Like a lot of first time moms, I anxiously awaited labor. One day I’d envision a beautiful labor, with photos reflecting the calmness on my face and the joy of my son being put on my chest immediately after birth; the next day I pictured chaos and panic as the doctors urged me to push to save my son. It was torment, going back and forth, and though I knew the statistics for c-sections were high (approximately 30% here in the U.S.), I never really thought I would be one of the statistics.
In my case, we got within minutes of a caesarean at least three times. My doctors were adamant they didn’t want to do one unless it was absolutely necessary. After a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia, four days of labor, and four hours of pushing, they finally decided it was a fundamental necessity and off we went.
Because I’d never really thought about having a c-section, we weren’t really prepared. Here are some tips to prepare you for a planned or unplanned caesarean, though I think a lot of the tips would be helpful for a vaginal delivery, too.
1. Walk as soon as you can, but don’t stress out about it. Yes, it hurts at first, but it’s liberating to walk after having been in bed for so long. The nurses are trained to support you fully so try to trust them and yourself. Walking helps recovery – it helps your digestive system start back up, helps prevent blood clots, and encourages circulation to decrease swelling. Walking does a recovering body good!
2. Insist on baby being brought to you as soon as possible. This is a great role for dad, who can follow baby and then bring baby to you. It gives them some bonding time and pressure to get baby to bond with mom as soon as possible. Some hospitals seem more accomodating of this than others, and of course the individual needs of both baby and mom impact it. It will do wonders for your psyche to hold baby as soon as possible.
3. Let the nurses nurse you. The recovery nurses are beyond wonderful – they know great tips, will take care of you in ways you never thought you’d need to be taken care of, and let you recover. Their job is to take care of you to help allow you to take care of baby. And baby will want a lot of your attention!
4. Arrange your space purposefully. The biggest impact my c-section had on me was my weakened leg muscles. I couldn’t fully support my own body weight for almost two weeks. I couldn’t get into bed, couldn’t step over the tub to get into the shower. We ended up putting the recliner we bought for the nursery in our bedroom and I slept there for weeks. The first night home I slept in an office chair. I wish we’d had the insight to get everything ready and hadn’t assumed I’d easily be able to hop into our giant bed post delivery of any kind.
5. Allow family to help, but give them specific tasks. When my mother and grandmother came over and wanted to hover, I asked them to clean the bathroom. My mother in law stayed with us and cooked meals. Whenever someone offers to help, give them something concrete they can do for both your sake as well as theirs.
6. Listen to your body (and doctor). Even if you feel great, be careful not to overdo things. It’s so easy to keep going when you feel good but you can easily overdo things and push yourself too far without even knowing it. Listen closely to cues that you’re overexhausting yourself – the begining of aches, soreness, stiffness. My doctor told me that at six weeks post surgery a woman is about 60% healed, and at eight months she’s about eighty percent. It’s not until the baby’s one year birthday that healing is considered 100%, so take it easy.
7. Accept that recovery is a gradual process. The first post-caesarean trip to the store I could hardly make one lap, and I remember thinking that it felt like I would NEVER be able to walk to the mailbox again, and a mile around the block seemed like a distant dream. I got there, though, and you will to – just give yourself time and a break. Caesareans are major abdominal surgery and your body needs to recovery from surgery on top of pregnancy. It’ll happen in due time.
8. If you get down about not feeling well, wait for that three week mark. Three weeks and I felt amazingly well. Up until then, of course, everything was slow but once I hit three weeks I realized how much better I felt than those first few days. I couldn’t believe it.
9. Find ways to accomodate yourself. For me, it was babywearing – that meant I could get my son and I safely down the stairs while holding on to the rail with both hands. For you, it might be having a cleaning service thoroughly clean your bathroom before you return home. Whatever it is, embrace it.
In the end, despite the difficulties of recovery, you and your body have accomplished so much. Let your body heal and enjoy life with baby – take care of yourself to enable yourself to take care of baby in the long run.