Reader Question: Fear of C-Sections

Mar writes:

It seems like you might be able to help me with something that’s been on my mind. My husband and I are THINKING about a third baby. I’m about 85% there; husband is 100% on board with the idea. Most of the “cons” about having a new baby are completely eclipsed by the presence of New Baby! in the “pro” column, except for one: THE IDEA OF A THIRD C-SECTION FILLS ME WITH DREAD. (There’s no option here of a vbac – uterus is wacked.)

Dread is the only way to describe it – I’ll be thinking about all the wonderful sparkliness of a new pregnancy, beautiful belly, new baby, calling our families to announce the arrival and the name, introducing the baby to the big brothers, etc., but THEN – thud.. I remember how it feels to head into the hospital for a scheduled section. Reporting at the crack of dawn, nurses treating me like i’m there for [insert banal surgerytypeprocedure that’s the opposite of birth], painful epidural with no natural adrenalin to help me through it, and that terrible look of fear on my husband’s eyes over his surgical mask when he is finally allowed into the operating room. Anticipating the recovery doesn’t bother me so much, but the time before and immediately after the surgery (EXCEPT for that magic that comes when the ob finally digs out the baby) is just…dreadful to contemplate.

From your posts surrounding Henry’s birth, it seems like you just sailed through this without a hiccup. What is your secret? Is my dread just weird and misplaced (because what is literally a three-hour (maximum adventure) (from check in to delivery) is NOTHING compared to the crazy goodness of a new baby? Is there something you focus on to calm you and redirect you? Do you have tips/suggestions for making the experience less “surgical” more “major life event”? or when going in for a section are you a) just plain excited for the whole event or b) recognize it without inquiry as just a means to an end?

I don’t think my dread is enough to keep us from having a third, but it does kind of dampen my enthusiasm a little. Does any of this sound familiar or am I crazy?

One reason I don’t dread it TOO much, I think, is that I’ve had very good c-section experiences. My first one was the worst because it was after a tiring labor (um, as opposed to a refreshing and invigorating labor), and also because I didn’t know what to expect and I hate that. Even so, it was a good experience overall, especially because of the Relief Factor of being done with labor. The surgery went well, I recovered well, I healed well. I was up and walking around (slowly) the next morning. The nurses warned that the breastfeeding “cradle hold” might bother the incision area, but it didn’t.

My second one, the whole pregnancy I was thinking, “Yay!! I don’t have to go into LABOR this time!!” and that was such a happy thought. Then I got to the week of the c-section and went “Ack! I have to have surgery!” Well, but it went great again. The epidural was more uncomfortable to get without the distraction of contractions, but I was also getting really excited about seeing the baby, and I had a nice nurse who brought me a heated blanket and let me squeeze her hand. And again, the surgery went well, I recovered well, I healed well.

My third c-section was my twin pregnancy, and I think I would have done it MYSELF if need be, I was so desperate to be done with that pregnancy. I was so uncomfortable, I didn’t even CARE, and also it was so funny and exciting to be in the operating room with the TWO little newborn stations and TWO pediatric nurses and so forth. And the twins were so big and healthy (7 pounds 4 ounces and 8 pounds 2 ounces), it was a party atmosphere, with the OB actually WHOOPING as he pulled out each one. I was even MORE familiar with the procedures this time, and felt like I could almost relax into it, knowing each thing that would happen and when.

And my fourth c-section was especially fun for me because I hadn’t been expecting to be back again, and certainly not so SOON.

I shouldn’t portray this QUITE so unicorny. During one of the c-sections (the third), the anesthesia wore off (or “ran out” or whatever the correct verb would be for “ceased to work”). Then it wore off (or whatevs) AGAIN when I was in recovery. And after another c-section (the fourth), the epidural drip came disconnected and had made a nice big puddle under the bed before anyone figured out that my “normal post-surgical discomfort” was more like PAIN. However, and this is just my own personal experience and doesn’t mean it’s the same for anyone else, I found this pain to be significantly less than the pain I had experienced even in EARLY labor, so for me this didn’t dampen things much.

And, like you, I have a wacked uterus. So part of my happiness and not-minding-the-c-sections, I think, is this feeling of wonder: like, because I live NOW instead of back THEN, I get to have babies. It’s like this amazing medical thing to me, that I can participate in childbearing ANYWAY.

And part of it is that by nature, I’m more inclined ANYWAY toward c-sections. I like the calm and the predictability and the schedule, and the soothing way it all seems to be just another day’s work for everyone.

I make it a more “special occasion” by talking it up. I think sometimes the hospital personnel get so accustomed to the procedures, and it’s so much a part of their usual jobs, they forget it’s special too. If I say to the nurse, “I’m so excited! I can’t believe I’m about to see my BABY!” and if I say to the OB, “Oh, this is such a happy day!” and so on, I find they usually respond and get into it a little more.

Paul doesn’t go in with me. He gets pale and sick if one of the kids gets a papercut, so he waits at the newborn nursery. I think this takes a lot of pressure off of me: I can close my eyes or say “Oof” or whatever, without having to worry how it will seem to Paul. The first two c-sections, I went in by myself; the second two, I brought my mom. Both ways were nice; when I didn’t have my mom, a nurse stood with me so I didn’t feel lonely. Plus, everyone feels super sorry for the woman whose husband is such a wuss, so I get everyone on my side early in the hospital stay.

One of my best tips for “things I’m dreading” is to think: “There will come a time when this will be over and I will be looking back on it with relief.” It’s so comforting to think of Future Me ALREADY THERE, happy and Done.

I also like the Oblivion approach, which involves saying “La la la!” and not thinking about it until the hospital wristband is in place and it’s too late to panic much.

37 thoughts on “Reader Question: Fear of C-Sections

  1. Tina G

    Oh Swistle- you nailed it! I had “only” two c-sections, but felt comfortable enough with the whole procedure and can never reassure friends enough that it just isn’t all so awful and scary (in most cases). I should print off your post today and save it for future worried friends if the need arises.

  2. misguided mommy

    You know I was the same way. I loved thinking BWHAHAHAHAAHAH no labor for me. Also I had an amazing doctor. I never even felt the “pinch” of the epidural, I was laughing and joking while they cut up my insides. We joked about the green look on my husbands face as he saw them put my stomach up on my chest and then BAMN a baby was born. During recovering we concentrated on laughing when I said, “Are my toes moving yet, how bout now, NOW ARE THEY MOVING NOW?

    Then of course there is the amazing hostpital cream of wheat you get to eat for every meal if you choose. Plus everyone is on your beck and call because you can’t really walk well so if you bat your eyelashes at your husband enough he will run out to McDonalds and get you and M&M McFlurry because “The breast milk needs some fat in it hon.”

    And if you concentrate more on eating ramen and ice cream when you get home then the pain, and you just get up, put on your big girl panties and walk around you will actually heal quite fast!

    Not to mention I had an amazing doctor an two C-sections later I HAVE NO SCARE AT ALL!

  3. Jess

    This whole thing is so fascinating and useful but I am stuck on how big the twins were! That is amazing! I’d be whooping too!

  4. Badness Jones

    I’ve never had a c-section, but I think that finding a wonderful support person, someone who knows the hospital and routine, might make all the difference to a mom who is frightened, whether of birth or surgery. Couldn’t you hire a doula to be with you, run interference with the nurses, help keep you calm and cared for? I wish I’d done that with my labors, and left my husband at home, because on the whole 2-hour drive to the hospital the last time, with my contractions 3 minutes apart, he kept turning the heat back on when I wanted the air-conditioning full-blast. I don’t care if it WAS December in Toronto, he wanted me to COMPROMISE. He should’ve just shivered and shut up. Good luck Mar, I hope that you do end up with a wonderful new baby in your arms, and a really positive birth experience.

  5. Jiff

    No advice here. I delivered with no drugs and it HURT.LIKE.HELL. But the no drugs was NOT my choice. Just went too fast and the docs dragged their feet. I still hate them. lol.

  6. Misty

    This is HIGHLY educational because, for my body, I would want some sort of guarantee that people were going to die before I agreed to a section. It is good to see the other side of things.

    Also, your twins were so big and healthy! This is wonderful. But also means you were carrying around 15+ pounds o’ baby. Whew!

    Also, I am glad that you are able to participate in childbearing. All hail Science!

  7. Mimi

    I love this post, Swistle! I’m getting ready for my third c-section in a couple of months, and dare I say I’m kind of… looking forward to it? When our second kid was born, my husband and I felt like it was a little bit of a vacation, almost. With nurses fussing around us and our every need, taking care of our new baby for us. Kinda nice, actually. And knowing what day it is going to happen is priceless for me, and knowing I won’t have to go through labor is awesome.

    Maybe Mar should try a different OB or hospital if she didn’t have a good experience before?

  8. Jody

    I would hire a doula to help with the whole “being treated like a gall-bladder patient” part, and if that didn’t do the trick, I would talk to the doctors about how well it would work to experience actual oblivion. I mean, they’re already giving you meds….

    (I’m kidding. A little.)

    Then again, I would kill to have a shot at another baby, and won’t be having one, so my motivation might be different.

  9. desperate housewife

    Because I am a control freak, the idea of knowing the date I will have the baby and knowing that I wouldn’t have to make any of those labor decisions like when to go to the hospital and whether or not I want drugs is kind of appealing. Surgery scares the crap out of me, though, so I feel your pain, Mar, but everyone I’ve talked to personally says they kinda liked the experience, over all. Especially how much more attentive the nurses usually are to you vs. a vaginal birth patient. And you get to stay in hospital longer.

  10. Annika

    HOLY CRAP. You mean to say that you carried SIXTEEN POUNDS OF BABIES? Look, I’m always laughing at people who think an 8 or 9 pound baby is big, but SIXTEEN POUNDS. Even divided between two babies, that is INSANE and AWESOME.

  11. Groovymarlin

    I think the key for Mar is to adjust her attitude and probably find a different hospital or OB. Make the belief and attitude that this is a joyous event and NOT “just another surgical procedure” start with you. I had a C-section, and even though there were some drawbacks to it, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. The doctors and nurses couldn’t have been nicer, my delivery doctor in particular was FANTASTIC, and she did such a great job stitching me that I have almost no scar at all. I didn’t feel the epidural at all, which was the thing I was most afraid about, so that was a huge relief. I had strange feelings of nausea as the pumped the various drugs into me but the anesthesiologist was really great and made lots of adjustments to make me comfortable as possible. And I’ll be honest – I was actually pretty relieved that I could schedule the birth, and didn’t have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night with water breaking and labor pains starting. About the only negative about the c-section was having to wait in pre-op pretty much all day, because all the emergencies had to go in before me. By the time it was over I was STARVING. But that was OK too, because I got rewarded with a gorgeous baby girl when it was all over.

    (BTW, the reason I had a c-section was because my daughter was in breach position, and I felt manipulating her into position would be too dangerous.)

  12. bessieviola

    I will chime in too – I had an unexpected c-section after 23 hours of labor, and looking back on it is lovely. It was really no big deal. Like the others, I have only the teensiest scar – my doctor was truly an artist and I’ll be requesting him again for my second section.

    That’s right, I said second. My cervix didn’t dilate past 2.5cm even with my water broken and the Pitocin turned up beyond maximum dosage. So there’s my sign, as they say. My girl was worth every moment.

  13. Bellamomma

    “Plus, everyone feels super sorry for the woman whose husband is such a wuss, so I get everyone on my side early in the hospital stay.”

    I almost spit coffee on my screen! LOL

    I knew that a c-section was coming a few weeks in advance, but the exact day was in the air. By the time it happened (3 weeks early) I was in early labor, 4cm dialated & having contractions – I just looked at it as making my life easier & not having to do all the work! I worried about what recovery would be like, but I never had time to really worry about the surgery itself.

    And thank God my dr’s apparently duct taped my epidural in place. Had that thing fallen out I would have been TICKED!

  14. Lora

    I only had one baby/one C, but I have to say that I was totally okay with it. No pressure to get up and going for 2 weeks meant that I could stay in bed and hold and bond with my baby and I nursed so it isn’t like I was surrounded by bottles. I read a lot, which I am glad for because I haven’t since. I watched some movies. My friends came over and sat on my bed and it made me feel 16 again.

    If I pushed that baby out I would have had a hard time dealing with the pressure to be June Cleaver right away.

  15. MoMMY

    I’ve had 4 c-sections. Damn tiny pelvis and giant headed children. I have to say that by number three I was so relieved to be able to plan what to do with the other kids and I pretty much knew what to expect so it wasn’t all that stressful. Also, the fact that I didn’t have to do labor again (as the others – LOoooong, painful 1st labor) the hubby and I read books while we waited and joked with the nurses that yes, we had done this before. I too was happy concentrating on seeing the end to pregnancy so soon. Also, it seems my body got better at the whole healing thing with each one.

  16. Kate @ Life As I Live It

    See, and I was the one who was terrified of a c-section! Fortunately, I had small bullet-shaped babies and they both SHOT out. I was more worried about the recovery afterwards but it was a non-event. After my 2nd, I had to verify with the nurses that I’d actually had a couple stitches because I was NOT in pain and barely sore. I LOVED LOVED LOVED the process of giving birth. Now before you start thinking I’m one of those crazy women who squat in the woods to have their children, I’M NOT. I had an epidural both times, but had plenty of hours of labor beforehand to know what it’s like. But I just loved the whole process – it wasn’t easy and without intervention, but I just felt like it’s what I was meant to do. And when I got to help deliver my daughter??? Ahhh….that was priceless.

    For Mar, I’d say if you truly want a 3rd child, go for it. You know what to expect, you can plan for things and at the end you get a baby! I think the closer you get to the finish line, the more excited you’ll be.

  17. Giselle

    I’m sorry, but I had to laugh at the “painful epidural with no natural adrenalin to help me through it”…yes…that’s exactly what actual labor is like…a breeze because of the natural adrenalin…ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    And I’ve got to say, I was TERRIFIED of having a 2nd child after the disaster of a mess my 1st child left me (they told me I had as many stitches as a c-section…just in a different harder to keep clean place…if you know what I mean). Terrified. The memory faded enough for me to get pregnant again, but then I got terrified again and just tried not to think about it too much. Literally wouldn’t let my brain get close to it. When I did, I would think, “You did it before and survived it and are fine. Would you trade Andrew for an intact rectum? No way…”

    Oh, sorry…was that TMI? Just a girl that wishes SOMEONE had thought to take that big-headed child out via c-section…

  18. the new girl

    I had a natural child birth but I can SO UNDERSTAND the dread of having another [insert your own issue here.] For me, it was a HIDEOUS pregnancy and it DOES dampen thing for me a little BUT at the end??

    Cuuuuute little baby feeties.


  19. Nowheymama

    I had inductions for all three deliveries, and I swore up and down I’d never have another one after the first baby. Well.

    I did dread the second and third ones ahead of time, but by the third trimester when my OB was saying we had to do an induction (again), I was all, “Bring it! Let’s get this party started!”

  20. Mar

    Swistle (and everyone who commented so helpfully!) after reading this, I’m tempted to schedule a c-section TODAY (I’m not pregnant). Thank you!! Future Me and a good does of Oblivion will be my mantras I think. A doula and/or different hospital might also be worth a serious look.
    Giselle – your comment is so interesting to me – “natural” births always seem so…euphoric or something but obviously that’s not always the case. Good for you for getting past that fear. Oh my.

    Swistle, I’ll be rereading this post in the coming months if we DO decide to take the plunge (and yeah for science allowing us to make babies! Good point there, too.)

  21. Joanne

    I am going for my third c-section seven weeks from today and I am really looking forward to it. I mean, I always wonder about what will happen and always worry but I did that when I was headed in for labor with my first, too. I had an emergency c-section after 30 hours of labor with my first and my doctor “strongly recommended” that I schedule my second so I did and it was SO much better than the first one I almost had a good time. I sort of hate that I am having surgery 16 months after my last one but I figure that happens to people, sometimes, and it’s not such a big deal. My problem with it is that I always think of it as the day of my c-section and sort of forget that it’s the day my baby is going to be born! I am looking forward to going to the hospital, too, and being with only one child for a few days, since it hasn’t happened in so long and it feels like it will never happen again. I know it will be okay, my doctor has done a lot of c-sections and deliveries and I trust her. I wish you luck!

  22. marci

    I was an L&D nurse and this post makes me sad for Mar! : ( Really, you shouldn’t feel that way. I think the problem is the hospital and/or the staff. If everyone made you feel like that…twice…I would change hospitals if that’s an option. I’ve had 3 scheduled cs and I’ve found that as far as epidurals go, being able to physically lean on my husband as opposed to a nurse made a HUGE difference. I’ve delivered at two different hospitals, and the first one let my husband in during the insertion so I could rest my arms and head on him while they put it in and the other hospital didn’t allow this. They made me lean on another nurse, which was just…odd. And it made it much harder to relax.

  23. Emily R

    Sparkly pregnancy? Seriously? I hate being pregnant with all of my little black heart.

    But the c-sections weren’t bad at all. And the Italian Ices from the hospital make it worth a major surgery even if no baby was involved. But I don’t know any better. My sister who has had babies removed both ways says c-sections just suck. Whatevs. 4 days of italian ices.

    Plus the adorable baby, of course. :)

  24. Kristin

    I really loved reading this post and the comments. I ended up with an emergency c-section after full labor and pushing for over an hour with my first child. It was very scary at the time, although everything ended up just fine. Healthy baby and mom–I know that is all that matters.

    However, I am terrified that it will happen to me again (I’m 6 months pregnant right now). My doctor thinks trying for a VBAC is fine, and I am planning on it mainly because I don’t want to have surgery unless I need to. But the thought of going through labor again and ending up with a section is really freaking me out. Part of me wants to just schedule the surgery (which the ob would support too), but the other part thinks having the chance to not have to recover from surgery would be pretty awesome. Especially with a 2 and a half year old at home.

    It’s really good to hear such positive stories about scheduling c-sections–thanks! It makes me a little less nervous about whatever happens.

  25. anne

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an expectant mother to be filled with a little dread regarding the painful and horrible parts about labor/delivery/birth, no matter if they’re going the c-section route or the ‘natural’ route. It’s a big deal to give birth to a baby, and I’ve not met any mothers who would I describe the whole experience as super FUN.

    When I found out I needed a c-section b/c of a breech position, I was very freaked out. I wanted to do everything possible to avoid having surgery. So then I did a lot of research on the procedure, had lots of conversations with my doctor, and had a supportive spouse who I knew would be with me the whole way. My c-section was scheduled, and I was ready. Alas, the baby decided to come five days ahead of schedule, so I was *lucky* enough to experience three painful hours of labor, and was SO relieved to get that spinal block and have the rest of the work be done for me! Everything went smoothly, I recovered well, and the baby was perfect.

    I think the other suggestions about looking into a new birth center and having a very supportive person helping you prepare beforehand, be there during, and support you afterwards will make a world of difference. Good luck!

  26. Jen in MI

    I’ll jump on the C-Section bandwagon. With child number one, I was in labor for 35 hours. I pushed for 4 and finally had a c-section. When I was pregnant with child number 2 there was no question, I was having a c-section. I found it less painful the second time and was so relieved not to be so incredibly exhausted after a long labor…

  27. J from Ireland

    I’ve had 4 c-sections, 2 emergencies and 2 planned. The planned ones, I focused on the baby getting out healthy and for me to be ok, thats what got me through. The best of luck to you Mar.
    Swistle, OMG the size of your twins birth weight is fantastic.

  28. bat7mess

    Wow. As labor is upon me any minute now, this was really really helpful. For a while there they told me I would have to deliver this one by c-section because of placenta previa, but miraculously the placenta moved up JUST enough JUST in time. I was freaking out before that and felt exactly like the reader that asked you that question. Now I am hoping to deliver vaginally, but you just never know. And should a c-section be required you can bet I’ll be remembering a lot of the things you said. Especially the part about picturing my future self already finished and overjoyed. So thank you!

  29. DCMomma

    Wow this post is awesome. When I was preggers with my daughter she was breach and they scheduled my c. I was a little relieved and scared at the same time. She was moving like crazy the night before and I actually said to my husband, “if I didn’t know better you would think she is turning around. Sure enough we went in, got changed and they did a sonogram and she was head down. The doc offered well either induce or come back in a week. I was like HELLO today induce! Labor progressed, it was a walk in the park the second time. She did come out sunny side up but I was so happy I didn’t care. Thank goodness for working epidurals and good doctors.

  30. Ellen

    Mar, I say keep your eye on the prize: a yummy new baby. What’s a week or two of discomfort in the face of that? Remember, pain medication, is a wonderful thing. I think I’ve saved some of those pills for a rainy day, come to think of it. I also agree with Groovy above, see if you can find another hospital!

    I’ve had two c-sections. The first was unplanned, and I can’t even remember how I felt after that because my little boy ended up in the NICU for two weeks after a serious birth incident, so my own recovery was the last thing on my mind.

    So, for my second, we did a planned c-section. This time, I had to be on blood-thinning medication. And an idiot resident took out my stitches too soon, so that the wound didn’t close and I had to have a nurse come pack the wound (all together now: EWWWWWWWW) for a month afterward.

    Surely, another c-section couldn’t be as bad as that, if that gives you some perspective!!! Good luck with your decision. For me, the question about having a third isn’t dealing with the c-section, the question is, CAN I DEAL WITH A THIRD?! I did a post on that once that got a bunch of comments if you want to see,

  31. Michelle

    My perspective on c-sections is totally different, but I won’t share :) I have issues though. And it was so weird to go to the hospital not feeling any labor and just planning to come home with a baby. Life is so complicated, isn’t it? :)

  32. Erin

    I don’t know much about this, but is it possible to arrange to be totally knocked out for the c-section? I know emergency c-sections they have to put the mom totally under, when there’s no time for the epidural. I also know there’s more risk to general anesthesia, but maybe that’s an option?

  33. Pann

    What comes to my mind immediately when I read Mar’s question was that she felt like the people at the hospital treated her Life Changing Event of Delivering A New Baby Via C-Section like some kind of routine surgery.

    I wondered if perhaps a different hospital / OB / etc. would treat her with a more sympathetic manner.

  34. Serial Mommy

    honestly, my big fear with this twin pregnancy has been the very LOOMING prospect/probability of a c-section..i’ve never had one..i’ve delivered 5 very healthy babies, had 4 inductions, gone over every time, one 10 pound moose and here i am, sitting here pregnant with twins going “oh holy hell, they are going to cut me open, why can’t the babies come out like all the others?”…i’m REALLY trying to find my peace with will be my last delivery, i don’t want the birth of the babies to have that shadow of memory of hurt and anger and frustration with HOW they came in to the world…i’m being told that it honestly is up to the babies as to whether they will have to be cut out…i don’t really believe that…this is also the first pregnancy i’ve dealt with “real” doctors, before now it’s been JUST midwives…i hope to find the acceptance and peace that you speak of…can you mail me some?

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