intercourse just like anyone else whose given birth. The dip in hormones after you have a baby affects C-section moms, too. So while they may not have to deal with vaginal tearing (small blessings), they still have vaginal dryness that can make sex with their partner feel like tiny pieces of glass rubbing up against their insides. The pain of feeling like you might have missed out on something epic
This pain is definitely in the emotional category. I don’t regret my C-sections, but I still feel pained that I will never experience the feeling of a baby exiting out of my body the way so many women from the beginning of time have experienced before me, and to feel that connection with history. I don't always feel like every experience that could be had in life must be had, but there are those moments when I get a little pang and wish that this one had been offered, and that things may have gone another way.
This article was originally published on
Sep. 13, 2017