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8 Things I Learned From Having Two C-Sections

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When we took the childbirth preparation class before my oldest son was born in 2009, my husband and I skipped the class where they showed the Cesarean delivery. I was quite sure I would go into labor naturally and deliver vaginally, preferably without drugs. I had a birth plan, as all the pregnancy books recommended, and a C-section wasn't in my plan. But, as the Yiddish saying goes, "Man plans and God laughs." Or in this case, "... pregnant woman laughs and Mother Nature sighs heavily."

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My birth plan went out the window when my blood pressure started creeping dangerously high and my doctor insisted on inducing me. I had heard horror stories about Pitocin inductions, but I had also heard success stories. I was hoping to be in the latter category. Once again, that hope went out the window.

The Pitocin drip was started at 6 a.m. and 12 hours later I had dilated exactly one centimeter. I was in agony, I was scared and I was exhausted so, with the support of my doctor, husband, best friend, doula and nurse, I agreed to a C-section even though I had no idea what to expect. The experience was ... "traumatic" is a good word. The end result was a beautiful baby boy and a mother who was physically and emotionally depleted.

When my second son was born in 2011, I wanted to attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarean) and my obstetrician was agreeable, provided the baby wasn't larger than 9 pounds. Once again, my plan went out the window when the baby measured 10 pounds at my 38-week appointment. We scheduled the C-section and I delivered a 10-pound, 15-ounce baby about 90 minutes after I arrived at the hospital. I was calm and as rested as any full-term pregnant woman with a toddler can be. It was a completely different experience from my first time.

Having experienced two Cesarean births under very different circumstances, let me share a few tips:

1. Be prepared for anything

Once things took a detour from my one-and-only plan, I wasn't emotionally or physically prepared.

Yes, write a birth plan. Yes, plan for a vaginal, drug-free birth. But watch the C-section video. Read up on what is involved in an induction. Anticipate the different scenarios, even if it's only to run them through your mind and have a sense of how you will react if your doctor tells you after 12 hours that you're only 1 centimeter dilated. I could have kept going and maybe the induction would have been successful, but once things took a detour from my one-and-only plan, I wasn't emotionally or physically prepared.

2. If your obstetrician recommends a Cesarean section, he probably has a good reason

There are statistics that suggest C-sections are unnecessary, so this is where it's important that you trust your doctor. If you doctor is recommending induction or a C-section, do research and ask questions. In the end, you have to do what is best for you and your baby. And a planned C-section is a little easier (physically and emotionally) than one that comes after a failed induction.

3. If you've never had surgery before, the preparation can be scary

I'd never had surgery prior to my first Cesarean and I didn't know what to expect. (Again, I should have watched the childbirth video!) There was the spinal block, which involved staying very, very still while a needle was inserted to numb me. Then there was the numbness, which meant I couldn't feel anything from the chest down. That was a terrifying experience the first time, but I knew what to expect the second time around. Then there was the awkward, embarrassing experience of being moved around, basically naked, while they readied me for surgery. I couldn't move, so it was a few mortifying moments of feeling like a rag doll under bright lights.

There is nothing unnatural about the way any child is born, whether it's vaginally, surgically, with drugs, without drugs, at home, in a hospital or some other variation.

4. When they say, "You won't feel anything," they lie

OK, they didn't exactly lie—I definitely didn't feel anything on the outside, thankfully. But after the incision was made and the doctor was delivering the baby, I felt it. It is the most bizarre sensation in the world because it feels like someone is tugging on the inside of your body. Which they are. But of course, I couldn't see that so it was just a very weird, very "Alien"-like feeling.

5. You will hear your baby before you see him

With the surgical drape between me and what was going on down below, I didn't get to see the birth. I wish I had (yes, really), but it wasn't an option. And so once all that internal tugging was done and my doctor delivered the baby, I heard his first cry through that wall of blue between us. It was, to be honest, one of the most profound moments of my life. In both the first and second births, that was the moment that transcended everything that came before.

6. You might not be able to hold your baby immediately

In my case, they cleaned my babies up a little, wrapped them in blankets and brought them around for me to see. But I was still on the operating table being stitched up and then being monitored in recovery when they whisked the baby off for his first bath and vitals. This was when my husband left me to be with the baby (at my insistence), and I was alone for awhile. That was probably the hardest part of the entire experience for me. After the trauma of a failed induction, I was pretty shook up when it happened the first time. But I knew what to expect the second time and just rolled with it. My best friend took over baby-watch duty while my husband ran back and forth between recovery and the nursery. Soon enough, I was in a room on the maternity ward, holding my son.

7. Take the drugs they offer you after you leave the hospital

Seriously. Take them. I didn't take them the first time, I opted for Motrin instead and suffered through. Good grief, what was wrong with me? Don't be a hero. If you need pain meds, take them. I took them the second time and promptly had an allergic reaction, but at least I learned my lesson the first time around. Take the drugs if you need them! (It bears repeating.)

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8. Whatever happens, however your baby is born, it is OK

I never thought much about the term "natural childbirth" before I had kids, but now I find it irritating. There is nothing unnatural about the way any child is born, whether it's vaginally, surgically, with drugs, without drugs, at home, in a hospital or some other variation. Remember that should things not go according to plan.

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