9 Things That I Wasn’t Expecting When I Had an Emergency C-Section
It's estimated that today 1 in 4 UK births are performed by caesarean section. But no matter how common the practice has become, many Mum's are still understandably terrified at even the thought of having this major surgery. Here's a list of things I wasn’t expecting, and some things I wish I'd have known, before going in for mine.
After the gruelling labour of my 9lb 9oz son ended in him being forcibly removed by a nice, Scottish doctor wielding a pair of forceps, I was no stranger to the fact that childbirth doesn't always go to plan. Well prepared that I probably wasn't going to have an easy time, my "birth plan" was simple. Get to the hospital; remain calm; stay upright and active as much as possible; and do everything I could to avoid having a caesarean.
But after 22 hours there was still no sign of baby number two, and the look on the midwives face was starting to suggest that something wasn't right. My progression had gotten slower and slower as labour went on, and after just 10 minutes of pushing the baby's heart rate started to rise. The consultant was called in to check on us and quickly confirmed my fears. Due to the decent size of my baby and her awkward positioning the safest option for both of us would be an emergency caesarean. Pure fear washed over me and I burst into tears. But looking back, I can honestly say that although it was scary at the time, and recovery time is of course longer than with a natural birth, the procedure itself wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. It was the fear of the unknown that got to me more than anything. So in case you ever find yourself in my position, here are eight things I wasn’t expecting when I had an emergency c-section.
1. You Might Get the Shakes
This is going straight in at number one, because it's the thing I wish I’d known most before going down for my surgery. When I started shaking, not just shivering, but violently shaking in a way that left my muscles sore, I thought that something must have been wrong. Think, stood outside bollock naked in winter type of shaking. I literally couldn't keep still from the chest up. My arms were shaking, my teeth were chattering, and there was nothing I could do to make it stop. I asked the staff in the operating theatre if I was okay, and if this was normal, but didn't believe them when they said it was. If I'd have known before I went in that shaking can be expected, because of the drugs they give you and the temperatures in theatre, I think I would have felt a lot more at ease during the whole process.
2. You Will be Tilted On Your Side
Once my spinal was in and I was all prepped for surgery, I had one of the strangest moments of the whole thing. A nurse came around to my side, put my arms out onto two side pieces of plastic board; told me to hold on to one of the pieces as she pressed a button; and tilted my whole body a little off to one side.
This is because, as many people know, pregnant women aren't really supposed to lay on their backs for too long at any one time. I'm not 100% sure of the science behind why but it's something to do with blood flow, oxygen and placentas. Whatever the reason it was one of many strange moments in what was a very surreal drug-induced time. And in hindsight even though this wasn't a big deal, it wouldn't have hurt to do some research beforehand about all the little things that would happen on the table. The more prepared you are the calmer you'll stay, in any situation.
3. Things Might Have to Move Fast
As you can probably tell by now I typically assume the worst in any given situation. I'm a born and bred worrier! So when my midwife suddenly decided we had to move a lot faster than planned, and people surrounded my bed and began rushing me down the hallway, I thought something was going really wrong.
I wasn’t expecting it because I had at first been told there was no rush, but when the babies heart rate began to rise we had to move as fast as possible. I know that this can be really serious, but I wish I had been a little more informed, so I would have known that the majority of the time things aren't as serious as they look. I remember seeing the delivery room doors fly open and doctor's and nurses buzzing around like a hive of bees. And I should have taken reassurance from their urgency rather than letting it panic me. It wasn't as serious for me as it appeared, and actually the fact that they take every threat to me or my baby as seriously as they did showed how safe we were in their hands.
4. You Might Have to Be Put Under General Anaesthetic
Being the hypochondriac that I am I have always been terrified of general anaesthetic. I didn't know before I had my caesarean that general anaesthetic was even used in caesarean deliveries. I thought they only ever used it if you had a pre-existing medical condition which meant you couldn't have an epidural or spinal.
So you can imagine the look on my face when the anaesthetist came to the side of my bed and started reading me the waiver for general anaesthesia. Luckily everyone saw the wave of pure terror that washed over my face. I must have went completely white as I whimpered "b-but, I thought I could have a spinal". The doctors shot each other a look and said they would re-asses me in the operating theatre to see if I could have a spinal instead. But that if the baby's heart rate was too high it would have to be general because general anaesthetic is the quickest way to get baby out (it takes 10-15 minutes to set up a spinal). And said to try and calm down as much as I could to help baby stay calm too.
I dug deep and breathed slowly on the way through the corridors, trying as hard as I could to calm my mind and body. Luckily for me something worked out in my favour, and I managed to dodge the knock out after all. All I can say is if I'd have known it was a possibility, it might not have been such a scary shock. If you find yourself in this situation just remember that it's okay to be scared, what you're doing takes so much courage. The doctors wouldn't put you under if it wasn't the safest option for everyone, but if you're really scared you can always speak up and tell them too. if it's absolutely necessary they'll do it, but sometimes there's some wiggle room. So if you're really against being put to sleep, have a talk with the doctor's and nurses to see if there's anything they can do. And remember you're in safe hands.
5. Some Hospitals Can Give You Your Own Blood Back Now
This I thought was amazing. Again, I'm not a science person, and I don't know the exact science behind any of this. But basically, some hospitals can put most of the blood you lose through a filter system similar to a dialysis machine and then put it back into your body. This makes the whole experience so much safer. And saves so much life saving, donated blood.
During caesarean deliveries blood loss is seriously monitored and managed extremely well. But women can still lose around a litre during the operation. During my procedure they were able to filter and give back to me around 600ml of my own blood. This was amazing because I couldn't believe how much better I felt compared to after my son's delivery. During my first labour I lost 1.4 litres, which obviously couldn't be given back to me because the environment was less controlled. I remember feeling absolutely wiped out afterwards like I couldn't even hold my own body up straight. And this feeling didn't go away until my second blood transfusion, about a day later.
Knowing how blood loss can make you feel, and knowing I would lose blood during a caesarean made me even more scared of having one. I would have loved to have known that my hospital could give me my own blood back, in the recovery room, in such a controlled and safe way. In fact I couldn't believe how much more controlled and safe the procedure felt than my previous delivery. Technology really is amazing.
6. Infection Risk Is Taken Extremely, Extremely Seriously
As you can see the general theme of my experience is constant fear that I really didn't need to have. So you can imagine my reaction when I got back to the ward after the longest day to suddenly develop a temperature. Then the baby got a temperature as well, and I again burst into inconsolable tears.
As many google doctors like myself will know temperatures are a sign of infection, which is one of the biggest risks with any surgery. The midwife came around and checked us and confirmed we had a temperature, and again we were suddenly surrounded by doctors and nurses buzzing around and prepping things. I was panicking hard. In fact I'll never forget how grateful I was for the amazing healthcare assistant who came and sat with me and calmed me down. She reminded me of what an amazing experience I'd had, and spoke to the nurse to have me moved into a side room so my partner could come back and stay. I don't know what I would have done without her that day, it's crazy how a complete stranger in the right moment can be such a rock to you.
Obviously I knew infection was taken seriously in any hospital, but I had no idea how seriously. This made me read the situation all wrong, and think the urgency in the room meant we were in danger. I managed to calm down a fair bit when they explained that they just have to treat any infection symptom as though it's the real thing, before test results come back, to be on the safe side.
This meant quickly getting our temperatures down and putting us straight on a general antibiotic. Suddenly I felt so much safer, everything made sense and seemed less chaotic. I'm telling you this because if I'd have known about this approach beforehand I might have saved myself a lot of tears. Don't do what I did and assume the worst if things start to look busy, it means the people looking after you are acting on the side of caution, and that's exactly the kind of healthcare you need.
7. Pants are a No-Go for a Few Days
Let's talk hospital bags. PACK A NIGHTIE. In fact pack like four, at least. I've never really been a fan of the nightie, so I decided to pack one nightie and fill the rest of my bag with the baggiest pants I owned and just the one nursing nightie that was donated to me by a family member. BIG MISTAKE.
I wore the nightie on day one, and then spent the rest of my stay walking around in my underwear and a T-Shirt. Which was not the most dignified experience. I mean being dignified shouldn't be your aim for the first year after you have a baby, nevermind the first few days, but still. At one point I got so comfortable walking around in my underwear it took me half an hour to realise I didn't have any pants on walking around my hospital room while my partners family were in visiting the baby. It was not my finest moment. You might not be able to bare having anything on your stomach. No matter how loose, or stretchy, or high up you think the waistband is. So don’t do what I did, spare yourself, pack the nightie. You'll thank me later.
8. At Home, You Will Probably Get More Rest Than You Would With a Natural Birth
This was an unexpected perk that made a huge difference, and something I think every new mother regardless of how she delivered can learn from. After I had my son I was hobbling around as if nothing had happened two weeks later. Even though quite frankly my underneath felt like it had been ran through by a truck at full speed. I was not okay, I was not healed, but I was acting like I was.
It wasn't until I had a caesarean I realised, and accepted, how much the body goes through during delivery. And how much you need to rest and recover. I think on some level the acknowledgement that I'd had major surgery allowed me to go easy on myself, and take care of myself. Something I definitely didn't do the first time around. After surgery I was so scared of tearing my stitches that I took things as slow as I needed to. But the thing was surgery or not I was going through just as much physically the first time around.
I wish I'd have been more mindful of what my body needed the first time around. It can be easy to feel like we have to push on like nothing has happened, and not take enough care of ourselves after we deliver. With a new baby and so much going on a lot of us put ourselves last. But if I'd have realised how much my body had been through and known how much better I'd feel for taking care of myself as well as the baby, it would have made a huge difference to my first post natal experience.
9. Sometimes It Actually is The “Easier” Way Out
STOP! Hear me out before you send in the internet trolls to ruin my life and order strange items to my house. Before I even say anything I want to state that there is NO easy way to get a human child out of your body. How anyone could state that there is anything “easy” about childbirth in any form is beyond me. But I’ve put this in because I think it’s important that women know, that a caesarean isn’t always something that should be feared and avoided at all costs. Sometimes depending on your personal experiences, it’s actually easier on your body and mind than a natural delivery. This was definitely the case for me, and there is nothing wrong with that.
As I mentioned when I was told I was going down for a cesarean I burst into tears, and went into a complete panic. I’m quite an anxious person anyway, so I immediately feared the worst. Then, when it actually happened, it turned out to be so much more peaceful and controlled than my previous forceps delivery of first born. His delivery had left me feeling scared and broken, and I suffered in all different kinds of ways for months. It was both gruesome and traumatic. And it turned out that for me personally, having a cesarean was the safer and gentler option for both me and my baby.
If I’d have known that my cesarean was actually going to be so much easier for my body to cope with than natural delivery, I’d have asked for it from the beginning. It’s a personal choice for everyone, but there’s no shame in choosing what you know will be the easiest, and safest option for you, your baby and your body. And for some women that safer, “easier” option, is a cesarean.
If I was ever to have another baby that was likely to be a similar size I would 100% choose a caeserian delivery again. So ladies listen to your bodies and trust yourselves. There is no easy way to bring a baby into the world, but we do have choices. Do your research, be informed, and try not to fear any outcome. But most of all wether your having a home water birth or a scheduled c-section, do whatever you feel is right for you and your baby.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you learned something new from it, I hope it made you feel more informed. If you’re a soon to be new Mum or Dad, or even if you just want to know more about caesarian delivery in general and have questions about anything I’ve discussed here, feel free to message me. Here’s the link to my Instagram. I’m not a doctor but I’ll do my best to answer any questions you might have. They say it takes a village to birth and raise babies and it’s true 💖
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