5 Things I Told Myself to Cope with My Emergency C-Section

Ending up with an emergency C-section can be disappointing at best, traumatic at worst. Here are 5 things I told myself to help me cope with it.

I remember the days leading up to my son’s birth. I was both excited and anxious. Surely I couldn’t wait to see and hold my baby—but I was also worried that I was shooting for the stars with my so-called birth plan.

I prayed to the old gods and the new—sana po kayanin ko mag-normal.

I was trying to beat the odds. I was born via Cesarean section, after my mom labored in the hospital for two grueling days. My birth was probably the most traumatic experience of her life. I also saw how difficult it was for her when my two younger siblings were born. There were daily incision swabs, about a whole month of forced bed rest, and a lot of groaning whenever she tried to get up.

So I told myself, that won’t happen to me. I practiced prenatal yoga, deep-breathing and relaxation everyday. I channeled the inner Erwan Heussaff--ate brown rice, salad, tuna—and gave my husband ugly stares whenever he’d open a bag of chips. I drank red raspberry leaf tea, because they say it helps speed up labor.

And in the last few weeks of my pregnancy, things were looking promising. Our baby is estimated to be just around 6 pounds, and he appears to be head down and engaged, ready to meet the world.

So when my water finally broke at 39 weeks, I told myself, This is it--I will unleash the life-giving mother-goddess within and breeze through the pain of childbirth, just as nature has designed me to.”

The raspberry leaf tea may have worked, as I probably had record time labor. Within just three hours in the hospital, I was told, Mommy, baka ma-CS ka ha…”

They called in hubby to calm me down after they dropped the C-section bomb.
They called in hubby to calm me down after they dropped the C-section bomb.

My emergency C-section was a huge let down. I even thought at some point that I may have already failed as a mother. I’ve read somewhere that babies who were delivered vaginally have healthier gut bacteria, so that’s something, I guess…right?

But after the pain of my incision subsided and my son started to sleep for longer hours, it landed on me that maybe ending up with a C-section wasn’t so bad at all. Here are five things that helped me make sense of my emergency C-section in a more positive light.

Coping with Unexpected C-section Infographic
Unexpected C-section? Here are 5 thoughts to help you cope.
1. C-sections save lives.

LIke, duh. Of course that’s what C-sections are for. But stay with me here.

In 2015. the World Health Organization released a report studying the C-section rates and maternal mortality rates (a.k.a maternal deaths related to childbirth) across different countries. What they found is that in low-income countries where the C-section rate is below 10%, there are higher maternal death rates, but in high-income countries where the C-section rate is above 10%, there appears to be no improvement in the mortality rates. If you apply the law of diminishing returns, it seems appropriate to conclude that the ideal C-section rate is around 10%.

The media, especially in the US, where the C-section rate is at 32.0 percent as of 2015, wrote headlines comparing their national average to the so-called WHO-recommended figure”. Natural birth movements also ate this number up to fuel their propaganda. There came widespread speculation that doctors now lean towards performing C-sections because they’re more convenient (no waiting for long hours before you’re ready to push) and more profitable (In my experience, an emergency C-section is triple the cost of a normal spontaneous delivery). Sneaky doctors.

However, the WHO never intended to use the 10% figure to impose a C-section rate worldwide. They acknowledge that besides a live mother and baby, there are other factors to consider such as the health and bonding of mother and child, so it’s premature to conclude based on their findings. There are also many factors that come into play whether a pregnant woman would end up in a C-section or not, so they also came up with a C-section probability checker. Factors that were considered in this model include the mother’s age, fetal position, whether you’re carrying twins, whether you were induced, and whether you have health complications or not—so you could imagine that the probability would be different from each person, community, country, and so on. Makes more sense, but it doesn’t make a catchy headline.

C-section probability varies from each person, community, country, and so on. Makes more sense, but it doesn’t make a catchy headline.

Just to be clear, I’m not trashing on the natural birth movement. I believe that a natural spontaneous birth is still the healthiest and safest way to give birth in most cases. I also think that natural birth advocates have an empowering message, and with their books and lectures, they’ve helped a lot of women—myself included—to look forward to their birth experience instead of dreading it. However, I think it gets too far when they start to demonize modern medicine, and ignore the fact that childbirth has and will always be a life-threatening act. It’s what nature designed women to do, but nature isn’t always kind.

In the old days, women wrote their last wills upon learning that they were pregnant. Now, we just post a positive test kit or an ultrasound photo on social media, and have little doubt that we and our babies will live. I think it’s safe to say that’s progress.

Our baby boy's very first close-up.
Our baby boy's very first close-up.
2. All your efforts to stay healthy will still pay off.

When I first woke up in the recovery room, I got a strange feeling of regret. After nine months of discipline and self-control, I still ended up getting sliced up. All the sweets and junk foods I refused, the intense cravings I resisted, the early mornings I got up for yoga when I could have stayed in bed—all those sacrifices, and I still fell short of my goal. Nagdiet-diet pa, CS din pala ang labas

But that’s a thought that came out of a brain high on painkillers. We keep ourselves healthy during pregnancy not only because we want to deliver naturally, but because we want to give our babies the best health they can get inside the womb. Staying healthy while pregnant is a matter of conscience, not vanity.

Staying healthy while pregnant is a matter of conscience, not vanity.

Perhaps you’re a new mom who feels cheated because after all your efforts to stay healthy, you still ended up with an emergency C-section. Maybe you’re expecting, and you have a slim chance of giving birth naturally because of things beyond your control, such as a low-lying placenta, or a breech baby. Let me give you a virtual pat on the back. You did your best with what you can control. 

3. Recovering from a C-section is painful, but there’s no such thing as painless birth.

Once you agree to having a C-section, you sign up for weeks of pain, tears, and a lot of inconvenience. I initially planned on binge-watching The Office while on maternity leave, but after a few laughs that felt like my insides bursting off my incision, I had to switch to The Big Bang Theory. The later seasons.

And what about getting up for those night feedings? You hear your baby cry, so while you’re half-asleep, you mindlessly get up like how most humans do—by engaging your lower abdomen—except you’re not like most humans. You have a freshly stitched lower abdomen. Ouch! Now, you’re fully awake.

Recovering from a C-section is quite tough. For weeks, you won't feel like yourself, but just a weak and helpless version of it. But I suggest you savor each painful moment, because it's a freaking handful of dirt you can throw at a C-section shamer's face whenever they say that you gave in and chose an easy way out.

We're finally going home!
We're finally going home! And this is what it feels like to be on a wheelchair!

Besides, you can’t really say for sure that you’ll have an easy recovery otherwise. Which brings me to my next point. 

4. Giving birth naturally is no guarantee that you’ll recover quickly.

If you’ve had a natural birth, doctors would estimate that you’ll recover physically in 6 weeks—for C-section moms, it’s 10 weeks. This was my biggest worry when I had my C-section. I wanted to be Supermom right after giving birth, but when you had a C-section, you just get to be super lame.

And although mothers who deliver vaginally are somehow expected to recover quickly, there still are risks to giving birth naturally—albeit less talked about. Risks include urine and fecal incontinence (because of a weakened pelvic floor), perineal tearing (if your skin isn’t stretchy enough down there), and pain during sex (I don’t need to explain that). In the UK, after a couple of high-profile cases of women suing their midwives, doctors are now considering to issue warnings about the risks of a vaginal birth.

In an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, a mother writes honestly about her unpleasant experience after giving birth vaginally. While I should point out that her story doesn’t represent most vaginal birth experiences, her story is still a reminder that a lot of things that could go wrong in a natural birth. You just don’t know if you’re gonna be lucky or not. 

5. Birth is only the beginning of motherhood, not the end of it.

Okay, so you're disappointed. And what better way to start motherhood, which is full of that. Next thing you know, you're getting a call from the principal's office because your child pulled a prank on his terror teacher. (But honestly, that would be hilarious and would probably make me feel inappropriately proud of my son.)

Kidding aside, I know that most emergency C-section stories go like this: you go into the hospital with doctor's orders for a normal delivery, you get into the labor room and stay there for a few hours, something goes wrong--you don't progress, your blood pressure rises, or your baby's heart rate drops. You're given the option to have a C-section or risk it all for a normal delivery. You drop all hopes of a satisfying normal delivery for you and your baby's safety.

Even when I was gunning for a natural birth, I set on stone that my baby’s safety is something I won’t compromise. I ended up agreeing to have a C-section because his heart rate dropped just a few hours into labor. It may have been due to my water breaking early, his umbilical cord getting pinched, or him not tolerating the contractions well--who knows. But no matter how much I wanted to give birth naturally, I knew at this point that it just wasn't worth it. 

Risking my son's life just so I can have an amazing birth experience sounds a bit selfish to me. Not a great way to start parenting at all.

They say that a natural birth gives a woman an amazing sense of power. I believe that, and I wanted that bad. But risking my son's life just so I can have an amazing birth experience sounds a bit selfish to me. Not a great way to kickstart my parenting journey at all.

I remember one of the parting messages from the documentary, The Business of Being Born. Non-verbatim, but it goes something like this: "If you do a C-section to an animal, it doesn't take care of its young. What happens if you do it to people?" (Even if I find the rhetoric to be a bit extreme, I still recommend watching it. Just take everything with a grain of salt. It's on Netflix, by the way.)

One C-section and seven months into motherhood, I am very much taking care of my son--with help only coming from my husband for the most part.

So, you were saying?

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