You read about so many wonderful birth stories, but you rarely read recovery stories. A C-Section is major abdominal surgery, so at the end of the day, you’re not only caring for a newborn – you’re also recovering yourself. I’ve been open about how this was not the ideal birth story for me, but it was necessary and I’m lucky enough to say that the operation went smoothly. But recovering is no joke, and I wanted to share my side of it.
So here’s the deal. Don’t read this unless you’re down for the truth and for the kind of overwhelming honesty that you know I’ll provide. This is a long post about a not that glamorous topic, but I want to remember the details of the week following my C-Section. Writing it all down is cathartic for me, and I want to share my Recovery Story with anyone who is interested.
If you haven’t yet, read Ivy’s Birth Story. This story picks up right where I left off.
The Recovery Room
After the C-Section was over, my husband was told to return to the room where I would recover for an hour or two. The baby was whisked away as the doctors and nurses did what they had to do. I was moved from the OR Table to a different bed and wheeled back to the recovery room to join my husband. Ivy joined us shortly after and was placed on my chest.
Nurse Laura sweetly showed me how to start breastfeeding on my right side, and to everyone’s shock Ivy literally picked up her head and immediately latched on to me. Nurse Laura was completely shocked and couldn’t believe what a great latch we had. After a week of disappointment, this was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was so nervous I wouldn’t be able to nurse or that we would have a difficult time, but Ivy just knew what to do.
About 30 minutes passed before we invited our parents to join us and meet their new grandbaby. It was such a surreal experience and it flew by. I was still very much on all the medication so I honestly don’t remember much, except for being exhausted and elated at the same time.
The baby was then moved to the nursery and it was time for me to head to the maternity unit. The nurses asked me if I could lift my butt up towards the sky in a bridge pose, which I could. I couldn’t feel myself doing it, but I was doing it! Since I was able, it was officially time for me to go. Before we left, the nurses told me two important nuggets of information: (1) Stay ahead of the pain. They said to overexaggerate the pain so I could get stronger meds because I would NOT want the pain to get too severe. And (2) It is okay to use soap on the incision site. I believe her exact words were “Don’t believe the ladies upstairs, you CAN use soap and water on your incision site during your first shower. Just dab, don’t rub.”
I took in the information as Mike packed our bags and stuffed them under my moving hospital bed.
The Maternity Room: Mental Breakdown Part 1
Our hospital had a separate unit for recovering new moms on the floor above us. Being wheeled through the hallways and into the elevator was another weird movie-like moment for me – you always see on-screen representations of this kind of moment, where someone is being wheeled and the camera just follows the ceiling. It was the beginning of a really scary moment for me.
When I was finally moved to the maternity unit, I was introduced to my new nurse and the new hospital room. As soon as she left, Mike started eating his dinner and I suddenly became overwhelmed in a way I didn’t know was possible. I was high with emotions, and literally high on all the drugs they had given me. I couldn’t feel my legs, everything I could feel was itchy, and I didn’t feel comfortable because I was basically strapped into the bed. I knew I would be confined to my bed for a while but the reality of no longer being in control of my own body was finally setting in.
I kept rubbing my eyes and eventually, the anxiety got so bad that I was crying. I was having a slow and drawn out panic attack. It made me feel so helpless and I hated it. My poor husband ended up staying the night with me to calm me down. He gently caressed my hand until I was able to fall asleep. I will never forget that moment when he stayed by my side and basically put me to sleep like I was the newborn baby. What a keeper.
The First 24 Hours
For the sake of readability…. a list!
- I was still bedridden and hooked up to the catheter, so while I was nursing the baby every 3 hours I was not doing much else.
- I was on an all liquid diet and on various medications. I had one more bag of Pitocin (to help my uterus contract and close more) but everything else was a regular oral medication.
- I slowly started to get feeling back in my feet and legs. Below my knees, I wore weird wrap socks that were hooked up to a machine in order to help prevent blood clots from forming.
- By the way, my legs were so swollen that it was laughable. I seriously think my ankles were the size of my head.
- The last thing I was nervous about was them removing the catheter. I didn’t want to feel it and since I was starting to get feeling back in my lower body I was terrified there would be more pain and discomfort.
- When the nurse removed the catheter she did it without exactly telling me about it which was a huge relief. There were teaching nurses there so I was very scared someone would be using me as practice, but I made sure to ask for the actual nurse.
- When it was time for me to get out of bed, they asked me what my pain scale was. I said 4 because I’m an idiot. As soon as I stood up I immediately felt a stabbing sensation so deep within my gut – it was a new kind of pain within muscles that I didn’t know existed.
- Nursing was going well, but my milk wasn’t in. Even though everyone was telling me how impressed they were by how well the latch was going, I was still nervous that she wasn’t getting enough milk.
- There were a couple students there who didn’t know how to work the equipment, etc, so even though I was trying to be kind I eventually had to ask them to get my regular nurse. At one point it was taking them about 12 minutes to get my new IV set up and I had truly had enough.
Mental Breakdown Number 2
On my second evening in the maternity ward, I had a really awful nurse. She made me feel like a terrible mother and a weak human. I’d call her into the room to ask if she could help me get out of bed to use the restroom (like the previous nurses told me to do), and she told me I should be able to do it myself. I had dropped something on the floor and asked if she would get it because I was scared to bend down, and she told me to get it myself. She kept implying that I was being a weak little bitch and that I was way behind the recovery schedule. I didn’t know any better so I believed every word she said.
After a long day with lots of visitors and not a lot of rest, I asked if she would take the baby in the nursery so I could try and sleep a little bit. The previous nurses told me this would be 100% okay, and to not be ashamed to ask for this. This nurse, however, told me that I needed to figure this out now because if I don’t then I’ll be a terrible inexperienced mother with no way to care for my child. “Only the lazy mothers send their babies away” were her exact words. Mike had already left for the evening at this point, and with no one to tell me otherwise, this nurse’s words resonated and weighed heavy on my exhausted heart. I cried myself to sleep that night.
After several feeding sessions and not a lot of sleep, I started to realize that this nurse was actually an asshole. In reality, she was treating me like I was 30 days post-surgery when I was barely 48 hours. When the shifts were finally changing I met my new nurse who was a complete angel. I knew the other nurse was the worst when I went to pick something up off the floor and the new nurses freaked out and said I shouldn’t be bending over just yet.
The Rest of the Hospital Stay
- The third night of my stay, they let me put the baby in the nursery so I could try and sleep for a couple of hours. I will also say that it is fully ridiculous to expect someone who just had their gut cut open to be able to care for their baby all alone in the room without help. I needed to buzz a nurse for everything – I couldn’t get up to get her out of her bassinet no matter how I tried to move the bed.
- The nurse brought her back to me saying “lil mama is waking up all the other babies, she is tearing up the joint!” and I laughed for the first time in a while. She was a loud newborn, for sure!
- When family would come visit for an extended period of time was when I felt the most like a “cow” – you’re never more of a milkmaid than when people only hand you your baby to eat. As soon as she was done nursing, another family member would take her to burp her, etc. Everyone was letting me rest, but I felt like I wasn’t really bonding with her in the beginning just because I was only her milkmaid.
- Every sound sounded like a baby crying. The first day with her, even just imagining her crying sounded real and would be enough to wake me up and check on her.
- Exhaustion does not begin to cover how I truly felt. It is insane to be recovering from major abdominal surgery while simultaneously taking care of a human being.
Mental Breakdown Number 3
I won’t go into too much detail here, but basically, we almost didn’t get to come home as scheduled. The pediatrician spoke with me early on the morning we were going to be discharged. Mike wasn’t back yet so it was just me, and it was the first time I’ve ever had to deal with health news about anyone but myself. It was insane – making sure I was asking the right questions, trying to take detailed notes so I could tell Mike everything. I was suddenly resilient – even though I personally was in pain and incredibly worried, I was empowered and brave listening to the doctor explain what was happening.
Only after everything was set and confirmed to be okay did I finally allow myself to feel the dread and fear I had really buried. Getting the news alone without any support was absolutely terrifying. And to hear we might not get to go home as scheduled felt like a punch in the throat. I was ready to go home, and Mike was ready to have us with him. I’m so grateful for my in-laws, because during this time they really made me feel comfortable and calmed me down. I was close to tears so many times, but their support and insight kept me from losing it.
Thankfully, everything worked out and we went home that evening around 5pm. My parents stayed with us and were waiting for us when we got home, which made things so much easier and the transition so much smoother.
The hospital stay felt awful while I was in it, but it’s something I look back on fondly now. I’ll always remember the sleepless nights, how it was to be alone with just her, trying to play classical music or even just singing to her to try and calm her down, and how sweet it was to see her meet her cousins and aunts and grandparents. Those first few days are so incredibly precious, and even though recovering from a C-section is the worst, it didn’t take away from the magic of bonding with my new baby!