pregnancy

'No one talks about removing the dressing': 11 things I wish I knew before having a C-section.

I’m a planner. The kind of girl who Googles the ending of the movie so I can watch it in peace.  

I’ve ruined every surprise party ever planned for me, and when it comes to my job, I try to set realistic goals and expectations to help predict a result. 

So naturally, when it came to childbirth, I was ready to get planning for labour.  

A water birth sounds like me, I thought, so I set out to educate myself and gather all relevant information. 

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I did every birthing class possible and I read all the birthing books. 

I didn’t just go into the birthing suite with a laminated water birth plan (I thought it was coming into the water with me); I went into the birthing suite with a manilla folder of 18 pages of material I could pull from that I had collected from my courses and books.

It included visuals of flowers (I think they were meant to represent opening up?), breathing techniques, even a guided meditation my partner could read to me. 

So… did I open that folder once throughout labour? 

Absolutely not. 

But if I did, would I have found one piece of material that would have helped me? 

Absolutely not. 

My water birth dreams drained away faster than the bath as I was told my baby was in distress and I needed an emergency caesarean after 32 hours of labour.  

EMERGENCY CAESAREAN? How could I have completed two birthing courses, read three books on labour, never missed a midwife appointment and still not know one thing about the process of an emergency caesarean?

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To keep in my theme of spoiling the ending, I ended up completely fine with a perfect baby boy, but there were lots of unknowns and questions before I got to that point.  

When you're pregnant you don't want to plan for the worst, but if you're a planner like me, you want to know what you’re getting yourself into. 

Below is a list of things I wish I knew before having a caesarean. 

1. Who’s in surgery with you?

It’s a full house in the surgery room - there was an obstetrician, an anaesthetist, multiple nurses and my midwife when I was wheeled in, clueless and distraught. 

I was declaring to everyone how scared I felt. But everyone in that room made me feel like their number one priority (even though I was probably their 6th operation for the day). 

2. You can choose the music.

A voice in the room asked, "What music would you like to listen to?" I was too stressed and overwhelmed at that point to make such critical decisions so she chose a playlist of acoustic cover songs - my most hated genre of music. 

"Amazing", I replied. 

My son was born to an acoustic rendition of Halo by Beyonce, much to my partner's delight. I would have loved to go in with my playlist - so, a little tip: start queuing tracks you would like your baby to be born to, to avoid an acoustic version of Nickelback (yes, this was also on the playlist).

3. There will be a few times when you and your partner are separated.

Every hospital is different, but for me, there were two times my partner Jaime was separated from me during the surgery. 

Looking back, they make perfect sense as to why, but in the heat of the moment I was screaming "WHERE IS HE? DON’T HAVE THE BABY WITHOUT HIM PLEASE" (keep in mind at this point I hadn't slept for 32 hours). 

Jaime was separated from me while they prepared me for surgery - there were approximately 15 minutes (but it felt like an hour) where he had to get into scrubs. 

Then a second time, for about 30 minutes, when he and our baby left while they stitched me back up post-surgery. 

This is something that I would have loved to have known beforehand: that my one constant in an otherwise completely foreign and uncertain environment would be taken away from me, leaving me more vulnerable and scared than I already was.

4. You’ll feel a little pulling and pushing during the procedure - don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt! 

If there’s one thing I did know about caesareans, it's that there’s a blue drape over your chest so you and your partner can’t see the surgery. 

Once the anaesthetic is working properly (which for me, made me feel a bit cold and shaky), the doctor will start the procedure. I was trying not to see it, but it was truly amazing how many silver objects with reflections were in that room. I closed my eyes and focused on my acoustic covers!

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I did feel tugging and a lot of pressure during this point, but don’t be alarmed - it didn’t hurt a bit. It was just a new sensation. 

Next, it was baby time! 

My son was pulled out, his umbilical cord cut and lifted for me to see. 

We decided not to find out the sex prior to birth. So at that point, completely emotionally and physically exhausted, all I wanted was to know if I had a little boy or girl.  

I was screaming, “WHAT IS IT? WHAT IS IT” and everyone in the room was saying “LOOK, LOOK” (apparently they aren’t allowed to tell you the sex). 

'I can’t f***ing look', I thought, as I was too short to see over the blue drape. So my partner finally yelled “A BOY” and to be honest, the rest of the procedure is a blur from here. 

5. You go into a recovery room after the operation.

I’d never had an operation before so I had no concept of a ‘recovery room’. 

This sounds simple, but I thought I would be going back to my room straight after surgery to stare at my new baby non-stop. But no. 

Alyssa and her son, after the birth. Image: Supplied.

In the recovery room they will be checking the following:

  • A nurse will be having regular check-ins to make sure the anaesthetic is wearing off. This is done with a piece of ice that is run up and down your torso until you can feel it. High-tech stuff. 

  • They will also regularly check your breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, wound dressing and pain relief.

Oh, and this was also where I got to try breastfeeding for the first time. I was still under the anaesthetic saying “this is easy, what’s everyone talking about saying breastfeeding is hard?” (which I later learnt was not true… breastfeeding does take a bit to get the hang of it when you can feel your breasts again post-drugs).

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6. A weird machine will be placed on your legs after surgery. For 12 hours.

And by weird machine, I mean a compression device. It wasn’t until now, researching this article, that I know what it was for: it helps prevent blood clots. 

There was no pain here. It was just like wearing big socks that inflate then deflate, supporting your circulation.  

This stayed on for me for about 12 hours. Which means I didn’t move for 12 hours. No walking around parading off my newborn child and, more importantly, no going to the toilet. 

Which also meant I still had a catheter in (to be honest this was great after nine months of always needing to pee).

Image: Supplied.

7. Nurses are the best.

You can’t do too much in terms of movement for a few days, so nurses are your new best friends. 

They feed you, give you breastfeeding advice and even help you lift your baby to you on the first night when you are strapped into the compression device with a catheter. 

I was dying for a shower after 32 hours of labour and surgery. During the process I had also developed a rather impressive dreadlock in the back of my head that I was desperate to get out. 

My lovely nurse had to shower me throughout the recovery process and even offered to get the dready out. 

It is important to know that you won’t always have the same midwife attending you. For some reason in my head, I thought I would be with my new best friend the entire time. 

Surprisingly, they don't work 32-hour shifts, but they are all amazing and caring and are there to make your experience as easy and stress-free as possible, I made about eight new nurse best friends during my time, mourning each of their shifts ending. 

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New mum tip: every nurse and midwife has a different way to show you how to breastfeed. It can be confusing, so just find the way that works best for you and your new bub. I made my partner take photos of all the different holds and that really helped me get the hang of breastfeeding once we got home.

8. You can ask to see the physical therapist on call.

After most major surgeries you can see the physical therapist on call to help you with movement and recovery. 

The annoying thing with a c-section is that I had to request to see one myself. 

When you go in for hip or knee surgery, you are assigned a physio as an essential part of the recovery process. For some reason, it isn’t the case after a caesarian, despite having all your stomach muscles ripped open to give birth.  

The physical therapist really helped me with a few tips I could use to get in and out of the bed and assist with the recovery. I wish everyone asked to see one - it made a huge difference, and I only knew to request it because my sister-in-law told me to. 

9. Ask questions while you're in the hospital.

One of my biggest regrets is not asking all the questions I had, in particular how I ended up with the birth I did. 

To this day, all I know is that it was because my baby was in distress and we had to act fast. 

If I had my time again, I would be asking the doctor and midwife why and how I ended up in this situation. Not that I would change a thing, but more for closure and owning my own birth story. (Can you tell I’ve been in therapy?)  

10. Why doesn't anyone talk about the process of taking the dressing off?

I wish I was talking about salad dressing or a new fashion item, but no, I'm talking about the dressing covering the stitches.  

After all the inspections associated with a newborn baby, comes a weird time for a c-section mum when she has to take off the dressing that is covering the cut.  

Everyone might be different, but I was told by my midwife to take off the waterproof dressing around a week after my surgery. Sounds simple, right? 

Well, no. It was hard and very uncomfortable.

It feels unnatural to take it off as the area is very sensitive - I did it in the shower, slowly pulling at the edges.

During the time from surgery to dressing removal there’s a few new hairs that have grown underneath, so it's a little like having a wax you didn't ask for.

I had a friend whose partner helped and another friend whose midwife helped. If I had my time again, I would have asked for a little help during. 

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11. If your birth didn't go to plan (like me), you can ask for a mental health plan.

If there’s one thing I wish I did earlier, it's getting on a mental health plan to speak to a psychologist about my birth. 

My birth didn't go to plan and I had no idea how much it was affecting me, because like all new mum things, I had no idea what was normal and what wasn't. 

Image: Supplied.

I couldn’t talk about my birth without a dark cloud coming over me. It wasn't until my partner suggested it that I decided to speak to someone. 

Anyone can go to their local GP and ask for a mental health plan, and I honestly couldn't recommend it more for new mums. In fact, I believe it should be mandatory for anyone who's given birth - not only for those whose births went to sh*t - because let’s be real, it's a huge, dramatic, life-changing event. 

Through the help of therapy and time, I developed ways to talk about my birth without shutting down. I learnt to embrace the beauty that is my new son and the incredible responsibility (and sleep deprivation) that is being a new parent. 

In birthing class they always tell you to expect the unexpected, which is great advice. 

The thing is, it's difficult to expect something that you don’t know anything about in the first place. 

This post is one person's experience and should not be considered medical advice.

Feature Image: Supplied.