Having a Cesarean section is no joke. One-third of moms have the battle scars to prove it.
While a Cesarean section (or C-section) may not be every mother's dream birth experience, whether it's planned or an emergency surgery, when your baby needs to come out, anything goes. More than 30 percent of births result in a C-section, according to the World Health Organization. Anyone who still questions whether moms who gave birth through C-section are just as much "real moms" as those who gave birth the old-fashioned way should listen up.
In honor of Cesarean Section Awareness Month, let it be understood once and for all: Having a C-section is not the easy way out. That social stigma needs to end here and now. Read on for stories from some real-life superheroes who have lived through it. (Related: Fed Up New Mom Reveals the Truth About C-Sections)
Photo: Ashley Pezzuto
"My body felt like my guts had just been ripped out and thrown back in at random."
"I was having my third baby and she was measuring huge, like 98th percentile big. I was also diagnosed with polyhydramnios at 34 weeks, which means I had extra fluid, so that made me a high-risk pregnancy. Having a scheduled C-section was the safest option. Since during my second childbirth (a vaginal delivery) I ended up hemorrhaging right afterward and needing emergency surgery, I just really wanted to avoid that almost near-death situation this time around. Still, it was weird going into the hospital with no contractions, no water breaking, no labor symptoms. Lying down on the operating table awake is pretty surreal. They give you the epidural, so you know you can't feel anything, but you still feel the tugging going on inside you. I remember my teeth chattering and not being able to stop shaking because it was so cold. They put a curtain right at your chest, and while I appreciate that, it made me nervous not knowing what was going on. There was lots of pulling and tugging and then it was just one giant push on my belly—it felt like someone had jumped on it and my 9-pound-13-ounce baby girl popped out! And that was the easy part. The next 24 hours were pure torture. My body felt like my guts had just been ripped out and thrown back in at random. Getting out of the hospital bed to go to the bathroom was an hour-long process. Just sitting up in the bed to get ready to stand up took a lot of determination. I had to walk holding two pillows against my stomach to try to mask the pain. Laughing hurts, too. Rolling over hurts. Sleeping hurts." —Ashley Pezzuto, 31, Tampa, FL
"There was music on the radio and the doctors and nurses were singing along to the songs in unison as if we were on some movie set."
"When I found out I needed to have a C-section with my first baby, my daughter, I was shocked. We discovered I actually have a heart-shaped uterus, meaning it's basically upside down, which is why she was breached. I had 10 days to think about it and process the news. My mother had given birth naturally to three daughters, and the word 'C-section' was considered a dirty word, or at least synonymous with 'taking the easy way out' in my house. Having a C-section was just not something I had even considered might happen to me. Anyone that knew I was having one planned felt the need to tell me their own horror stories. I was already petrified to have major surgery; I've never even spent a night in a hospital. So to not even hear one person come forward and say, 'hey it wasn't so bad' did not prepare me well. The day of my surgery felt completely surreal. I was so nervous to the point that my doctor had to keep reminding me to take deep breaths to calm down because my blood pressure spiked so high. Once I was actually on the operating table I felt like I was in a dream. There was music on the radio and my doctors and the nurses were singing along to the songs in unison as if we were on some movie set. I'll always think about 'That's Why They Call It The Blues' by Elton John so differently now. Since this was such a major life event for me, I had expected everything to be extremely stiff and serious around me, but I realized it was just another ordinary day for everyone else. The vibe in the room definitely eased my fears because I realized this was not as 'emergency' as I had envisioned it to be. It's true that I didn't feel pain at all due to being numbed from all the medicine, but I did feel pulling and tugging, almost as if someone were trying to tickle me from the inside in an uncomfortable way. Overall I feel pretty blessed to have had such a good experience. I guess it made me one of those women who can now pass on some positive stories. It can feel extremely scary when it's happening to you, but it won't be as awful as it's often made out to be." —Jenna Hales, 33, Scotch Plains, NJ
Photo: Abigail Bales
"It felt so incredibly weird to not feel any pain but to feel them moving my insides around."
"I've had two kids via planned C-section because my medical history of GI surgeries to treat my ulcerative colitis made me a poor candidate for vaginal delivery. Getting the epidural is the most stressful part of the process—since it has to be such a sterile process, you're alone on that table while they're sticking a long needle into you, which isn't comforting. They lay you down after it's done because the numbing happens pretty fast. For my second baby, the numbing started on my left side only and then eventually spread to my right—it was freaky to only have one side numb. During surgery, I was acutely aware of the pulling and manipulation happening inside my body to get our daughter out. It felt so incredibly weird to not feel any pain but to feel them moving my insides around. When my baby was delivered I didn't hear her cries for what felt like minutes, but then I got to see her before she was taken to the nursery. The stitching-up process doesn't feel anything like the delivery. No pulling or tugging, just cleaning and stitching as you lie flat on the table processing everything that just took place. What no one warned me about, though, was the postpartum contractions that happened whenever I nursed. Basically, breastfeeding causes the uterus to contract and helps it go back to normal size post-baby. For me, it happened about two hours after I first nursed my daughter in recovery. Nurses want your epidural to wear off so you can immediately start walking around, since that really helps the recovery process. But as soon as my epidural wore off I felt the contractions and thought I was going to die—it felt like someone was driving a knife inside my body. Not only were they contractions that I'd never felt because I'd never gone into true labor, but they were happening exactly where my incision was. It was horrible and came in waves when I would nurse for the next month or so. Walking after a C-section was also a challenge for a few days. Since I'm a physical therapist, I could use tricks to ease the pain—things like rolling to your side before you get up to protect your incision and relieve your abdominal muscles. Still, rolling over and getting out of bed in the middle of the night for the first three weeks will always haunt me. I felt like every stitch was going to pop out." —Abigail Bales, 37, New York City
"I was exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed. The nurses reassured me I didn't fail."
"My pregnancy was easy. No morning sickness, no nausea, no vomiting, no food aversions. My daughter was head down and facing my back, the ideal delivery position. So I assumed childbirth was going to be just as easy too. Then I labored for about 55 hours. Ultimately it was decided a C-section was necessary since my body just wasn't progressing. I cried. I was exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed. The nurses reassured me I didn't fail. I was delivering this baby, just not in the conventional way I had always imagined. I don't care what anyone says, a C-section is a major surgery. Asleep or awake, you are being cut open. I couldn't shake this thought as they prepped me. Thankfully I felt no pain during the surgery. Maybe it was a combination of the anesthesia I had been receiving via an epidural for 12-plus hours or the additional anesthesia administered prior to the surgery, but I didn't feel any of the gentle pulling, tugging, or pressure the doctor told me I would—or I don't remember it because all I could focus on was hearing her first cry. And then she did. But I couldn't hold her. I couldn't kiss her or hug her. I couldn't be the first person to calm her. That was when the pain hit. To not be able to experience skin-to-skin was heartbreaking. Instead, they held her up over the curtain then whisked her away to check vitals and clean her up. Exhausted and sad, I fell asleep on the operating table while they finished closing me up. When I woke up in recovery I finally got to hold her. I later found out that the nurse tried to give her to my husband in the OR but he wouldn't take her. He knew how important it was to me to be the first to hold her. He stayed by her side, he walked alongside her bassinet from one room to the next, and then he gave me my moment that I thought I had lost." —Jessica Hand, 33, Chappaqua, NY
Photo: Courtney Walker
"The surgery itself was the least of the trauma for me."
"I had a C-section with both my kids. The fluid in my daughter's womb was too low toward the end of my pregnancy, so I had to be induced two weeks early. And after hours of pushing, we decided on a C-section. The recovery felt lengthy and gory and I wasn't mentally prepared for any of it, including giving birth two weeks earlier than planned. So when I got pregnant with my second, my son, I kept reminding myself how prepared I'd be this time around. But then my water broke at 27 weeks while I was putting my 18-month-old daughter to bed. I was immediately put in the hospital so the doctors could try to keep my son from being born too early. After three weeks, he had to come out. I knew I'd be having a C-section. And though the first time around felt like such a whirlwind, this time I was just feeling a sense of relief that my confinement to a hospital bed would finally come to an end. I don't remember much of the surgery, but I was glad the process was finally over. And thankfully, even though my son was born 10 weeks early, he was a robust 3.5 pounds, which is considered big for a preemie. He spent five weeks in the NICU but today he's totally healthy and thriving. The surgery itself was the least of the trauma for me. I had so many other complications that the physical aspect paled in comparison to the emotions surrounding both deliveries." —Courtney Walker, 35, New Rochelle, NY
"Even though I was numb, you can still hear the noises, especially when the doctors are breaking your water."
"Doctors had to induce me to break my water with my first baby, and after hours of strong contractions and laboring, my doctors called an emergency C-section because my son's heartbeat dropped too quickly. They called the C-section at 12:41 p.m. and my son was born at 12:46 p.m. It happened so quickly that my husband missed it while they were dressing him. It was all such a blur, but the pain afterward was way worse than I could imagine. I was released from the hospital but the pain worsened and I ended up getting a high fever. It turns out I had contracted an infection and had to be placed on antibiotics. My scar was swollen and I was completely miserable. It made it hard to truly enjoy being home with a newborn. But eventually it went away and you forget about it all—which brought me to do it all over again! Six years later, my second pregnancy was more complicated due to a condition called placenta previa where the placenta literally grows on top of the cervix and can cause bleeding. Due to the fact that the placenta was in a dangerous spot, I had to have a scheduled C-section at 39 weeks. Even though my pregnancy itself was nerve-racking, the second C-section was actually so relaxing! It was such a different experience. I went to the hospital, changed into the gear—as did my husband this time too!—and they brought me into the operating room. The scariest part of all was the epidural. But I hugged a pillow to calm my nerves, felt the pinch, and then it was over. After that, the nurses asked me what music I liked and the doctor came in shortly after to walk me through everything. My husband and another doctor stayed by my head the whole time, talked to me, and made sure I was okay each step of the way—it was just all so reassuring. Even though I was numb, you can still hear the noises, especially when the doctors are breaking your water! I could feel the tugging of my insides, and that was the strangest part. But to hear everything and calmly be aware of what is happening was such a nice feeling. My second son arrived and I got to hold him as they closed me up. Recovering was not as bad the second time. I knew better this time around, so I got moving as soon as I was able to and tried not to dread each movement. That little push made recovering much healthier and faster. It is truly a major surgery, but one that comes with the best reward."—Danielle Stingo, 30, Long Island, NY
"I remember a distinct smell during surgery, which I later learned was the smell of my organs and intestines."
"My doctor and I made the decision that I should have a C-section because of the risk of complications due to a back injury that I sustained as a teenager. A vaginal delivery could possibly slip my disc out the rest of the way, which could ultimately result in paralysis. It was an easy decision to make and I felt relieved not to have to worry about when I'd go into labor and if my husband would be around to help me—I wasn't upset at all that I was going to be having a planned C-section like many women are. The morning of my surgery I remember completely panicking, though. The scariest part for me was when they told my husband to leave the room so they could administer my epidural—then I knew it was real. I was shaking and a little dizzy. Once the meds started working I felt so bizarre because for the first time in over 20 years I wasn't experiencing any back pain at all! The numbness in my lower extremities was weird and watching the nurses fold my legs and move my body to place the catheter was just awkward. I felt self-conscious, but once I was reunited with my husband I calmed down. During the C-section, it felt like an out-of-body experience because I could feel tugging and pulling, but was not in any pain. The curtain was up so I couldn't see anything below my chest, either. I remember a distinct smell which I later learned was the smell of my organs and intestines. I have an insanely accurate sense of smell and it was only heightened during pregnancy, but this was the oddest smell of all. I felt super sleepy but not enough that I could actually close my eyes and sleep. Then I started getting antsy and wondering how much longer it was going to be. Then they took my baby boy out and showed him to me. It was amazing. It was emotional. It was beautiful. While they cleaned him up and checked his stats, they had to deliver the placenta and stitch me up. This took much longer than I anticipated. Longer than the delivery of my son. I later found out that my doctor was actually taking her time stitching me up so that she could leave my tattoo intact. I was pretty impressed as I had never told her that I wanted to salvage it! Overall, I'd say that my C-section was the best part of my pregnancy. (I was a miserable pregnant woman!) I have no complaints and would do it again in a heartbeat."—Noelle Rafaniello, 36, Easley, SC