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!