Rebirth post-caesarean

Hello world

So…little Mo is fast approaching his FIRST birthday! How the last year has flown, looking back… yet been held in stasis at some points, with days that felt like years as you were aware of every hour of the 24, and seasons that seem to have melded into one (possibly due in part to the topsy turvy weather we’ve experienced, summer in spring and winter in summer), and let’s face it, everything slightly obscured by the bleary sleepless veil that comes with having a baby who still belligerently refuses to sleep for longer than 3 hours at a pop.

As the date looms speedily on the horizon, thoughts turn to commemorating it with cake, bunting, presents, baby get-togethers and all the regular 1st birthday shenanigans you might expect. And my thoughts are also wandering over the events of a year ago, the preparation for having a baby, the imagined eperience and the reality that usurps it.

I very much wanted a “beautiful”, calm birth, where the baby arrived when it chose to, following the natural order of things, where my body smoothly wended along the intricate hormonal domino-effect path of events it was designed to, baby emerging with a hearty wail as it took its first breath and was delivered straight to mummy’s breast. Doesn’t everyone…? Also while we’re dreaming, it would have been great to have looked healthy and glamorous to pose for pictures, with shining yet slightly sweaty hair and clear bright eyes…

My reality was slightly different. I will spare you the details, but my body just didn’t go into labour naturally. Maurice didn’t seem to want to come out, he was quite happy slumbering inside…which doesn’t suit his go-getting personality in the outside world! Induction was followed by a 2-day labour, where Maurice became distressed. Emergency caesarean was the only option to save his life, and when he came out he was silent as he wasn’t breathing. Once resuscitated, he was very tiny and in need of lots of help in his first 24 hours. I was also very ill, and couldn’t hold him for the first 8 hours of his life. Needless to say, the clinical telling of those events belies the life-shaking emotional drama as it unfurled, but all is well, Mo is a feisty happy nearly-one year old, so we can to a certain extent lay it to rest.

But…a caesarean. It was the last thing that I had wanted, if only purely from a professional standpoint, my career is in my abs, if you like. To teach Pilates you must understand the nuances of the anatomy supporting the pelvis and spine, and know how to recruit your muscles correctly. My abdominals were very strong, I felt immensely proud of what I could achieve in my practice because of years of dedication, and advanced Pilates exercises were a breeze for me. I used to relish challenging myself and setting myself goals with the classical work, and felt such a sense of power and strength in my ability to perform it well.

I will never forget a few days after Mo’s birth when we finally got home from hospital, I shuffled into the bathroom and chose to look at myself in the mirror. I looked at my post-birth belly, the caesarean “overhang” as us C-section-club members refer to it. I tried to engage into my pelvic floor and lift my abdominals…and felt nothing, saw nothing happen. The baby bump was still there, in its entirety. I remember my heart sagging as much as my lower belly.

Quite apart from the physical, there is a huge mountain of emotional issues that confront you after a caesarean, particularly if it’s been an emergency and you have not even really allowed yourself to contemplate it as an option prior to the event. You sort of feel that, although you have a baby, you didn’t actually give birth to him. You might feel like your body has let you down completely, and that you’re a bit of a failure. Particularly if you allow yourself to feel jealous/envious of other friends who can recount “perfect” birth stories involving steady progression and dilation, birth pools and no drugs (albeit also a lot of screaming, swearing and threatening to jump out the window no doubt…), where the natural order is preserved and things are as they should be.

I did all the pre-birth prep. Yoga, Pilates, hypnotherapy birthing DVDs…I meditated, I bounced on balls, I visualised my body being ready and willing to bring this little squirming being into the world. I had read all the natural birth books and connected daily with my pelvic floor to ask it to help me out on this little matter. And to no avail.

So in the immediate aftermath of having Maurice (and in my mind I still place inverted commas around “having”, as I don’t entirely feel like the having of him was particularly to do with me rather than the surgeon’s knife), I was left with the most extraordinary bizarre pains that you can’t really imagine, as if the dr had absent-mindedly left a knife sitting in my belly… the inability to stand up tall in case I wrenched my stitches apart (which wouldn’t happen, I know, but you just feel that way), shuffling around like an old woman and a shadow of my former physical self.

I remember trying to perform a basic, basic Pilates exercise 8 weeks after Maurice’s birth, and I couldn’t do it, I simply didn’t have the abdominal strength.

So alongside grappling with the new little person you have in your life, post-caesarean, particularly emergency caesarean, you’re also left sitting in a pool of other malaise which you can’t quite deal with right now through the sleeplessness and other matters to attend to. *caveat: I’m not suggesting it’s a relentlessly bleak situation: you have a baby, this is awesome and wondrous, and takes up all of your emotional and physical space in a positive way…but with a colicky baby who cries a lot and doesn’t sleep at all, coupled with the hormonal watershed a few days after birth, there are potential dangers of feeling a wee bit blue in this time. And it’s entirely normal.

I personally decided to take it day by day, to try and soothe the emotional wound as the physical was also gradually healing. Physically, nearly a year later I have still not recovered at the abdominal strength that I had, and this makes me sad. I do however entirely believe in the restorative wonder of Pilates, and know that if I had dedicated myself to practising every day for even 15 minutes, this wouldn’t be the case. I have unfortunately allowed other things to get in the way, and lack of sleep doesn’t always lead to the desire to exercise every day.

So, physically: I think i’ll get there, eventually. My midwife once said, pre-birth at a routine scan, with a voice of doom “your abdominals are very strong…well, they’ll never be the same after baby!”. I entirely disagree with her and feel sad that she might have been willy nilly bandying this pessimistic comment around to mums-to-be. Certainly with a natural birth your tummy muscles are not compromised in the same way and can spring back as they should, with work and attention. And after caesarean, well, with perseverance and Pilates, my tummy muscles are getting there.

it’s the emotional healing that is the challenge in the long term, as this kind of experience tends to be locked down into your fibres and lead to tensions even if you no longer acknowledge it as a current influence. If not addressed, it gets packed down under many layers, but distantly constantly remembered in your muscular and emotional tissue. Accepting the birth story that you had is essential, and reconciling yourself to the way it turned out, not comparing it to other “better” experiences and embracing it as the birth of your bouncing wonderful baby, a legitimate birth as any other. Letting go of any fear, anger and disappointment that might have unfurled from the experience, and living in the present, the success.

It’s partly why I started a post-caesarean Pilates class. Not only because I powerfully believe in the physically remedial powers of Pilates for strengthening after this particular operation, but I also believe in the emotional power of reconnecting to your body and rediscovering a faith in it which may have been lost.

This was quite a long essay…I hadn’t intended it to be quite so long! I’d love to hear other people’s experience of post-caeasarean, what advice you were given re: exercise and recovery. I am brewing an idea for the future and your input would help me!

Until the next time….stay well and happy and healthy!

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8 thoughts on “Rebirth post-caesarean

  1. I too wanted a beautiful and calm birth. A caesarean was not on my agenda at all. But I was told that it was the best option after being induced. My labour was not progressing and Louis showed signs of being distressed (every time they turned the drip up to maximum). The fact that lots of inductions end in a caesarean was one of the reasons I didn’t want to be induced, and I’m not totally convinced that a caesarean was necessary for me or Louis. I keep wishing that I made different decisions.

    As for recovery, physically I still feel tender sometimes. None of the midwives or doctors gave me any advice on recovery – what I could or couldn’t do or how to promote healing. I’ve recently read some information on how to use massage to limit scar tissue and adhesions and feel that it would have been really useful to do that early on in order to try and avoid future problems. Why don’t they give you any advice on recovery?

    Having a caesarean has definitely had an emotional impact on me. The biggie I suppose is disappointment. I too don’t really feel like I gave birth to my baby (although, some people might think it was a lucky escape!) and I wonder if it interfered with that sought after love rush and post birth high. I suppose I feel a bit cheated. But at the same time I am totally aware that I’m incredibly lucky to have had a mostly problem free pregnancy and a healthy baby. Which is what it’s all about. I keep trying to remind myself of that!

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  2. Hello,
    Yesterday I read your post and thought I needed to respond, but also needed to think a bit more.
    First of all, it is wonderful to be able to look back and see how our children have developed and how we have grown since the birth of our kids. Mine turned six this week and it is the sixth year I sort of do the same exercise…reflect a bit. I think this is important as it does put things in perspective and also, because mine wasn’t one of the easiest moments in life, it actually does help me literally to “heal wounds” which have been left open (metaphorically speaking). I can say that a few scars have now almost vanished….and I think it has a lot to do with this reflection.
    I have always been a Yoga practitioner and like yourself prepared myself for a natural birth. 22 weeks into the pregnancy we discovered that our son would be a special needs little baby, they could tell that from the ultrasound. However, despite dealing with the emotional upheaval this brought, I still planned for a natural birth. Nothing suggested otherwise.
    I went into labour and after 8 hours, which I suppose due to all the Yoga and breathing exercises was simply a very natural and almost calm experience for me, I was told I would need a C section as Gabriel had fitted his head in the wrong position. I remember that I let the doctor leave and for some reason my dad was with me. I started crying a lot as I knew that my dream of a perfect birth, Leboyer style, was shattered. But my dad was wise and said: “you’ve got to remember that what matters now is not YOUR dream but what is best for the baby. He needs to be born now. ”
    So, off we went and in 30 mins Gabriel was born. We were lucky. Gabriel wasn’t breathing. Those minutes were awful as I couldn’t see what was happening and couldn’t hear him either. You can imagine my joy when I heard the first cry.
    A lot ensued after Gabriel was born. I remember that I knew that I had to restore myself emotionally and physically as quickly as possible to deal with all i needed to deal with. I decided to go back to my Yoga 3 weeks after Gabriel was born, ignoring doctor’s suggestions (which was the best thing I did).
    I think that all the feelings you had as regards the CSection I also had. But nothing better than time to allow us to cope with things and put them in perspective. I think if I had had a natural birth my body would have returned to its normal self more quickly ( I also had a baby close to my 40s so that makes a difference). They say that all the organs are moved about with a CSection so that is why it takes longer for us to get back to our normal selves. Yes, I think it took me about 3 years in all. But my Yoga was fundamental in this “healing” process, just as I imagine Pilates is.
    Today I am happy with “me”, I am glad Gabriel was born via a CSection as otherwise he really wouldn’t have made it and I think I have also been able to help Gabriel himself get over his birth via the CSection. My friend, who is a physiotherapist advised me to start stimulating Gabriel through Shantala massage and other exercises too. She said this would help him stretch and get a better notion of his own body, which babies who go through a CSection miss out on. It also helped him with his sleep…which was all over the place in the first 2 years. I kept this up for 2 years, then one day it was clear he didn’t need it any more. And today, we do get one or to spells of restless sleep, but on the whole i can now get 6 hours sleep per night (bliss).
    Sorry, this was a long response. But hope it is helpful in some way.
    And i wish you and Mo and your family a very happy 1st birthday for him.

    Valeria

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    1. Valeria thanks so much for this long reply, it’s really helpful, for want of a better more descriptive word. Maurice definitely struggled due to coming out the “wrong” way, we took him to a cranial osteopath who deduced many things were attributable to not only the c-section and not having been pressed through the birth canal, but also the fact that he never took that first life-giving gulp of air that babies should when they first come out into the world and fill their lungs, which has a profound effect on their immediate muscular and skeletal development. It’s been an interesting physical journey, and what you say about the organs being moved around really rings true with me, I certainly felt for months that my insides were not quite my own any more. But yoga and pilates can help to massage them back into position, with time. I will investigate shantala massage as that sounds very interesting. And I am sure beyond sure that Maurice’s unsettledness and inability to sleep began with his rude awakening into the world! Take care, Anya

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  3. Hi,
    I loved reading this. You have a wonderful way with words and I like your honesty. I’d just like to add that I’ve had two birth experiences – the first a drug free water birth where I used pregnancy yoga breathing to help me with pain relief, relaxation etc; the second I was carrying twins and it was completely medicalised and my consultant more or less insisted I have a c-section. I can’t say that I felt the ‘rush of love’ or post baby high you expected in either case. Just sheer exhaustion mixed with relief. Accept that your body did a grand job in producing a gorgeous healthy baby and try not to feel cheated in any way. For many people the ‘natural’ delivery is experienced in a haze of drugs anyway – or there are other interventions that bring their own post-birth implications (forceps, ventouse, extensive tearing etc). You’re in one piece and have the knowledge and experience to get your body back into the best kind of shape that is possible after motherhood. It just takes time. It takes 9 months to grow a baby and 9 for your body to recover – make that 18 months if you’ve had surgery. In the meantime, my twins are 5 and I still have no abdominal strength (due to tiredness/laziness)… so, where do you hold classes????

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  4. Thank you! I don’t in any way want to suggest that I think that natural birth, i.e. non caesarean birth isn’t without its trauma and intervention, and I know that there are wounds emotional and physical that come from a natural birth that are just as challenging as that from a c-section.
    For me personally, it was the fear and drama surrounding my eventual emergency caesarean that has caused the lasting trauma I think, the fact that i was barely conscious for 8 hours after Maurice was born and so had no physical contact with him when he needed me most, I will forever feel like that somehow contributed to his unsettledness, his constant crying, his inability to sleep, his fear of being left lying on his own, his continued difficulty with breastfeeding…all things that powerfully affected every day and night of the first 4 months of his life as we both obviously came to terms with the traumatic events we had been through together. I had to sling him and hold him close constantly for 4 months or so as he simply couldn’t be put down without screaming the house down, and that was the only thing that calmed him. He luckily had his daddy for skin to skin in this first 8 hours, but didn’t have me for nutrition and warmth etc, and it meant establishing feeding etc was very difficult. Our experience with post-birth hospital staff here also didn’t help, but that’s another matter…
    so..what I am trying to say is that this was a very personal statement about my birth versus my ideal scenario, my pie in the sky, “calm, beautiful” birth..which is not in any way to say that every natural birth is therefore ideal and perfect, I certainly understand that that is not the case in the slightest. I am eternally grateful that Maurice is a healthy and happy little soul and that he seems to have emerged from the events unscathed and has settled into being very content and charming, albeit still doesn’t sleep which I do believe has a lot to do with the way he came into the world.
    Valeria it was interesting to read that about sleeping and being unsettled: i totally believe that has informed Mo’s development as well so it’s encouraging to think there is a light at th end of the tunnel. And it rings a bell with the internal organs having been shoved around with surgery! Definitely still feels weird!
    Anyway best go Mo is calling….
    Thanks for your comments everyone xx
    Kay I teach in Peckham if you are anywhere near!

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  5. Just to play devil’s advocate: my son (who was the ‘natural’ water birth – text book in every way) was exactly the same kind of baby that you describe your son to be – and he was very sicky to boot (undiagnosed Reflux, which may have contributed to his unsettledness). We tried cranial osteopathy, baby massage, baby yoga, baby singing… you name it. Then I had the twins: both C-section deliveries – one was like her brother – needed constant contact (you can do a LOT wearing a baby in a sling, can’t you?!) and was quite hard work. The other? Dream child. Fed like clockwork; slept like an angel. Now they’re all at school, I know that this is just their personalities. I have two tricky (but incidentally, very bright) little characters and one sweetly laid-back, emotionally mature child. I think as a first-time mum with a tricky baby you’re constantly looking for reasons or ways to ‘fix’ the situation. And of course, we’re all experts at the ‘blame game’ and layering on the guilt onto ourselves. It’s not helpful. They are little individuals from day one and their main purpose in life is to suss you out and get what they want/need. The birth MAY have had something to do with it. Or it may not. It might just be the way little Mo is. Time will tell. Peckham is a little far, but once I get my cashflow in order I’ll give Annaliese a call 😉

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    1. Yes, actually a friend of mine with twins said, on the sleep issue alone, that one of theirs was a great sleeper and always had been, and the other aged 4 is still mostly in their bed and hates sleeping on her own, and has never “self-settled” etc… which made me feel slightly better about the sleep issue that it might be purely Mo’s personality rather than anything I am doing drastically wrong by not being more Gina Ford on his ass.
      I found the Fussy Baby Book by Dr William Sears really helpful for dealing with Mo when he was up to about 4 months…he really needed a lot more soothing than most other babies I knew, whether born by c-section or not. Oop he’s woken up, better go! Thanks for your message. Definitely get in touch with the lovely Annaliese!

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  6. That Gina Ford has got a lot to answer for! I tried her controlled crying on my son and he burst a blood vessel in his eye he was crying so hard (at only 3 months, too). He still has a little squiggle in his eye where it burst – a constant reminder of how rubbish I was with him in those early days with my trying to get him to ‘conform’ to the blooming book!

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