I have never been thin. I am compact, sometimes very fit and sometimes Rubenesque if I have been on a particularly gluttonous path. My favorite feature has always been my stomach. In my prime, I could roll a quarter down it. I think years of singing kept it in shape. In shameful honesty, it has been a point of vanity throughout my life. When we first saw a fertility specialist, she told me I was “way too skinny” to have a baby. I knew she meant my stomach. It was one of the greatest days ever, minus the fertility issue. After having my first tiny one, I bounced back very quickly. I assumed the second one would be the same. How wrong I was.
Tiny 2, or the lion cub, was a painful pregnancy. He was totally worth it. Look at this beauty!
I now realize it was so unbearably painful to be pregnant with him because I had diastasis recti and my stomach muscles were not holding him in place. He would just bear down onto my pelvis. I would float in my bathtub at the end of the day and notice how my stomach came to a point, instead of a nice round sphere like it had been the first time around. It was a curiosity but I didn’t think much about it. After my lion cub was born, my stomach seemed unusually large for a much longer time. My elderly neighbor asked me when the baby was going to be coming, while I was pushing him in a stroller. (Cue hormonal tears) SOMETHING WAS WRONG AND IT WAS THE ONLY GOOD PART OF MY BODY!! Everyone tells you it takes a while for your body to bounce back, but this felt different.
I googled ferociously and found out about diastasis recti. It was me to a T. Roughly, diastasis recti is when your stomach muscles separate and your innards push forward with nothing to keep them in place. It’s “mummy tummy.” When I did a stomach crunch, I could put 4 fingers in between the muscles of my stomach. This was humbling and awful. I started physical therapy, avoided traditional abdominal exercises and started a serious weight lifting program to help it. (ok I also gained 10 pounds and nothing fit.) It all helped a little bit, except for the horrible binder I had to wear. That was discarded after a very terrifying ride home after wearing it to eat sushi. #neveragainshallwebind I digress however. Nothing fixed it and I had lower back pain and a protruding stomach with a major outie belly button. Try googling belly button covers….
I looked into everything. There is a lot out there about exercises you can do, but not a lot of personal stories. The exercises did not work for me and I had a lot of back pain. I decided to explore the surgical route. When I first dug for information I learned that insurance covered general surgery where a vertical incision is made and the muscles are stitched back together. This leaves a wicked scar, and my vanity proved to be an obstacle for this route. I consulted a plastic surgeon, but he (and others) did the surgery in conjunction with a tummy tuck. I did not need the tucking and insurance would not cover this. Hmmm. I needed time to think.
God works in mysterious ways and solved my entire problem by allowing my kindergartener son to bring home the most vicious stomach virus I have ever encountered. The virus lurked in hidden corners and became the real life boogie man. I cleaned in a mask and gloves and washed linens, pillows, towels, robes, etc with the vigilance of a woman possessed.
I still got it. Oh I got it. I got it so violently that I popped a hernia because my ab muscles couldn’t hold my dear insides where they needed to be. I thought it was my last straw. I cried. I had had it. I was beside myself with that hernia. Here is what a hernia with diastasis recti looks like.
I saw a surgeon, Dr. Wes Powell in Pasadena, CA. Dr. Powell had trained a new technique where he could make a small incision and fix both my hernia and my diastasis recti with the help of a robot. My mind was blown. No hip to hip scar and a tummy tuck, just a laparoscopic robotic surgery, outpatient. I signed up as quickly as I could. It might as well have been a 5 star vacation I was signing up for. I could not WAIT for surgery to happen.
I bounced into the hospital the morning of surgery on May 2, chipper as one could be. Dr. Powell marked my belly to follow the diastasis path and I was ready to go. I chatted gleefully while wheeling back to the surgical site. The anesthesiologist was very kind and gave me a little something to relax and I remember nothing else. I awoke, recovered and learned how to use a surgical drain. I was fairly grossed out, but a woman on a mission and this was one step closer. I got home and snuck a peek at my belly. Hmmm, not exactly what I had envisioned; perhaps a little bit of panic snuck in but the pain pills knocked me out and I moved on with trust.
The recovery was a full 2 weeks in bed. The first week was painful. The second week was somewhat painful and really exhausting. I did make it to part of the Eric Church concert, with my surgical drain pinned into my dress. Once the surgical drain made its exit, I began slowly exercising. I could already feel the difference. My stomach was tight. I couldn’t stretch very far and coughing or laughing was excruciating, but I could feel progress. The anniversary of my 39th birthday came on May 22 and I knew I was going to be happy with the next year and my new fixed stomach.
Today is 9 weeks from surgery and I am thrilled. I have most of my range of motion back and I can laugh until I cry with my family and it doesn’t hurt, much. I am lifting weights and jogging slowly. In 3 weeks I can start to work my stomach muscles and build back up to heavier weights. Dr. Powell did it. He fixed my stomach. My belly button looks relatively normal and my days of googling belly button covers are gone. I feel strong with the surgery. I feel like me. I always appreciated my stomach, but I never fully appreciated my strong body, until I didn’t have it. I share this story because I promised myself if I ever fixed my diastasis recti I would help the next mummy with a tummy who is searching for a happy ending.