“Do you want your baby to die?”
That’s the reply I received when my first baby’s heartbeat dropped and I asked if there were any other options besides a C-section. I was wheeled to the operating room within minutes and then knocked out, not meeting my son for another 3 hours later.
At the time, as a new mom, I was not sure what to do and did not know that how this doctor talked to me was wrong, but my emergency C-section haunted my thoughts for years, despite having delivered a healthy baby boy. For this reason, I want to share with other moms the things that not even doctors will tell you, because it’s important to know you have choices. It’s important to be informed, and it’s important to take the steps you need to take to make your birthing experience is a beautiful moment rather than a scary memory.
So, here we go.
1. They can happen to anyone.
I’ve heard so many women talk about their birth plan and how something went wrong and they were told they needed a C-section, so that was how their baby entered this world. People have mixed experiences and are usually just happy their child is okay, but I know it can be traumatizing and one of the best ways to prevent a portion of that fear or anxiety is to ask your doctor questions about C-sections just as you would ask them about natural childbirth. If either is a possibility, why not try to be ready?
2. It still involves your lady parts.
I loved the idea of a C-section because thinking about having my legs opened for multiple nurses and doctors to have me on display really freaked me out. I’m a private person and went my entire pregnancy without accepting any exam which would mandate that I undress (don’t worry—none of those exams were necessary for me to have a healthy baby, and it’s every woman’s choice to make for herself). Anyway, I thought: C-section means people will only have to look at my belly. Wrong. You still bleed as the placenta and other material leaves your body after your baby’s birth, and in order to clean you, or check for anything that might still be stuck, they do have to look at you or do exams even as you’re on the table.
3. You get a catheter.
As mentioned above, there are still private parts which will be involved during your C-section. For a few minutes before the procedure, but after you’ve been numbed with a spinal block, a nurse will insert a catheter into you to ensure that your bladder remains empty and doesn’t get in the doctor’s way as he/she delivers your baby. The bladder is very close to the uterus and if it’s full–which it will be because you’re being pumped with IV fluid the whole time– the doctor might accidentally knick your bladder or the baby. To prevent this as much as possible, catheters are usually required. I have heard of people declining.
4. You can ask for a tour of the operating room.
I wasn’t sure whether they would let me or not, but when I called the hospital during my second pregnancy, I asked if they would let me see the operating room. I recall that my last C-section was the first time I had been in an operating room and it scared me badly to just have people staring at me and to be laid down while they did whatever they wanted to do to me without explaining anything. This time, I wanted to have an image in my head so when the day of my scheduled C-section arrived, I would know what to expect.
I was rejected a few times by nurses and confused staff who weren’t sure if touring the OR was a possibility but didn’t understand why I would want to in the first place, but finally, I was passed over to a nurse navigator and she was more than willing to book a tour for me and my husband. I have to say this was one of the things that made my C-section less daunting for me on the day of. I knew where the tools would be, where everyone would be standing, and even the time to expect between when my son would be delivered and when he would actually be in my arms.
5. Sometimes they need to use general anesthesia.
If a spinal block doesn’t work at first attempt, the anesthesiologist will attempt a second time, but if you’re in an emergency situation and they do not have time to wait for the ingredients to kick in and do their job, general anesthesia is the next option. With general anesthesia, you will be put to sleep, and when you wake up, if all is well, then you will get to meet your baby.
Under general anesthesia, most hospitals will not allow a husband or any other visitor to stay in the room with you. I was alone during my first C-section and this made me paranoid about what happened while I was under so I requested to have my husband in the room this time around—even if I needed general anesthesia. In fact, I would not sign the surgery consent form until the hospital staff promised me this request would be honored.
6. You bleed for about 6 weeks.
During my first pregnancy, I recall having to buy lots of pads because the hospital ones weren’t cutting it anymore, and I wanted to be comfortable. I’d rather buy my preferred brand than have to sit in cheap adult diapers, so I did. Even after a C-section, you still have a lot of lochia so it’s good to be prepared for that. I bled for about 6-7 weeks with my first baby but only 4 weeks with the second baby. Some days will be worse than others depending on how active you are during your recovery.
7. You need to sign a consent form.
I know there is paperwork for any hospital when you’re admitted, but with a C-section, there is a separate form to state that you give consent to surgery. In this form, there may be a lot of ‘fine print’ details that you should read ahead of time so you don’t feel pressured to sign the day of your delivery (whether it’s a planned C-section or not). If you read this form ahead of time, even if you’re planning a vaginal birth, it might ease your mind to already be aware of what’s on that document in case a C-section is recommended the day you go into labor.
Feel free to write your own form of requests and concerns to make sure everyone is on the same page. A birth plan doesn’t just have to include that you want a water birth or no drugs. It can be anything from asking that no students be allowed to watch to stating that you want to keep your placenta.
8. Sometimes students are invited.
I have to write this one out because there are lots of times when you’re in such a compromising position during birth, or so exhausted or eager to meet your baby, that you don’t notice how the number of people in your delivery room suddenly went from two to six or more. Often, women will assume that these people are nurses or necessary staff, but the truth is that because some hospitals are ‘teaching hospitals; (think Grey’s Anatomy), students will be invited to watch you push out your baby and may even sometimes be allowed to perform pelvic exams or checks on you. Feel free to decline! This is your body and your experience. Learning is great and all but I know I was not comfortable with the idea of someone using my body as a learning tool and I made that very clear on my consent form.
For C-sections, there may be students present as well. Sometimes they are allowed to participate and sometimes they are not. Decide ahead of time what’s okay with you so you can make it known to your doctor.
9. Anything is possible with your incision.
After the birth of my first baby, I had to go back to the hospital because my incision (which nowadays is just a small line on your bikini line) had become irritated and was burning red. It turns out I had a skin infection that needed to be treated with antibiotics.
After the birth of my second baby, I had a part of my incision open up. There was an actual hole visible, and scared that this was something serious, I called my doctor but she said this was normal and sometimes happens but that it would close back up on its own–which it did.
Some doctors use staple stitches that you can see and will need to be removed a week later, but other doctors use dissolvable stitches that you will not see. Either way, know that it’s complex and feel free to ask as many questions as you need to after you get home and are able to look at it and notice something weird, or unexpected.
Whatever happens, just know you have choices and the right to ask questions at any point during your pregnancy or delivery—that’s actually something else people don’t tell you.