I had a cesarean section with my first daughter. Labor stalled for 8-10 hours at 7 centimeters and the doctors said it was time to get her out. So we did it. She is healthy, happy, and wonderful. Honestly, I don’t see any residual effects on her and she seems to be a pretty typical, highly functional little kid. So truly, she is just fine. So what in the world am I blaming my c-section for? The long saga of back pain that I had following the birth of my daughter.
Prior to my c-section, I already struggled with back pain off and on since I was about 14 years old. Most of the time it was just mellow discomfort but I had one extremely bad episode right after graduate school. I did a beach triathlon and then studied for my board exam the rest of the weekend on the beach or on picnic benches. A few days later, the day of my board exam, my now husband had to lift me out of bed. I was in so much pain I couldn’t get out of bed myself. I survived (and passed) the exam by using icy hot patches and ibuprofin and re-upping both at every break I had. Ever since then my back pain has come and gone and has been much more “twingy” than just discomfort. It’s better if I do my exercises daily, it gets worse if I don’t. Pre-kid, it was manageable. As long as I got enough rest at the end of the day or on the weekend, I was fine.
Pregnancy with my first was a little more challenging. I felt my back ‘slip out’ a whole lot more. I found out prior to getting pregnant that I have two bulging discs, which really isn’t abnormal at my age, but enough to make me focus on it more. I tried to be as diligent as possible doing exercises and seeing a chiropractor throughout my pregnancy. I managed and aside from a tough week or two during the initial hormone shift, it wasn’t terrible.
Fast forward to c-section recovery. It kind of sucks. I know a lot of people who have c-sections and say that aren’t bad and then go on to schedule the next ones without any hesitations, but man was I wiped! I have no idea how it compares to a vaginal birth but hopefully I’ll be able to write a post on that in the future.
I got back to walking in week two but never did any specific core stability exercises. I met some neighbors who ran with their kids and they invited me to come along once I was ready. So, the day after I was cleared by my physician (6 weeks post abdominal surgery), I met up with the neighbors and attempted to run. Well that was a disaster. I lasted about 2 blocks and then said just go on without me. Instead, I found some mommy and me yoga and as I wanted more, I found some other mom-fitness groups. The moms in these groups were amazing! You had moms that were at a similar stage to me (12 weeks postpartum by this point) and some 2 years plus postpartum. The instructors were great and continuously offered modifications as needed.
Prideful as I am, I decided not to follow those modifications. I did burpees on my first day at class. The burpees felt fine, but then I bent over the stroller to check on my little and I felt that all to well known ‘ping’ of a back muscle spasm. However, since it was my first day and not knowing how amazing these other moms were and not being confident enough to listen to myself, I kept going and finished the work out. It was painful but I managed. I managed until the next day when I was hurrying up the stairs to grab my babe who had just woken up when I felt a second ‘ping’ and collapsed. Fortunately my husband was working from home that day but he was in the shower. I screamed at the top of my lungs until he was able to come and help me lay down on the floor. We ended up calling an ambulance to take me to the emergency room because I couldn’t move enough to get in the car. Thus what truly began the 2.5 year saga of recovery.
I am passionate about a VBAC for many reasons; however, one of the main ones was because I wasn’t not sure my back could handle it. Honestly, we considered not trying for a second kid because of my back pain. I realized today, that while the c-section may have been a co-factor, it isn’t to blame. I am a physical therapist. I should know better than to do exercises I’m not ready for, to push through pain, to let pride get in the way of safety and health. My cesarean isn’t to blame. I should’ve returned more slowly or listened to modifications. Maybe, my doctors should have slowed me down. Do you think after other abdominal surgery they tell you that you can do all exercises at 6 weeks? I’m not sure, but I doubt it. It should be standard of practice to recommend at least a physical therapy assessment prior to returning to
activities life for all postpartum moms.
I am a different person now. I know how to care for my back and even better, I know how to put my self-care above all else. Unfortunately, I know the consequences. While I am still going to try for that VBAC, I now understand that I have more power than I previously wanted to admit. I’m not quite as scared of a repeat cesarean. Yes it will be harder with two instead of one, but I have support and I have knowledge. I didn’t realize how much I was blaming my c-section to avoid self-reflection. It is what it is and it happened the way it did. Now that experience has taught me to take responsibility and to learn. While I prefer learning from successes, sometimes it takes a failure to learn even more. That back pain set me on a path I never expected and while it sucked, I am really happy where I am today.
I know that whatever happens, I can make good choices to recover at my body’s pace after this baby. I will take my time and not rush back to anything. I may need some reminding now and then, but I can make the difference, no matter how this baby comes out.