When I was told I would need a C-Section to birth my baby I felt two things simultaneously: fear and relief. Fear because they were going to stab me in the spine with an enormous needle, slice me open while I was very much awake and pull a tiny human from my body. That kind of sounds like a plot from a horror movie. Relief because that tiny human would not be exiting my body through my vagina. I’m sure I don’t need to list the multitude of ways in which that idea was terrifying.
Before having a C-section I knew pretty much the standard things most women know about a C-section if they haven’t had one. There is the terrifying giant needle in your spine part, the slicing you open while you are awake part, the pulling a tiny human out of you part, the stitching you up part, and the recovery part where you can’t lift stuff for six weeks. That pretty much covers it all right? Wrong.
This is a list of things you may not be expecting to occur as part of your C-section and during your recovery.
1. They Shove Drugs Up Your Arse Without Even Telling You About It
So to be fair I was told this would happen in my antenatal classes a few weeks before my C-Section. The midwife mentioned that they shove a monster dose of Voltaren up your bum post surgery to help with pain management. Apparently the dose they can give rectally is twice that of what they can give orally so it makes sense. Well to the doctors it makes sense, if given the choice I would happily take twice as many pills to manage my pain than have someone shove something up my bum.
So I knew to expect this butt dose of medication. As the days post surgery passed I nervously anticipated each medical personnel that entered my room would be the ‘butt medication administer’. None of them were. Eventually I asked a nurse why this hadn’t happened yet and when it would. She then told me that it would have already happened while I was on the table during surgery. My first thought was ‘How did someone slip something into my butt without me even noticing?’. I mean I know they pulled an entire person out of me without me feeling much more than some odd pressure and then a bit of a ‘pop’ sensation as they yanked her out. I get that, but surely I feel like I should have noticed someone sticking something up my bum as they finished up. Obviously prior to the surgery I signed a waiver saying ‘Do whatever you deem necessary during the surgery’, which is where they must have covered themselves legally to be able to stick something in my bum without so much as a passing comment made about it. I often wonder at what exact point someone beneath the curtain put it in there, like was I in the middle of a conversation with one of the theatre stuff completely oblivious to the fact I was being butt drugged?
The butt drugging leads to other things no one tells you about such as…
2. The Incision Wound Is Nothing Compared To The Skin Irritation From The Butt Drugs And Medical Tape
So maybe this situation isn’t a universal experience of all C-section mums, but I dare say probably more common among women with sensitive skin like myself. I had listed on my file as well as my medical ID bracelet that I have an allergy to adhesive tape. When they were preparing me for my C-section behind the curtain of ‘secrecy and terrifying goings ons that I have no desire to know about’ (apart from the butt drugging, I maintain it would have been courteous to let me know about that) I hear the anaesthetist pipe up with ‘She’s allergic to tape’. Muffled doctors voices are heard from behind the curtain for a moment, before someone lifts up the curtain unexpectedly and much to my horror (relax, they hadn’t started yet, I didn’t get an eye full of my internal organs). They wave a package of generic looking adhesive tape in front of me and ask if they can use that one. My response was something along the lines of ‘Um, I don’t know, maybe, I’m not sure, I don’t know what kind of tape that is, I guess it’s probably not going to kill me so, um OK?’.
They used that tape. From what I could tell from the clear tracking line it left from one of my hips across to the other, the tape was used to hoist up my belly doona keeping my baby bump warm (which is a cutesy way of saying that they needed to lift up the non baby related podge on my belly so they could access the action zone better). Everywhere the tape had been left a massive raised rash on my stomach and reaching down to behind my hips. It was red, it was angry, it itched like a motherfucker and I’m pretty sure judging from my skin response that the tape they used was infused with some sort of hydrochloric acid.
That brings me back to my butt. As the medication they had unbeknownst to me shoved up there dissolved it trickled out and settled on my maternity pad where it stayed against my skin for hours. It wasn’t until later in the day when my spinal block started to wear off that I started to notice how sore my bum was. I figured it was just from having all the pressure on that part of my bum from the way I had been sitting for hours with the bed propped up.
The next morning I hobbled into the bathroom to have my first post birth shower. This is when I discovered it. I had what my partner and I affectionately nicknamed a baboon butt. You know that monkey with the really red swollen arses? Yeah that was me. I was going to include an image here to educate all you folks who haven’t been watching enough animal documentaries to know what I mean. If you are unsure you can Google ‘monkey+red+bum’, it isn’t pretty though. I warned you. As a general rule don’t ever Google any unusual term you read in my blog unless you want to be traumatised by what you find.
The skin was so inflamed that it was raised at least 1.5cm. When I showed my doctor during his post surgery check up his eyes bulged before sheepishly apologising to me for his use of tape (and presumably butt drugs which no one would acknowledge or talk about that had likely caused my baboon butt).
The rash lasted for several weeks. As it healed it itched and peeled off like the worst sunburn you have ever had in your life. I remember scratching at it furiously in the middle of the night and having layers upon layers of dry skin flake off in my hands. As if I wasn’t having enough trouble adjusting to my postnatal body, my butt skin was coming off like a snake sloughing off its old skin. Sexy I know.
3. You Will Itch Like A Meth Addict With The Painkillers They Give You
A pretty common side effect of the painkillers they give you post birth is itching. A deep sort of itchy where you want to rip your skin off so you can scratch the deep itch inside of you that seems to be coming from your core. It was only made worse by the fact that the spinal block used during my surgery had dulled the nerves in my chest where the itch originated from. So here I was, itchy as I had ever been and scratching at my chest with deadened nerves harder and more ferociously than someone with working nerve endings ever would be. Even though I could barely feel the scratching the itch continued. When I looked down at my chest it was covered in deep red streaks from the burst blood vessels beneath the skin.
I asked the nurse wtf was going on and she just responded with it is normal and it will go away. Thankfully it did after an hour or so. My advice to you is cut your damn nails prior to your C-section.
4. Strangers Will Milk You Like A Cow At 3am
My daughter wasn’t able to be with us the first few nights after she was born as she needed to be monitored in the Special Care Nursery. At 3am while I was enjoying quite a nice sleep thanks to the powerful painkillers (which thankfully had stopped making me itch holes in my skin by that point) a nurse comes in, abruptly turns on the lights and tells me she needs to hand express me. For those of you not in the know, hand expressing translates to milking you like a cow. Expressing with a pump is more like you are a commercial dairy cow in a modern day dairy farm. Mechanical and impersonal. Hand expressing is more like you are a cow back in the good old days, where you have lots of grass to roam in and the farmer comes and milks you by hand each day and you have that personal one on one relationship.
So this woman I have never met is by my bedside at 3am squeezing my boobs and pinching my nipples while waiting impatiently with a syringe to collect any colostrum or milk that emerges. I wince in pain, unsurprisingly given there is some stranger pinching and pulling at my nipples. When nothing comes out she tries to reassure me by saying that perhaps I have fibrous breast tissue and not to worry as it is completely normal and begins to happen to every woman once they go past 30. I tell her I am 27. Awkward silence ensues. After giving up on getting any milk she leans down a few centimetres from my nipple and blows on it gently. She explains that this is good for the nipple to absorb any colostrum that made its way out but she couldn’t collect. More awkward silence ensues. The gentle nipple blowing is probably more awkward for me than the fierce nipple pinching.
5. Your Wound May Smell Like You Are Rotting From The Inside, Even If You’re Fine
Do you remember that clear contact your mother used to cover your school books at the start of the year to protect them from stuff? They use this same stuff on your incision site. OK, maybe not the exact same stuff, but like a sterile medical equivalent. My doctor told me to keep it on for a month, and as my incision site being the gateway wound which lead to my internal organs kind of creeped me out I was happy to leave it alone for as long as possible.
Cue two weeks in at midnight after settling the baby to sleep and I catch a whiff of that rotten dead smell. You know the smell of decomposition when a rat dies underneath your floorboards? Yeah, death smell. Well I quickly figured out that death smell was coming from my person. OMG, death smell coming from your body has to be bad right? I made a panicked midnight call to my Ob to confirm if I was in fact slowing dying from the inside out. I tried to stay calm and laid out all the important questions in my head before ringing him so I could stay as clear and level headed as possible during this crisis. Did I have time to make it to the hospital on my own or should I call an ambulance? Would he meet me at the hospital or would I be treated by a different doctor because it was an emergency? Would I need more surgery or would it be the best care scenario where I just needed IV antibiotics? How quickly was this infection going to take me out?
A very sleepy and a clearly annoyed doctor answered the phone and promptly told me that I was not dying (WHAT? How can I smell like this if I am not dying? Are you sure? Like really totally sure?). He said that things did have a tendency to smell pretty pongy down there after a while, due to the wound not breathing underneath the waterproof dressing. He told me to take the dressing off and clean it up and hung up the phone.
Somehow I did not die. My doctor later apologised for his abrupt nature on the phone when I saw him some weeks later and said that he had started warning women of the smell after my panicked phone call. Still not sure if he warns them about the butt drugs. Probably not.
6. The Post Anaesthetic Grog Can Last For Days
The after effects of the anaesthetic were the worst in the first 24 hours for me. It was the middle of winter but I was so, so hot. I stripped off and made my partner get a couple of towels from the bathroom and soak them in water and lay them over the top of me while one of the midwives found me a fan. This crazy heat continued on into the next day, where I had my first shower then decided to just lie on the bed naked without any sheets for most of the day. During pregnancy I had heard people talk about how they didn’t give a shit about their dignity or nudity during labour and just let it all hang out. After my daughter was born during my hot flush stage I basically got all my nudity and not giving a shit in that I missed out on as I didn’t labour with her.
I also vomited for the first three or so days following the C-section. But it was a good kind of vomiting you know? Not an intense constant gastro kind of vomiting. Just a once a day at around 5pm I would become very nauseous and then puke. That was it. It was strange but overall short lived.
So there they are, the six things that you probably won’t hear about pre C-section. I hope that I haven’t scared you. Though it may be hard to believe after reading that I actually thought my C-section was wicked awesome (for reals). If I found pregnancy half as easy as my C-section I’d be popping out a kid every other weekend.
Most of the stuff was pretty minor and more of a surprise than anything else. I was very lucky in that my operation and recovery was very smooth sailing. I had a very difficult pregnancy, so just the fact that I wasn’t pregnant anymore made me feel immediately better. I was up moving about the day after my surgery and had pretty good movement by day three. This isn’t necessarily true for everyone and it is true that many women have a difficult time with their recovery. I had convinced myself that I would be in a huge amount of pain and unable to care for my daughter for weeks after I had her. Thankfully this was not the case at all and all the nurses as well as myself were quite impressed with my range of movement and recovery during my stay. I’m not trying to make anyone who didn’t have an easy recovery feel bad, but rather for anyone who is yet to have a C-section and is reading a million articles about how horrible the recovery is to have some balance of someone saying it really wasn’t that bad. Strange yes, very strange. But not bad.
Feel free to share any strange bizarre post C-section experiences that cropped up for you that you had not expected.