My second pregnancy ended with a C-section delivery, and while I tried to prepare by getting as much information as possible, there were still some things I wish I'd known more about—like C-section recovery. Every woman's experience will be different, of course, but here's an idea of what to expect after surgery.
1. You Have to Take It Slow
After my C-section, my husband and mother waited on me hand and foot, caring for my son and doing the household chores. They were even tucking my son into bed at night. Hey, that was my thing! So naturally, I couldn't wait to get back to normal and prove how I could still handle everything. As I felt better walking around in those first two weeks, I started doing things I shouldn't have, like unloading the dishwasher, attempting to pick up a laundry basket, and running around with my older child. Despite being explicitly warned not to, I was sure I could do it. Wrong! I learned the hard way that overworking your body when it's not ready can just set you back further, and I found myself spending loads more time in bed recovering from my attempts to prove my resilience. Instead, resting early on and taking it slow would have allowed me to get back on my feet sooner.
2. Recovery Can Be Hard on Your Older Children, Too
This was the hardest and most unexpected part of a C-section recovery for me. I was told not to lift anything other than my newborn baby. But I had a 19-month-old son at home who was anxiously awaiting my return. In addition to not being overly excited by his new sibling, he was particularly unhappy that I wouldn't hold him. He couldn't understand why and, as a result, he became cold and angry toward me. He felt as though I wasn't interested in spending time with him anymore. I really didn't see that one coming! Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined our relationship suffering. I wept almost daily, worrying our relationship would never get back to what it once was. Luckily, everything went back to normal once I regained my strength and was able to settle into a routine with him.
3. Painkillers Are Not Your Enemy
After about four relatively pain-free hours on the third day after my C-section, I was sure I had passed the hump and was well on my way to being my old self again. I had some pain, but nothing a supermom couldn't handle! Well, it didn't take long for me to realize that stopping my pain medications was a bad idea. I woke up in the middle of the night, about eight hours after my last dose of medication, writhing in pain. I couldn't even reach for the bottle that was just next to me on my nightstand because the pain was so overwhelming. I wish I had known not to wait for the pain to work itself up to an intolerable level before popping a pill.
4. Discussing Your Poop Becomes the Norm
At least for a few days. Before leaving the hospital, your nurses need to be sure you're passing gas and having normal bowel movements. So they will ask you some pretty direct questions about your intestines and what's going on in them. I felt a little embarrassed to answer some of the questions at first because I don't normally discuss my bowel movements with total strangers (obviously). But if there's one thing I learned after having two children, it's that you need to check your pride at the door when you get to the hospital.
5. Laughter Is Not the Best Medicine
When I was in bed, slowly recovering from my painful operation, I spent a lot of time scrolling my Facebook feed and watching ridiculous YouTube videos to pass the time. I very quickly learned that laughing while recovering from a C-section is pretty much like stabbing yourself in the gut. I felt like my stitches were coming apart (they weren't, but it sure felt that way!). The best thing you can do when you feel like laughing—or if you feel a cough or a sneeze coming on—is to put a pillow over your stitches and press it onto yourself. It really helps with the pain. That little tidbit of info would have been good to know beforehand.
6. Showering Solo Is Complicated
Maybe you have never once dropped soap in the shower but, I promise you, you will drop it when you're recovering from a C-section. Unless you have someone in the room with you to pick it up, get some soap on a rope or an easy-to-dispense bottle of mild liquid body wash. Bending over to pick up soap won't really be an option for a little while. And that first shower (or two) after the C-section? Your partner will probably be washing you from the knees down.
7. The Bleeding May Not Be What You Expect
Sorry for the graphic details, but the postpartum bleeding after my C-section nearly scared me to death. After my vaginal delivery, I had what I considered to be "normal" bleeding. This was at least twice that! The first day, the nurse came in to change my sanitary napkin and when I saw the amount of blood, I panicked and asked her if this was normal or if I was hemorrhaging. She laughed and assured me I was fine. The postpartum "period" then continued for what seemed to be an eternity (though really just several weeks) but my doctor told me it was totally normal. I had to send my husband to the store to stock up on extra absorbent sanitary napkins. Of course, while the average bleeding at time of delivery is about twice as high with a Cesarean than a vaginal birth, postpartum the two should be pretty similar—some women will have more with a Cesarean and some more with a vaginal. So just be prepared that it may be pretty different from your previous experience!