Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Scars are souvenirs you never lose" - having a baby via c-section

I have a series of blog posts that I want to create - the hurdle is not what I want to write about, but when I manage to write. This morning, as I nursed both babies at 4am, I worked through what I would blog about. I felt like I had a real writer's flow. When I climbed back into bed, though, leaving the babies with their grandma for her shift, I decided sleep was more important. Now, some 8 hours later, I am not feeling as witty or creative. Alas, I am better in the wee hours of the morning but not capable of capitalizing on that!

So ... a c-section. Going into mine, I knew TONS of women who had had them, but still, I didn't know exactly what to expect. This was despite, even, the fact that the nurses at the hospital told me exactly what to expect.

For those who are pregnant or hoping to be pregnant, and for my own memorializing of my experience, I want to write about what it's like to have a c-section.

Mine was a "scheduled c-section." At 10 am on Nov. 18, my OB called my hospital room to check on me. It was a Monday and she was off the whole weekend. She had my newest lab results and we talked about what to do next. I called it - told her I was nervous, especially about Baby A, and that I would much prefer the babies to spend some time in the nursery AND BE OUT SAFE than to miss something, push things a few more days or weeks, and have something terrible and tragic happen to one or both of my babies.

So at 10 am my babies' birthday was decided. My c-section would be at 1 pm Pacific time.

Between 10 and 1 was when things got interesting. Thinking about all the beautiful right-after-birth photos I have seen of other women and their babies, I took a shower and even blew my hair dry and tried to style it. Had I had make up, I might have even felt compelled to put some on (this is mind blowing as I wear make up about once or twice a YEAR). I took a final belly photo and then got back into bed. I spent some time creating an email list of everyone who wanted the birth announcement and I listened to some music. I got ready, as best I could, but not really knowing what was coming. My hubby was coming back around 12:30 (he went home to shower, collect things to start sleeping at the hospital, and to get mentally ready himself).

I have an IRL friend who had a c-section and blogged about it. She called it a "weird" experience and then apologized for using the term "weird." It does seem like a high school word, one that is used when we don't know what else to say or lack the ability to come up with a better description. But, as it turns out, giving birth by c-section IS a WEIRD experience and that word suits it just perfectly.

Here's how it went down:

1:15 (they were running late, which elevated my anxiety), they wheeled me back into the OR. My hubby wasn't allowed back in there at first. I had to have my spinal put into place. The spinal part scared me more than the rest of it. I was worried - and even talked to the anesthesiologist - about not being able to ever use my legs again. He all but guaranteed me that would not happen and, fortunately, it turns out he was right.

For the spinal, I sat on the operating bed with my gown open in the back. I leaned forward into the arms and chest of the head nurse (who was wonderful). She supported me as I tried to relax. My head / face were in her chest and I *think* my arms were loose and hanging down on her side. There were two parts to the spinal: the initial prick which was a numbing agent and then the actual spinal. The numbing agent felt like a bee sting. It was sharp and local, not over-the-top painful, but definitely there. I remember saying "ow, ow ow" as it went in. We waited about 5 minutes and everything local in my back went numb and I only felt some pressure with the actual spinal going in. At that point, I could still feel and move everything else.

Then the spinal took effect. Holy hell was it weird. By the time it took effect, I was lying on my back. I started to feel my toes tingle within about a minute. Then the rest of me started to tingle. Within about 5 minutes (or less) everything from my chest down was. completely. DEAD TO ME. Not just numb. But actually like a tree stump. I could not move anything to save my soul. I tried to move my toes, WILLED them to move. I tried to do a kegel exercise and couldn't. It was all completely dead. Heavy. There but not actually there.

The catheter was inserted, and would not be removed until well after surgery. I would have to regain feeling in my legs first, which I was told would take about 3 hours after surgery. 

My OB was already in the room, but despite knowing her so well, I didn't recognize her in her hair net and face mask. Her eyes were kind and she chatted. The room was FILLED. My OB and her partner (two OBs per policy on a twin delivery). The anesthesiologist. The pediatrician. One nurse for me, one nurse per OB, and one nurse per baby. It was cramped. And chilly. Everyone in the room chatted. About the weather. The music the anesthesiologist had picked. About the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. At one point, they made sure the banter was not too much for me. I told them I was enjoying it as it was distracting me.

Cue my hubby allowed to come in and cue also the tears. I was stressed and seeing him finally - in his scrubs and hair net - made me sob. He held my hand and talked me through it. They put up the screen. They reminded me I would feel lots of pressure but should feel nothing else.

And then they got started. I started to feel some nausea from the spinal so I got anti-nausea meds in my IV. That made me a little drowsy, but still mostly present.

Then ... HOLY SHIT DID I FEEL PRESSURE. Nothing hurt, but it absolutely felt like someone was giving my abdomen a deep tissue massage. And I could sense when they removed each baby because my abdomen was less cramped and things relaxed in there.

At one point, I said to my OB "I can sort of feel something" and her classic response: "I'm not surprised, I have my hand up to your sternum." EEK!

My hubby didn't want to see anything that was happening behind the screen and I don't blame him. He spent the whole procedure right by me, holding my hand, talking banally about me, reading from Paddington Bear. But my OB wanted him to see two things. She said "_____, look." He said "I don't want to" and she said "oh just look" and she held Baby A up over the screen. My perfect first daughter appeared, all wrinkly and bloody and wet and PERFECT. She was screaming. We were in love. Two minutes later, perfect Baby B appeared over the screen. This time, nobody had to coax my hubby (or me) to look up. She was also screaming, which was music to our ears.

Within a few minutes of being born, each baby was swaddled and given to us. Despite hearing horror stories of c-section women having their arms tied down, mine were free. I was not comfortable holding the babies due to the anti-nausea meds that were still making me kind of drowsy. So hubby held them and I put my hands on them and nuzzled my face up to theirs. I was sewn back up quickly and the 3 of us were wheeled back to my room and we started with breastfeeding immediately. Hubby - who is not normally one to take or think about taking photos - heeded my request to document the first moments. He took some photos with his free hand and then asked the anesthesiologist to snap our first family photo. It is one we have not shared with anyone and it is raw and intimate and amazing. The hair style I had worked on did not matter. My hair was under an operating cap. I did not care. I had my babies and they were perfect.

Back in my hospital room, we were breastfeeding before I could feel the rest of my body. I didn't regain the use of my legs for about 3 hours and wasn't feeling up to attempting to stand up for a few hours after that. The removing of the catheter didn't hurt, but just felt "weird" (that word again). My swelling went temporarily up after all the fluids I was given. I felt very bloated after surgery.

Having a baby (or babies) by c-section can be a terrifying experience, especially when one has hours to contemplate what is about to happen. And it is a HUGE experience. My internal organs were all removed from my body, only to be put back in. My uterus was fucked with in a way that compares only to carrying a twin pregnancy (because, ladies, that sure fucked with my uterus!). My abdomen was cut open and then sewed back up, internally and externally. My body has to "remember" how to urinate and poop, and it has to do that within a day (urinate) or three (poop) or else people get worried.

Addition: I was asked about the incision and recovery time. I will put it in one large paragraph. The incision is right at my pubic hair line. In fact, the nurse shaved a few inches below so it was hairfree for surgery. The incision currently is about 6 inches long but I am told that might shrink down a bit as my belly continues to shrink down. As far as recovery goes, it is important to remember that the process is different for everyone. For me, it has been very easy. I have learned through life that I have a remarkably high pain threshold and was off the Oxy within 48 hours of surgery and off the Ibuprofen within 72 hours of surgery. That is not the case for everyone and if you need more drugs for longer, do not beat yourself up or judge yourself. The pre-infertility me - you know, the one who didn't inject herself with a shit ton of drugs three times a day - rarely even took Advil for a headache. When I had ACL reconstruction, I was off pain meds in 4 days. And I never even took Tylenol or Advil after my D&C last year. It's just how I roll - my dad calls it "the Dutch way" (whatever that means!). So take this part of my blog post with a grain of salt. What I can speak to is that it was highly frustrating being restricted on what I could do for the first few weeks. I was allowed to hold both babies (about 11 pounds of baby at first) but wasn't allowed to do much else. That was hard and I think I probably pushed that envelope more than I should have. Which is partly why I go off pain meds so I can feel what my body is feeling and know the natural limitations it is trying to put in place. I am 4 weeks 2 days from surgery and feel great, other than the fact that my belly still looks about 4 months (with twins) pregnant. My stomach muscles are still spread apart from being pregnant and my uterus is not back to its normal size yet. There is bleeding as part of the recovery. The first few days, I passed very large clots. They didn't hurt - just slipped right out - but were rather astonishing and disconcerting to see in the toilet bowl. I am still bleeding randomly - some days not at all, other days I pass small clots. The amount of bleeding, I have learned, depends on the amount of movement and exercise I do: when I walk the dog quickly for a long walk, for example, I expect to see more bleeding. I have been told by nurses and doctors that is totally normal. I am allowed to take baths and have been for about 2 weeks (haven't had time to take one, though!) and am allowed to start jogging SLOWLY at about 6 weeks post surgery. The same goes for yoga and other exercise. I was warned that an increase in exercise will again increase any bleeding. So there you have it. A paragraph on recovery.

And, as a mother of c-section babies, I feel compelled to say this: having a baby (or babies) via c-section does NOT make me less of a mother or less of a bad ass. It is not something I am ashamed of or that I wish could be different. I heard a song lyric in high school that resonated with me - I love scars and the lyric fit my outlook on life perfectly: "scars are souvenirs you never lose."

I have a souvenir - my c-section scar. I love this souvenir. I have so many invisible scars from the infertility journey - my body and mind were damaged and changed, irreparably in some ways. But those bruises and bumps, scars and souvenirs are invisible to the rest of the world. They sit only with me and, like any bruise or scar, will heal and fade over time. This newest souvenir will also heal, but it will be with me forever and will forever memorialize the conclusion of my journey, the birth of my beloved daughters. It is a natural tattoo, a reminder of what we went through, what we achieved, and how happy we are.


  1. great post! thanks for the honest description! my mom never had a c section so it is nice to hear someone who can share that perspective! I figure there is more than a 50% chance I will have one with the twins, but I just dont really care either way. How is the recovery process going? does the wound hurt? that is one thing that I do worry about! Thanks again!

  2. Will update the post with that info, but in a nutshell, incision is right down at my public hair line and is about 6 inches long. Recovery FOR ME (different for everyone) was super easy. I didn't labor at all, which I have heard makes a difference. And I have a very high pain threshold so I was off all pain meds within 48 hours (for Oxy and 72 hours for Ibuprofen). But others who have had the surgery have said the recovery is tough but not unmanageable.

  3. I loved this post. While I didn't have your straight forward recovery, my c section was a beautiful memory. Im so excited for you and you've inspired me with your natural tattoo comment :)

  4. Your c-section sounds very similar to my experience only a week after you. I was also surprised at how quickly I was off pain meds!