April is C-section awareness month and often times this method of delivery is met with some very heavy criticism. Many birth stories that include a C-section are coupled with fear, guilt, shame and an excruciating recovery process. I want to share my story because I felt many of those feelings when I was told my baby would have to be delivered via C-section. 12-weeks later and fully recovered from my surgery, I can confidently tell you that not every birth that results in a C-section is negative. Many Mom friends shared information with me about their C-sections before my birth and I was SO thankful to them for easing my fears and anxiety. I hope that in sharing my story that I will help another Mom who is feeling anxious or scared about their C-section birth!
When I first found out I was pregnant I became obsessed with listening to other women’s birth stories (shoutout to the Birth Hour podcast!) I found it so powerful and inspiring to learn the ins and outs of birth through other women’s real-life experiences. From scheduled c-sections to home water births, the stories helped me realize that no two births were the same and many times (okay, most times) things did not go exactly according to plan. Flash forward to nine months later and I found myself in the exact situation I feared: a complete deviation from my original plan. I had to take a deep breath and listen to my own advice. My birth did NOT go according to my original plan, but it brought me my sweet Penelope and for that reason alone, it’s the perfect story for me.
My pregnancy was a complete surprise and I had no idea where to begin when it came to pregnancy, birth and motherhood. If you want to read the full details about finding out I was pregnant – check out my other post HERE. Being the type A person I am, I devoured every article, podcast and book I could find on the topic and loved listening to other women’s birth stories. I found it so powerful and inspiring to learn the ins and outs of birth through other’s real-life experiences. From scheduled c-sections to home water births, the stories helped me realize that no two births were the same and many times (okay, most times) things did not go exactly according to plan.
Being informed helped me feel less anxious about the inevitable birthing process because if I am being honest, I was TERRIFIED. I tend to be the person who thinks about the worst possible scenario when it comes to anything and there are a lot of things that can go wrong during pregnancy and childbirth. I thought my Google search history was terrifying before being pregnant and having a child, I can only imagine how insane it looks now!
My plan from the get go was always to go with the flow and be as flexible as possible. I wanted to avoid a C-section (HA!) and an induction if at all possible. That seamed fairly reasonable considering I had a generally easy and healthy pregnancy. I was able to continue being active up until about 38-weeks. I modified my workouts compared to my pre-pregnancy routine, but it felt good to move and get my heart rate up.
At my 24-week scan, baby was head down and from that point on I prepared for a vaginal birth. Toward the end of my third trimester the doctors started to feel my belly at each appointment to determine the baby’s position. At each appointment they said, “oh yeah, she’s head down”. I didn’t think much of it. Looking back now I realize that the movements I was feeling and the intense pressure on my bladder (FUN!) showed otherwise.
At 37-weeks I went in for a routine appointment. Again, my doctor felt my belly and said she was head down, but wanted to confirm with the handheld sonogram machine. My heart dropped when she put the want to my bump and said, “baby is breech”. They had me do an ultrasound to confirm her position and to see if I was a candidate for an External Cephalic Version (ECV). Basically an ECV is a procedure where they manually turn the baby from the outside.
The OB pulled me into her office to discuss the possible C-section and the ECV procedure. I barely remember what she said because my anxiety and fear was taking over and I just wanted to get out of there ASAP.
When I left the office, all of the tears I’d been holding in during the appointment came flooding to the surface. I sat in my car for awhile before I calmed down enough to drive home. For so long I had prepped for a vaginal birth and I had this vision in my head of what I wanted my labor and delivery to be. In that moment I felt angry at my body for failing me and I felt shameful for not wanting to do the ECV. That’s everyone’s goal right? Do whatever you can for a vaginal birth. So, it felt like saying no to the ECV was giving up or making a bad decision for myself and my baby.
After contemplating the ECV over the weekend, I ultimately decided against it. My placenta was anterior (means it was in the front vs. back or top of the baby) and that came with a greater risk of injury to my placenta which would result in an emergency C section situation. In my mind, if I was going to potentially have a C-section one way or the other I preferred it was scheduled. And quite frankly, the ECV procedure freaked me out more than having a C-section. I know it works very well for some Moms, but I just was not comfortable with the associated risk for my particular situation.
I still did everything I could to try and turn baby around on my own. I would come home from work and lay upside on the couch or the stairs and I was going to the chiropractor every other day. But alas, nothing worked. So, I officially scheduled my surgery and accepted that my baby was coming out via C-section.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t upset, but I’d also be lying if I said there weren’t a lot of things I loved about the thought of a C-section. I am a type A planner to my core and I LOVED knowing exactly when I was going in and having my baby. Picking the date, time and my doctor helped give me some peace of mind. Knowing when I would be out also helped a ton with transitioning projects and responsibilities for work, and I was able to plan the perfect last day of pregnancy filled with a manicure, pancakes and naps galore!
I barely slept the night before – I was incredibly anxious about the surgery and so excited to finally meet our babe. My C-section was scheduled for 730 AM and we had to be at the hospital by 6 AM. I woke up at 430 AM, mostly because I just couldn’t sleep, but also because I wanted to shower and look kind of decent for our first family photos.
February 6th was a snowy, cold winter morning. We arrived to the hospital and and checked in to a very empty labor and delivery department. When I was brought back they took my vitals, placed my IV, and had me change into a hospital gown. The resident came back and did one last ultra sound to confirm her position – and yep, she was still breech!
After all of the housekeeping was done, we sat back and waited until go time. Every minute felt like an hour because I was so nervous! When 730 rolled around, my doctor walked in and said, “alright, ready to have this baby?!”. It was so surreal. I hopped up and made Andrew check that my butt wasn’t hanging out of the back of my hospital gown and then I walked myself down to the OR. It was so bizarre wheeling my own IV pole and just casually strolling into surgery. Andrew had to wait until I was prepped and numb before he was allowed into the room. He sat waiting anxiously for 20 minutes until being called back.
When I got back to the OR, I jumped on the table and they started to prep my back for the spinal. Being honest, this was the part I felt the most nervous about because I HATE needles, blood, etc. Pretty much anything medical is going to be a no for me dawg. The anesthesiologist numbed my back first with a local anesthetic which was the worst part of the entire surgery. It felt like a bee sting in my back, not ideal but definitely bearable – coming from someone who has zero pain tolerance. The nurse was so sweet and even let me squeeze her hand during the entire procedure since Andrew wasn’t there.
Then once I was numb, she did my spinal. The spinal shot was… weird. It didn’t hurt because I was numb, but I could feel the pressure of the needle. I think because its placed in an area where you dont ever feel pain/pressure it just feels very weird.
I laid down and waited for the numbing to take effect. At first it was really tingly and warm and then I felt nothing. Again, it’s such a weird experience to not be able to feel or move your legs. The nurses and PA then prepped my stomach for the incision and tested to make sure I was good and numb. Once they were ready to go, Andrew was allowed in the room.
He came in just as they were about to do the incision and turned on my playlist. I had previously asked my doctor if we could play music in the OR, and she loved the idea and had no issue with it. I love music and for me having some of my favorite songs playing was a welcome distraction from the fact that my organs would be sprawled out on the table in a few short minutes. If you’re interested my playlist can be found HERE on spotify.
Next thing I knew, the anesthesiologist said they were about to pull Penelope out and asked if I wanted to see. I said yes, but asked that they not show me anything other than the baby. The last thing I wanted to see was my stomach splayed open on the operating table. She held the mirror up for me, and then there was Penelope! Everyone in the room collectively yelled, “OMG she has so much hair!”. I could not believe that was my baby with a full head of jet black hair. It was a surreal moment. She was finally here! And absolutely perfect. She let out a loud cry the instant she was lifted above the sheet for us to see.
I still remember the song that was playing when she was born and even though I was laying on an operating table in this weird sterile environment, I still felt intense joy and magic in that moment. My baby was here and she was safe and healthy, and she was all ours.
Once her vitals and measurements were taken she was bundled up and handed to my husband. Initially I had wanted immediate skin-to-skin right in the OR, but due to hospital policy it was not allowed. I was bummed when they first told me this because I still really wanted that time with her, but looking back I’m glad that she was given to my husband. You’re in SUCH an awkward position with your arms out at your sides and completely flat on the table. Plus, I like that Andrew had that really special time with her. She would be attached to my boob 24/7 for the foreseeable future and it was nice that they had this magical bonding moment with each other.
The rest of the surgery went by fairly quickly. We just listened to our playlist and stared at Penelope. I could have laid there all day.
After the surgery, we were all taken to the recovery room for 2-hours while they monitored both Penelope and I’s vitals. Once we were here, I was finally able to skin-to-skin. It was a little awkward because I had to stay completely flat for awhile so that I didn’t get nauseous or get a spinal headache from moving around too much. She didn’t really latch right away, but I wasn’t too concerned. I just stared at her in disbelief that she was finally here.
The next few days in the hospital were a whirlwind, but we had the most amazing experience thanks to our team of nurses. We were lucky to have the same nurses for all three days we were there. This made us feel so comfortable because they got to know us and understand our needs.
Breastfeeding went well at first. She latched instantly once I could sit up and get into the right position. I’ll save the details of that journey for another post!
All-in-all my recovery went fairly well! I attribute this to staying active my entire pregnancy and really trying to take it easy the first few weeks after birth. I did however have one clotting scare that landed me back in the hospital two weeks postpartum. I had not bled since 6-days post birth which I thought was amazing! I remember thinking, wow what do you mean people bleed for 8 weeks, pshhh, that was easier than a period. Well, turns out that is not normal and I had clot that was preventing my body from getting rid of everything.
At about 15 days postpartum my bleeding got really heavy to the point where I almost passed out and had to have Andrew help me up out of bed multiple times because my vision started to go black and I got really dizzy. Because it continued for a few hours I was advised to go into the emergency room just to be sure there was not something more serious going on.
If you saw my instagram story you know this was not a pleasant experience for me. I was quickly shuffled down to the regular emergency department vs. the labor and delivery unit which meant I was exposed to tons of germs and not given access to my doctors who were just a few floors above. Thankfully everything was fine, but I was there for 8-hours. That’s right. 8-hours away from my two week old while I was breastfeeding. Thank god for my best friend (Casey, you’re the real MVP!) who was able to watch her so that Penelope wasn’t exposed to anything at the hospital.
During my time in the ER I was given a make shift pelvic exam by the resident (which I’d rather have three more C-sections than endure again) and given an ultrasound by a tech who had little regard for the fact I just had major abdominal surgery. He pressed so hard on my incision with the wand that I had to ask him to stop twice.
I detailed my awful experience in my post visit survey sent by the hospital. I hoped to shed some light on the fact that there is so little support for Mom’s during the postpartum experience. It’s an extremely vulnerable time for both me as a new Mom and my baby. My experience made me feel completely discarded as a Mom and as an individual. If I had still been pregnant I’d have been seen up in the maternity ward no questions asked because my baby and I are still physically one at that point. But what I think so many fail to see is even though my baby is now on the outside of me, her physical dependence and ability to thrive still depend on me as her Mother.
The hospital seemed to take my feedback seriously and even had the director of the emergency department call me personally to say they were going to have a serious discussion internally with the labor and delivery unit to see what could be done in the future. This was of course right before Covid became a huge issue, so not sure where this will go, but I was thankful that they at least took the time to listen to me.
After that mishap I really tried to take it slow at home, which was easy to do since it was February and still freezing and disgusting outside. We setup a diaper station on the first floor so I wasn’t going up and down the stairs a million times a day when my husband went back to work. The first few weeks home were hard because I couldn’t get up out of bed or off the couch by myself. But every day got a little bit easier, and by about 4 weeks postpartum I felt like I could move around a bit and at least get up out of a laying position by myself.
I’ll save the details for my experience with surviving the “4th trimester” for another time because honestly, that topic is worthy of its own post.
I was terrified of a C-section, it was the last thing I wanted, but 12-weeks out and looking back I would not have changed a thing about my birth. I can now say that I don’t blame my body for “failing” me anymore. Would I like to be back to my pre-pregnancy physical self most days? Sure. Am I in love with my scar? No. But I don’t feel that my body is a failure anymore. It’s done an incredible job healing over the last 3-months and I’m amazed at just how far I’ve come since my birth.
Despite some of my setbacks during the early days of recovery, I had an amazing experience with my C-section. I’m a great candidate for a VBAC, but will I try for a vaginal birth next time? I’m not sure, but honestly, I don’t think so. And I know that will be met with criticism. Yes, my baby entered this world surgically but that does not mean I love her any differently than a baby delivered vaginally, or that I am less of a mother. And it certainly does not mean that I took the easy way out. The physical demands of caring for a newborn combined with recovering from a major abdominal surgery are no joke.
No matter how we deliver our babies, we’re all mothers. Our recoveries are tough and often come with challenges. Yes, those challenges may be different, but one is certainly not any easier than the other. The sooner we can stop trying to compare our birthing experiences, the sooner we will realize that every story is unique and every new mom faces hardship and challenges no matter their method of delivery. Let’s use that energy to support new Moms, lord knows we need it.