Monday, May 8, 2017

Unsolicited advice from a c-section mama

There is what might described as the "gold standard" of labor and delivery.  Both my sister and my best friend, for example, win whatever fictional prize exists for when labor goes as planned.  And they are both a-ma-zing birthing stories, to be sure.  I know I read dozens of empowering articles and personal stories that celebrate the incredible circumstances under which mothers are able to harness the collective hereditary power passed on since the beginning of time.

I love natural childbirth.  I love the women who are brave and strong and able to undertake the journey.

But I want to pause to celebrate and recognize the other end of the spectrum.  If an unmedicated, natural childbirth is the gold standard, let's also explore the unsung heroes, and some truths about c-section mamas.

C-section mamas are strong.
Let's face it.  Whatever birth you envisioned, whether long or short or medicated or unmedicated, whether you imagined your water breaking and anticipated the special moment you'd finally realize it's time! Even if you dreaded the hours of contractions and feared the pushing, the reality is that there aren't many who dreamed of meeting their child for the first time in the cold, white-walled operating room.  At some point, c-section mamas are faced with a reality that they were unprepared for.  They must shift their expectations at best; but for many, a c-section means letting go of the long-held dream of experiencing the delivery of a baby.

Sometimes a mama has a few weeks or days to come to terms with this change, but sometimes she has only hours or minutes.  There may be the added terror that something has gone wrong.  There may be huge disappointment after hours of already heroic labor, to no avail.  Whatever the route, the c-section mama must summon her courage and find the inner strength that allows her to enter the operating room.  Not to save her own life as we might otherwise do, but because it must be done for her baby.

C-section mamas are brave.
Facing a major surgery is scary.  Being on the operating table is scary.  The actual process - strapped to the table, half a dozen people in scrubs and masks, anesthesia, catheters, cutting and suturing, counting medical gear to make sure none is left inside of you - is no picnic.  And that's before we consider recovery.

Immediately after surgery, a csection mama naturally cannot move around much.  She may be coming off of medication, or perhaps even waking up from anesthesia.  Her legs are tingling and heavy.  She's puffy from all the fluids that have been pumped into her, and her skin has a sallow, yellow color. She may be nauseous, dizzy, groggy or have a head ache from all the medication. Eventually, she will begin to feel the full effects of what has been done to her.  Walking across the room will be a challenge, and may not even be an option on the day of her baby's birth.

And still, you will see that mama smile.  She will hold onto the fierce love burning inside her for the tiny life she is so bravely bringing into the world, and whatever her body endures will become bearable.  She knows she is facing real wounds and real scars, and she will tell you only: it was worth it.  I'd do it again.

She will have to hold onto that strength for weeks, perhaps even months, as literally everything from riding in the car to putting on underwear hurts (PS: granny panties and a good support belt will help!).  Sitting up to nurse her precious baby hurts.  Going to the bathroom really hurts. She may have orders not to go up the stairs or lift anything other than the baby.

C-section mamas deserve a break.  And some help.
Of course, every body is different.  Some bodies heal quickly, and a csection mama may be up and about with little or no residual pain in a matter of days.  Others... not so much.  It is my fervent belief that every mother deserves to have a break after delivery.  She deserves to be pampered and take a rest after the herculean task her body has just undergone.  But a c-section mama?  It's requisite.

A c-section is major surgery.  She is going to be on major pain medication.  While most people would prefer to eat ice cream and take a break after major surgery, a mother does exactly the opposite.  She who should be cared for does the caring, the bonding, the breastfeeding, diaper changing and child nurturing.  Don't let her fool you.  Make sure she doesn't have to stand on her feet (which hurts) and feed or chase or clothe the people before she has healed.  Just for good measure, plan to have a solid support team for the first 6 weeks after surgery.  Mom shouldn't be doing anything more than navigating the bathroom and the baby for the first two weeks.  Yes, she will argue with you.  Yes, she will protest.  And yes, she needs to prioritize herself first.  If she feels better earlier?  GREAT!

It may feel like a big deal.  But you ARE okay.
Because, we are told that there is a gold standard to which we should aspire.  There is a sense that a c-section isn't "real" or "normal" labor.  A c-section mama may feel as if she has let herself or her baby down.  She may have guilt, regret, fear of another c-section or of never experiencing "true" labor.  She may recoil as she examines what has happened to her body, and have to remind herself she bears only a slight, below-the-belt resemblance to Frankenstein's monster. She may be accused of taking the easy way out, when nothing could be further from the truth.

You are a hero, c-section mama.  And, if I do say so myself, you are a badass.

And, whatever your feelings on my statements above, make sure you adhere to this advice:
don't stop taking that stool softener.

You'll thank me later.  :)

C-section mamas have amazing birth stories, too.

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