It’s mind blowing to think that two-and-a-half months ago, I was experiencing the start of a new chapter! I am 11 weeks post op from a surgery to correct my diastasis recti and umbilical hernia and let me tell you: I have never felt better!
I can officially go on record as saying that this surgery was the best decision of my life. It was 14 days of baaaaaaad. Another week of icky. And by the start of the fourth week, I was in a decent place. By six weeks, I was pretty much back to business. And now, at 11, I barely remember any of that. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: the weeks of absolute terror before the surgery where I couldn’t speak, eat, sleep, poop, or function in any way were SO MUCH MORE debilitating than the actual recovery from this surgery. Recovery is not easy and there’s absolutely no way you could do it without help, but once that hump has been jumped, there’s really no looking back.
A bunch of women on this Facebook mom group I’m on started a whole thread about tummy tucks and fixing the mommy pooch. A bunch of them said they were too nervous to do such a big surgery, but I pep talked to the max because I, of all people, know the terror that takes over when the thought of this surgery enters the brain, but I’m also here to say “I DID IT!!!” And though I was in pain for some time and it was the least convenient thing to happen to my family, it is something I will never regret especially since I’m only 33 years old and didn’t want to live with chronic back pain, abdominal sensitivity, and difficulty playing with my kids and students on the floor.
As moms, we all deserve to feel whole and complete, so that’s why I’ve adopted the attitude that every mom should find a way to have this surgery if she needs it! Really! I wish I could give tummy tucks to everyone. YOU GET A TUMMY TUCK! YOU GET A TUMMY TUCK! EVERYONE GETS A TUMMY TUUUUUUUUCK! I’m like the Oprah of tummy tucks now.
My back pain completely disappeared around week 4. It took a while to tell because the first few weeks after surgery, I had really horrible lower back pain, but just as my docs had warned me, it was super temporary due to hunching over from the tightness in my abdomen. Since I couldn’t stand up straight for about three weeks, my lower back was very achey and unsupported. But as soon as I started standing and walking normally again, the lower back pain went away and that’s when I realized that the middle back pain I’d had for five years had completely lifted away. Like Mary Poppins floating over London with her umbrella, my back pain just dissipated into thin air. Funny how all it takes is muscles arranged in the correct place to make your body happy. I have pep in my step again. I’m back at Pilates with Maya several times a week and I can feel myself getting stronger. Soon I’ll be able to do exercises I couldn’t do at all before the surgery because my abdominal muscles were so broken beyond non-surgical repair that proper form was impossible. This is so exciting to me!
And then there’s the superficial part. I’m digging deeeeeeeep into my closet to wear clothes I never thought I’d wear again. I can shop in pretty much any department now. Pants fit properly. I CAN WEAR PANTS. Like, non-yoga ones! However, I still wear yoga pants on the regular because I am experiencing normal swelling that comes and goes for the first six months post op. So while I can fit into jeans now, I am not comfortable in them after a few hours and at the end of the day, it looks like a denim tourniquet had been strangling my middle. But still! I can get them on! I’m waiting a few more months before I do a whole closet makeover. That’ll be fun! And expensive. Oops.
And then there’s the bikini.
I had removed that word from my vocabulary for many years. While this was never the goal or even an idea in my head, I’m sort of thinking I might wear one this summer. Maybe. I don’t know. But I could. And that’s pretty cool.
I’ve learned a lot in the last 11 weeks since my surgery and I want to make a list of tips in case anyone reading this feels they’re flirting with the idea or teetering on going through with it. Surgery isn’t necessary for everyone. Diastasis recti isn’t a problem until it’s a problem. There’s nothing wrong with a separation between the abdominal muscles; many people function just fine with this condition. But when exercises to close it don’t work, or there’s pain, or an umbilical hernia is involved, surgery is likely the only choice. And this is when I say in my Micro Machines commercial voice: “Consult with your doctor. This is not medical advice and you should not make medical decisions based on words written by a silly mommy with a blog.”
* A table at your recliner or bedside should include all your medications including stool softeners, water with flexi straws, arnica tablets, TV and fan remote, phone chargers, drains measuring journal with a pen, Aquaphor and non-stick pads for daily belly button dressing, and lots of pillow options.
* Wear tops that button so you don’t have to take shirts off over your head which require you to lift arms and twist more than you’d like. Robes are key since you won’t be able to wear anything on the bottom easily due to drain tubes in the way. h
* Colace AND Senokot are gifts from God. Also, flushable wipes. ‘Nuff said. (For me, it was Day 5 and it was fine).
* If you’re recovering in a bed, prop pillows under your knees and behind your back so you rest and sleep in a beach chair position to take stress off your incision.
* TAKE YOUR DRUGS. Don’t be a hero. For the first week, I took my Percocet and ibuprofen around the clock as prescribed. The Percs made me drowsy and I drifted in and out of sleep all day, but I knew as soon as they were about to leave my system. Bryan set alarm clocks for me to take my meds even during the night. It was like taking care of a newborn all over again. I was never in any surgical pain because I stayed ahead of the pain. By the second week, I stayed ahead of the pain only during the day and slept through the night. By the start of the third week, I was off all medication. The only pain I had was intense soreness when moving and getting in and out of bed.
* A walker and shower chair will save you. You must stand and walk after surgery to avoid blood clots in your legs and to practice moving (the more you move — slowly and easily — the sooner you’ll recover). A walker helps alleviate lower back pain due to inevitable hunching and a shower chair makes showers more relaxed and less panicked.
* Wear your binder at all times except in the shower. It takes a few days to get the right feeling of tightness and it requires assistance (Bryan is a professional binder wrapper now). Most docs send their patients home wearing a binder.
* I slept on my back for five weeks. Then tried my side as my flanks and hips were less swollen and painful. I started sleeping on my stomach again at about nine weeks. My body knew when it was comfortable.
* I lifted nothing for six weeks and did no housework for six weeks. A complete and total momcation was required. Thankfully, Bryan works from home and was able to help immensely and both sets of grandparents were on deck to assist with the girls.
* I was off work between Thanksgiving and New Year’s due to the nature of my work schedule and school calendar, but I’m glad I took all that time as my job requires me to bend over to low desks and be on my feet all day. I also didn’t drive for about five weeks. Even though I was off narcotics at two weeks and could legally drive, it wasn’t until I started driving that I realized I was still tender and sore. Getting in and out of the car, you don’t realize how often you bump into arm rests or seatbelt receivers or the steering wheel. Also, turning to look requires minor twisting of the torso which can pull the very tight abdominal muscles. Even though you may feel better, your mobility is still a challenge and movement within the car is tricky.
* Maternity leggings are a lifesaver. It seems backwards — a tummy tuck and I’m back in maternity pants? — but the high rise flap allows for the absence of waistbands on and around the incision or swollen areas. This is so much more comfortable. I wear these leggings every few days to give my body a break when tight yoga pants or jeans do a number on my recovering body which often times feels like a roller coaster. So if you have any maternity leggings left, save them! I sold most of my maternity clothes, but I’m glad I kept a couple of these leggings.
* Protein, protein, protein. It aids in healing wounds and muscle. I started to consume a lot of protein during my c-section infection recovery after Madelyn was born, and I noticed a significant difference when I started heavy protein. I did the same after this surgery and I believe it helped get me on my feet faster. I didn’t actually have much of an appetite for a couple weeks, but drinks like Boost or Ensure contain extra protein and taste really good (love the chocolate Boost!), so I sipped those (with a flexi straw! So I wouldn’t have to sit up to drink) when I didn’t feel like eating.
* Shave ice was super refreshing the first few days after surgery. My mother-in-law brought it over a few times, and it felt great on my throat which was sore from being intubated. If you don’t have a shave ice place nearby, I recommend smoothies or Slurpees. Don’t be surprised when you sound like you have vocal fry for the first couple days after surgery. It goes away after about two sleeps!
* Take pictures daily for the first two weeks. It’s fascinating to see the changes, watch bruises fade, observe the healing of a new belly button, and admire the work of art that you now are! After about two weeks, I started taking weekly photos. It’s kind of like pregnancy week by week, but the opposite direction. #goals
I’ve been so lucky to go through this journey with some strangers who’ve become Tummy Tuck Sisters to me. We are in a group together and we keep each other updated throughout our healing process. One of my friends from the Chicago area even had this bracelet made for us to commemorate going through with this in the name of bettering our bodies back to a healthy status. Support isn’t just important for the abs. Support is important for the mind and heart. And thankfully, I’ve received nothing but loving support from family and friends in addition to other women who are considering tummy tucks or who are on the other side of one.
For me, it has never been about vanity. It was always about empowerment to be able to use my body the way it’s supposed to work. And I’m on a serious mission now to empower other women to find a way to make this surgery work for them if they’re a candidate. Diastasis recti is such a common condition and it’s a problem for so many people. Once a mom recognizes she has it, she needs a team of people cheering her on. Thanks to my family and friends, my Pilates instructor, and my fabulous plastic surgeons and their staff, I have never felt better.