Today, I take a detour from my usual posts about creativity, art, and finding inner peace. Actually, this isn’t at all far from those subjects because I believe all in life is interconnect, in ways we never quite understand, even.
As a friend of mine approached a having an cesarean, she asked me about what to expect with her healing.
I wrote this for her, and I painfully also remember laying in my hospital bed after my cesarean birth, reaching for my phone and typing:
what to expect from a cesarean?
None of the women I had programmed in my phone had gone through cesearean.
So, I trusted myself with a search bar to bring me answers.
I believe that no woman should ever have to consult google after being split open, as she welcomes in her new child and also as she tries desperately to heal.
As I work to dismantle the system that keeps mothers invisible and isolated in critical moments for their mental health — here I share my voice.
Also, I really want to say is this: ask as many questions as you can to your health care provider. My experience is unique to me. I’m not a health care professional. Every woman’s body is soo different. If something feels off or confusing, ask your professionals.
What to expect as you heal from a cesarean
I’m going to leave out what happens in the operating room and that hour or two in recovery. I had an atypicaly recovery time, so I can’t tell you what a normal recovery room experience is like.
This is an account for the time when you’re sutured back up, and your body is working so hard on healing. You’ll be in your mother/baby room where you wait for a few days to be discharged.
I promise to cover the operating room experience in another post.
Walking + feeling your body again after surgery
I remember feeling very eager to get my iv port out and to remove the sticky tapes from my body. That happened within a day (24 hours) after surgery. You’ll probably be encouraged to walk pretty soon after your surgery, which may seem counter intuitive but it helps with circulation and avoiding blood clots.
Walk as soon as you can, as advised. It truly did help me with fluid retention and healing, I believe. You’ll probably cry the whole time. I know I did because everything felt so off and painful.
You’ll also be encouraged to use the bathroom once your catheter is out – a few hours after surgery.
That first shower you can take will feel glorious. You won’t be allowed to take a bath or submerge in water for about a month after the surgery.
What is your incision/scar going to be and feel like?
I had a really great surgeon, and my incision site healed with no complications. The nurses and your Dr will be checking it regularly during your hospital stay. Your bandage will come off about 24 hours after surgery.
It may be hard for you to see your incision site without a mirror (I couldn’t look down and see my incision site for months).
Your Doctor will give you info on what to look out for if the incision site has complications, so make sure to read up on that and keep trying to look at your incision site often when you’re home.
There were only sutures (no stitches) for my incision that ended up coming off in the shower. I know this differs from place to place, so make sure to ask what you need to do about stitches.
I felt like, for several weeks but especially the days after the c-section, that every time I laughed or coughed the incision was going to split open. It never did but the sensation was really alarming to me.
Pain after cesarean
When I asked my community what they felt like isn’t discussed with cesarean, about 90% of the women said: how painful it truly is. I will write about my experience here, because pain in the body is so subjective. Yet, it’s universal that recovering from a surgery like this is very painful.
Once the anesthesia wore off from the surgery, the pain in my womb and incision site was super intense. I think, in a way, my body was just starting to feel what was going on. You may feel this too.
The pain is intense of healing once the epidural wears off. Your nurses will keep you on a schedule with pain meds but you may want to keep a log in your phone for when you’re home, because life/time can get blurry with a newborn.
Make sure to talk about what sort of medications you’ll be prescribed to take the edge off the pain. Some women have a lot of reservation about opioid medications, so try to get as much info as possible.
The pain is normal, it’s a sign your body is healing. You just had major surgery that went all the way into your organs. Don’t suffer in the pain if you need to take medication. You’ve just had your uterus split open, it’s ok to need help.
The pain of your incision and womb should get better after a few days, gradually becoming less intense. But, I’ll stop sharing here because every woman/person with a uterus is different. Trust your body and speak up if something doesn’t feel right to you.
Care for your lower body
You’ll be given stool softeners because pooping and healing an abdomen wound can be super intense. I highly recommend taking the stool softeners.
You’ll need pads and a probably want a peri bottle just as if you had a vaginal birth. You will bleed after having a cesarean. I hemorrhaged after birth so will refrain from talking about post-partum bleeding – I don’t have any personal experience about what normal bleeding would be like.
Body and life experiences a few days later
You may have the shakes for a few days, I don’t have a lot of explanation for it but it also was shocking for me to feel. It came for me when I was waking up from sleep. I know my shaking was tied to the surgery anesthesia but also my body trying to process trauma.
Getting in and out of bed is tough. In the hospital you’ll be able to move the bed up and down and have bed rails.
I had to have a step stool by our bed at home and for a few weeks would need aid in getting up from laying down. I also slept upright with a lot of pillows behind me so I could sit up easier.
What I did to get out of bed was roll to one side, hold onto something and hoist myself up. Remember: not only were you pregnant, which separates your abdominal muscles, but your lower abdomen has been split and clamped open to birth a baby. Move with caution and awareness.
This is when to ask for help. It’s vulnerable af to feel like you’re paralyzed laying down, especially if you have a crying baby who needs you.
Our home was small so my husband could hear me if I needed him, but you may want some other way to call out for help getting from the bed to walking.
Plan to not drive. This is another secret, I feel, about cesarean mamas. You’ll be advised not to drive, for me it was 4 weeks. You use your lower abs A LOT while driving, and there is risk of reversing your healing if you had to suddenly slam on the breaks.
I’ll pause here to say I truly wish no mother would have to worry about driving for a month (or more!) after giving birth.
Castor oil packs a few months down the road will help the incision heal and remove scar tissue build up. I still have to work with my scar tissue 3.5 years later, more on that in another post too.
I hemorrhaged after surgery, so I took an iron supplement (check with your Dr though, you may not need this) and a good multivitamin after. Warm meals, like stews and soups will help rebuild your body and blood volume. Drink more water than you ever thought you could ever want or need.
Weeks and months after the cesarean
It took about 2 weeks for the swelling from all the iv fluids to go down. I feel like the night my swelling went down I also peed around the clock.
I finally felt comfortable pushing a stroller about 3 or 4 weeks post surgery. Baby wearing was also a challenge because of the pressure it put on my abdomen and hence my incision site, but every body is different so maybe it won’t be for an issue you.
I successfully wore my son at about 4 weeks. It was a milestone.
It took about 6 weeks before I could wear underwear or pants that rubbed/touched against my incision – still honestly an issue I have today because it’s a vulnerable spot.
It took about 8 weeks for me to feel like I could walk again normally. And around that 2 month point, I finally could feel my path of healing unfolding.
My incision site felt like it was joining two parts of my body for a really long time. I don’t know how better to describe that, but when I looked at my lower belly it felt disconnected for…months I believe.
Now, 3.5 years later I deal with some incision numbness or tingling still.
Cesarean mamas are so strong.
Cesarean is such a major surgery, a painful surgery, and is a big deal.
I will also write/talk about the emotional side of recovery another time. I promise.
I cried writing this. I also felt my womb get sore and my incision site tingle and have had waves of nausea while writing this, so there have been
I hear women say snide things about cesarean birth, about how it’s the easy way out (obviously women who say this haven’t had a cesarean).
And often the conversation while you’re pregnant is to avoid cesarean like the plague.
I disagree. I believe cesarean birth is a powerful and life changing way to give birth, and because there’s so much shame in our culture about doing things the “wrong way” and/or we especially shame people who need help – we stop talking about the things we need to discuss most.
I’ll never again let my silence in the matter contribute to another woman’s pain as she heals, mourns, and welcomes herself to this time of life.
I bow to you, cesarean mama. You’ve been through the trenches, literally stood at deaths doorstep in order to bring life into this world.
There’s nothing greater than that.
You are loved.
Topics that I didn’t cover in this post but would like to:
- What the surgery is like
- What the recovery room is like (first hour or so out of the OR)
- Breastfeeding post cesarean
- The emotional aspects of healing
- Intimacy after cesarean
- Body love and body image after cesarean and birth
- Grief and loss as you come to terms with the way you birthed
Thank you for reading. Please share this wide, knowing what it’s like to physically recover from any surgery is important. I think this is especially important because we want to help mamas right after their baby is born.
Again, I’m not a medical professional and in no way does what I say here have any weight against the advice of your Drs/midwives/care team.
With a whole heap of love your way,
Hey beauty. I’m Rose, and I’d love to connect more with you if you’d like. I mean it! Please stay up to date with me here, I invite every one on my email list to write back to me.
What to expect as you heal from a cesarean