What Surprised You Most About Cesarean: Women Share Their Stories

cesarean graphic.jpgLast week, I went out to my various networks on Facebook and posted this question: "For those who have had cesarean births, what surprised you or "shook" you the most?" The volume, depth, and breadth of responses from women in all walks of life surprised me. Those who responded agreed to share their stories publicly, and in doing so, it is my hope that you will gain clearer insight, empathy, and education on what it means (and what it doesn't) -- physically, emotionally, short-term and long -- to have a c-section. The responses have been grouped into six categories: The Process, Separation, Care from Staff and Doctor, Recovery, The Aftermath - Processing, Emotions, Mental Health, and Subsequent Births. You'll find that this is a much longer post than usual for our blog, but this is a topic too important -- and voices too worthy -- to cut short. 

The Process

How horrible my 1st one was because I was unprepared as it was an emergency. They put me under and I woke up alone and confused. – Sarah


The fear when being told I had to have one. I just started shaking uncontrollably. I was terrified! – Nicole


I had a really hard time wrapping my mind around "awake surgery." I mean, they are cutting you open and you are wide awake. It still gives me the chills thinking about it and I've had 2 c-sections. – Lindsey


Having now had two preemies, one with a "natural" birth and eight weeks ago, the other by C-section, I would say the actual operation was a positive experience for me. I was not expecting to get to keep the baby right away, since I knew from my last preemie that they take them away for monitoring. – Rachel


The procedure itself was quick and I didn't feel a thing. – Joanne


I was surprised by how many people were in the operating room! It quickly became a very public experience and you are completely exposed... It's a blur now but I remember vividly how strange it felt to be arms spread and strapped down. The surgery went by fast and the nurse anesthetist was amazing! – Leslie


The entire time I was pregnant, I was almost ridiculous in my stance that I would only have a med-free delivery out of my vagina. I would not be coerced into inducing or drugs. But then I was in critical condition and offered to be induced. I said no, and delivered 45 minutes later [by c-section]. My birth was peaceful. Sterile yes, but peaceful because I never went into labor. I did not have the trauma … of pain and stress and then perceived failure. About as chill as you can get. – Rachel


For me it was a feeling of loneliness. In the OR before the procedure started my husband wasn't with me, and then when the twins were taken to recovery and my husband went with them I was alone again. So many emotions and no one there to support you. I had wonderful nurses but that's not the same when you are feeling a rush of emotions and being separated from the babies. That was all through an urgent c-section after 15 hours of labor. My second c-section was also urgent but I wasn't in labor. I was alone in the OR even longer that time since I received the spinal block before he was allowed in. I was much more aware of my surrounding that time and the cold/sterile OR was a scary place for me. Far from the cozy L&D room with your iPod and comfy pillow. – Jennifer


The fact they wanted to put my catheter in before I was numb. – Nicole


I have had both a regular birth and then a c-section due to my daughter being breech, however it became an emergency c-section as my water broke in the middle of the night a day before pre-op. I was surprised how fast and sterile the process was and was shook that I didn't get to have that immediate bond with my child right after she was born like I did my first. It was altogether a different experience – not bad nor great, just different. – Ashley


Before the doctor came in to do the surgery I started feeling nauseous, my blood pressure dropped numerous times and I threw up a lot. I was completely not prepared for that. – Rebecca


The grogginess and drop of blood pressure during procedure. – Anna


I've had two and I was surprised by the speed, the stark differences between an epidural and a spinal (had one of each), and how much I could actually feel as they took the babies. (No pain – just more sensation than I expected!) – Stacey


The epidural not working, so I felt it on one half of my body. – Walker


How my doctor preferred to cut and tried forcing me into it at 3 am and [inserted] the catheter before being numb. Doctor starting to cut me open before my husband was in with me. – Sara


I had an emergency c-section with [my third]. I was amazed at how quick the whole process took place after I pushed for 4 hours previous and nothing happened – Katnetra


No one tells you what it's like. The feeling of your baby being pulled out of you is pretty jarring. It took my breath away. I wish I had gotten more information prior to it. No one explains the procedure to you unless you specifically ask. And in my case, I only had one day to adjust to the idea that a) no natural birth and we are cutting you open WHILE YOU'RE AWAKE and b) it was a boy not a girl. So the whole experience was a little unsettling and scary. – Katherine


How quick they were to do it, how little they listened when I said no. – Haileigh


They tied my arms. – Chelsea


The spinal was done about 6 times and would not take. The c-section part was very quick and I was very alert, but after it was over my blood pressure dropped twice and I was given medication to jump start my heart. Once that was stable I felt pretty good, until it was time to get up. – Karen



I felt very lonely after they took my son away and sent me to the recovery room alone. That said, it's different now. They brought my 2nd son over to me right away and that time in recovery that was just the two of us was actually really nice! – Lindsey [Editor’s note: many hospitals still routinely separate moms and babies after a cesarean – check with your doctor and hospital to find out about their policy.]


The fact they cut out my baby and took her away for hours was horrifying! I was all alone recovering... and my daughter was left all and lone in the nursery. My mind racing wondering if she was scared entering this world and being laid alone for hours. – Ryan


The one hour recovery period spent separated from my newborn and the fact that I didn't get to do skin to skin. Then when I finally got to hold my baby, I was overly medicated, groggy and scared to hold him. – Aimee


Before the surgery the nurses told me they would bring my daughter into recovery to nurse within 30 minutes and they didn’t. I was terrified something was wrong the entire time. The sequence of events led to me being in utter shock, add on top of that I had no idea that they would give me pain medicine so strong I could barely hold and nurse my baby. I was so miserable you wouldn't know my first baby had just been born. – Rebecca


I didn't get to hold my baby for two hours. My c-section was planned (breech) and I was still devastated I didn't have my baby with me in recovery. – Chelsea


Being devastated when they took my son away after surgery. We were separated for 1.5 hours and it was terribly heartbreaking for me. – Natalie

Care from Staff and Doctor

I had an unplanned, non-emergent c-section with my first based on the doctor's/hospital's preference. What surprised me was how I felt more like an object than a person. The only medical person that I felt cared about my emotional state was the anesthesiologist. Nobody was really telling me information and talking to me about what was going on. I felt like they put the oxygen mask on me to keep me from talking (which probably wasn't the case, but it felt that way). I felt like it was so routine and mechanical for the nurses and doctors, that they forgot there was a scared first time mom laying there not knowing what to expect. – Kristan


The lack of discussion with doc in prep (whole pregnancy prepared for natural and then bam! nope you are having c-section) – it was like a paragraph in the "book." – Anna


With my first born I had an emergency c-section. What surprised me, aside from having to have the c-section, was the cavalier attitude of the delivering doctor and the lack of information I had and was provided with. The baby's heart rate had dropped and I was told "if this happens again, we will have to take the baby." Neither my husband nor I knew what this meant. We were frightened into a possibly unnecessary procedure due to the fear-mongering verbiage. I learned you must do your homework and educate yourself. – Leslie


My anesthesiologist was a warm gentle man who was very kind and stroked my back and then my mom was almost immediately there. I believe you will find the support you need in the OR. – Rachel


When the intern put my spinal block in she "missed" and it sent a shock through the whole left side of my body. I was in tears because I thought she was going to paralyze me. The only person there to comfort me was a nurse that I hugged and cried on as they finished the block. It was terrifying! – Jennifer


Being told I was being combative and hostile when I refused to sign the consent for surgery for a repeat section with the birth of my second child. They wanted a section based on the fact that the "doctor doesn't do VBAC" – not on any emergent medical need. I was threatened with handcuffs, CPS involvement and police escort for my husband if I didn't sign the consent. – Melissa

I'm probably a bit of an outlier. I had an elective c-section. I had a complete nervous breakdown that was building for 9 months (and a lot of years before that) that finally came to a head a week before I was due. I was absolutely terrified of a vaginal birth. Still am. For me a c-section was the lesser of the evils. Nobody could tell me if I'd be in labor for 5 hours or 25, if I'd need an emergency c-section at the end of it or not, if the drugs would kick in in time or not, if there would be complications with the baby getting stuck, etc. I started asking my doctors about the possibility of an elective c-section at about 7 months, but they kept dismissing my concerns as "everyone has some anxiety going into this". Finally at my last appointment, I completely lost it in the doctor's office, and she finally listened to me, recognized my distress, and agreed to do a c-section. Of course I wanted to be completely knocked out unconscious - and she wouldn't agree to that because of the risks to the baby. So we struck a deal that she would do the c-section but I had to be conscious, and she referred me to a counselor to talk about how to get through it while conscious. In the end, my husband made me a play list and put it on the iPod and I had headphones on the whole time so that I didn't hear the doctors talking and could tune them out to a certain extent. I kind of wish I'd been able to talk my doctors into it earlier on. Might have saved some of that anxiety in the final weeks. It's interesting - there is so much focus on postpartum depression, but not so much on pre-delivery anxiety. I was fine once the baby got here – it was the anxiety of the actual birth that got the better of me. – Joanne


Baby 1: The female surgeon walking in yawning and then telling me she watched her own cesarean and that I should get over it. – Walker


My birth team was amazing and supportive when it came down to it. My husband, doula, photographer, midwife...all agreed and told me it was "ok"... that I had done everything possible. So I don't have the regret that many cesarean moms do, I think. I'm grateful. – Rebekah


The quickness that everything happens once they say the words "emergency c-section," but the causal chatting that goes on while they prep you in the OR.  – Bridgette


How nonchalant the doctors were about everything. Meanwhile I was have a meltdown. – Mindy



I had a c-section with my twins and what I was totally unprepared for was the recovery. I wish someone would have taken the time to explain the aftermath of what happens to our bodies. For instance, even with a c-section there is still vaginal bleeding, swelling etc. I knew I would have an incision but I was unprepared for the recovery. I didn't realize what a big surgery it was either. Honestly I don't know what I thought! – Calla


I now know that the excruciating pain I felt immediately and for days after my third, performed at [local hospital], was due to the anesthesia not being done correctly. I was not fully numbed and therefore recovery an hour later was very tough and sent me into ICU. – Beth


Recovery time and pain, especially after second c-section. – Anna


I also had healing issues and was shocked how many times I was made to change beds after the procedure. – Nicole



I do not do well with pain meds and only took a little – well that was not a good thing. I could not believe how much pain I was in when I tried to get up. I finally took some stronger medications and I could get around a lot better. I felt like recovery was so much longer then my first two vaginal births. – Karen


Well I have to say the most shocking thing was when I saw myself for the first time getting out of the shower. Yikes. No one ever prepares you for that sight. – Megan


Had emergency c section after 5 days of labour – yes, 5 days!! I was informed beforehand about the procedure but nothing prepared for the aftermath. I lost a lot of blood when they tried to take my placenta out and it took me 48 hours to recover from that. I was in hospital for further 3 days and was left to look after my newborn on my own with excruciating pain, fever and it was scary at first. Shocked to experience how long it took to recover. – Takako


Healing was a nonissue, but getting in and out of bed sucked. – Chelsea


Specifically what bothered me the most was being hooked up to all the tubes and wires after the delivery for 24 hours. I was alone all night and kept my baby with me. It was hard nursing with the pain and uncomfortable position I was in and the nurses weren't any help.  – Roxanne


After three epidural deliveries, my fourth was emergency c. No one told me how painful it was going to be! Everyone always says how easy a c is! Ha! I beg to differ. And recovery took forever... that being said, from the moment they said "surgery" to the safe birth of my awesome baby boy had to have been less than 10 mins. Worth every pain! – Sarah


How much walking hurts but also helps. Most surprised… how holding a pillow on your stomach while sneezing, laughing, or coughing helps with the pain. – Bridgette

One of the things that most surprised me with the first (T-cut) was the inability to get in and out of bed normally. Laying down was a process – squeeze a pillow against my body to hold everything in, sit on the bed, flop to my side, reach my arm up to hold onto the post, use my other arm to help lift my legs, then finally roll over. Forget coughing, sneezing or laughing! As a side note, I was extremely fit before, during and after pregnancy so the lack of core muscles threw me – you don't realize how much the core is used for simple tasks until you can't use them. The first time I went back to karate and had to do 50 sit ups I thought I would die!! The 2nd one (smiley face [cut] only) was a breeze. Four days later and I had a giddy up in my step. – Heidi


I had two c sections and recovery was easy for both except 1) laughing hurt! I tried to watch Seinfeld in the hospital and almost died 2) the first time I had a horrible reaction to the stitches and a terrible scar the second time they used staples and it was much, much better. – Dana


How much I used my abs... I couldn't do so many things – Breanne


What surprised me was the recovery. I was fine at the two week mark and then I opened some windows or got up and down too often with the baby, and then completely relapsed, so that I felt in a lot of pain until almost week six. I was trying to be careful by not walking too much or lifting anything, but somehow opening windows didn't strike me as something I would have used my abs to do. I also had a hard time with pain management – I kept trying to stop taking Ibuprofen/pain killers, and I could never figure out what I should be taking or how much, and then I'd feel the pain breaking through. That surprised me, to still be in pain when I thought I should be okay. – Rachel


I don't know that too much about the c-section surprised me, except maybe the shoulder pain. Something about air getting into you when you are opened up and it migrating. My right shoulder ached for days – Joanne


One surprise was how long it took for epidural to wear off the second time – I couldn't move my legs or toes for hours – slightly concerning. Another surprise was the pain meds after – I found more relief from Motrin than from morphine! – Leigh Ann


My recovery was super easy. I had staples... I delivered on Thursday and was driving [my oldest child] to school Monday a.m. – Katnetra


They don't tell you or warn you of the possible complications until you're actually having them. 1 year after my 1st cesarean my incision still hurt and I was told that it can take years for the pain to go away. They didn't tell me they do little knots at the edges to keep it from tearing open inside and that rubs against your tissues and feels like a needle is inside you. They also don't tell you how much it complicates breastfeeding especially if you have a big baby. – Pearl


I was surprised by how much quicker my recovery was versus my non c section birth. Minimal discomfort for a few days. It was a much quicker recovery for me - and I didn't miss the contractions and pushing whatsoever! The childbirth preparedness class at the hospital was super helpful in showing me what to expect during - so no surprises. – Lisa


The biggest surprise was the headache after, and the seizure I had 17 days later (we think due to leaking from the epidural). I wish they had paid more attention to the fact that I was asking for pain meds for a headache, not c-section pain. – Rebekah


The recovery was no problem, better than I expected, but I have nothing to compare it to. And I sort of figured since I was in good shape going into this, I'd bounce back faster than the average person in recovery and I think maybe I did. I definitely made more trips up and down the stairs and lifted more moving boxes, vs. doctors orders, and I was fine. And I was back in the pool after 3.5 weeks, mostly because I was afraid of going back sooner and over doing it. No regrets - I'd make the same decision again. – Joanne


I was amazed at how quickly my incision healed but completely caught off guard by the entire procedure and how uncomfortable life was for the following two weeks.  – Aimee


Then the nearly 6 months of post birth bleeding any time I tried to lift my 3 year old or walked too fast. My youngest is almost 6 and I still have pain/tugging at the incision. – Melissa


The recovery during those first few days in the hospital was the hardest for me. I thought I was a tough person but I really struggled with the pain and a near obsession with going #2. I just wanted to go to the bathroom. – Jen


The Aftermath – Processing, Emotions, Mental Health

The other thing that surprised me was experiencing PTSD from childbirth and to find out many other women had the same trauma from an unexpected birth outcome. I didn't know it was so common. – Kristan


I cried this week to my therapist talking to her about my anxiety about that OR. Being strapped down, the coldness, the shaking, the drape. Ugh. I know that this time it's going to be calmer, but I can't get over how that room made me feel. – Haylee


I had to deal with these feelings very strongly around Ella's first birthday. I don't think I had ever fully processed that I felt like I had failed giving birth until she was turning one and so many feelings came rushing out. – Haylee


All 3 of mine were c-sections. I was sad that they were c-sections because I wanted natural births so bad. For the first two I felt like a failure. Like what kind of a woman am I that can't have a baby the way our bodies are supposed to be able to. – Allison


Guilt when they told me I'd have to have one after being in labor for 26hrs. – Natalie


To be honest, the biggest surprise for me was how comfortable I felt with the end result. My babies never left my side, and when I was wheeled to recovery, they were in my arms. I am very grateful that I went into my c-section with more information than most, and I made an informed choice because I was truly given options. – Brittney


The unexpected disappointing feeling after 25 hours of labor! – Ryan


I felt like a failure having to have a CS. – Mindy


The guilt I had. I pushed for almost 4 hours with my first and she was completely stuck. I felt like I had failed. Everyone had such amazing birth stories and it seemed like my body just quit. Every comment a person made was so hurtful, though I know no one meant any harm. Everyone felt so sorry I had to have one and it just made me feel worse. – Kristina


Guilt!!! – Nicole


Ugh I felt like I failed. I tried so hard and I felt like I just failed at what our bodies are supposed to be "made for". I was really hard on myself because I didn't meet my own expectations. This time, my expectation is to get the baby out and for us both to be healthy, and I'll consider that a win! – Haylee



Ugh I felt like I failed. I tried so hard and I felt like I just failed at what our bodies are supposed to be "made for." I was really hard on myself because I didn't meet my own expectations. This time, my expectation is to get the baby out and for us both to be healthy, and I'll consider that a win! – Holly


For me it was facing the "natural birth is best" crowd. It really shook me (and to this day bothers me) when I heard comments like "I've had three babies -- all natural!" as if a medal should be awarded. My son was born via emergency c-section, I couldn't have gone natural (though I prefer the term med-free) even if I had wanted to. There can be such an underlying message that c-sections are a "failed" birth experience, which I never thought for a second until hearing the opinions of others. That's been tougher to deal with, by far, than any physical recovery. – Kristen


I believe firmly my unexpected cesarean lead to my PPD and PPA experience! – Ryan


I was not visually prepared for the lifelong scarring of my skin - I don't know why that bothered me but it really did. – Heidi


Subsequent Births


With the third I had accepted it, and feel like I'm just as much of a woman and just as strong as those that have done it naturally. The first two were regular c-sections and the last was a gentle c-section. I do really wish that the first 2 were gentle too, but I don't have any regrets with how it all ended up happening. – Allison


2nd one: (VBAC attempt turned c-section) was great overall except my epidural dosage was waaayyy too high. I couldn't feel any part of my body except my lips. I was drooling, nose running, etc. Couldn't feel my chest or nose so it felt like I couldn't breathe. I panicked some and couldn't even keep my eyes open much at all. I was so out of it. Because of this, I couldn't do skin to skin for very long while they finished surgery. Secondly – something they don't mention at all – during surgery, they found that my bladder adhered to my uterus after my first c-section. It caused my bladder to stretch as my uterus did, making it paper thin at the point that was attached. They had to perform an additional surgery to separate and repair the two areas and then I had to go home with a catheter – biggest bummer. – Natalie


My 2nd was AMAZING though because I was prepared and asked for a gentle c section with skin on skin. Being informed of my rights made all the difference – Sarah


How much I wanted VBAC... which I got. – Breanne



I should add that I had 2 [subsequent] VBACs and both went smoothly, even with almost a 10 pounder! – Chelsea


Also after my second the pain was rough. The contractions post second c were very painful. My first was unexpected, but the second scheduled, so actually walking yourself into the OR is a little odd. – Megan


The second time around (due to a breech baby that refused to flip) it was actually much better, healing time was faster, and my husband was allowed to cut the cord and assist in the birth (though rare). – Kristina


I have had four ever since my first one was an emergency due to toxemia. I was still just as scared 6 weeks ago (4th) as I was for my first one 12 years ago. I don't feel like I'm not good enough or haven't experienced my share of labor pains according to some. I am proud of myself, my body, and my overall emotional state preparing for the surgery ahead. I believe I do deserve every bit of the same recognition as others whether I spent 10 hours in labor or 1 hour in surgery. We are all mamas seeking the same outcome...beautiful healthy babies. – Beth


[For my fourth] he was pushed right into recovery with me. They did all his testing right there along side of me and my husband. It was very comforting. – Beth  


The difficulty of finding a VBAC friendly provider/hospital in the area. – Haileigh


I had two cesareans – first one after induction and 16 hrs of labor; second one was planned. Planned is WAY better and easier! – Leigh Ann


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