mothers and fathers hands holding a pregnant belly: what I wish I'd known before my c section

Currently, around 26% of babies born in public hospitals in South Africa are delivered by c-section, as are almost 77% of babies whose mothers are on medical aid.

With c-sections likely to continue to become more commonplace, we asked moms who’ve had c-sections (both emergency and planned caesarean sections) to share what they wish they’d known beforehand…

It’s major surgery

While c-sections are pretty common these days, it’s still a major surgery and your body will take time to heal. Sounds obvious, I know, but I think most of us forget. I read recently that a c-section is the only surgery where seven layers of tissue are cut and the patient is expected to be standing up six hours later and taking care of a brand new person – and that doesn’t even take into consideration dealing with the uterus contractions and attempting to breastfeed!).

You can still feel what’s going on

Wish I’d known that I’d still be able to feel everything that was going on. Just because you don’t experience pain, it doesn’t mean you don’t feel the doctors pushing and pulling to get the baby out. That was the biggest shock for me.

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It’s possible to react to the anaesthetic

That you can have a slight reaction to the anaesthetic and that it’s pretty much “normal”. For me that meant nausea and shaking – I don’t remember ever feeling that cold before! It didn’t last long, maybe an hour or so, but I wish I’d known that it could happen so I wouldn’t have been taken by surprise.

doctors performing a c section: what I wish I'd known before my c section

Just a regular day

This might be one of the most important moments of your life but it’s just a regular day for the medical team performing the c-section – they’re probably going to be having a very normal conversation about last night’s soccer or what’s on special at the hospital coffee shop while delivering your baby.

You can’t feel your legs for ages

I wish someone had told me about how weird it would be to be unable to feel – or move – my legs for so long. It took about six hours for the numbness to wear off. At one point my leg was hanging over the side of the hospital bed and I could see it, but not feel it. It’s a very unsettling feeling.

Safety is everything

I had a natural birth plan that I was going to follow to the letter. But my baby had other ideas. When my doctor suggested a c-section after 12 hours of labour, I was devastated. In fact, I flat out refused at first. But when I saw the urgency on the doctor’s face as she explained that my son was in distress and was in real danger, I suddenly didn’t care that I wasn’t getting the birth I’d planned. The only thing that mattered was my son’s safety.

ALSO READ: Moms share their real-life experiences of planned and emergency c-sections

Doctors know best

I wish I’d known that my doctor really DID know what she was talking about when it came to pain relief (sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it?). Take the prescribed pain medication regularly, even if you feel like you don’t need it. I tried to ‘tough it out’ and I experienced a lot more pain in the days after the surgery than I needed to.

You might grieve

Of course I was happy that my daughter had been welcomed into the world safely but I grieved for the all-natural birth I thought I was going to have. I felt like I’d failed my baby and taken ‘the easy way out’ (although I now know that there is NOTHING ‘easy’ about having a c-section!). My doula said it is quite common to grieve for the birth experience you’d planned and that I should allow myself to feel sad, even though everyone kept telling me this was ‘the happiest time of my life’.

Laughing will hurt

For the first two weeks it actually hurt to laugh… and cough! While I expected to be in a bit of pain when moving or lifting my baby, I didn’t realise how often you actually use your stomach muscles for everyday tasks.

woman with a c section scar: what I wish I'd known before having a c section

Swelling is normal

On day three after my c-section, I woke up and my legs were HUGE. Apparently it’s quite common to retain fluid, especially in your legs, after the surgery. It may take a few days but eventually they go back to normal.

Ignore them!

Wish I’d know that there would be people who would tell me I “hadn’t really given birth” because I didn’t deliver vaginally. And I REALLY wish I’d known that it was best to ignore them completely!

You’ll still be wearing your maternity pants

Once the baby and the amniotic fluid is out, your tummy goes back down – right? Wrong! I looked five months pregnant for at least a week after the delivery and my stomach muscles still haven’t fully recovered seven months later. I wish I’d known that NOBODY really ‘bounces back’ after childbirth.

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You might be numb

I don’t experience any pain around my incision but that section of my abdomen is numb – I can poke or prod at my scar and I barely feel a thing nearly two years later. My doctor says I might never regain full feeling around where I was cut but it doesn’t bother me at all.

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