What it Feels Like to Have a C-Section, According to Moms Who Have Been Through It

I knew years before I ever got pregnant that I’d need to have a Caesarean Section to deliver my babies. When I was 16, I sustained pelvic floor nerve damage during a very serious car accident. Years of surgeries and pain and physical therapy followed, and doctors decided that a vaginal birth in the future would be unsafe for me (but that’s a whole other post). It was at a time when I wasn’t really thinking of having children — I wanted to be a New York City journalist, and that’s the only thing I cared about  — but, to be honest, after all that I had gone through, I trusted the experts and didn’t give the matter much more thought. So, years later, when I was 32 and ready to have my first baby, my ob-gyn consulted the physicians who had cared for me after my accident and then scheduled my C-Section.

And here’s the thing: I loved it. I walked into the operating room and had the good fortune of an extremely routine C-Section (it was actually the easiest part of my very difficult pregnancy). It was calm and happy. Two weeks later, I was out and about and feeling great. My second C-Section was more difficult. The anesthesia made me sick, and I vomited throughout the beginning of my surgery (it also gave me the shakes and sweats afterward). Even though I had virtually no scar tissue, I lost enough blood that my doctor had to give me a transfusion; however, I knew nothing of this complication until after the surgery (in fact, that’s us, taking our first family photo a few minutes after our daughter Poppy Belle was born!). It definitely took me an extra week or so to recover the second time around, but I’ll never regret my Cs. Both of my babies were born healthy, and that’s all that mattered to me. I never dreamed of a specific birth experience, and my only birth plan was, Get my babies out safely. Screw the people who judge me because I gave birth via C-Section instead of pushing my babies out.

Just like pregnancy, every delivery is different. To give you a sense of what to expect if you end up having a C-Section, here are stories from more moms who have been through it…

“I had a scheduled C-Section for the birth of my second child, because of the way my baby was positioned. Everything was pretty calm. They took me in to the operating room first and had my husband wait outside while they gave me the spinal block. That felt like a long shot in my back. It was uncomfortable but it didn’t hurt as much as the epidural I had with my first baby, who was born vaginally. After that they laid me on the table and strapped me down. They put the curtain up and then let my husband come back in. I remember feeling very cold and nauseated once the spinal started to take effect. I kept asking the anesthesiologist for more anti-nausea medication and the nurse for more warm blankets. As the doctor started the incision, she stopped to ask if I could feel anything. Thankfully I couldn’t, so she continued. The thing I remember most is the pulling and tugging sensation as they pulled the baby out. I couldn’t believe how much they were shaking me around! Getting up for the first time after the surgery was pretty intense; I didn’t have sharp pain or anything, I just felt really, really sore. But, I’m having another C-Section in six weeks so it couldn’t have been that bad! It wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be, and I recovered faster from my C-Section then my natural birth.” –Janene Smith, Los Angeles, California 

“I was due August 26. When my stubborn baby showed no signs of budging, I begged my ob-gyn to extract him from my body however possible, but she made me wait. I was scheduled for an induction at 9 a.m. on September 2, so of course I went into labor around 3 a.m. I was in agony until my epidural, which was a feeling akin to every piece of fried food I’d ever eaten and every orgasm I’d ever enjoyed hitting me in one perfect moment. After that, I had no pain and wi-fi, so I labored happily until around 7 p.m., when I was told my son might have aspirated meconium, so it was C-Section time. I was awake for everything and felt nothing. When they took him out of my body and I heard him cry I couldn’t believe it. My husband held him up to my face and we said a prayer together in Hebrew called shehecheyanu. I felt freezing in recovery while my anesthesia wore off. I had no pain. I was eager to get up but that wasn’t allowed yet, due to the epidural. My incision healed perfectly. I was walking around the next morning and showered shortly thereafter.” –Audrey Beerman, Pelham, New York 

Related: C-Section Pictures — What it Looks Like After You’ve Had a Cesarean Delivery

“My first C-Section was unplanned and horrible, and so was the recovery. I went into my second C-Section, which was planned, filled with dread. It turns out a planned C-Section is a breeze. How civilized! I literally walked into the operating room under my own power, approved the music choice (Michael Jackson, natch), forbade the medical student to touch me (she wanted to insert the catheter… without noticing it was already in! ), and had the easiest recovery. I went running five weeks after my delivery because I felt so good. Given my low expectations, I was floored at how well my planned C-Section unfolded and have never questioned my choice to go that route.” –Jeanne Contardo, Washington, DC

“My C-Section experience was very positive. My baby had not dropped at 39 weeks and my ob-gyn took the time to discuss a plan of action. We would induce with the very real possibility we may end up with a C-Section if I did not progress. She set my expectations, explained the procedure, and when the time came to call it and move to the C-Section, I was mentally prepared. I did not feel like my bonding with my son was at all compromised or that I lost out on a beautiful birthing experience. Yes, they took the baby away after I got a quick look with arms still strapped to the table, but he came into the recovery room and was placed in my arms so he could nurse. It was every bit as meaningful to me, even though I had to wait a bit to hold him. Recovery was very easy for me. I think it’s because I didn’t have time to think about my own pain while caring for a newborn. I feel very grateful to have had an experience that was calm and very nurturing and ensured the health of the both of us.” –Eimile Tansey, Highland Park, Illinois

“I had a number of complications during my first pregnancy, which lead me to have a C-Section. I was young and nervous, but my nurses were amazing. They held my hand and distracted me with conversation while the anesthesiologist gave me a spinal block. All I felt was a slight pinch and then in a matter of minutes my legs were numb. The cover was drawn, the doctor came in, and we started the surgery. He talked to me the whole time and the atmosphere was both peaceful and exciting. What seemed like only a few minutes later, my daughter was born and my husband brought her over to me. My recovery went well, and the only real discomfort I felt was from gas that came in the form of back pain. Because apparently that’s a thing. I had a scheduled C-Section with my second baby. The anesthesiologist was not as experienced this time around and took three tries to get the spinal block right. Unfortunately, I felt some pain and nausea during surgery. I was given meds for the nausea, which helped, and more pain meds, which did not help. Despite my pain and discomfort, the atmosphere was the same as it was with my first — exciting and peaceful. The doctor talked me through it and before I knew it, I was meeting my sweet son for the first time. My recovery was pretty easy, but because of the botched spinal block, I had severe back pain that would come and go for several weeks. My scars healed though, and although I have a weird numb feeling in that spot, you can barely even see it.” — Madelaine Snodgrass, Dallas TX  

Related: 21 Things Only Moms Who Have Had C-Sections Know

“I was convinced I was going to have a natural birth so I was completely unprepared for my C-Section. The whole thing felt very scary. I was freezing cold and shaking hard as they wheeled me in. I was told I would feel pressure, but what I felt was deep, aching cramps. I felt like I was inside of a bad movie; looking up at this sterile room. I tried to focus on my husband but even his voice didn’t do much to calm me down. What I felt was an intense yanking and then emptiness and nausea. I could feel myself getting stitched up too, which was its own kind of awkward agony. But from my vantage point, when they took my daughter out and carried her across the room to get her cleaned up, it looked like she was flying right by me. In a way I was furious because I wanted my fairytale of having her put right on my chest after birth, but at the same time it was kind of magical to watch her shoot across the room like a little angel landing into our lives. I remember at that moment saying to my husband, “Oh my God, we have a baby.” I didn’t get to hold her or try to breastfeed for about an hour, but once she was in my arms in recovery it was a perfect fit. For my next delivery, I’d like to try to go natural, because the recovery from my C-Section was slow and painful. But if I don’t, at least next time I’ll know what I’m in for. Most importantly, I’ll have another little angel!” Jenny Studenroth, Jersey City, New Jersey, of  Born to Be a Bride

“Since I had a high-risk pregnancy — I was pregnant with twins, who were in a breech position, I had preeclampsia, and I was of ‘advanced material age’ (ie. over 35) — I was told to plan for a C-Section. Despite Googling the heck out of the surgery, I still felt terrified when faced with an emergency C-Section at 37-weeks-pregnant. I braced for the grip I had read the spinal tap would take on my lungs, but it never came. I had an allergic reaction to anesthesia, but the C-Section itself was fairly uneventful. They say you can feel them tug the baby free — and this is true. In my case, Baby B was wedged up under my ribs and when they finally released her, I could feel my organs drop back into place….and it felt amazing! Like one big ahhhhhhhh!” –Meghan M., Leesburg, Virginia

“I had known a C-Section was a possibility because I had a narrow birth canal — who knew that was a thing?! When I failed to dilate more than three centimeters and the baby’s heart rate dropped, my doctor recommended we go that route. I had heard way too many stories of a 24-hour labor followed by three hours of pushing, only to end in a C-Section, and I told my doctor I didn’t need to be a martyr. I asked her to go ahead with the surgery. The procedure itself was painless, thanks to the epidural. It was nice knowing exactly when this baby was coming out. Once I saw his little red head of hair it didn’t matter to me how he was born. I was just beyond ecstatic to see him. The night after was hard, as I was still on painkillers and had a catheter, but I was up and moving around the next day. It wasn’t easy but I switched to ibuprofen pretty quickly and that was enough. I think I had a fairly good experience and healed pretty quickly. If I were to have another baby I would probably go for another C-Section, instead of a VBAC. As long as that baby comes out healthy, I don’t need a big long war story.” — Kerry Barnhart, Queens, New York

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Photo: Heather Morgan Shott