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Owning Your C-Section

Take control

Eat lightly for 12 hours prior to surgery if you're scheduled for a c-section. Your intestines move food and waste through your body by working in a constant squeezing motion. For a few days after surgery, your intestines will slow down considerably, which means food and liquid will have a much harder time getting where they need to go. A light diet of clear vegetable and pasta soups, yogurt, Jell-O, and pudding is much easier for your body to digest than a burger, fries, or pizza. You'll have less gas buildup, and your intestines will begin functioning normally sooner.

Mark the transition from pregnancy to birth. If you know you're having a cesarean, keep in mind that there's less of a physical transition from pregnancy to birth, which can leave you feeling emotionally distant from the event, says Deborah Issokson, a licensed psychologist and the owner of Counseling for Reproductive Health & Healing in Wellesley and Pembroke, Massachusetts. She suggests taking time the night before to acknowledge the upcoming birth -- something as simple as sitting with your partner (and other children), talking about your baby's imminent arrival, or lighting a candle in her honor -- as a way to be more in tune with the momentous occasion that will soon take place. Another good time to "transition" is in the hours leading up to the surgery. Most hospitals typically require that you be there at least two hours beforehand for routine preparation such as inserting an IV line and measuring your blood pressure. While distraction (knitting that half-finished baby blanket or zoning out to The View) can help ease the anxiety for some women, "for others this type of passive activity only heightens their nervousness because it creates a real disconnect with what's about to happen," says Jacqueline Kelleher, director of postpartum services at DONA International, a doula-certifying organization. Instead, use this time to connect with each other and your baby. "Talk to your baby, and tell him or her what's about to happen," she suggests. "Tell yourself that you're strong and that you can get through this."

Think up a meaningful mantra. Even if you have an unplanned c-section, you can still take a moment to recite a simple mantra -- a word or verse repeated over and over to help quiet the mind, says Jill Wodnick, a certified doula and holistic birth educator in Bloomfield, New Jersey. "Mantras engage the breath, calm the mind by reducing stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and allow for more oxygen to flow through the body." Wodnick recommends choosing anything from a favorite psalm to a phrase from Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, such as om shanti (which means "with peace") or something as simple as "I can do this." You can silently repeat it to yourself or say it out loud throughout the procedure.

I'm happy to report that all went well when I delivered my third son, Henry, even though little went according to plan. Two days before my scheduled c-section, I awoke to the sensation of my water breaking all over my bed. Before we left for the hospital, the four of us (my husband, our two boys, and I) stood together, holding hands, and said a simple prayer for a safe delivery. The prayer lasted all of ten seconds, but months later I still remember this moment. On the way to the hospital, in between killer contractions, I thought about the popcorn I'd downed at the movies with my kids the night before. (It came back to haunt me in the form of gas, but getting out of bed and walking right away helped.) When I leaned forward on the operating table so that the spinal anesthesia could be injected, I chanted a mantra I'd been practicing: "In peace, out smile." I was turning my health and my baby's health over to the surgeons at that point, but to my surprise, I still felt a sense of control and a calm. Now that I'm raising three boys, I may want to tattoo that mantra to my forehead.

Maureen Connolly is the coauthor of The Essential C-Section Guide.