C-Section Vs. Vaginal Delivery? My Two Births in Gory Detail
So let me start off by saying that giving birth is hard... no matter how you do it. But it’s also hands-down the most rewarding thing you will ever do in your life. It’s almost beyond comprehension how the whole process is possible and you will be 100% in awe of yourself and your body once it’s all over (no matter how you do it!). If there is anything that will make you feel like a superhero, you better believe this is it.
I’ve gone through the birthing process four times and it hasn’t felt any less awesome. I’ve experienced both vaginal deliveries and C-sections and am here to give you a glimpse of how it all went down in my two most difficult ones (because let’s face it, as soon-to-be-moms, you want to be ready for the worst case scenario).
So here it goes…
The Physically Grueling Vaginal Birth
My first vaginal delivery was brutal. Not to scare you, but there’s really no other way to put it. I was in active labor for 18 hours and once my cervix had dilated to 10 cm, I had almost two hours of pushing before the baby came out. Needless to say, the entire 20 hours was physically demanding and incredibly exhausting. There were times I wanted to give up; times I felt like I couldn’t last through another contraction.
To make this extremely brutal delivery worse, I was going through back labor, which not only explains the crazy long progression to birth and prolonged pushing stage, but also the extreme lower back pain I was experiencing. If you’re wondering what back labor feels like, it’s not something I would wish on anybody. It actually feels like your back is breaking with each contraction. It’s seriously physical torture. Twenty hours of pure physical torture!
I was vomiting, sweating, shaking, and screaming like a banshee at times. I honestly felt like I was going through the medieval torture known as quartering…You know, when each different limb is tied to a horse that’s made to gallop off in four different directions? I also felt like all my bowels had exited and were lying on the hospital floor.
On top of all that… The crowning! If you have never experienced crowning before, it’s basically the stage when the baby’s head begins to make its exit. At this moment, you get the pleasure of experiencing what’s known as “the ring of fire.” For me, that felt like someone had literally applied gasoline to the outer ring of my vagina and lit it. The good news is, it only lasts a few minutes and it’s more the shock of the pain than the pain itself that was brutal.
As luck would have it, my baby’s giant head meant a third degree perineal tear, which is a deep laceration that went all the way from my vagina down to the rectum. Sure, the nurses were massaging my perineum throughout the lengthy delivery but that really didn’t help. Nothing a few stitches can’t fix, right? Except that sitting was literally a pain in the a$$ for days after birth. Plus, my first poop (which you ought to do before leaving the hospital) was absolutely terrifying.
Yes, there was pelvic floor damage and some incontinence problems too. I would have to concentrate really hard to pee or poo. I couldn’t even locate the muscles for kegels for about two months. And what they tell you about little accidents when you sneeze was totally true for me.
But, most of the pelvic floor damage doesn’t actually come from birth, rather from pregnancy itself. So for those who think, you’ll be keeping your hoo-ha intact with a C-section, the problems you’re most likely worried about usually don’t have anything to do with the baby’s journey through the birth canal but from all the weight you’re carrying during your pregnancy.
But here’s the bright side… The minute it was all over, I felt great! Of course there was a lot of bleeding for a week or so and the nurse mentioned to keep an eye out for golf ball sized blood clots. But thankfully, I didn’t have any of those. There were some very simple instructions to help keep the stitches clean, mostly just to squirt the area with a water bottle but that was it.
Despite the brutal delivery, I physically bounced back within hours and was up and about the next morning as if nothing had happened at all. I could shower, eat, walk around, and carry my baby immediately after delivering. I was cleared for exercise within a week or two and for those of you who are wondering… My lady parts went right back to normal with some kegels.
All in all, I felt great. I could actually focus on caring for and bonding with my baby over focusing on my own recovery (which was quick and easy).
The Horrors of My C-Section and Its Aftermath
First off, I just feel like I have to mention this… I’ve heard many women strongly support and promote vaginal birth with comments like, “Your body was made to do this.” To those ladies, I just want to say: Yes, of course our bodies are meant to do this. But, at the same time, we have one of the most difficult deliveries of the entire animal kingdom. On top of that, there is the reality of emergency situations and the potential for maternal and infant mortality. So while our bodies we meant to do this, we’ve also been blessed with brains that led to medical innovations for situations when something doesn’t go according to plan.
There is no shame, no failure, in finding yourself in a situation where a C-section in necessary for your own health or your baby’s. While I personally would never go for an elective C-section, I’m thankful that we’re able to save lives with emergency caesarians.
There are three typical arguments I’ve heard in favor of C-sections: 1) There are those women who want to avoid pain at all costs; 2) There are those women who want to keep their vaginas “intact”; and 3) There are those women who want to be 100% sure that their own doctor will be available for delivery when the baby is due or otherwise like the idea of having the birth scheduled for convenience’s sake.
For me, personally, having gone through a C-section, none of those reasons are worth it. Firstly, if you’re someone who is fearful of pain, I have to say the pain you will endure from a C-section far surpasses the pain of childbirth in my book – even the pain of a 20-hour delivery!
If you’re in the camp that wants to keep your vagina intact, we’re going to have some trouble seeing eye to eye, I think. The thirty minutes or so that your baby passes through your vagina is nothing some regular kegels can’t fix. Besides, as I mentioned before, the majority of the damage to your pelvic floor muscles will have come from the pregnancy itself, not from the birth. And I’ve known many, many women who not only swear their lady bits are just as good as before, I’ve even known some who say they’re even better!
Finally, if you’re in the last camp that like the control and convenience of scheduling… I just have to say, you’re about to embark on your motherhood journey. This is not something you can micromanage. You might as well give up that need for control and convenience now.
So on to the realities of my C-section…
First things first… The anesthesia. I was given an epidural to numb the lower half of my body. I’m not sure what happened exactly but it seems that my body didn’t love the meds. I was extremely itchy all over and was literally scratching myself all through delivery.
Now, for those of you who are like me and don’t typically elect to have surgery, being cut open while awake was horrendous. This is major abdominal surgery, people! Knowing that the scalpel is cutting through your skin then layers and layers of ligaments, fatty tissues, and abdominal muscles (which can be cut or pulled apart) just made me nauseous. And while I was numb, I swear I could feel the process. I could feel the baby being pulled out… And worse, there was so much tugging and pulling when it came to delivering the placenta.
I’m completely medically squeamish so knowing that the only thing separating me from peering into my abdominal cavity was a layer of blue paper was sickening. Not only was the procedure eerily “painful”, building all those muscles back up was a huge task to say the least.
The bright side is, rather than going through 20 hours of labor, the whole thing took about an hour and I got to see my baby after the first 15 minutes of it. I got to see her. But not hold her... It’s less typical to get that skin-to-skin bonding after a C-section. So my baby was whisked away while the doctor worked hard to stitch me back up.
Coming off meds definitely was not fun. I was extremely nauseous, but that was the least of it. My recovery was brutal. It took at least a week before I was able to get up unassisted. Because of the pain, I was hardly able to sit up or walk. I couldn’t carry my baby or get comfortable for breastfeeding. Forget about running after my little ones!
Since I was at risk for septic shock, I ended up back at the hospital, staying there for an entire month hooked up to IV meds. The maternal mortality rate is higher with C-sections, especially in postpartum period, so you really do need to take the time to recover and you’ll need the people and support systems in place to make that possible. You’ll be told to walk as much as possible to speed up the recovery process, but this is easier said than done.
Breastfeeding wasn’t a breeze either. There’s a lot that happens biochemically during vaginal birth, and when you have a C-section your body doesn’t realize what has just happened so your milk may not come in right away. It took my body three days to catch up. And once it did, I almost instantly regretted it…The breastfeeding contractions that happen inside really hurt during healing process.
Thankfully, I was given medication for post-surgical pain, which is totally safe for the baby, I was told. In fact, it’s pretty important to control the pain rather than ignore it, since pain interferes with the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps milk flow. So much to worry about!
Two years later and I’m still numb around the incision area, with a strange kind of pain that the doctor says will probably stay with me forever. I’ve had scar tissue grow into the vaginal canal and cause a pulling sensation that’s incredibly uncomfortable. I’m not sure if during the C-section, my insides were actually taken out or just moved around in order to reach the baby, but my organs felt odd afterwards for months on end as if they were no longer in the right position.
On top of all that, there’s the belly scar… but that doesn’t bother me at all. I consider it a battle scar and proof that I’m a warrior woman (or so my husband says). And I’ve been lucky enough to find a doctor who allowed me to have a successful VBAC.
But there are issues for future pregnancies, like the risk of scars splitting or rupturing. There’s also the long term risk of a hysterectomy from scar tissue and I’ve known a couple of women who’ve had infections on internal scars which meant additional surgeries.
All in all, for me, vaginal birth was night and day easier – even with my more difficult labor experience. Either way and whatever you choose, I just have to reiterate that this needs to be a decision free from labels and stigma. Women who elect to have C-sections, do not end up with better vaginas – they have a longer recovery period instead. Women who successfully deliver vaginally, aren’t somehow superior to those who needed a C-section. Those women are not “failures” in any way. Birth is difficult, no matter how you choose to do it. And it’s one of the many sacrifices you will make as a mother.
So what will you choose... A vaginal delivery or a C-section?
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