My Positive C-Section Experience: An Elective Cesarean Due to a Breach Baby
My elective c-section was, as it turns out, not particularly planned at all.
Up until I was 36 weeks pregnant, I presumed that I would be embarking on a good old-fashioned vaginal birth. I even bought an Anibal to ‘practice’ birthing my child; what a useless, traumatising activity that was for both me and my husband.
I’d had my suspicions for a while that Olive was breach, but had been assured that the wiggly body part under my ribs was in fact her bottom. Only now do I realise that a mother’s intuition is never wrong.
At my 36-week appointment, the midwife suspiciously pressed the hard lump under my ribs and muttered: ‘I think we have a naughty baby, here’. Hauling myself off the examination table, I sat – legs anxiously swinging – as the midwife rang the obstetrics department to book a scan to confirm Olive’s positioning.
Within just a few hours, I’d been scanned (twice) and it was revealed that Olive’s head was merrily pressed up against my ribs. I also discovered that she was in a ‘footling’ breach position, with one leg flexed against her forehead and the other hanging down.
Due to Olive’s awkward position, a ‘natural’ birth was quickly ruled out within just a few swift minutes. Instead, I found myself surreally signing a contract to confirm that I was happy to go ahead with a planned c-section.
On reflection, I’d say this was probably the most traumatic part of my experience of an elective c-section. I didn’t have a phone signal in the hospital and was therefore unable to ring James (who was waiting in the car, thanks to Covid-19), to run through any of the associated risks of the operation.
Instead, the doctor looked on impatiently as I slowly picked up the pen to sign the contract. ‘Great’, she briskly said, you’ll hear from our booking team when a slot becomes available. With that, she abruptly left the room, leaving me confused as to whether I’d just booked a bikini wax, or the date for my baby’s arrival.
Just 24 hours later, the ‘booking team’ called and my c-section was confirmed for just five days later – on Monday 15 February. This life changing call was taken while I stood in the public toilets of my local Costa; glasses steamed up from wearing my mask.
It wasn’t quite the sentimental event I’d anticipated.
With all of the above taken into consideration, my experience of an elective c-section was therefore not the relaxed and orderly event that it perhaps might have been. I did, however, have five days to wrap my head around the fact that I’d shortly be having major abdominal surgery – and spent it relentlessly Googling to help prepare for the big day.
How to Prepare For Your Planned C-Section
The moment I was home from hospital, I demanded a takeaway pizza and threw open my laptop in a frenzied state. Scouring blogs and articles on the topic, it seemed there was a surprising amount of things I could do to prepare for the experience of a planned c-section.
This is what I discovered –
1. Planned c-section pre-op consultation
Firstly, before your planned c-section, you will attend hospital for a ‘pre-op’ consultation. Mine took place on the Friday and was fairly straightforward. I had a Covid-19 test, my blood pressure taken and then I had a blood test, before meeting with a Consultant. The meeting was an opportunity for me to ask any questions and to go through what I could expect on the big day. Before leaving the hospital, I was also given some Omeprazole and anti-nausea tablets to take on the lead up to the surgery.
I was also told, sternly, to not eat after 8pm the night before my surgery. This leads me onto my next point.
2. Enjoy a nice meal with your partner
In order to prepare for your planned c-section, attempt a ‘nice’ meal with your partner the night before. Admittedly, a leisurely dinner just hours before your baby is born takes some effort, but try we did – and it was surprisingly nice. We tucked into some homemade lasagna and attempted to capture those last few hours together. It’s something that not everyone gets to do, so why not make the most of it.
3. Plan some alone time the night before your c-section
After dinner, plan some quiet alone time – it’s soon to become a rarity. I had a bath, washed my hair and took some final photos of my bump. At this point, my emotions were swinging dramatically between excitement and utter terror, but it was nice to mark the final evening with a few small rituals.
4. What to buy for a c-section
- Buy an extra long phone charger: the plug sockets in hospitals can be a long way from your bed – and getting up and down, with your body recently sliced in two – is no mean feat. An extra long phone charger is therefore a surprising game changer.
- Prepare a playlist for the birth: many hospitals will allow you to put your own music on during the surgery; take advantage of this. Here’s Laura’s own labour playlist.
- Buy plenty of things that will help distract you: the morning wait to go down to surgery can be excruciating. Think of it as a long haul flight and pack things to help calm your nerves, i.e. puzzle books, download a Netflix series or listen to a podcast. I know it might seem silly, doing a puzzle before the biggest moment of your life, but it can help.
- Bring your pregnancy pillow – this is really useful to put on your lap, to stop that brand new wiggly baby knocking your c-section incision (try the Bbhugme pillow).
- Buy and label packing cubes for your hospital bag: while it’s still impossible to get up and down, having an organised hospital bag means the midwife or support staff can easily find an item for you. We loved these packing cubes, in particular.
- Pack soft and stretchy clothes: you won’t be picking up a pair of jeans for sometime after a planned c-section. Instead, ensure you pack plenty of nighties and soft leggings that will pull up over your wound. As it’s difficult to bend down initially, nighties especially are a godsend, as you can simply slip them over your head.
- Pack big knickers: similar to above, you want giant knickers that rest somewhere under your boobs, for ultimate c-section comfort.
- Pack flip flops or sliders: getting a pair of socks on is near impossible, yet hospital bathrooms can be a little grim.
- Hypnobirthing for a planned caesarean: I immediately downloaded a hypnobirthing app focused on a c-section birth. See below for more details on this.
- A Birth Plan – it’s still very much worthwhile putting together a birth plan for your planned c-section. Here you can include certain things, such as opting for a certain lighting, asking for optimal cord clamping and making tweaks to the environment into which your baby is born.
Can Hypnobirthing Help with a C-Section?
Both Laura and I are firm advocates of hypnobirthing.
Both of us took courses prior to finding out we would be having c-sections, and the skills and lessons they taught us were entirely transferable when it came to an abdominal birth.
Hypnobirthing is not simply about learning relaxation techniques, or visualisation exercises, it also educates you on every facet of birth, including a caesarean birth. We went through what might happen during a c-section, or an emergency c-section, and the rights and decisions we had, when faced with this situation.
It meant that when we were both faced with caesareans, we felt confident and knew what to expect from the experience (especially for Laura, when managing the chaos of an emergency c-section).
I completed a brilliant hypnobirthing course with Jess from the Bluebird Birth Company, which was incredibly useful and once I found out that I was having a caesarean. I also downloaded the online Hypnobirthing for C-Section Mini Course from The Mindful Birth group, to help me stay calm during those final few days.
I feel hypnobirthing definitely helped contribute to my positive c-section experience.
What Happens During a C-section?
Unlike spontaneous birth, the morning of a planned c-section is oddly orderly and calm.
On the morning of Monday 15 February, we left the house at 6:30am and arrived at the hospital promptly for 7:00am.
Getting into the car, I remember thinking that the only feeling I could liken the experience to was the feeling of getting up for an early morning flight. Your stomach is a heady mix of anticipation and excitement, with a healthy dose of fear slung in for good measure. The only small difference was that I was coming home with a baby, not a tan.
Once at the hospital, we were put on the pre-op ward with two other couples who would also be having their planned c-sections that morning. We nervously exchanged pleasantries with each other, before swiftly drawing our curtains to try and hide our anxious faces and quiet, tense conversations.
On the morning of your caesarean, the doctors will assess you in terms of ‘risk’, with the highest risk pregnancy going straight to the top of the operating list. Sadly (or fortunately), I was deemed the lowest risk and so would have to wait the longest.
This, I can confidently say, was a tortuous experience.
After a quick examination to scan the baby and take my blood pressure, I changed into my hospital gown and waited – and waited. Hours passed, during which I attempted to watch Schitts Creeks, have a nap and read a book – each unsuccessfully. Concentrating on anything other than the fact your baby is about to be in your arms is understandably tricky.
Finally, and after a lifetime had passed, it was our turn to go down to theatre (by this point, it was 12pm). Shuffling down in my hospital gown and slippers, we were greeted by a cheerful lady who was managing surgeries that day. While we waited in a sunny, quiet corridor, she talked me through what would happen once we got inside.
In all honesty, I don’t remember a word the woman said, but she was a calming and friendly face, nonetheless.
Walking through the surgery doors, we were then met by a sea of smiling faces (who knew a planned c-section required just so many people?) With the radio playing in the background, I was introduced to everyone in the operating theatre – none of whom I have any memory of now.
While the team and James distracted me, I climbed onto the bed and they administered the spinal block, warning me that it would soon feel like I had wet myself. It turns out this was a very accurate description (although the floor did remain dry).
What Does a Spinal Block Feel Like?
The administration of the spinal block for my planned c-section was nowhere near as painful as I’d feared.
I remember a cold feeling as my back was cleaned and an even colder spray was applied. Next came a sharp scratch as the needle went in. However, any pain quickly disappeared and a warm feeling spread through my bum and down my legs, as the anaesthetic took hold. It wasn’t unpleasant in the slightest.
Perhaps the oddest sensation of the whole experience my c-section experience was being lifted, whilst paralysed, onto the operating table. It was like I was floating out of my body, as I watched my legs being lifted by a team of people, all whilst feeling nothing at all.
Once on the operating table, the anaesthetist produced a freezing spray, which he sprayed on various parts of me to ensure I was sufficiently anaesthetised. Now, I’ve been known to be an over-thinker and in this situation, my brain predictably leapt into overdrive.
“Can you feel this?” he said, as he sprayed my feet. Convinced I may have felt something, I asked him to spray again – and then again. This continued on various parts of my body for five minutes, until he eventually sprayed my arm. A freezing, painful blast hit my elbow and I yelped. ‘That’s what it would feel like if you could feel anything below you waist’, he said knowingly.
I nodded dutifully and let the team begin.
After that, a screen was quickly erected in front of me whilst the surgeons set to work. Unfortunately, at this point, I happened to gaze upwards, only to see my own vagina and legs reflected back at me off the operating light. Fleetingly, I was gripped by utter shame that there were a team of people working around my vagina – an area that I hadn’t tended to in quite some time.
Quickly, however, all vagina-related concerns disappeared.
Olive is Born
While James, the anaesthetist and I enjoyed a nice conversation about the weather, the team of surgeons behind the screen delved deep inside my womb. The anaesthetist had told me that he would warn us just before Olive was born, so that James could take some photos. Halfway through our conversation, however, we heard a baby cry.
Confused, I looked to the anaesthetist who quickly stood up and looked over the screen. ‘Oh crap,’ he said, ‘it seems someone was in a hurry to get out’. Apparently, the force of Olive being breach meant that she had shot out the womb.
Just seconds later, the surgeon presented Olive to me – well, her red bottom to me. Dangling above me, I stared at the wiggling bottom that had caused so much mischief, before she was promptly whisked away for her checks. James, instantly forgetting of my existence, disappeared to see Olive, whilst I lay there unsure whether to resume the conversation about the weather, or not.
Eventually, James remembered the vessel from which his child had been born, and brought her round for me to peer at. I was hoping I might be able to have some skin-to-skin while in the theatre, but in reality, it’s a little difficult. Instead, James held her next to me while the surgeons continued to remove my placenta and stitch me up.
How Long Does a C-Section Take?
Handily, James took a photo of the operating theatre board, which held all the vital information regarding my planned caesarean.
- Time into operating theatre: 12:13pm
- Knife to skin: 12:35
- Baby born: 12:41
- Placenta delivered: 12:43
- End of operation: 13:14
So, to summarise, it took just six minutes for Olive to be born and in total, the c-section operation took just 39 minutes.
I was worried the aftermath of the c-section operation would feel very long, but it all passed in a quick blur and before I knew it, I was being wheeled into the recovery room with my new bundle of joy.
What Does a Cesarean Feel Like?
Prior to having my stomach sliced open and a baby pulled from my innards, the closest I’d come to a major operation was a root canal.
Over the course of the five days prior to my elective c-section, my search results for – ‘what does a caesarean feel like?’ – seemed to come back with the same analogy. A caesarean feels like someone doing the washing up in your stomach. Not entirely sure what this actually meant, I went into the operating room intrigued. Would I see some bubbles float from me while the surgeon scrubbed my insides? Would I feel ill?
What a planned caesarean actually felt like (to me, at least) was entirely different. Instead, of a washing up feeling in my tummy, I instead felt an intense pressure on my chest. This was probably compounded by the fact that Olive was breach and the largest part of her was tucked under my ribs.
Having expected to feel ‘odd sensations’ in my stomach, I did get a bit anxious when I felt such a heavy feeling on my chest – thus became gripped by the fear that I was in the midst of heart failure. The anaesthetist did his best to reassure me that this sensation was perfectly normal, but it remained uncomfortable nonetheless.
Will a C-Section Make you Feel Sick?
Bizarrely, when faced with a major operation and the imminent arrival of my first child, my biggest fear about my c-section experience was whether or not I’d feel (or be) sick. Visions of me vomiting onto the head of my newborn began to haunt me as the day approached.
So preoccupied I was by vomiting, the first question I asked the anaesthetist when I met him on the operating table was: ‘will I be sick?’ Laughing, he assured me that if I felt nauseous at all, I just needed to let him know and he would administer an anti-nausea drug that should keep the vomiting at bay.
Fortunately, I didn’t feel sick at all during the operation. The only time I felt strange was when they administered a shot of oxytocin when removing the placenta. For a minute or so after that, my heart rate shot up and I felt light headed. The anaesthetist – a very good looking doctor may I add – held my hand during this and told me to breathe through my nose.
It all passed very quickly and I was soon so distracted by Olive that I barely registered any other sensations.
What to expect after a c-section
After the caesarean was complete, I was wheeled into the observation room, where I could finally hold Olive.
I’d been worried about getting ‘the shakes’ during the operation, but I only experienced a few tremors in my hands and legs. I definitely felt a little spaced out, however, this was most likely shell-shock from the previous 45 minutes.
While we were waiting in recovery, the ward’s breastfeeding support came in to help me feed Olive. Not a lot happened during that time (Olive’s mouth remained firmly closed), but it was incredibly reassuring to have someone there already to support me with my feeding journey. This is one aspect of the NHS that I’m hugely grateful for and I hope these positions continue to be funded by Government.
Once I’d been deemed stable (although, I must admit, I definitely still felt ‘weird’), I was taken through to the ward. The next few hours were a bit of a blur, but I do remember ordering two rounds of toast and tea, whilst a midwife kindly changed Olive’s first nappy. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, James had to leave after just an hour – while I was still paralysed.
This is something that I’m still so utterly furious about that it warrants its own blog post. If, however, you’d like to read more about the impact that birth restrictions are having on new mothers, please take a look at Pregnant Then Screwed.
With the adrenaline wearing off, I did experience a very teary few hours over the course of the night. I don’t think anything can prepare you for suddenly finding yourself holding a newborn baby, paralysed and without the support of your partner. The first evening and night were, by far, the hardest moments of my planned c-section.
How Long Do You Stay Paralysed for After a C-section?
I regained some initial feeling in my toes surprisingly quickly after the c-section and could wiggle them within a few hours. Despite this, I stayed in my bed for the rest of the evening and night and didn’t get up until the following morning. This is mainly because you are fitted with electric compression pads around your legs that help lessen the risk of blood clots. I can still remember the sound of the pads slowly filling with air and then decompressing during that first night, the sound interrupting my sleep just as I had dozed off.
I was hugely relieved to have them taken off the following morning.
Your First Wee and Poo after my c-section experience
Before my caesarean, I had visions of being rewarded with bed rest immediately after the ordeal. As it turns out, however, midwives have no intention of letting you lay about after a c-section – they will have you back on your feet within 24 hours.
At 6:00am the following day, a support worker marched into my room and informed me it was time to remove my catheter. Gingerly getting to my feet and catheter successfully removed (I can’t remember this at all, but it wasn’t painful), I was promptly handed a cardboard bowl. Apparently, if I wanted to go home anytime soon, I had to prove I could wee.
Hunched over, I staggered to the toilet, conjuring up mental images of waterfalls and rain. The silence inside the toilet, however, was deafening – with not one drop of urine leaving my shell-shocked bladder. This continued over the course of the morning, until I eventually unleashed the world’s longest, most satisfying wee. Delighted, I carefully held my precious bowl of urine and staggered towards the midwife.
I’d passed the test.
As an aside, I had read a lot about the first poo after a c-section being horrendous but surprisingly, I had no issues at all. My first post-birth poo was a non-event; neither painful nor disgusting. I don’t want to sound smug but, my bowels remained on top form throughout.
How Long Do You Stay in Hospital after an Elective C-section?
Being pregnant and giving birth during a global pandemic meant I was incredibly anxious about having to stay in hospital for too long, once Olive was born. With James only being able to visit for an hour a day, I dreaded the thought of staying in hospital for any longer than need be.
Confident I would be OK, I’d hoped to be home the following day – but the reality was very different. Once Olive was born, the doctors noticed that she was breathing particularly fast and queried an infection. Unfortunately, this meant that we had to stay in hospital for four days in total, while we waited for Olive’s test results to come back.
While I’m under no illusion that this was incredibly hard for both me and James – and I spent many hours crying at doctors and midwives to let me go home – on reflection I am somewhat glad that I was able to stay in hospital for that long. No-one in their right mind would be sent home so soon after major abdominal surgery and I feel this should be no different for women undergoing a caesarean.
The electronic beds in hospital are truly a godsend after a c-section and the reality of moving around at home was far harder than I anticipated. Although the pain was very manageable once walking or laying still, the searing sensation I felt when I tried to get in and out of bed was excruciating.
Being in hospital for a few days also means that you can make the most of the postpartum support around you, which is a huge help when you have such limited movement. The nursery nurses, midwife supports and midwives themselves helped with changing, dressing (both me and Olive) and most importantly, supported me in trying to breastfeed. Again, I cannot thank Jenni enough, who visited me everyday to help me feed Olive. She even whipped out a hospital grade pump on my final day, to ensure I was going home with enough breastmilk while Olive was still getting to grips with my nipples.
Her support will be one of my fondest memories of my time in hospital.
Tips for Recovery from a C-Section
Recovery from a planner or emergency c-section is no joke. Not only does it involve birthing a child, but it entails the added highlight of a surgeon excavating through seven different layers of your abdomen.
Recovery from my c-section experience was a slow and steady one and here are my tips on how to recover from a c-section.
1. Do not rush home after a c-section
Although you will be desperate to go home, do try and make the most of the hospital’s electronic reclining beds and the extra hands around you. It really is a whole different story when you get home; even climbing the stairs can feel impossible.
2. Keep moving after a c-section
The midwives hold no prisoners when it comes to getting back on your feet after a planned c-section. At 6am the following morning, I was told to get up and start moving (gently, of course). Not only does this reduce your risk of blood clots, help your lymphatic system to drain (helping you avoid those swollen ankles) and help regulate blood pressure, it also helps with your general mobility moving forward. Granted, I did have to walk slightly bent over for a week or so (the wound feels very tight and sore, initially), but just the act of gentle walking helped to keep any scar tissue stretched and me feeling a little more myself.
3. Painkillers after a c-section
In my humble opinion, one of the biggest scandals regarding how women are treated after a caesarean is their access to pain medication that is relative to the pain that comes from a c-section.
Immediately after the operation, you’ll most likely be administered a Diclofenac suppository, to help keep any initial pain at bay. However, and once on the postnatal ward, we were both just given paracetamol and ibuprofen to manage the discomfort; exactly what you’d take for something like a headache. At the time, we weren’t aware that you are able to ask for stronger painkillers – oral morphine, for example. Do not be afraid to ask for this and to advocate for your own comfort.
4. Expect postpartum bleeding after a c-section
I expected some postpartum bleeding after my planned c-section, but I didn’t expect to bleed for as long and as heavily as I did. I first realised I was bleeding once I had regained some feeling in my legs. Looking down, I discovered a giant sanitary towel wedged between my thighs. Although I know staff are more than used to doing this, I did feel incredibly guilty that they were having to change these colossal, nappy like pads.
Another thing to prepare for is the smell of the blood (or ‘lochia’). It doesn’t smell like a period and does tend to stick around for quite a while. Oh, the delights of being a woman.
5. Scar massage course for a c-section
Admittedly, I’ve been incredibly lazy when it comes to looking after my c-section scar.
Initially, while my wound was healing, I did buy a specialist gel and balm to apply. I think I have been quite fortunate that I haven’t suffered from any particular discomfort stemming from my scar, but I do think I could have done more to help it heal.
This includes a regular scar massage to aid healing and to ensure the incision line softens and fades. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials to help teach you a simple massage technique, such as this one.
6. Physiotherapy after a c-section
With your core, quite literally, sliced through during a c-section, a full Mum MOT is a must and I do regret not booking my own MOT until 11 months postpartum.
It can be really hard to put yourself first during the first year of your baby’s life, but ensuring your body is healing correctly is crucial for yours, and your baby’s, longer term happiness.
Perhaps this is my advice more generally for anyone undergoing an elective or emergency c-section. Although the process is a positive one, in birthing your child, don’t forget that it is major surgery and prioritising your own mental and physical health should be an imperative.