With more than 30 percent of births in the United States happening via C-section, it’s likely that you or someone you know will undergo the surgery in order to bring their baby into the world. Having had two myself (one emergency and one scheduled), I know how scary and intimidating the whole idea can be. It is (as everyone will remind you) major abdominal surgery, after all. And while I wouldn’t recommend watching YouTube videos to familiarize yourself with the procedure, it is comforting to have a little knowledge about what you can expect (besides the joyful birth of your baby or babies!) before the big day.
1. There’s more to pre-op than just changing into a gown.
I thought they asked me to come an hour ahead of my scheduled surgery because they didn’t want me to be late, when in fact, it was because there are a lot of things that need to happen before you even step foot in the operating room. They ask you a million questions, draw blood, wipe your entire body down with an antiseptic to prevent infection, and have you drink an extremely unpleasant liquid to help neutralize your empty stomach. Your doctor and anesthesiologist will also stop by to say hi and answer any questions you might still have.
2. Your partner doesn’t immediately get to come with you.
They typically wait to bring your partner into the operating room until after you’ve had your spinal. In fact, they might already be cutting you open when your surgical-gown-and-cap-wearing plus-one finally comes to sit by your side. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an amazing nurse who will hold your hands and help you visualize anything but a needle going into your back while there’s a needle going into your back, since you’ll be solo for that part.
3. You might want to advert your eyes.
The lights are bright, the temperature is cold, and there are SO MANY shiny metal instruments that immediately catch your attention when you enter the operating room. After one quick glimpse, I chose to close my eyes and keep them closed until after my spinal was administered and I was lying down on the table. It’s enough to know you’re about to be cut open without seeing the actual knife they’ll be using to do it.
4. Things will most likely be very calm.
It may be an intimidating new experience for you, but it’s just another day at the office for the medical professionals who are in the room. It’s almost surprising how run-of-the-mill everything seems. The doctor, nurses, and anesthesiologist have (hopefully) all done this hundreds of times before. Just reminding myself of that fact helped ease my day-of nerves. As a bonus, things were so uneventful that the nurse happily took our camera and snapped away after our son was born, capturing plenty of moments that we would’ve missed otherwise.
5. It’s helpful to have something to distract you during the actual surgery.
If your doctor will allow it, have a playlist ready and keep one earbud in, or chat with your partner. Listening to the doctors make small talk about their weekends or discuss their favorite type of surgical scissor (yes, that was the topic during my son’s birth!) is only slightly better than hearing the sounds of the actual surgery. You know your skin has to be cauterized but you probably don’t want to hear it happening.
6. The “pressure” that they talk about is intense.
As long as everything goes according to plan, you shouldn’t feel any actual pain, but you will feel pressure . . . which can be slightly painful. It’s hard to describe, but the best I can say is that it feels like an elephant is stomping around on top of your torso. This is the part where they are actually getting the baby down and out of your uterus using physical force (think pushing, pulling, and tugging) — luckily it doesn’t last long and is followed immediately by the birth of your child!
7. Things move pretty quickly.
I walked into the OR shortly after my scheduled surgery time of 12:30 p.m. and my son was born at 1:04 p.m. They gave me a spinal (which took multiple tries due to my ticklish spine), inserted a catheter, waited for the spinal to take full effect, opened me up, and got my baby out all in less than 40 minutes. No matter what the clock says, the time before your baby makes his grand entrance feels both like an eternity and like it happened so fast you weren’t even ready.
8. You’ll probably get to see or hold your baby right away.
I got a peek at my son when the doctor held him to the side of the curtain right after he came out. (Apparently some hospitals will even allow you to watch the baby make his exit through a clear drape.) And I got to “hold” him on my chest after he was wrapped up just minutes later. You might not be able to move one or both of your arms to touch him, and the little bundle is often placed so close to your face that you can’t actually get a good look, but it’s just as sweet!
9. You may forget you’re even having surgery.
There’s nothing like the excitement of seeing your perfect newborn to distract you from the fact that there’s all kinds of crazy stuff still happening to you on the other side of the curtain. After I first held my son, I talked to the nurse about his stats as he was being weighed and measured and asked my husband how much hair he had compared to our first (while also crying and smiling so wide my face hurt) instead of thinking about what the doctors were doing. Then before I knew it, I was being wheeled into the post-op recovery room.