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Birth plan implosion: A physical therapist's story of postpartum recovery following an unexpected C-section

Updated: Jan 25

Note: This is a personal account of postpartum recovery, and not to be used as medical advice or a postpartum exercise program as every individual’s situation is different. Please contact a trained professional (for example, a licensed physical therapist) if you would like further information on developing a post-partum recovery plan for you. 

When I was pregnant with my now 3-year old daughter, I bought into all of the holistic health messaging that anything but a natural birth was going to result in negative consequences for my body. As a physical therapist and general wellness-obsessed person, I decided that having a natural birth was the only viable option for me. Furthermore, I was a surgical virgin and the idea of being cut into was terrifying. It was up to me to take every step to avoid being a victim of a highly medicalized birth.

I read books and countless articles on risk factors for c-sections and episiotomies and did everything I could to lower my risk. I hired a doula. I did prenatal yoga. I stretched my vagina. My doula had a 100% record of no c-sections, and this gave me hope but also misguided goals for the birth.

Despite my preparations, when the big day came, the choices I felt compelled to make were nothing like my all-natural birth plan. Instead, I got ALL of the interventions. I was induced with misoprostol and labored for nearly 30 hours before succumbing to the epidural as a desperate and failed attempt to get some sleep. I was not progressing. Forty hours after my initial hospital admission, I had a c-section at midnight Friday the 13th. When they lifted my daughter out of me I felt a profound lightness come over me. I was in tears with relief that it was all over. My daughter was 8.0 lbs and healthy (with just a touch of jaundice).

post partum recovery c-section healing
My daughter taking her first few precious yawns following two of the hardest days of my life.

I had envisioned that I would jump right out of bed after a natural, unmedicated birth but, far from it, I was in pain and emotionally and physically traumatized by the surgery. My body was my temple and I felt like its sanctity had been violated by the surgeon’s incision and my disappointment about how the birth turned out.

I also weirdly felt like I had disappointed my doula by ruining her spotless record.

I remember getting out of the bed the next morning with the help of the very kind attending nurse. I was in pain, and my body felt like a stranger. I experienced heaviness as I tried to walk to the restroom, feeling like I could not stand all the way up. I didn’t know how I was going to care for a tiny baby when I could barely stand.

As the days passed in the hospital I was amazed at how quickly I was recovering. 

A turning point for me was finally taking a shower at the hospital. I had avoided it for days, because I was too scared to look at my body and the wound, preferring instead to disassociate from my physical self. However, I finally summoned up the nerve to do it. In the shower, I took off the bandage, took a deep breath, and gave the surgical incision and my post-partum body a careful visual inspection. It wasn’t as scary or disgusting as I had pictured. There was no blood. No gnarly stitches. The surgical wound was a gently puckered area in my lower abdomen and rather smaller and less dramatic than I had expected. 

On Day 1 I could hardly get out of bed, but by Day 4 I was taking walks with my husband on the creek trail next to the hospital and crossing the stream on small boulders. I walked often while in the hospital and started doing some gentle stretches to make sure my surgical wound would heal with the right amount of tension in the connective tissue. It felt good to be able to stand tall and slowly get back into my body again.

post partum postnatal recovery yoga baby
Yoga with Adriene (and Julia) 7 weeks post-partum

A week later, we were back at home and I was climbing stairs and getting out of low chairs while carrying the baby. Within 4 weeks I was feeling mostly like myself again and could sneeze, laugh, and sit up without pain in my incision. At 6 weeks I was doing gentle core activation with diaphragmatic breathing and simple ballet barre work. I started doing 20 minutes of "Yoga with Adriene" at home (keep in mind this was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic), but modifying exercises that involved more intense abdominal work. At 3 months I was doing more intense cardio, including short jogs, skipping, and agility training. At 6 months I was back to Pilates and ballet classes.  

Today, 3 years later, I can honestly say I feel just as good now as before the c-section. I have learned so much about my body through this experience and have more faith than ever in its ability to heal and recover with the right kind of movement and mindset.

If I could talk to my 36 year old still-pregnant self, I would tell her the following: 

The goal of preparing for birth is not to avoid medical interventions and surgery, but to make informed decisions when taking detours from the original birth plan. There are valid reasons why medical interventions may become necessary and understanding the risks of either option should be part of the birth prep process.

Secondly, despite messaging in holistic wellness circles, a c-section is not a worse case scenario and will not take away from an empowering birth experience. Seek out these types of birth and healing stories.

And lastly, no matter what happens, there is a path back home to the body you know and love, and you will get there. 

Angel Young, PT, DPT, is the proud mother of a Ninja Turtle-obsessed 3 year old living on a ranch in Smithville, Texas. She is the owner of Bodylove Physiotherapy & Pilates, a mobile and virtual practice specializing in 1-on-1 physical therapy using Clinical Pilates, Dry Needling, Myofascial Manipulation, Manual Therapy, and Redcord serving Bastrop and Smithville, Texas. She is passionate about helping people feel strong, capable, and wonderful in their bodies.

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