“So, have you thought about a birth plan?” My obstetrician would ask me this at every appointment with both my babies and I would always answer with the same cheery response. “No plan! Just a healthy baby.” Was this really all I wished for? Kind of…
After a difficult road to falling pregnant, I was lucky enough to have two fairly straightforward and stress-free pregnancies. The idea of a caesarean never crossed my mind and I was consequently taken by complete surprise when, after an 18-hour labour with my daughter, the word was even brought up. I vividly remember looking at my husband with a mixture of confusion, disappointment and fear, because truth be told, we had never even considered, let alone researched, what a caesarean actually entailed. We had the same fate with my son’s delivery, but this time around after a 10-hour labour I was almost relieved when my obstetrician broke the news to me. Here’s what two emergency caesareans have taught me about all things birth.
No Plan is a Good Plan, But Being Prepared For Anything Is Better
As much as I always said I didn’t have a birth plan, the truth of the matter is I did equate a natural delivery with a “healthy” one in my mind. My first pregnancy went so smoothly that I didn’t ever consider the possibility of needing a caesarean, so the first thing I now tell all my expecting friends is to read up on all forms of birth, not just the one you hope for. I skipped entire chapters on caesareans when reading (hundreds of) books, and I completely blanked out when the midwives were going through the caesarean part during pre-natal classes at our hospital. I just didn’t think any of the information would apply to me because it wasn’t how things were meant to go in my head. Silly? You bet. I now know that no matter how much you research or what type of birthing classes you take, emergency caesareans can happen to anyone and it’s much better to be equipped with information than to go into a surgery room completely dumbfounded, like I was the first time around. No plan is a good plan, but being prepared for any possible outcome is much better.
Failure To Progress Doesn’t Mean You’re a Failure
Failure to progress, or FTP, is a (terrible) medical term used to describe a prolonged labour with slow dilation. What it doesn’t mean is that your body has failed you, which is what I started to think as I was wheeled into surgery before my daughter was born. The truth is, your body is amazing no matter how you give birth, and my disappointment quickly turned to elation when they handed me my perfect baby girl on the operating table. Make no mistake, c-sections are most certainly not the ‘easy’ option and dealing with the surgery and recovery process is no small feat. It’s taken two emergency caesareans for me to truly appreciate what women go through when they either elect or end up needing to give birth via surgery. It might not be the desired outcome but I can assure you it’s equally as miraculous and amazing as any other type of birth.
Natural Caesareans are a Thing, And They Are Awesome
I was pretty hellbent on having a natural birth with my second pregnancy as I was frightened the caesarean recovery process would be much harder with a newborn and a toddler to deal with. The recommended downtime after surgery is six weeks, with everything from lifting heavy items to driving not on the cards until your wound has had time to heal, so throwing a two and a half year old toddler in the mix actually frightened me senseless. My obstetrician was aware of my hopes for a vaginal birth after my first caesarean (aptly titled a VBAC, vaginal-birth-after-caeserean), that when we did end up in the operating theatre again with my son’s delivery, he made the process as natural as possible. A natural caesarean is when, once the baby’s head is out, the doctor does little to actually pull the baby out, instead letting the baby find its own way, mimicking a natural birth. If I didn’t have amazing video footage of this happening to me I probably wouldn’t believe it, but I do. I’m not sure if it was because of this, but the recovery process after my son was born was significantly easier than with my daughter. In fact, I was back on my feet and feeling relatively normal two days post surgery. There’s no denying that a caesarean is a major operation, but I truly believe that with a positive mindset and likeminded medical team, the entire process should feel more like a birth than a surgical procedure.
The Practical Stuff No One Tells You
While there’s an abundance of information on all types of births, including caesareans, online and in books, there are some things I only learnt from first hand experience. If you’re about to give birth or have a planned c-section coming up, here are the bits no one really tells you (but you really should know)…
- Hipster underwear, pants or pyjamas are not your friends post-surgery, so be prepared to welcome all things high-waisted for maximum comfort. I really recommend buying a few oversized night shirts with buttons over two-piece pyjama sets as they allow minimal friction over your wound area and give easy access for breastfeeding.
- Your scar will look minimal post-surgery, but it doesn’t always stay this way. About six months after giving birth you may notice your scar become a little raised and more red in colour. Don’t worry, it’s still discreet enough to go unnoticed underneath underwear and swimwear, but the nature of c-section scars means they can change in feeling and looks over time. I use everything from coconut oil and Bio Oil to sorbolene cream over the area to help with scarring and general comfort.
- The wound-area numbness can last a really, really long time. I don’t think I got all the sensation back until almost a year after my first c-section and for a few months after my second. This is usually just routine nerve damage after surgery and recovery time can span weeks, months or even years.
- Get all the pain relief you can after surgery. I’m not going to lie, after my first c-section I felt like I had been hit by a bus, and the level of pain and general discomfort really took me by surprise. Little things like bending over, getting dressed and going to the toilet were seriously eye-watering and I just don’t think I would have coped had it not been for all the pain relief on offer. You want this to be a happy time with your new baby, so don’t let the pain get the better of you if it doesn’t need to.
- You can still breastfeed after surgery, and you can still give your baby skin-to-skin contact after they’re born. Amazingly enough, caesareans don’t impact your ability to hold, feed or be close to your baby, so don’t feel in any way disadvantaged because your birth may not have gone to plan. Caesareans are just another way to safely bring a baby into the world, and although it might not have been your desired birth plan, it doesn’t make it any less remarkable.
Words: Marisa Remond