I’ve had three caesarean births. I still wish I had a detailed plan about how to recover from one.
If you look for the pros and cons of C-section V vaginal birth, the recovery is always a big deal. Caesarean recoveries are much harder we’re told. But that’s about all we’re told.
When I first found myself in the C section bay of a postnatal ward, I didn’t need to be told that the recovery would be hard, I’d guessed that. I couldn’t even clear my own throat. What I needed was practical advice. I had leaflets on perineal massage, the hospital’s birthing pools, the local breastfeeding cafes, etc etc etc but not a thing on C section recovery. Could I take a shower? Should I be lifting my (very heavy) baby? Should I be taking painkillers? Should I be trying to get moving or taking it easy in bed?
Two more C sections later I still don’t really know.
So this is not a definitive guide. Sorry, I wish I could give that to you but I can’t. This is the best I can offer from my own experience and at least it’s better than the fuck all I received. If you have just had, or are about to have a C section, take what works for you and ignore the rest, there is no right way to do this.
The (slightly sweary) Caesarean Recovery Plan
The First Few Hours
If everyone is well enough, just hold your baby next to your skin and know that you have done something amazing.
Take photos, call family. Well done!
Have something to drink, ask if you can eat. If the answer is no, keep asking until it’s yes.
If you want to breastfeed get some help. This was easy and natural with just 1/3 of my babies. Mums can be rubbish at it, even if they’ve done it before, babies can have no bloody idea. If you’re still not sure where half your limbs are, just getting in a vaguely workable position may be a team effort.
Ignore dumb comments about C sections.
The First Few Days
Apparently, some people like the postnatal ward and recover well there. If that’s you great, stay put, get comfy and enjoy the electric bed.
In my experience, postnatal wards are fucking grim. So do whatever you have to do to make it bearable. Curtains, earplugs, fans for the heat (why are they so fucking hot?). To be honest, the only non-horrendous night I’ve had on a postnatal ward was the last, when a combination of begging, luck, more begging and hard cash got me a single room. Hell is other people, especially if those other people have tiny versions of themselves who scream all night. Postnatal wards shouldn’t be like this, but you’re a grown-up, I’m not going to spin a fairy story here.
Take lots of drugs! The NHS advice says: “Most women experience some discomfort for the first few days“. This, in my humble experience, is UTTER BOLLOCKS. For my first and third recoveries, the only thing that could touch the pain was a full dose of morphine. Find out how often you should be taking whatever it is you are taking and set a reminder on your phone then nag the staff to bring it on time. Don’t wait for it to start hurting again as you’ll end up needing stronger doses.
Get the catheter out as soon as the staff will allow it so that you can walk a bit. But really only a bit. If going to the loo and back feels like an epic challenge then that is quite far enough.
Take a shower, it’s fine but it might be terrifying. Just for the love of all things holy DON’T LOOK DOWN, just don’t. After Miss A was born they stitched me up with, I shit you not, blue string. I looked like a flabby joint of pork.
Have someone who loves you and will not judge you (or your pork belly) nearby when you get dressed. It’s really embarrassing having to lean out the bathroom door and call for a midwife to help you put your knickers on (especially if a horrified workman is walking past at the time).
If you have a helpful and sympathetic partner ask if they can stay with you, and make sure they know they are there to do stuff. Primarily:
- Bringing you food
- Controlling and (if necessary getting rid of) visitors
- Nagging staff for water/drugs/a single room/discharge etc etc
- Passing you things
- Being sympathetic to everything you say even if you are a blubbering mess who makes no fucking sense
Ignore stupid comments about C sections. Those people don’t know.
The First Few Weeks
Get help. Watch Netflix. Do very little else.
You’ve just had an entire human being, possibly more than one, removed from your innards. Screw anyone who thinks you don’t get to sit down for a bit now.
If you are feeling fine, potter about the house a bit. If you are feeling knackered and in pain then stay in bed.
I was dreadful at this, especially with my last CS. The idea of doing nothing (other than providing every physical need of another human 24/7 of course) drove me to a state of intense restless frustration. Surely I could just pop the dinner on? Make some tea? In the end, the midwife and my husband got sick of me doing this and ending up a mess and I was ordered to stay in bed for two weeks. It sounds nice, it wasn’t. But if I’m honest they were right.
Ignore ignorant comments about C sections. These people don’t know what the fuck they are talking about.
The first few months
Start moving. But take it easy. Gentle walks are a good start, DON’T DO SIT-UPS!
After 12 or 13 weeks you could try some kind of postnatal exercise class. I recommend Pilates, it’s all about core strength. Although after three C sections I’m pretty sure I don’t have a core, never mind any strength in it. Find a teacher who is properly trained in postnatal exercise and who understands the different issues of C section mums. Take it slow. I’m eight months post op and only starting to do full non- postnatal classes.
Look after your mental health. You might be having a marvelous time, you might be wondering what the fuck has happened to your body and your life. There is nothing weird either way. If you are in the what the fuck category tell someone and get help. It’s not a personal failing to get postnatal depression or to feel traumatised by the birth. PTSD isn’t just about soldiers and car crashes.
Ignore the fucking stupid comments people make about C sections they are just rude and ignorant and don’t know what the fuck they are talking about so fuck them.
The First Year
Yeah really. Some Mums bounce right back from a c section some might take a year a more. I’ve never gone back to my old normal. My new normal is a different shape and it has a horrible little pouch of skin above my scar. Even when I was back at my pre-baby weight my old clothes didn’t fit right anymore. I’ve had to adapt how I dress to figure out what works now. But that’s ok. New normal me is also braver and swearier than she used to be. She’s been through some scary and painful stuff but she’s come out the other side and she has some pretty awesome kids to show for it.
The stupid comments? Fuck it, who cares?
Ok perhaps I should have called that the Very Sweary Caesarean Recovery Plan. Sorry Mum.
If you’ve been there too – what are your tips? What would you do differently if there were a next time?