10 Things I Wish I Had Known About C-Sections Before Having One


When friends heard I needed to schedule a cesarean section, I didn’t get a lot of advice — just a few unsolicited comments:

At least you can do your hair and makeup beforehand and still look great in all of your photos!”

Um. I’m pretty low-maintenance. When did giving birth become America’s Next Top Model?

“Your baby’s head will be the perfect shape!”

Seriously? I’m about to undergo major abdominal surgery and my consolation prize is a baby with a round head?

And perhaps the best one?

“At least you’ll be okay down there.”

That one I actually believed.

At 37 weeks, the Peanut was still breech, and despite my best efforts (believe me, I did nearly everything possible to orchestrate a flip), he stayed put, so I scheduled a c-section for 39 weeks. Of course I previously planned an all-natural birth.

It’s not like I really had a ‘plan’ though. Countless women around the world did this before me, with absolutely no medication. I mean, c’mon, I knew how to breathe. How hard could it be to push a baby out? So I took absolutely zero childbirth classes, with the exception of infant CPR. (Safety first!)

In retrospect, I was an idiot. I may not have needed any of those classes, but I probably shouldn’t have skipped over the entire chapter on c-sections in the book I read. It wasn’t until I got stuck with my first IV needle that it really hit me.

I didn’t know the first thing about c-sections.

I’m not sure if knowing anything prior to surgery would have helped me, but maybe it’ll help you. Here are ten things I wish I had known beforehand:

  1. Nobody else is allowed in the OR with you while they prep you for surgery. So, while you’re getting a needle in your spine, you need to hold onto a nurse you just met and a pillow — not your partner. The Sailor and I had an agreement that I would give birth without him in the room (that is a story for another time). Having major abdominal surgery however, was a different story, but he couldn’t be with me until I was comfortably numb.
  2. You need a catheter. I don’t know why I didn’t realize this. Of course you need a catheter for surgery when you’re numb from the chest down.
  3. You may still experience labor. The hospital gave me Pitocin after surgery to shrink my uterus.
  4. You baby may be more sluggish or even heavier than expected. The Peanut came out fairly hefty and rapidly lost weight. The nurses freaked me out that he wasn’t getting enough to eat. Your baby could also have difficulty latching on if you’re breastfeeding. My midwife later told me that babies may be heavier if you’ve been pumped full of IV fluids. Which leads me to my next point:
  5. If your c-section is scheduled, you need to be at the hospital hours before your actual surgery for those IV fluids. I happily agreed to a 7:30am surgery, only to discover I needed to be at the hospital by 5:30am.
  6. It is MAJOR abdominal surgery. They cut through skin and pull muscles apart and they literally pull organs out of your body. The Peanut stayed breech because I have a bicornuate uterus, a fact confirmed during surgery. The whole c-section is hazy, but I do remember the doctor asking me if I wanted to see my heart-shaped uterus. NO THANK YOU. Please put it back where it belongs.
  7. You can’t drive for several weeks. The Sailor returned home in time for the Peanut’s arrival, but I planned to drive myself to and from the hospital, if necessary. In the end, I couldn’t drive for six weeks.
  8. You may not be okay ‘down there.’ I can’t tell you how many women told me how lucky I was not to have to push a baby out, because at least everything would be okay with my lady bits. Your pelvic region will not be in its original mint condition, simply because the baby didn’t arrive via the birth canal. They have pulled things out of you (see #6) and stitched you back together, and there might be strange twinges, numbness, pain and some weird side effects for a long time. In fact, studies are showing that more women have painful intercourse post-surgery than women with vaginal births.
  9. Speaking of side effects: you get the shakes, the chills and you bleed, to name a few. You still have to wear pads and mesh panties.
  10. Finally, and most importantly, you are no less of a mother if you have a c-section, no matter what the circumstance. I struggled because I didn’t get the birth I envisioned. I was annoyed that I had so many drugs in my system — I felt like my baby got off to a rough start. Mainly, I was annoyed that I didn’t have that moment in labor I hear about so often — that final push where women see their inner strength. I felt cheated out of an experience that supposedly helps women feel like they can accomplish anything, including motherhood.

Instead, I had a moment where I wanted to throw up, and then a four-day fog in the hospital where I felt doomed as a mother because I hadn’t done a thing to give birth, except show up for surgery. The first night at home I bawled my eyes out. The articles I read didn’t help. Mom-shaming comments made me feel like I should have defied the doctors and tried a breech natural birth. I questioned my decision for months. I wondered if I was truly cut out to be a mom. My body hadn’t even let me give birth ‘naturally.’

That, dear mothers, is a lie and I fell for it.

Here is the truth: no matter how that baby arrived into your world, whether naturally, with drugs, whether with an emergency c-section or planned, fostering or adoption, you are a mother. Period. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

(But maybe read up on c-sections before you actually have one.)

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Brenda Steffen
I spent my twenties and a good chunk of my thirties living and working in various countries. I met and married a South African sailor and I was quite content to keep traveling without kids. We landed in Chattanooga in 2013 and our son arrived over the summer of 2014. We haven’t really slept since. Sometimes jet-lag gets the blame. Or Daylight Savings, or even a good book. Usually though, it’s the Peanut. You can often find me charged up on caffeine, chasing after my son at Coolidge Park, the zoo or the library. You can also find me online on my blog.