Before I became a mother, I knew very little about pregnancy and the extent of my birth plan was to have a water birth, with no pain relief. In reality, my firstborn arrived thanks to a relatively calm ’emergency’ c-section, following induction and a whole load of pain relief medication. I remember visitors later remarking that I was handling the pain really well, and this I took to be a compliment. Pain after a c-section was supposed to be intense, right? I mean, they sliced open my belly and rummaged amongst my organs a little bit. That’s going to hurt, isn’t it? And yes, it did. But I was handling it well, so all was good. Until the next time.
The pain you get after a c-section is unique to you. Your pain threshold, your body, the way you heal- it all plays a part. Whether you keep up with your pain relief meds, whether you rest enough when you get home, and whether you take the time to be kind to yourself- they are also important factors. How many c-sections you’ve had, how fit and well you were before you gave birth, how well you were during pregnancy- more variable factors to consider. So when people ask me what the recovery is going to be like, there is just no way I can tell them. I am me. You are you. And that’s the best way to be.
My first c-section was no walk in the park, although I often think back to it fondly. I was 42 weeks pregnant and had been in the hospital since the previous morning. I’d had the gel to start me off, but the midwives believed I wasn’t going to progress very fast, They wanted to leave me overnight as they were short staffed and had nobody to take me down to delivery. Then my waters broke, and they had no choice but to find somebody! And despite hours of pushing, things were not meant to be. Baby was distressed, I was exhausted. Baby was back to back. Baby needed to come out. So out she came. And afterwards? I was a mess.
My belly felt like it was on fire. I was given enough pain relief to see me through to visiting hours (she was born at 2am) but then I was forced to wait for more at four hour intervals. I was sent home with plenty to take, and found that once I was home, and healing well, I didn’t need to take the rest.
My second c-section was so so different. I’ve written about it numerous times, and suffice to say it hurt. A lot. In so many more ways than one.
I laboured for hours, alone, and with no pain relief. So when I was finally taken down to delivery, I demanded an epidural straight away. This was administered, but for some reason only worked on one side. So each contraction that ripped through my body continued to cripple me with pain. One on top of another on top of another on top on another. And by the time they lost the heartbeat and flew me down to theatre, I’d been in labour for around 15 hours.
It was two days before I could bring myself to look in the mirror. The first shower I took, in the hospital, I did with the dressing still covering my tender belly. I let the midwife take it away, but I couldn’t look. I couldn’t bear to even tentatively touch my burning skin. I wanted nothing to do with it.
The pain was intense. Burning, white hot and searing in waves. Not just around my scar, but from my neck down to my knees. The breathing tube had ripped the skin inside my wind pipe and it hurt to move my head side to side. My chest felt crushed, like someone had knelt on me with all their weight. And who knows. Maybe they did.
When I dared to look, it really wasn’t pretty.
Bruises. From neck to knees, as I had suspected. Angry, yellow and purple marks scattered all over my skin like raindrops. A furious, lopsided incision across my lower belly. Bruises down my thighs. I looked like I’d been in a car crash. I felt like it too. And all of that with no pain relief.
I’d been discharged with a simple ‘no’ when I asked if I would be taking pain relief with me. I was breastfeeding, so nothing allowed. Instead, I was left to crawl up the stairs in agony just two days after my son was born. The next day an infection set in to my scar and the pain was even worse. Dull, itchy and stinging.
My third and fourth c-sections were both planned, but no less painful. In fact, I would say that each one was progressively more painful that the last. I put it down to repeated stress on my body, Repeat surgery. Pain on top of pain. Recovery from my fourth section was also hampered by a sore back, which I injured two days before Elsie was born. Coupled with pain from the spinal and general pregnancy aches, I was far from handling it well ten years on from my first.
A c-section is major surgery. It hurts, of course it does. The cannula in your hand hurts. The area where they cut through layers of skin and nerve endings hurt. Your back hurts, where they injected your spine with pain relief medication. It hurts when you laugh, when you cough, when you sneeze. It hurts when you sit up, sit down, walk. It hurts when you shower, when you dress and when you wear clothes that hang too low. It hurts.
And afterwards, it’s numb. Your belly might itch, but you can’t scratch it. That’s going to drive you mad if you let it.
But at the end of the day, your c-section is yours. Your recovery, your experience- it all belongs to you. Don’t compare. Don’t rush yourself. Take each day slowly, and allow yourself time to heal. You will get there, when you’re ready.