I’m not sure I can stress how certain I was that I would NOT have a C-section. At nearly 41 weeks pregnant with my first child, I went into the hospital for an induction with an eerie level of calm. I’d taken the birthing classes, I’d read all the books—I knew to expect discomfort and pain, but I had a level of confidence that could have only come from being completely naive.
My husband and I brought our Phase 10 card game, snacks, and a laptop queued up with my go-to comfort movies (Jurassic Park and Moana, in case you were wondering). Honestly, it felt as if we were getting ready for a fun sleepover, giddy with excitement to meet our daughter. At intake, I signed an endless amount of forms and went over different possibilities with the nurse—including that of an emergency C-section.
Fast forward several hours, and life had descended into utter chaos. I had a night nurse who kept yelling at me to stop moving mid-labor because I was moving the heart monitor meant to keep track of my baby. Soon after, a doctor I’d never met came in and broke my water, assuring me it was fine to do so pre-epidural (narrator voice: It was not). Then I got an epidural, which didn’t work. My blissful naivety had come back to bite me—hard. It was after pushing for four hours that I was met with the result I’d been so certain I wouldn’t have face: I would need to have an emergency C-section. My daughter needed to come out, and this was the only way.
What I Wish I Knew About Emergency C-Sections
Let me give you a spoiler alert here: My daughter is here, she’s healthy, and this story luckily has a happy ending. I’m so thankful for the doctors, nurses, and everyone who helped that happen. However, if I could go back and offer some advice to my past self before having an emergency C-section, here are a few things I would definitely share.
Your Birth Plan Is Never a Guarantee
Despite the rational part of me knowing a C-section was always a possibility, my naive, first-time parent brain assumed it would never happen to me. I had mentally prepared myself for a long, grueling labor. But I never once considered the birth itself would not be done through a vaginal delivery.
While I’m glad both my partner and I had a birth plan, I wish I’d mentally prepared to be more flexible in the event that things didn’t go according to plan.
You Will Be Awake—and It Can Be Scary
Now this is the part where I need to emphasize that this is my story, and every C-section is different. When I was wheeled into the surgery room, a barrier was put up so I couldn’t see what was happening to my belly (thankfully). The doctor warned that I would feel a lot of pressure and suction, but that they would act fast.
Once the doctor began, it became clear the anesthetic put in through the epidural port wasn’t working. I could feel almost everything. There are no real words I can write to accurately convey the level of fear I felt. Truly, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced in my 30 years. Luckily, I had a great team of doctors (and a kind and supportive husband) who quickly responded. I was soon given several doses of laughing gas to help with the pain and panic.
While this helped immensely (and allowed for my daughter to be born swiftly and safely), it did impact one major element of my birth experience: bonding with my baby.
Bonding With Your Newborn May Be Different
I’d read over and over again in the baby books about the importance of skin-to-skin contact and how special those first moments with your baby are. To be completely, vulnerably honest, those were the moments I was looking forward to most throughout the whole process.
However, my reality with an emergency C-section was different. I was in a laughing gas-infused haze and could barely keep my eyes open, let alone process everything that had happened. I remember my daughter being placed on me skin-to-skin, and only later did I find out my husband had been holding her on me the entire time after the nurse warned him how out-of-it I was.
The next several hours were a blur of IV and blood transfusions, while my brain was far more focused on just trying to stay awake than being able to take the time to bond with my daughter as I so desperately wanted to do.
Rest assured, the bonding did come—but it wasn’t as immediate as I’d hoped and dreamed it would be. Instead of an instantaneous bonding through skin-to-skin after she was born, our relationship took a little bit longer to build. The love was there right away, but something was missing. The only way I can describe it is that because I didn’t witness her being born, it was almost as if I had a disconnect from understanding she was the baby I’d carried in me for nearly 1o months.
Mourning Might Be Part of the Process
It may not sound rational, but having spoken to other mothers who’ve had C-sections, I know this is common and can take a while to reconcile. For me, it took a few months to realize what I was feeling was a sense of mourning for the birth experience I’d wanted and expected. It took that time for me to understand that I didn’t have to like my birth experience to be able to love and appreciate the product of it. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty that my daughter and I hadn’t bonded in the “right” way, so to speak. But looking back now nine months later, the trauma of the experience has dulled, and I love my relationship with my little girl.
Emergency C-Section Recovery Is Hard Physically—and Emotionally
Despite having major surgery, I still had a newborn baby to care for immediately afterward. When I was discharged from the hospital, the doctor said I was not to lift anything over 8 pounds—except for my baby.
The pain was definitely rougher than I expected, too. My entire midsection weighed me down, pulling on my stitches and making side-to-side movement a misery. All the while, I was one-half of a partnership in charge of keeping a new human alive. Looking back, it’s kind of wild to think about. My discharge instructions for my wisdom tooth surgery involved more rest and recovery than that of my C-section.
My discharge instructions for my wisdom tooth surgery involved more rest and recovery than that of my C-section.
However, the emotional recovery was far worse than the physical. So much of my daughter’s birth was a blur to me, and I’m not sure I can accurately put into words the toll that took on me mentally. I felt like I’d missed a major milestone in my life (and my daughter’s life), as unreasonable a burden as that may have been to place on myself. Rather than her birth being the happiest moment of my life, I couldn’t help but look at it as a trauma, and that was very hard to reconcile.
My birthing journey led me to my daughter, who’s the absolute love of my life, so I don’t regret it. But looking back, I wish I’d better prepared myself for the scariest possibility of all—that some things don’t go to plan, and that’s okay.