Thursday, January 26, 2012

My c-section recovery

First of all, let me say that I realize Natalie's labor and delivery story may have freaked some people out. I knew this going in, but I firmly believe in being armed with as much knowledge as possible, so I hope my story is also somewhat empowering so that those of you who haven't had children yet can go in with eyes wide open, as I like to say, and that if you're like me more knowledge may actually make you less freaked out. Of course, my good friend has already warned our other mutual friend, set to deliver her first child in May, to avoid reading my blog for the time being.
Too bad she'll miss out on adorable baby photos randomly included for your viewing pleasure!

So, today I want to highlight a lot of positives. I will warn you, though, before you get any further that I will again be keeping it very real in this post, so if that bothers you, read at your own discretion.

And when I share with you, hopefully tomorrow, a more detailed account of our time spent in the NICU, I hope you'll see all the positives in that, too, oddly enough. I am not one to lie, so when I say there are lots of positives to be had, well, that is me being blatantly honest. I am the world's worst liar.

My baby-making experience can be summarized as follows:

Degree of difficulty...
  • Trying to conceive -- medium (a lot of people have it way worse...trying to keep perspective)
  • Pregnancy -- extremely easy
  • Labor and delivery -- average difficulty (you may find this hard to believe, but I was hardly in any pain even before getting the epidural, and getting the epidural was not bad at all, and the whole experience took place in less than 24 hours, so I chalk it all up to a small victory)
  • Leaving our baby in the NICU after leaving the hospital -- worst moments of our lives (even though our stay was about as short as possible)
  • Postpartum period and c-section recovery -- easy
  • Taking care of a newborn -- easy (so far....famous last words?)

Today I'll focus on my c-section recovery, since at this point two weeks after having given birth I would say I am 95% healed. Yes, you read that correctly. I think I am basically back to my old self, and in some ways, dare I say it, better than my old self. This is one of those positive stories I've been wanting to share and hoping it will, if nothing else, not keep my best friends from ever deciding to have kids.

Ironically, during our Childbirth Express class after she'd spent approximately 5 minutes barely scratching the surface of the c-section birth experience, the one question I asked the nurse in front of the entire class was, "Could you talk for a few minutes about the c-section recovery process?" With a confused expression on her face, she asked what I meant. I elaborated by asking her to talk about items such as incision maintenance, using the stairs, pain management, etc. She didn't really answer my question, after all, and simply said these are things we'd learn about if and when we had a c-section. Not particularly helpful, considering approximately 30% of births end up as c-sections and we were at a class to get informed in advance.

It also wasn't helpful that out of all the women I've been close enough with to ask questions about their labor and delivery stories over the last five years only one of them had a c-section. Her story, for what it's worth, was at least relatively similar to mine in that she almost went all the way through with a vaginal delivery before the doctors cut her off and performed a c-section. So, at least as I was crying my eyes out on the way to the operating room, I could take some comfort in thinking of my friend who'd been in this situation.

Well, here's what I would say today if I was running that Childbirth Express class, C-Section Edition.

This is one item that I'd read would be unpleasant. In reality, it really wasn't bad at all. Now, I will say that unlike most moms in c-section recovery at the hospital, I did not have a baby in my room to attend to. But in some ways I actually feel like as I was finally coming out of my drug-induced haze in the early hours of Friday morning approximately 10 hours after her delivery, Natalie's NICU stay provided me with extra motivation to work hard to get back into shape and really meet my little girl.

Quick walking timeline review:
  • Thursday, 8 p.m. -- gave birth
  • Friday, 6 a.m. -- stood for the first time with the assistance of one nurse and two assistants; walked to the bathroom in my hospital room
  • Friday, 11 a.m. -- stood up again with the same assistants as before; walked to bathroom again
  • Friday, 1 p.m. -- stood up with the assistance of one person; walked two laps around the Family Centered Care floor
  • Friday, 4 p.m. -- stood up by myself and walked around my room
  • Friday, 6 p.m. -- once my urinary catheter was removed it became rather necessary for me to (somewhat quickly) get out of bed on my own, so I did and from that moment forward I was up and about
  • Saturday, 9:30 a.m. -- finally got to visit Natalie in the NICU, and Matt wheeled me down in a chair
  • Saturday, 12 p.m. -- again wheeled to the NICU
  • Saturday, 3 p.m. -- walked to the NICU; after this brought the wheelchair along in case I needed it, but only wound up using it a couple of trips because of intense leg swelling (see below)
  • Monday, 8 p.m. -- arrived home after the doctors cautioned me against walking up and down more than one flight of stairs in a day and walked up one flight of stairs (we live in a three-story townhouse). Did not walk up second flight of stairs to bedroom until bed time.
  • Tuesday, 11 a.m. -- stayed upstairs until it was time to head to the NICU to visit Natalie
  • Tuesday, 7 p.m. -- after returning home from the NICU for the day I decide, screw it, I am walking up and down stairs because I feel fine

I was really fortunate to never have any swelling in my hands and face during pregnancy, and except for about four days of my late pregnancy I hardly experienced any foot or ankle swelling either.

This good fortunate wore off by day 3 postpartum. I noticed swelling right after I gave birth, but frankly based on the stories I'd heard I expected it to be way worse thanks to all the saline solution coursing through my body. It all caught up with me, though, by Sunday. Three days after giving birth I had to struggle to pull my legs out of bed, and I could not fit into any shoes except the cheap flip flops I brought to wear in the shower. (Preview of hospital-bag-packing post, a retrospective: pack flip flops no matter what season! They may be the only shoes you can wear.) I called this my Nutty Professor moment. My feet literally looked like they had been inflated like a balloon, and if all the pants I'd been wearing hadn't been maybe off loose yoga-pant material I would have surely busted a lot of seams.

Thankfully, one week postpartum I had no more swelling. In fact, when I could see my ankle bones, I told Matt my ankles looked anorexic. He said that's just what ankles look like. I had apparently forgotten. So, turns out I did have some ankle swelling basically all throughout my pregnancy, but it happened so gradually and rarely got out of hand (minus a few painful days) that I hardly perceived it was happening.

OK, this is where I get to brag. My mother always said that when she gave birth to my brother she left the hospital weighing exactly what she weighed before she got pregnant. I really did not believe her. (I still find it debatable, but I don't know why she'd make this up, either.) But, to her credit, back in the 1970s hospital stays were significantly longer, so she does have that on her side.

Well, prophecy was in fact fulfilled for me. Not only did my mother tell me I'd be back in my old body in no time (she has to say this, though, seeing as she bore me) but all the nurses in my doctor's office would make this remark at every single appointment.

Here's my weight loss timeline:
  • Pre-pregnancy weight: 119 lbs.
  • Weight upon checking into the hospital: 149 lbs. (at one point I reached 152 lbs. toward the end of my pregnancy, but in the final week of pregnancy I lost 3 lbs., which is apparently a fairly common phenomenon)
  • Weight upon leaving the hospital Monday, Jan. 16 (4 days postpartum): 139 lbs. I found this at the time discouraging. This 10-lbs. loss was simply baby (8 lbs.) and placenta, I assumed.
  • Weight on Thursday, Jan. 19 (7 days postpartum): 133 lbs.
  • Weight on Friday, Jan. 20 (8 days postpartum, 15 hours after bringing Natalie home): 128 lbs.
  • Weight on Sunday, Jan. 22 (10 days postpartum, 3 days after bringing Natalie home): 121 lbs.
  • Weight on Tuesday, Jan. 24 (12 days postpartum): 118 lbs. (1 lb. less than my pre-pregnancy weight)

Here's what I can say: breastfeeding is for real. I am so fortunate that so far breastfeeding has been working perfectly. As a result I am burning calories like crazy (apparently 500 a day?!) and eating a ton (having third helpings of some dinner items...I never have seconds, let alone thirds) and shrinking that uterus down to size. I still have a little bit of extra flesh around my stomach, but I assume that will either go away once my uterus is back to normal and/or I get the OK to go back to my exercise routine which includes my Core Fusion Body Sculpt DVD.

9 weeks pregnant, hello flat stomach club!, still at 119 lbs. (and still using a crappy camera lens)

41 weeks pregnant, last pregnancy photo, 149 lbs.

Today, two weeks postpartum and 118 lbs., back in my old jeans (the kind that zip and button! The glory!) and you know, holding a baby!

Right now my stomach looks about as big as it did when I was 12 weeks pregnant, and I can totally handle that (in fact, I am shocked this has occurred so quickly, but again: breastfeeding!).

Incision care
For the first week postpartum I was feeling some pain on the left-hand side of my scar. Pain meds definitely masked that pain, and now I feel no pain there at all.

My nurses in the hospital told me that I did not need to directly clean my incision but instead simply allow the soap I'm using to wash the rest of my body to trickle over the wound. They also told me to use a separate towel or wash cloth to pat dry the incision area to avoid any cross contamination.

The doctors put about 12 pieces of heavy-duty medical tape over my stitches. The nurses at the hospital said I could pull the tape off after having it on for only two days. I said it wasn't bothering me so I'd rather not bother it. The nurse at my own doctor's office advised me to keep the tape on until it started peeling away on its own. That moment arrived yesterday, and I was happy to remove the last piece of barely-sticky-anymore tape.

Now I can have a good look at my scar, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. First of all, in keeping with my doctor's promise to me as I whimpered on the operating room table, it is LOW. No one will be seeing this puppy, even if I wore a really skimpy bikini (which is not my style, and I have a big butt, thus sizing me out of the skimpy-bikini-bottom market). Second of all, it is not as big as I thought. It's about three inches long. It is, however, raised, and I wonder (as someone who's never had stitches) if the raised nature of the scar will diminish or if this will simply be the scar I can tell stories about during future icebreaker activities (I kid).

Pain management
I was instructed by most of my nurses to try not to take too much Percocet because it causes constipation (see below). So, after one week postpartum I had completely weened myself off Percocet. I've been taking some prescription-strength Motrin here and there for the past week, which mostly helps me manage some lower-back pain which appears to be leftover from my epidural. So, in terms of c-section-induced pain, I would say it has been very manageable and way better than I would have ever thought. In fact, I could possibly have been in more pain if I had completed a vaginal delivery. (The irony, I know.)

I knew that with a c-section women still experience heavy-period-like bleeding, but that the bleeding is typically less than what women experience after a vaginal delivery. Though I am sure this is all relative, I would say this is another statement that has held true to my experience. Now, two weeks postpartum I have minimal bleeding, and even since day 1 postpartum it really hasn't been that bad.

All my friends who delivered vaginally have told stories over glasses of wine about their first attempts at postpartum bowel movements. One described it as worse than giving birth. One didn't have one until 12 days postpartum. One said she kept rehashing through her mind the following statement while sitting on the toilet, "I have no idea how this is going to come out of me."

Well, again, here I am probably lucky that I did not have a complete vaginal delivery because this has not been the case for me. Yes, I had the irrational fear of somehow breaking through five layers of stitches at the site of my c-section incision, but clearly that did not happen. In the words of our Childbirth Express nurse: when offered stool softeners at the hospital, take them; when offered a suppository at the hospital, embrace it.

If this all seems like TMI, let me assure you that after you lose all your dignity carting around your own urine in a bag attached to your IV pole in the hospital, the function of your bowels and your baby's bowels will be one of your top priorities and you will not care who witnesses you taking care of business. In fact, most of the abdominal pain I was experiencing in days 1 and 2 postpartum magically disappeared after my nurses helped me get to the bathroom.

What did I leave out? If you've had a c-section, what do you recall as the best and the worst or biggest surprises of the recovery process?


  1. I was discussing C-Sections with a classroom mom (who was also a nurse) a few years ago. She said walking early and often was key to her recovery, even though the first time was painful.
    Natalie is an absolute doll, too!

    P.S. As someone who is catching the baby fever, I appreciate your candidness with your whole experience!

  2. Abdominal exercise machines have been proven to generate amazing results in fat loss and body toning. They are quite a few reasons why people today prefer to workout on a elliptical trainer additional than they would on a treadmill.

  3. Thank you for writing about your experience. I had an emergency c section and in my birth class I didn't laugh when she spoke about it out loud, but I thought, that would not happen to me, well I was wrong. But being a LMT I knew that not having a binder post surgery was not helpful, so I made one from an ace bandage, and now I have a c section recovery kit for recovery, so its great you asked questions! Why are the perplexed, who knows! Why isn't recovery focused upon? Removing abdominal adhesions is a 1 Billion$ a year industry. All the best

  4. Really this is the nice post for all the women. how to recover after pregnancy her c-section . thanks for sharing such a wonderful post