April is Cesarean Awareness Month. We are passionate about postpartum care here at Le Wren and Cesarean recovery is very close to our hearts. In theory, I was excited to write about how to support a mother and her family after a C-section for that reason. But every time I sat down to write about it, I would tense up and my mind would go blank.
What I have come to realize is that I am still processing the trauma of my own Cesarean. As so often happens with traumatic experiences – even if there is a happy outcome, as there was in my case – we bury the details way down deep to be excavated at a later date or maybe not at all. When it comes time to excavate, the body and mind can have a difficult time accessing the memory out of self-protection.
So here goes. First, my own experience. And second, advice to those who want to support to a new mother having just undergone a C-section.
Birth is complicated. Anyone who has been through labor knows that. Vaginal delivery can be traumatic. C-sections can be traumatic. I had already had a (long) vaginal delivery with our daughter two years previous to my twins’ birth. I thought I knew what I was in for. Being pregnant with Monochorionic diamniotic (Mo-Di) twins as a “geriatric mother” (at the age of 36), there was a very good chance I would need to have a C-section. In theory, again, I was ready.
But when my water broke at 34.5 weeks in the middle of the night, I was not ready. When we got to the hospital at 3am and "Twin B" was in breach position, our doctor asked if we wanted to proceed with an emergency C-section. I didn’t want to complicate what was already a complicated pregnancy further by trying for vaginal delivery, so we went for the C-section. I was wheeled into the OR, prepped, etc. Because it was a high risk, early, multiple birth, there were at least 20 people in the room.
And then the procedure began. Unlike other major surgeries, you are awake for a C-section. I was completely exposed from the waist down to a room full of strangers, save my husband and OBGYN. And, unlike a vaginal delivery, there is not a lot of lead-up to the moment the baby is born. No pushing. No mental preparation for the moment when the precious baby enters the world.
Thankfully, out the two of them came, ten seconds apart. It was a quick, efficient surgery. The boys were largely in great shape but after a quick scan at them they were whisked off to the NICU for further testing and monitoring. Only my husband got a chance to briefly hold them.
Suddenly everyone except a surgical intern and a nurse left the OR and I was being sewn up and wheeled into a recovery room. It felt so clinical to me, without the intimacy of my previous birth experience. I was stunned.
Twenty-four hours later our boys came down into my recovery room with me. They were doing well and the family was re-united. I know I am lucky in that. The separation was brief compared to what many experience.
Once home, the C-section recovery period set in. What many fail to appreciate is that C-sections are major surgery. The recovery period is at least eight weeks, if not longer. And during that time, the mother is expected to be the default caregiver for a brand new baby; in our case, two babies.
There is very little post-op support in the United States for C-sections. No physical therapy is prescribed. Mobility is incredibly limited following a C-section and with family leave laws so restricted in this country, mothers still have to do the majority of child-caring work while also recovering from major surgery.
The recovery period after a vaginal delivery is challenging too—no question. And many women will tear during vaginal deliveries (as I did) and require stitching which impedes recovery.
The truth is that all labor experiences are intense and require sufficient rest to recover properly. But because C-sections require cutting through six layers of skin, muscle and fat, the recovery is a little different.
So how can you help a mother who recently had a C-section? Below are three tips to help the C-section mom in your life:
- Help her with household chores. Yes, go visit the baby if she wants you there, but instead of holding the baby for hours on end, do the laundry. Do the dishes. Make her food. Make the beds. Help her prepare bottles. Roll up your sleeves and do household chores for her. She will not be able to get around the house easily and any manual household labor you can take off her plate will be incredibly appreciated.
- Organize a Meal Train. Either right before her delivery or immediately following, create a Meal Train to schedule friends and family for food delivery to her home. It’s easy to set up on the website and always appreciated.
- Offer to watch the baby for at least two hours so she can get some rest. It’s important that the window is at least two hours so she can get some actual rest. Chances are she (and hopefully her partner) are up in the middle of the night often with the baby – she needs her rest! Not just to function but to actively recover from major surgery.
And if you are not able to be by her side for her recovery, you can always send food or a gift. But remember in sending a gift, think about her needs, not just the baby’s.
Our Postpartum Gift Box is a great place to start. We've done all the research so you don't have to. A thoughtful, useful gift that will help her feel supported and loved, at just the click of a button. Shop now here.