giving birth

What It’s Actually Like To Get An Emergency C-Section

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true-emergency-c-section-storiesI didn’t know much about c-sections when I was pregnant. I had one book, and that book basically said that if you’re low risk, you’ll probably give birth vaginally, and if there’s a problem, you might need a c-section.

Vaguely, I think I was aware that this meant someone would cut your abdomen and pull a baby out, but I didn’t give it more thought than that; I chose to ignore that my baby would one day have to leave my body because thinking about labor too much made me kinda pukey.

Then I went into labor, where I learned that contractions feel nothing like your vagina opening like a majestic flower, and as much as that sucked, I ended up needing a c-section 12 hours into it anyway. I’m not ashamed of my c-section. I don’t think anyone should be, whether its an emergency or not.

“Not being ashamed of” doesn’t equal “have fond memories of”, though. Emergency c-sections are big old suck sundaes smothered in awfulsauce. I’ve tried to block the whole thing out, but here’s how I remember it.

First, your water breaks and you’re like “welp, I feel like I just peed on myself.”

 And then there’s the small detail of ZOMG contractions holy mother why did no one prepare you for this?

You have to go to the hospital, which is where you realize that admitting is nothing like you see in the movies.

Once you’re in bed, you realize that those contractions from before didn’t really hurt like a mofo. These contractions, on the other hand…

Sometime between the fourth and fifth person checking out your cervix, you realize that no one told you how many people would be touching your Precious Lady Bits.

They ask you to switch positions so you move onto all fours, and just when you feel your gown slip off of your backside, you hear your in-laws come into the delivery room.

They brought coffee, but not for you. Have some ice chips instead.

Halfway through your meal of ice chips with a side of ice chips, you get contractions so bad you want to go back in time and slap the wuss from a few hours ago. 

People are trying to be encouraging, and tell you how great you’re doing in awed tones. You remind them that you’re having a baby, not defusing a nuke with your vagina, and ask them to shut up.

Just when you think labor can’t get worse, some machines start going apeshit bananas, and everyone starts whispering all urgently but won’t tell you what’s going on. 

You hear “fetal distress” and start bargaining with God.

You get to go on a speedy ride to the OR on a gurney, which is kind of fun:

But then you remember why and you’re like:

You’ve been anesthetized, which is kind of cool but you can feel all kinds of stuff going on on the other side of the sheet, and you realize someone’s touching your organs, which is simultaneously awesome and horrifying.

You feel a weird pop and then you hear your baby cry and you get all weepy:

Chances are, you’ll barf:

And in the recovery room you’ll shake a lot:

But then, baby!

And hey, at least you didn’t end up pooping yourself.


(Image: Artem Furman/Shutterstock)


  1. rrlo

    May 5, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    I am really, really hoping that I don’t need one. Not that there is any shame in (that is crazy talk) but because it sounds way more stressful than what I went through with my first one. And I am thinking recovery will take longer.

  2. Butt Trophy Recipient

    May 5, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    After reading this article, I decided I will never get pregnant!

    • Valerie

      May 5, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Info your nuts already knew.

  3. Rachel Sea

    May 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Oooo, recovery room shakes, I remember those from my last surgery. On the upside, they gave me this glorious blanket that was like a quilted garbage bag full of hot air, on the downside, I was shivering so hard it kept sliding off.

    • Valerie

      May 5, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      Omg, that blanket is the shit. My sections were both planned but I got the shivers post-anesthesia both times. That blanket was ah-amazing and after that, they covered me in these nice muslin blankets that had also been heated. Suddenly, I felt like I was in the spa.

    • Rachel Sea

      May 6, 2014 at 12:01 am

      I really appreciated that it was weightless. I didn’t want anyone or anything touching the leg that had just been worked on. And bonus, I knew no one had bled on it before me.

    • Aimee Ogden

      May 5, 2014 at 9:23 pm

      WHAT? They just gave me blankets that had been in a heater for a while, which stayed warm for like .7 seconds in the chilled operating theater. RIP OFF.

    • Rachel Sea

      May 5, 2014 at 11:56 pm

      They did the same for me in the OR, but then in recovery they had the plastic bag blanket. It ran on a blower, so it probably would be an infectious hazard when your insides are out.

    • BethAZ1987

      May 6, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      Omg, I was all over that blanket when I was getting prepped for foot surgery. Sitting there in nothing but a hospital gown, that flimsy wool/polyester/whatever blanket they gave me was just not cutting it. I was kind of sad when it was surgery time and I had to turn off the hot-air balloon blanket. 🙁

  4. GameDevHusband

    May 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Don’t forget the part where you couldn’t breathe. Or the doctor that said “Oh Fuck” after a loud banging sound. OR – the worst part – When they walked your confused husband to the other side of the hospital and left him alone with the baby in tupperware on wheels.

  5. K.

    May 5, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    For me, the emergency c-section wasn’t painful like labor, but it was scarier. And gross. I threw up once after the spinal, and then a second time while they were performing the section—and lying on your back is not an ideal position for throwing up and so my barf basically ran down the side of my face and into my hair—really awesome considering you can’t shower for 48 hours after a c-section. Being anesthetized but conscious was also scary—totally aware of how helpless you are. I felt nothing during the section and wasn’t even aware they had pulled the baby out until my husband told me to look. The immediate recovery also sucked—I had been awake for 30 hours, in labor for 20, plus the hour or so for doing the section, and had nothing in my stomach. I was exhausted and like, delirious and shaking like crazy until finally, the anesthesia wore off and they wheeled me out of recovery—to this day, I have no recollection of getting from recovery to my room, so I must have konked out. When I awoke, I felt like someone had beaten me up.

    I totally respect that women have all sorts of different temperaments and choose different ways of giving birth but for me, I’d rather the pain of labor over the fear I experienced any day.

    • Harriet Meadow

      May 5, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      You couldn’t shower for 48 hours? I’m pretty sure I showered the next day. Pretty sure. But I was also pretty out of it for at least two days afterwards.

    • Kendra

      May 6, 2014 at 9:07 am

      I definitely showered the next day, but I did kind of have to beg for it. They only restricted me from bathes for two weeks.

    • koolchicken

      May 5, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      That’s crazy, no showering for 48 hours? Talk about adding insult to injury. The nurse kept trying to stall me but I got to shower less than 24 hours later.

    • K.

      May 5, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      I can’t remember if it was 24 or 48, but it definitely wasn’t right away.

    • koolchicken

      May 6, 2014 at 12:24 am

      Bummer. I mean unless there was something wrong, they should have let you shower as soon as you were out of bed. There’s really no reason not too.

    • AP

      May 6, 2014 at 1:08 am

      My boss is having a knee replacement, and she’s got all sorts of restrictions until after the incision heals. Apparently secondary infections are a huge risk such that she can’t even physically enter certain establishments due to risk of MRSA infecting her new joint. Could it be due to that?

    • koolchicken

      May 6, 2014 at 2:12 am

      You know, now that you mention it I remember being told some people have some super nutty restrictions post-op. There has to be a reason for it. Maybe they’re in an area where MRSA is common place? Or maybe that doc or hospital just has super strict rules to protect against litigation? Who knows, I’m just glad I was allowed into the shower sooner rather than later!

    • jerseygirl17

      May 6, 2014 at 11:04 am

      There could be other factors. I was told that I would have been able to shower sooner, but they kept me on the magnesium drip longer, which made me dizzy, so they didn’t want me trying to walk around yet because of the risk of falling.

    • K.

      May 6, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Not sure, but I think it had to do with wanting to make sure the incision site healed well and preventing infection. It might have to do with what kind of materials they use to perform the procedure and do the suturing or changes from hospital to hospital in accordance to policy and liability and all that.

      Although I was also so groggy that I pretty much relied on the nurses to tell me which end was up, so I remember it as two days; it very likely could have been just one. I do remember them saying I had to wait, though, and getting wheelchaired to the NICU with barfy hair 🙁

  6. Metsy

    May 5, 2014 at 6:31 pm


  7. Lulu

    May 5, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Twice I had to be put under general anesthesia for an emergency cesarean. So add the part where you wake up hours later and ask the nurse if the baby she is holding is your own. 🙁 I’m so glad my third (and last) was scheduled! Thank goodness for them, but c-sections suck!

  8. Harriet Meadow

    May 5, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Yes, the shaking! Oh that was the worst! I actually started shaking as they were sewing me up, and I was shaking so hard that it was messing with the doctors, so the anesthesiologist had to put something else in my IV to get me to stop. Thanks for reminding me. =)

    • Theresa Edwards

      May 5, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      oh you’re so welcome. Also, suppositories.

    • Harriet Meadow

      May 5, 2014 at 9:30 pm

      I dodged that bullet, thankfully.

  9. JJ

    May 5, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    And this why I laugh at people when they try to suggests women are getting c sections because there “to posh to push” or intentionally getting them so they can have a certain birth date for their child. Hell no. Maybe the rare women does (and that is a very big maybe) but as this article shows and ask any women who’s had a c section they aren’t some easy, comforting walk in the park followed by a full body massage. It’s serious surgery with drugs, lots of drugs that make you feel like crap and out of it. There is the whole risk of bleeding or complications but nope women totally get them because there to posh to push, right.

    • C.J.

      May 6, 2014 at 1:52 am

      My aunt chose a c-section for her second because she didn’t want to go through labour again. Boy did she regret that decision. I was about 12 and went over for a few days to help her.

  10. jendra_berri

    May 5, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    I didn’t know anything about the shaking until it was happening. Oh, that stunk. I wish I’d been in the know about that one before hand. I think they would have been far more tolerable if I’d had time to mentally prepare for it. I think it was just the fact it was one more surprise that bothered me.

  11. koolchicken

    May 5, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Ummm, no. My experience was more like someone threatening me shortly before carving me open. That was an emergency, and I’m just sorry I didn’t take the exit.

  12. tSubh Dearg

    May 5, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    I now really feel for my mum (not that I didn’t before) because both myself and my sister were emergency c-sections in the 80’s in Ireland. She has told me that the last thing she heard in both cases was “The baby’s in trouble, we’ve got to do a c-section” before she was knocked out with a general anesthetic.

    I know for the case of my birth too, that we were having one of our rare blizzards, which my dad got stuck in a one point going to or from the hospital.

    All in all I gather it was not a pleasant time and as such she is very against the idea of me having a home birth whenever I get pregnant.

    • Valerie

      May 5, 2014 at 9:21 pm

      Ugh, my mom had this happen when I was born too. The knocked our part. So scary.

    • BethAZ1987

      May 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      My mother’s emergency c-section with me in the 70s included her telling the doctors something was wrong, them sending her home because “you’re not due for another 2 months”, and then her coming back and insisting to be admitted to the hospital. At which point the doctors were like “omg, you need a c-section NOW”. (my mom is a little “i told you so” about that part). But her clearest memory before the drugs kicked in was hearing the doctors sharpening the knives, and her frantically saying “I’m not out yet!!!”.

  13. Aimee Ogden

    May 5, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    This makes my scheduled CS look like a cakewalk. Holy crap. I know our daughter wasn’t breathing briefly after she got taken out (they told me our son’s Apgar first even though he was the second one out) and that was scary enough for only two minutes or whatever, let alone hearing the words “fetal distress” on a surprise trip to the OR. D:

    • Valerie

      May 5, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      Ugh. No fun. Claire was born three weeks early and was a little lazy and had a weak cry at first. Not sure of her Apgars but they weren’t good. My husband was off to the side of the room with her and there was a gaggle of doctors and nurses working on her. Awful.

  14. DeanaCal

    May 5, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    OMG so much this! My 4th C-section was the funnest, because I had so much scar tissue from the first three that my whole body was being tugged back and forth while they were trying to yank her out. Yeah, good times.

  15. MLSKC

    May 5, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    Didn’t have to labor with either of mine, first was emergency at 35 weeks and second was scheduled. With my first I went to an appt with a headache that made tequila hangovers seem like a cakewalk. The nurse took my blood pressure, went very pale, and RAN to get the doctor. The doctor came in, took my blood pressure, turned very pale and told me I had to have a section right then. She called an ambulance and hubs & I had a baby girl 45 minutes later. It moved so fast I didn’t have time to be scared. The shakes afterwards though, ugh. I remember trying not to shake because it hurt my stomach so much, and felt like I was going to rip my incision open. I was so worried about having the shakes again, but I didn’t have them with my second.

    And hands on your organs feel like someone is washing dishes in your abdomen.

  16. Megan Zander

    May 5, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    All the THIS. I would also add the part when it’s done and your OB takes your uterus out of your body and plops it on your tummy like a purse to stitch it up all while singing “Call me Maybe” to you to keep you calm. I heart my OB.

    • personal

      May 6, 2014 at 2:51 am

      I think it was something else they took out. I don’t think they take the uterus out and put it back in. Intestines that were in the way, maybe?

    • Megan Zander

      May 6, 2014 at 8:12 am

      No, uterus. He told me while he was doing it bc I wanted to know the process. It’s actually really common, I had discussed it with him beforehand. He said they can do a stronger closure that way. It worked out fine and obviously I didn’t see it, but it still freaked me out to know my insides were outside, I don’t think I would have felt better about it being my intestines though!

    • Harriet Meadow

      May 6, 2014 at 10:19 am

      Yeah, they take the uterus out because it’s easier to work on that way. Makes sense, really.

    • BethAZ1987

      May 6, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      No, it’s the uterus. They also clean it out for you, so you don’t have to birth the placenta like you would in a vaginal delivery.

    • K.

      May 6, 2014 at 11:09 am

      I had mine without my OB in a large, urban hospital and while I was laying there, I heard her barking at nurses, “Ladies! This is NOT a code green, this is a code red!! No, that’s not supposed to be 40 ml.; I need 60. Ladies! Let’s go! Thank you–oh wait, no this is NOT the one; go back and get me the blah-blah”

      Super reassuring while you’re lying there.

      My husband also remembers them pulling “some organ out, resting it on top of your stomach, and like, hosing it off like a dishwasher while whistling.”

  17. dy

    May 5, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    My darling sister-in-law (and by ‘darling’ I mean raging cunt-cake) likes to tell her birth story like she’s the first person to pioneer C-sections. No one has ever had one worse than her. I’m a surgical tech by day so I’ve done more C-sections on others than I can count and hers was pretty typical. Mine was not fun: water broke at 32 weeks with twins, ambulance ride to hospital, doc can only find one heartbeat, rushed to OR, babies ripped out of me and sent to nicu, I get near-fatal infection a day later. Luckily all three of us were ok until 4 weeks post-partum. I came down with flu-like symptoms and when my fever reached 104, doctors discovered a mass in uterus. So yeah, my sister in law can blow me.

  18. Marie

    May 5, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    Thank you for writing this! I work as an operating room nurse and I couldn’t count the number I’ve C sections I’ve seen, but I loved hearing the mom’s perspective like this. And not in a whiny, “I had a c-section and my birth experience was ruined” kind of way, but in a balanced,voice that acknowledges that it’s sometimes necessary but it really sucks. I have to admit, that we’re often mainly focused on getting the baby out safely and doing all our medical stuff. Yeah, emergency c sections suck but I guess at least they’re better than the alternative of not having the option. Thanks for the great article!

  19. personal

    May 6, 2014 at 2:41 am

    When I got to ‘You hear ‘fetal distress’ and start bargaining with God,’ a tear came to my eye. I’m glad you and your child are doing well.
    PS It totally blows my mind that some people really think those of us who needed planned C-sections should be ‘ashamed’. I have a condition that meant that I was less at risk of bleeding to death with a planned C-section, but have had people hint that it was a (major) operation of convenience. PSS I still bled. A lot. I’d have far preferred my friend’s experiece. ‘There wasn’t a lot of pain. Just some. But it was bearable. I didn’t want meds.’

  20. Jessifer

    May 6, 2014 at 7:13 am

    All I remember is how much my shoulder hurt during the procedure. That’s all I could talk about and there was nothing they could do about it! I couldn’t move! I found out later that this is a result of air coming into the abdominal cavity… oh joy! When my son was born they asked if I wanted to hold him against my chest and I was like “Hell no! Someone please do something about my shoulder! I mean it!”, followed by an episode of vomiting.

    • Kendra

      May 6, 2014 at 9:08 am

      YES! I had this afterwards. I didn’t even realize how they could be connected. I just happened to complain about it when the nurse was helping me do baby’s first bath and she was like “oh, that’s from the gas and is totally normal”. Insane.

  21. Kendra

    May 6, 2014 at 9:04 am

    I was with you up until you got to the C-section part. I need to do some rearranging and some adding. First of all, the shaking began when I was in labor, which of course was hours before the C-section. Seriously, the shaking is crazy. Also, I barfed three times before the c-section, but none afterwards. Then, I’d like to add that in my experience a C-section was a lot more painful than I expected it to be (during). This “you’ll feel pressure but not pain” stuff is just nonsense. Of course, I did have to have the midwife jump up on me and lunge on my body so that they could get baby out…so perhaps that is why. I also didn’t feel this weird pop thing, and I didn’t get weepy. I did fall asleep afterwards, until they started pushing on my stomach and it felt like the devil himself was ripping all of my organs to pieces and trying to rise from within my stomach! How could you skip that horrendousness? Seriously? Anyone else????

  22. allisonjayne

    May 6, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Oh man. I was thisclose to having an emergency C, so I can identify with a lot of this. After 6 hours of pushing, I heard the words “heartrate starting to drop, we need to get this baby out”, and my mind started going to such strange places…thinking about the agony of having to walk out of the hospital empty-handed, going back to our apartment full of tiny clothes, wondering what would happen to my job (I had a year of mat leave, they’d hired a replacement, etc), trying to remember how to pray just in case….

    They prepped me for a C, gave me a super dose of epidural and then the OB suggested trying the forceps “just in case”. I was told to push really hard, but I couldn’t feel my body below my head so I remember grabbing my midwife and yelling, “AM I PUSHING? I DON’T THINK I AM” and she reassured me that I was and plop out came my baby, covered in meconium but still somehow with a 9 on the apgar.

    I couldn’t feel anything below my head for at least an hour after, which sucked. I was trying to hold her and nurse but kept feeling like I was going to drop her because I couldn’t feel my arms. Ugh.

    Definitely glad c sections exist, I feel lucky I didn’t have to have one.

    • ksu_artist1

      May 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      6 HOURS of pushing?! Man… you are my hero. Glad to hear it turned out ok!

  23. break_time

    May 6, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Those ice chips were the best thing EVER.

  24. krock19

    May 6, 2014 at 11:51 am

    So during mine, the local anesthesia didn’t work and I was screaming in pain because I could fell EVERYTHING. So they ended up knocking me out in the middle of it…. worst experience ever. Then, they woke me up from general anesthesia and of course I woke up to blinding pain in my abdomen. I literally started freaking out the second I woke up because I was in so much agony. I remember the doctor trying to tell me my options for making the pain go away and I was like I don’t care make it stop. Meanwhile, this random nurse was trying to take a picture of our new family and I was like b*tch puhleeze – I don’t want to remember this moment EVER again.
    So C-sections suck but reading about how “bad” it is to have them was the worst thing I did. My dr wanted to do a C-section like a week earlier and I was all like “no – I must do this naturally” and then I was in labor for 36 hours, ended up with a crazy fever during labor and throwing up uncontrollably… hence the C-section. Wish I would have the C-section when my doctor first recommended it and maybe everything would have gone smoother.
    Fun times

  25. Guinevere

    May 6, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Feeling like you can’t breathe, the shakes, and then the itching. My whole body itched for about 48 hours. And having to be in the hospital longer. And not being able to bend over and pick up your own baby. And the catheter. And needing help getting those gauze panties on and off to use the restroom once the catheter is removed. And how much it hurts to cough, and sneeze, and laugh…. and everyone coming into your room and stating “failure to progress,” at every shift-change, etc., to reiterate your “failure”….

  26. geckomommy

    May 6, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Oh, the puking. So much puking.

  27. Williwaw

    May 6, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    My unexpected c-section was not too bad from my point of view, except for the thirty seconds or so when I literally couldn’t breathe or speak (then the anesthesiologist saw my face and reassured me that my breathing muscles were not paralyzed even though it might feel that way intermittently). In fact, it was kind of funny because I had no idea what was going on on the other side of the sheet, until the obstetrician said, “Baby in a minute. This one feels like a ten pounder.” (At that point I felt like giggling hysterically with relief at not having to push that thing out via the normal route – and he did indeed turn out to be nearly ten pounds).

    I think it was much scarier for my husband, because he had to wait outside the OR while they put my spinal in, and they had so much trouble that it took almost forty-five minutes, and all that time my husband didn’t know what was happening to me or the baby, and was totally freaking until they finally let him in just before they started cutting.

  28. Maggie J

    May 6, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I was so delirious after 48 hours of labor, 3 hours of pushing, a 105 degree fever, and all kinds of meds, that I tried to run away. After crying because they wouldn’t let me take a nap and do the C-section the next day. Then, while I lay under the bright lights that looked like alien space ships landing on my face, accepting the fact that I was dead, I heard the doctor telling somebody how to rearrange my ovaries. NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. If that’s the easy version of having a baby, I’ll never get pregnant again.

  29. Buffy

    May 6, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    I don’t talk about my emergency c-section with friends or releatives. I went to the hospital on monday and got my c-section on wednesday because my vital signs were going down. I don’t remember much because I was unconscious ( my heart had problems). The last thing i remember is the panic around me and the pain. I remember I didn’t mind dying if it took the pain away. They couldn’t give me pain reliever due to my condition. I needed 3 month to be able to care for me and my baby and felt like a failure. Like I failed my baby. The pregnancy was already so difficult and I thought I could make it up with a natural birth (well, no way, everything was so critical I wasn’t allowed to give birth in a special birthhouse). It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t do nothing wrong, but everytime I hear/read about women saying something like “giving birth is just natural — the pain is nothing if you’re not a whimp/whiney/loser—it’s just about the state of mind you’re in—-if you really want a natural birth you get it” it makes me sad.

    After all this I’ll never be able to deliver a child without a c-section and my doctors tell me I should not even think of getting pregnant again. But I have already lost my first child so our daughter is a miracle to me and I am glad I survived.

  30. Chelsea DeLoney

    May 6, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Yeah this is spot on. I remember clearly (this was 8.5 months ago) that I had been in the hospital for ages and I was 3 weeks late… I was hoping and praying not to have the baby on my birthday because I didn’t want a painful intense memory associated with that day… And yeah after being induced and pushing for 2 hours… and then an emergency c-section, I was not thrilled that the meds started to wear off and I felt part of the surgery and went into shock. Not fun! Luckily my OB was amazing and did a perfect job with the incision and everything.

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  32. Laura Martinez

    September 2, 2014 at 5:12 am

    Omfg I laugh so hard cuz is like going back to when I had my baby girl exactly how you describe it

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