Monday, October 24, 2016

Cesarean vs Vaginal Delivery Experience

I consider myself blessed to have experienced two very different deliveries. My first being an emergency c-section and my second a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). I desperately wanted a natural vaginal delivery experience. Although I did not get the drug-free experience with either delivery I love reading and hearing about women who did and sharing them here, in fact, I love reading and sharing them all! Why? It is a learning process that forces us to grow and change. Pain does that to us. That is one reason why bringing our children into the world is so much apart of who we are. In addition to this sanctifying process, delivering our babies are so much apart of who we are because God designed us to create and nurture life - it's impossible for us to separate those qualities from labor and delivery. God made us in a beautiful way - to be direct participants in His creating life. It is beautiful and intense and scary. Mommy's across the world can relate to one another despite our unique, one-of-a-kind testimony of how God used it to draw you closer to Him.

A bit of my story... 

With that said, I have a lot to say to mom's who did not experience a vaginal delivery. There are a wide variety of reasons why cesareans happen; mine was because my sweet Brielle's heartbeat dropped dangerously low with every contraction. After 20+ hours of labor my cervix only dilated to 3 cm. If I was allowed to continue to labor, Brielle would not have been born alive. It was necessary for her sake and I am thankful for the intervention. Looking back, however, I would not have allowed the doctor's to stretch my cervix from 0 cm to 1 1/2 cm to induce labor. It was painful and caused my cervix undue stress and swelling. (I learned this from Ele's labor and delivery doctor who said that she would only do something that extreme under specific circumstances and also in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth book; which I HIGHLY recommend for all mommy's - first time or not.) It caused issues for dilation that I did not understand at the time, but I vehemently believe it was all part of God's plan.

I encourage mommy's to go into labor and delivery educated. I was not with Brielle, partly because it was my first time, but I had an incomplete understanding of what it meant to stretch the cervix and should not have let the doctor do it for that reason. It was an intervention that my un-dilated, un-pliable cervix was not ready for. Also, I was TENSE. The atmosphere was a stressful one for many reasons, but because I did not relax I caused myself and my child stress. 

In every experience we have hindsight. For a long time after my first labor and delivery I went through it again and again, wishing I could do things differently. Today, I wouldn't change a thing because I would not have learned those things had I not experienced what I experienced. 

With that background information I thought I'd simply share the differences and similarities between the two and what I learned in the process:

If you want to read both birth stories in full, go here:

My Own Comparisons:

Both are painful. Nothing compares to a contraction during those final stages of labor. I experienced intense contractions at 8 cm for 6 hours unmedicated. However, I would do that over and over and over again in comparison to a cesarean recovery

After delivery they do what's called a fundal massage to determine uterine firmness and shrinkage. With hip to hip stitches, internally and externally... n
ot fun. 

Also, because of all the medication received during your surgical procedure, your shoulders hurt (which is caused by C02 gas becoming trapped in your traps). But that's not all that hurts. Quite frankly, moving hurts. In fact, the nurses must show you how to sit up, cough, bend over, roll over, and get out of bed so you don't hurt yourself, and you need help doing all of that for quite a while afterwards. 

Soreness lasts much, much longer after a cesarean. Six months after surgery I wore jeans for the first time and regretted it. I was sore for days afterward, just because I wore jeans.

Walking out of the hospital after a cesarean was a chore, it's so hard to get yourself upright. With my vaginal delivery I remember being so excited (even with stitches in the vagina) that I felt like I could run, sure I was sore and tired (because it's A LOT of work and we come out with a needy newborn no matter the hour of day/night), but I could not get over how different I felt from my first experience. I had energy in comparison! 

I remember how putting the seatbelt across my scar created nightmares; I traveled with a pillow for quite a while. The scar was uber sensitive to touch so I wore granny panties so that the elastic did not touch it. 

The first bowel movement is 100 times worse after a cesarean. I didn't realize how much I used my core muscles for that, but all of that post surgery, medicated build-up creates an abnormally large bowel movement. It took me a half hour to push it out and it was a challenge to flush because it was too wide to fit through the toilet hole, seriously (my poor husband was floored). Because of that being my first experience I dreaded it after having 2nd degree tears from the vaginal delivery with Ele. However, it was cake! Oh man, I was relieved.

The first time you go back to having sex it is painful, but I'll give it to those mommy's who had a vaginal delivery. It was way more painful after a vaginal delivery than a c-section and took more time to get back to feeling normal in that part of my life.

Either way stitches are not fun and I always thought that stitches inside the most sensitive place of a woman would be horrifying, but they do not compare to the stitches post cesarean. Cesarean stitch-ups require countless multiple layers of internal stitches and many externally as well. I can't compare this to 32 stitches in the vagina (the highest degree of tearing) which someone I know experienced because her baby's arm was up (OUCH!) but after my own experience (2nd degree tearing) I'd prefer the vaginal delivery recovery over the c-section in a heartbeat! Those mommies who delivered via multiple c-sections are tough cookies! 

Most mom's of multiple children experience some degree of muscle separation, but it is way more common for mom's who had a c-section (those internal stitches...). I have a friend who delivered 4 children via cesarean, one delivery was twins. Her muscle separation is so severe that a hole a fist wide at her belly button is quite visible. Unfortunately for her, surgery is the only way to repair it. However, one midwife adamantly suggests women who have had a cesarean delivery never do a crunch again. I didn't realize how much different my core would feel after this surgery and at first I found it discouraging. Healing is possible, but the hard-core, cross-fit ab workouts I was doing pre-pregnancy were out of the question until it was. Other than visiting a physical therapist, the Tupler technique is the only researched based exercise that helps ab separation. The exercises look simple, but for someone recovering from major surgery they are not easy to begin. I hated it. I felt like such a weakling. Especially because 10 months prior I was doing weighted glute-ham bench, full range motion "sit ups", multiple sets, between intense cardio workouts. I was in the best shape of my life and felt like one day set me back years. It was easy to let that depress me and it's taken me years to feel motivated enough to get back into it. I "snapped" back pretty quickly after Ele. I don't know if it's all because of the vaginal vs. cesarean delivery differences, or more to do with my hemorrhaging experience, but I do believe it played a role. 

* These comparisons are from my own experiences. That does not make it true for every situation because we are all uniquely different and have different experiences. My first time delivery was not the norm considering my postpartum hemorrhaging experience as well, which caused two major back-to-back surgeries within a 10 day time period. Despite these facts, I do know the data speaks for itself, so let it speak...

If you are still skeptical after reading the data, trust in God's sovereignty. He is the Creator and Sustainer of life. Trust Him with your life and the life of your child, because HE gives breath and HE takes it away (Job 33:4, Deuteronomy 32:39).

The Data

Sometimes women have no choice in the matter, but I encourage you to do your research irregardless. I was cut open twice and still experienced a successful vaginal delivery. It is possible and the statistics prove over and over again - even post cesarean - that the natural way is safer. According to the data published in 2015, the most maternal deaths, ruptured uterine, and ICU admissions occurred with mothers after repeat cesareans (source). That same data revealed that the majority of women experienced a successful vaginal delivery after a previous c-section, but only 1 in 5 women try (p.5). You cannot ignore statements like this, let the data speak for itself, 
  • Women who attempted a trial of labor after cesarean and had a successful VBAC delivery had lower rates of transfusion, unplanned hysterectomy, and ICU admission than did women with cesarean deliveries without labor. Rates of ruptured uterus were not significantly different between successful VBAC births (43.8 per 100,000) and cesarean births (65.6) without a trial of labor. (p.5)
Read Ina May's book, discuss your options with to your doctor, get multiple opinions, talk to other mommy's, do viable research, PRAY, be educated, and make a decision with your husband. I encourage you to avoid a c-section if at all possible; but if you cannot, know this fact: how your child is delivered does not determine your worth as a mother. If that's the case, I failed at being a mother the first time through! 

The reason I am so passionate about labor and delivery is because I believe knowledge and encouragement gives comfort in the face of fear. That's my goal in publishing these posts. Labor and delivery - no matter how it happens - takes A LOT of work and is painful! There is no exception to that fact. God said it was so (Genesis 3:16), so it will be so. Still, I know that the experience is a learning one that leaves you forever changed and I would love hearing your story.

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