Regardless of how you choose to give birth, all births are beautiful, and all mums are superheroes wearing aprons in disguise.
In a world where the fictional first-place trophy for childbirth always seems to go to the unmedicated vaginal birth, women who scream for an epidural mid-labour or choose to deliver surgically often feel like second class citizens. While society loves to pass around birth stories of a woman who heroically gave birth in a cab, or that woman who unintentionally pushed her baby out in the bathtub, I often think about the unsung heroes and the birth stories that don’t get the Facebook likes and shares. I think about the caesarean section (C-section) births and those mamas who went through hell and back with such strength and beauty.
In simple terms, caesarean section is a procedure that involves surgically removing the baby from the womb. With the abundance of birthing methods on the market, from water births to hypno births, C-sections still sit pretty low on the list for most mums these days, especially in Singapore. In fact, unless it’s a medical necessity, us women will likely not plan for a C-section. Thus, antenatal classes, while focusing heavily on natural birth and what to expect, only provides an insufficient 10-minute snippet on caesarean, leaving mums who have an unplanned C-section totally unprepared!
So, here I am, letting you in on my birth story – the lowdown of a C-section in Singapore, plus some of the pros and cons, the things to expect, and the recovery process and beyond.
The pros and cons of a C-section
- With elective C-section, you have control over when you want to give birth, given that you’re past week 37, and your water is still intact.
- No countless hours of labour pain, which has been endearingly described to me as ‘bones breaking’.
- The surgery is pretty quick, and you’ll be in and out of the operating theatre within an hour.
- C-section is an extremely serious procedure, with a reported death rate of 2.2 per 100,000.
- The recovery time is relatively long. You’re looking at approximately three months to be fully mobile, and six months to get back on the tread.
- The pain right after C-section delivery is excruciating. Not to mention the possibilities of having complications, infections, and trauma to your surrounding organs…
- The cost is pretty high. You’re looking at about $8,000 for public hospitals, and $13,000 and above for private hospitals in Singapore.
What to expect with a C-section
Whether a c-section is unplanned or planned, it is crucial to know what to expect during and after the procedure.
Spinal block and the shakes
My C-section began with an epidural and a spinal block, which numbed the lower half of my body. General anaesthesia is also an option, but I wanted to be awake to greet my little bub for the first time. A catheter was then inserted into my bladder, and a sterile drape placed in front of me so I don’t have to watch my stomach getting split in half. The OB then made sure I didn’t feel any pain before they made two cuts – one to open up my skin, and the other to open up my uterus. You’ll likely experience some spasms at the end as a result of the spinal block (and trust me, it is not fun).
The tugging and pulling
Once the OB “stretched” my abdominal muscles open, I felt a little (or is it a lot?) of tugging, as they pulled my baby out. The amount of tugging depends on how big the baby is, so if your baby is a giant sack of potatoes like mine, expect a good amount of pulling and pressing. The team of doctors reassured me that it would only feel like a slight touch. The reality is, it felt like someone was pulling parts of my intestines out. But thanks to the anaesthesia, I didn’t feel the pain… yet.
It’s the anaesthesia. It’s also the fact that you’re likely naked lying on a metal table. Whatever it is, it’s freezing cold. So cold I thought I was dying. But I wasn’t, and you won’t be either, so definitely ask for a blanket. The chills usually go away in a few hours, although the emotional and physical toll that caesarean section takes on you lingers.
The long-awaited arrival of my mini-me
From the minute I laid down and had my arms strapped to the side, to that when I heard the first cry, was about 10 minutes. I teared up as soon as I heard him cry for the first time. You will, too. I then got a glimpse of the baby before they whisked him away for more routine testing, while they stitched me up and transferred me to my room. The stitching takes about 30 minutes, during which I started to feel that pain that I’d heard so much about. Which brings me to…
I need more painkillers! I screamed. I’ve had a fair share of surgeries in my life, and C-section pain was by far the absolute worst. The pain makes breathing difficult. Every slight twitch sent ripples of pain through my body. The first 12 hours felt like a sharp-toothed creature gnawing me from the inside. Eventually, I had to swallow that pain and stand up. The nurses removed the catheter so I’m forced to walk to the bathroom. They also showed a deep interest in my bowel movement, which doesn’t happen for a day or two. I was provided with a bottle of stool softener and a guardian that stood next to me as I tried to take a sh*t. The pain subsided in a few days, although it took me a month to be able to stand up straight. Still – coughing, sneezing, and laughing continued to send a searing pain through my body for the months to come.
I bled. A lot. It’s part of the healing process. The uterine wall is healing itself. The blood vessels are responding to the fluctuating hormones. The uterus lining is shedding. The whole system is slowly and surely going back to normal. And the maxi pad was suddenly my best friend. I continued to bleed for three months, during which I envisioned many scenarios of me having an infection, excessive bleeding, and blood clots. Luckily, none of those happened. How long you will bleed varies, but it shouldn’t be more than four months.
The physical and emotional scars are inevitable, especially for the C-section mums. For months, I was afraid to look at the scar. Even when the doctor reassured me that, and I quote “this is the best stitching I’ve seen”, I didn’t want to look. Eventually, I looked. It’s a long and deep angry-looking line just above my pubic hairline. I stuck with high-waisted undies for months. You’ll want to get ones that cover your incision to give it some sort of compression and comfort. But don’t worry, the scar will heal and fade, and one day, you will look at this battle scar with pride and joy.
The bottom line
I’ve come to the conclusion that childbirth is painful, no matter how you choose to deliver. However, at the end of that agonising journey is a squirmy little human who flashes the biggest smile at you every day, whom you proudly call all yours.
You then tell yourself it’s all worth it after all.