When I was considering whether or not to have an elective c-section, I didn’t really give much thought to the recovery process.
I mean, I knew it would be painful, obviously. It is, after all, abdominal surgery, and in the run-up to mine I’d read/been told so much about the procedure that I couldn’t NOT be aware that the c section recovery process is one of the major downsides to having a baby in this particular way. While I definitely knew what I was getting into, however, the fact is, throughout my pregnancy, I was just so focused on getting the baby out – and both of us being alive afterwards – that the recovery side of things just didn’t seem that important in comparison. In fact, any time I DID think about it, I think I just assumed that by the time it became an issue, I’d have my precious baby to distract me, and nothing else would matter.
Well, as it turns out, I was partly right about that: a new baby IS a wonderful distraction, that’s for sure! That, however, is part of the issue with c section recovery: or, at least, it was for me. The fact is, with any other kind of surgery, you’d probably come out of hospital and spend the next couple of weeks recovering – in bed, ideally. When you have a new baby to look after, however, one thing you’re definitely NOT going to be doing much of is resting. Even in my case, with a super-supportive partner, plus my parents visiting every day, and more than willing to help out, I got out of hospital and more or less hit the ground running – even more so when Terry ended up unable to walk at the end of our first week at home, leaving me (albeit briefly) as the only person in the house who was physically able to go up and down the stairs all day, fetching and carrying things for the baby and ourselves. (I’ve always loved the fact that our house has three storeys, but immediately after my surgery, I was just all, “WHY DID WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES? WHY COULDN’T WE HAVE BOUGHT A NICE BUNGALOW INSTEAD?!”)
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. My c section recovery story has a few different parts to it, but I really wanted to write it all down, for the benefit of anyone who’s facing this procedure, and wondering what it’s like. Before I go any further here, though, I should stress that obviously everyone’s recovery will be different: I had an elective c section, which is generally considered much easier to recover from than an emergency one, and I was also really lucky in that my surgery was totally straightforward, with less than average blood loss. This was actually really interesting to me, because throughout my life, I’ve repeatedly had people tell me that redheads lose more blood than most other people. I asked numerous different doctors and nurses about this during my pregnancy, and didn’t get a definitive answer: some people told me that, yup, it was totally true, while others – including my own doctor – were just all, “Nope, urban myth!”
Well, I can only speak for myself obviously, but I suspect there’s a bit of confirmation bias going on with this one: I was actually really worried that I’d haemorrhage on the table, and need a transfusion or something, but, as I said, I lost less than the average amount of blood during the operation and – TMI alert – my bleeding afterwards was also very light. So while I can’t say for sure that the whole, “Redheads lose more blood,” thing is definitely false, I CAN say that wasn’t the case for me, so if you’re a redhead who’s worried about this, just know that it’s definitely not true for everyone!
Anyway, both of these facts (planned c section and low blood loss) were in my favour when it came to my c section recovery: here’s how it was for me…
My C Section Recovery: Immediately Post Op
I’ve already shared the story of the c section itself, so, jumping in right after the procedure, I was wheeled back to my hospital room, with my legs still somewhat numb from the spinal block: it was only another 30 minutes or so, though, until I started to be able to move them normally again, which was a relief to me, because, as I mentioned in my earlier post, I actually found it pretty freaky being paralysed from the chest down, and was getting just a little bit panicky when the sensation didn’t come back as quickly as I’d expected it to.
Immediately after the operation, the pain from the incision is obviously at its worse, although I was only really aware of it if I tried to change position in bed, or if I coughed or sneezed. Unfortunately for me, being the clumsy oaf I am, around an hour after my operation, I choked on some water I was trying to drink, and was in complete agony from my scar area – I was MUCH more careful after that, needless to say!
After a c section, the aim is to get you moving around again as quickly as possible, as the more you move, the faster you’ll recover – or so I’m told, anyway. I, however, felt really nauseous for a good few hours post-op, so the first time the nurses came to try to help me out of bed (This was maybe around 4-5 hours or so after the surgery, although I wouldn’t swear to it, as I’d lost track of time by that stage!), I asked them if we could wait a while – partly because of the nausea, but also because I knew from that coughing fit that standing up was going to be painful, and, at that point, it felt like it would be pretty much impossible, to be totally honest.
When the nurses came back, an hour or so later, I was STILL feeling quite nauseous, but I decided I’d try to get up anyway: our hospital aims to discharge elective c section patients the day after the surgery where possible, but I knew that was dependent on me being able to move around by then, so I figured I might as well give it a go. Now, I won’t lie: getting out of bed for the first time was pretty painful, but once I was up, and sitting in the chair next to the bed, I felt so much better – the nausea almost instantly disappeared, and I just felt much more like myself, so I guess my main piece of advice to anyone having a c section is to try to get up as soon as you can, even if it seems like an impossible task at first.
Once I was up, I started to experiment with moving slowly around the room. I still had a catheter in at that point, so it was slow going (and I had to carry a bag of pee around with me: SO. GLAMOROUS.), but, again, while it was sore, it was a manageable level of pain, so, by the time I went to bed that night, I was feeling not too bad. Things did get worse during the night, and I had to buzz the nurse and ask for some painkillers, but the pain was similar to moderately bad period pain: not fun, but not totally unbearable, either.
C Section Recovery: The Next Day
The next morning, my catheter was removed at around 6am. The nurses had wanted to do this the previous night, at midnight (Hospital time is totally different from “normal” time, I discovered!), but they’d told me that, once the catheter was removed, I’d have 4 hours to pass a certain amount of urine (I can’t remember exactly how much it was, but one of the nurses mentioned it was something like a Coke can’s worth…), and if I didn’t manage this, the catheter would have to be re-inserted, and I’d be less likely to get home that day. I was obviously REALLY keen to avoid having to be re-catheterised, and I was planning on sleeping between midnight – 4am, rather than sitting up drinking water in order to pee it back out again (Er, I should probably have mentioned that this post would contain TMI, shouldn’t I? Oh well…), so I asked if they could do it in the morning instead, to give me a better chance of passing what I thought of as The Pee Challenge.
So, the catheter came out at 6am (I’d been really worried about this, but it was totally painless…), and I spent the next couple of hours frantically guzzling water. My challenge was actually harder than you might think, purely because the hospital was SO damn hot that I felt really quite dehydrated, but I managed it (YAY!), and was also managing to walk around the room a fair bit at this point, just gathering up all of my stuff, checking on the baby, etc. Terry – who’s had abdominal surgery himself, and therefore knows a bit about recovering from it – did warn me that he felt I was trying to do too much, but I hadn’t even left the (tiny) room, and I was absolutely determined to go home ASAP, so I kept moving around, and, after a few hours, my doctor appeared and told me she was happy to discharge me, as soon as Max had had his final checks.
That was all done by around 2pm, by which stage I’d had to take some more painkillers, and was also feeling quite sick again. I was given a package of medication, consisting of extra-strength Ibuprofen, regular paracetamol and coedine – the first two to be taken every four hours, with the coedine whenever I felt I needed it. In addition to that, I was also given 10 syringes filled with some kind of medication (I totally forget what it was called now) to thin the blood and help prevent blood clots, which are one of the risks of having a c-section, and something I’d been really worried about. I’d been told in advance that I’d have to administer these myself for the next ten days, but I knew there was absolutely no way I’d be able to inject myself (I’m not scared of needles, but the thought of having to plunge one into my own flesh makes me feel a bit ill…), so one of the nurses showed Terry how to do it instead, and for the next ten days, he got to stick a needle into my thigh on a regular basis. (Those injections were a bit painful, to be honest, but my health anxiety had made me really worried about blood clots, so I just gritted my teeth and got on with it!)
Finally, just over 24 hours after my surgery, I was allowed to go home.
Both Terry and my parents (Who’d turned up to visit us, only to find that we were just about to leave!) suggested I use a wheelchair to get down to the car park, but I REALLY wanted to leave hospital pushing the baby in his pram (Well, in his car-seat-attached-to-wheels…), so I walked out of hospital – realising only as I did it that, wow, that was actually a REALLY long walk! In retrospect, I’d done far too much at this point, with the result that I went home clutching a sick bag, and had to go straight to bed for a few hours – at Terry’s insistence – as soon as I got there: D’OH!
At home, I quickly realised that my biggest problem was going to be getting in and out of bed. I could manage the stairs OK, but our bed is quite a high one, and getting in and out was AGONY: I had to kind of roll onto my side first, to manage it, and, even then, there were a few times when I needed Terry’s help to pull myself up – not fun. I was home, though, and, as I said, I had my perfect little baby to distract me, so I didn’t mind too much.
C Section Recovery: The first 10 days
Those first few days at home were the toughest ones physically, for obvious reasons. At first, I was taking my painkillers every few hours, and having quite a bit of difficulty getting in and out of bed, but by the time the midwife turned up to give Max and I a checkup on day three (I think), things were already getting easier.
There were, however, a couple of things troubling me. One of them – and this is totally frivolous, so apologies in advance – was the white surgical stockings I’d been given on the morning of the operation. I’d assumed I’d only have to wear these during the surgery itself, but I was actually told to wear them for THREE weeks, removing them only to wash them. Now, these were bright white knee socks, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to find that all of my outfits for the next three weeks were going to have to have a bit of an Alice in Wonderland theme, huh?
The only way I could make this work was by sticking to trousers/leggings the whole time, and wearing regular socks over the white ones any time I left the house or had visitors. (Yeah, I know I’m vain, but SERIOUSLY, people: WHITE KNEE SOCKS. GOD.) This wasn’t, however, very comfortable, and I found I’d get really hot at night (I obviously didn’t wear anything over them at night, but I absolutely hate having anything on my feet when I’m in bed), so I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I only put up with the socks for two weeks, rather than three. In my defence, the doctor had told me to wear them for three weeks OR until I was mobile again, and by the end of week 2, I felt like I was hardly getting a chance to sit down, I was so busy running (Well, walking…) around the house, so I didn’t really feel I needed them.
(Also in my defence, from what I’ve read, most people don’t even last two weeks with the dreaded white socks, so while I’d always advocate following medical advice – don’t be like me, folks! – I don’t think I did too badly…)
The other thing bothering me at this point was my belly… which was still HUGE. I knew my bump wouldn’t disappear as soon as the baby was out – in fact, everything I’d read told me I’d probably leave the hospital looking around 6 months pregnant, so I was totally prepared for that.
I, however, looked about NINE months pregnant.
Seriously, I don’t think I looked all that different on my way out of the hospital than I did on the way in. I still had a gigantic bump, and although the midwife told me a lot of it was gas (One of the other fun side-effects of abdominal surgery!), by the end of week 1, I was seriously starting to worry that it would never go away, and I’d just look pregnant FOREVER.
Peppermint tea helped with the gas, though (This is one of those remedies I assumed would be like the ginger biscuits everyone told me would ease my morning sickness: I was so sure it wouldn’t work that it was a few days before I even bothered to try it. It DID really help, though, so if you know you’re going to be having a c section, stick some peppermint tea in your hospital bag – you’ll thank me for this later!), and by the time my regular midwife turned up to remove my stitches, 10 days after the operation, it had definitely started to go down a little. I still looked around 6 months pregnant, though, and it took at least another week for me to go from still looking pregnant, so just looking a bit – or, OK, a LOT – flabby round the middle, so I was glad I’d kept hold of my maternity clothes, because I still needed them!
C Section Recovery: 4 weeks later
And that’s pretty much where I’m at right now. It’ll be four weeks on Friday since my c-section (!), and I’d say I feel more or less back to normal. I don’t LOOK “back to normal,” needless to say (That’s another post, for another time!), but although the area around my scar is still a little tender, and the skin itself feels quite numb to the touch (I’m told this can last for years), I’m not in any pain, and have been able to move around normally for a couple of weeks now. I haven’t attempted to do any exercise yet (I mean, AS IF I’d have time for exercise, even if I wanted to!), and I’m finding that if I try to do too much walking up and down those stairs, the incision will get a bit sore again, but, all things considered, I think my c section recovery has been pretty straightforward – physically at least.
Psychologically, on the other hand, it’s been a little bit harder, purely because of my health anxiety, which does its best to convince me that every little change is a symptom of something super-serious, and that I’m probably going to drop dead at any second. Obviously there are lots changes happening to your body after having a baby, and I feel like every day has brought something else to worry about recently. I’ll just say here that none of those changes have been remotely out of the ordinary – it’s just my anxiety that makes it tough, but I guess that would’ve been the case however Max had ended up coming into the world, !
Anyway! This post is another one that ended up being much longer than I intended it to be, but I’ve had a few people who’re facing c-sections of their own tell me they’ve been finding these posts helpful, and I know I couldn’t get enough information about it in the run-up to mine, so I figured I’d write this all down while it’s still fresh in my memory. If you do have questions, though, feel free to ask – I’m obviously no expert, having only gone through this once, but I’m happy to help if I can!