“Looking back, I’m not surprised that I needed a C-section,” says Jennifer, who gave birth to her first son, Max, by emergency caesarean 6 weeks ago. “My mom needed one with all three of her kids due to the shape of her pelvis, and our body shapes are very similar.”
Jennifer is an avid runner–a pacer for her running group–and is a Registered Dietitian who works in Acute Clinical Care. Throughout her pregnancy, she kept working, ate well, and worked out almost daily–and although the thought that she may need a C-section loomed, she still hoped for a natural delivery.
“When I was 35 weeks pregnant, an ultrasound confirmed that Max was breech. I remember tearing up in my OB’s office when she told me that we would schedule a C-section if he didn’t flip in time,” she says. “Fortunately, I had a successful reversion procedure at the end of my 36th week that left me hopeful that I would have a vaginal delivery.”
But when she was induced four weeks later, things didn’t move quickly enough. “I was in labor for more than 28 hours, wasn’t dilating past 8 cm, and my baby’s heart rate dropped every time they tried to increase my dose of Pitocin (a drug frequently used to initiate uterine contractions). I did a few ‘practice’ pushes to see if that could get things moving, but there was no progress. Just like my mother, it was very unlikely that Max’s head was going to get through my pelvis. It didn’t take long to weigh the options.”
Needing a C-section does not mean your body failed you
Nearly a third of cesareans are performed because of ‘failure to progress‘, which is classed as a prolonged labor lasting over 20 hours for first-time mothers, and 14 hours for women who have given birth before. It happens for a myriad of reasons: the birthing canal isn’t large enough, the baby is too big, or like in Jennifer’s case, the pelvis is too small.
When labor fails to progress, the cervix doesn’t open properly, and the baby isn’t able to move into the birthing canal. Yet it’s this very language we use–failure–that instills in women that their prescribed C-section is a result of something they did wrong. And this is absolutely not the case.
“I felt guilty for my baby as I wanted her to have a drug free birth,” says Anya, who gave birth to her daughter by emergency cesarean in January. “It took a while to process all my emotions about birth, together with dealing with the anxieties of being a new mum.”
Although it wasn’t the birth she expected, Jennifer was glad that both she and Max were healthy. “To others who need a C-section, please know that this is not the ‘easy’ way out. Your body did not fail you, and you are no less of a mother compared to others who have delivered vaginally.”
Every mom, every baby, and every labor & delivery is different
Lydia’s childbirth experience went just as she planned–but her elective C-section was a decision that was made as a result of an unexpected pregnancy.
“I’m 42. I wasn’t mentally prepared to have a surprise first pregnancy at this age,” she says. “I chose to have a planned C-section. Every mom is different, and that’s OK.”
After losing her mother to ovarian cancer, Lydia knew that when it was time, she’d need to take her health into her own hands. She decided to have her fallopian tubes removed during her C-section to protect her from the disease that took her mom.
“It was an emotional journey,” she says. “I was so nervous, especially with my hormones. Mentally, I often questioned myself with all of the unknown.”
But everything went to plan. Baby Zachary was born healthy and strong, and Lydia is glad that she prioritized both her physical and mental health when making the decision to have a C-section.
“I’m grateful for the support and unconditional love from my husband who gave me countless strength, comfort and encouragement throughout this pregnancy, the C-section procedure, and the postpartum period.”
The road to recovery following a Caesarean birth
Lydia–also an avid runner–is back on her local trails, but she’s taking it easy. “Recovery has taken longer than I expected,” she says. ” My weight is taking a long time to go down, and it is affecting my mobility in running and walking up and down the stairs. My feet feel heavy and sore with just my body weight.”
Jennifer struggled most during her time recovering in the hospital. “I was bleeding a lot, which is to be expected after having a baby, and I needed a catheter in for my entire stay since I couldn’t urinate without one.”
For new mom Ronke, the most painful part of recovery was 12 hours after surgery when a nurse asked her to walk. “That pain was unbearable,” she says, “but I am well now.”
First-time mama Erin had a similar experience. “That first night when the nurse tried to get me out of bed was a nightmare,” she says. “But, I knew the more I moved, the easier it would get. Now I’m four and a half weeks postpartum and feeling like I’m 90% back to my normal self.”
“This is not the easy way out”
Women who undergo emergency C-sections are forced to deal with the reality of a postpartum recovery that is often more difficult than the one they’d expected. Without getting too graphic, let’s acknowledge just how much your body goes through during the procedure: the doctor makes an incision through your skin and abdominal wall, your bladder and intestines are moved aside, and an incision is made in the uterus to allow baby to come out into the world.
Your abdominal muscles themselves aren’t cut–it’s the fascia that connects them which is severed so that the doctor can pull the abdominal wall apart. The resulting nerve damage and blood loss is traumatic to your body. Don’t expect to snap back into shape like a rubber band–nobody does, and it’s not fair to expect that of yourself.
“It felt like learning to walk again,” says Anya of her recovery. You use your core muscles for everything–walking, sitting, and standing included–and it will take time to feel like you can function normally again.
“I may not feel like myself, but I reward myself everyday for just being able to wake up, shower, and exercise slowly,” says Lydia. “My goal is to run a marathon one day.”
Recovery takes time–give yourself permission to take it slow, and enjoy your time building a body stronger than the one you had before. One that has grown a baby, brought it safely into the world, and cares for it every single day.
The end result of childbirth: “You will sob happy tears”
Regardless of how or where or when we give birth, we all feel the same overwhelming joy when we know that our baby is here, and they are okay.
“You will sob happy tears when you hear your baby cry on the other end of the drape.”
Patiently move through the time it takes to recover, and cherish the memory of the first time you held your baby in your arms. “Although I had to wait longer to meet my baby, it hasn’t impacted my ability to bond with Max. There are so many C-section mamas out there to talk to, and so many resources for help if you need it,” says Jennifer.
If you want to connect with other moms who have gone through emergency or elective C-sections, please join our private Facebook Group — The Baby2Body Squad — for a safe space to get support, insights from other mamas, and additional resources.