Recovering Physically and Emotionally from a C-section: Barbra’s Story

Scarred: An Open Letter From a New Mom

He stood there, stoic as ever, as my tears crept into the conversation. In his eyes, at least, I was a relatively low maintenance pregnant patient. But, this was the one outcome I had communicated wanting to avoid at all costs. The phrases ‘measuring large,’ ‘shoulder dystocia,’ and ‘narrow pelvis’ knocked around my brain like a bad game of ping pong. A game I didn’t sign up to play. Was I really prepared to put my baby in danger for the sake of the experience? As easy as the decision should have been, it simply wasn’t. After what felt like thirty minutes, but was probably only two, my husband and I went to schedule our caesarean section.

After nine months of research, innumerous classes, and an abundance of well-meaning advice on natural labor and delivery, we had one week to get used to the idea of the surgery. As if to shield us from what we could discover about the recovery period, my water broke early, with contractions coming fast. Was this a sign? Maybe I could do this naturally.

Within ten minutes of arriving at the hospital, those dreaded phrases pervaded our ears again… ‘measuring large,’ ‘shoulder dystocia,’ ‘narrow pelvis’. All medical professionals involved were once again advising the c-section. It was scheduled to take place in thirty minutes.

I truly hated everything about this experience. I feel such guilt even admitting that because the process resulted in the birth of my beautiful, healthy son, and I know just how lucky I am to say that.

Growing up, I had romanticized this moment more times than I can count. As an adult with strong feminist beliefs, I’m still not ashamed to admit that having the opportunity to become a mother was always a number one goal and desire of mine. To say this birth experience was far from what I imagined is an understatement. While I know I would have been in awe of the less-than-glamorous, raw realness of a natural birth, what came next veered so far from any coveted expectation I had in mind.

I’ll spare the play-by-play, but from the clinical, colorless operating room to the medication that made me feel languorous to an unexpected blood transfusion, I truly hated everything about this experience. I feel such guilt even admitting that because the process resulted in the birth of my beautiful, healthy son, and I know just how lucky I am to say that. But, due to the circumstances, I don’t even remember holding him for the first time.

I felt robbed. There was no skin-to-skin, no overwhelming, magical moment of joy as they pulled him out of me. My husband will disagree. He experienced all of those feelings. He was the first one they called over to meet him. He was the first one to hold him. He was the first one to kiss him. Of course, there was a part of me that was thrilled he had the opportunity to relish in those moments of firsts. But, there was also a realistic part of me that was envious as I lay naked, strapped down to a table, in what felt like a very literal surrender of what would be my life’s most precious moment.

The next few days spent in the hospital were a complete blur. I knew we had visitors; I knew my son was being taken care of; I knew I had a list of tasks to complete: schedule the first pediatrician appointment, call the insurance company to sign him up, schedule flights for an upcoming trip with his date of birth. I was more concerned about my to-do list than anything else. I could control my to-do list. I knew I was supposed to be tracking any passed gas; I knew I was supposed to be breastfeeding, but had no milk; I knew I felt worse than I should have…I knew something was wrong.

What I didn’t know was that I was completely unprepared for c-section recovery. I had only known a handful of women who had the surgery, but never once heard them describe the pains of the process. Only the joys…the birth of their children. And, that’s fair. Why would they voluntarily recount how challenging those first few weeks were? It all becomes about what the pain resulted in. But, because of that, and in conjunction with my ungovernable hormones, I felt…crazy.

Why was I in so much pain? Am I weaker than all of these other women? How did they make it through this? Why is this so difficult for me? It didn’t help that none of the family members visiting had ever undergone a c-section themselves. Their concern and inadvertent judgement was plastered all over their faces. Phrases like “postpartum depression,” “belabored recovery,” and “not bonding with baby” were tossed around irresponsibly. Now I felt crazy, angry, and defensive.

I remember crying while my mom held me up in the shower and washed me. I remember hating hearing my husband referred to as ‘super-dad’ because he was solely caring for our son while I recovered. I remember wondering if my son even needed me. I remember looking down at my unrecognizable stomach and my scar, thinking I was the ugliest person. I remember convincing myself the chronic pain in my neck, the inability to move, the constipation, the trapped gas, the insomnia would last for the rest of my life. I remember second guessing if I was ever meant to be a mother.

What I came to understand from other women is that the first two weeks of c-section recovery are the hardest. It takes a full six weeks to feel like a functioning person again, but once you make it past those first two weeks, you can do things like hold your baby because your abs will finally allow it, get out of bed swiftly to answer your baby’s cry because you can finally lift your legs to move them to the side, and change your baby’s diaper because you can finally stand for that long.

New moms are at once the strongest people you will ever meet and the weakest. They are at once warriors and defeated soldiers.

I wish I had known this earlier. I wish I had known that as dire as it seemed, my body would heal, and the first time I would be able to properly care for my son, I would never look back. I wish my family would have known that there are few things worse than making a new mom feel inadequate, as unintended as it was. It’s natural to worry, to be concerned, but I should have never known that they were. I wish I had known that I would bond with my baby in so many ways other than breastfeeding. I wish I had known that my little boy and I would soon fall so madly in love that it would feel as if we shared a heart.

New moms are at once the strongest people you will ever meet and the weakest. They are at once warriors and defeated soldiers. They are not machines. Their state of being is fragile and precarious as they internalize and try to make sense of what their body just accomplished – all with the pressure and intensity of caring for a newborn. And, after that initial moment in time passes, they will pack up their birth stories, whether they were traumatic, magical, or anywhere in between, and carry them along for the rest of their lives.

My story is far from traumatic or magical. But, it’s one I’ve worked hard to make peace with and claim as my own. And, as I lie awake in the middle of the night in my son’s nursery, watching, for the 77th night, the gentle rhythm of his tummy rise and fall, it’s one I can finally feel proud of.

Written by: Barbra Ficocelli

XOXO Renee Reina

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Recovering Physically and Emotionally from a C-section: Barbra’s Story