Imagine a woman who embraced plastic surgery for a few "nips and tucks" to help her out where nature couldn't. What does she look like? You may be imagining a blonde woman with unusually high, bulbous cheeks and a high, frozen forehead. Maybe she has unsightly balloon breasts, or an exaggerated Kim Kardashian booty.
I'm guessing you probably aren’t imagining me. But here I am with thousands of other mothers and "regular women" who have embraced surgery to help where exercise and diet could not.
To give you a little background, I had a baby nearly two years ago. During my pregnancy I spent hours looking at photos of women who had bounced back within several months of giving birth and I naively decided to be one of them. I did everything in my power to gain the exact amount of weight recommended, I ran until five months pregnant, I cut out caffeine and alcohol, I counted calories and ate an organic, gluten-free, sugar-free diet. When my OB cut me open during my C-section he exclaimed to the Physician's Assistant, "I've never seen so little abdominal fat!"
After surgery, I checked out of the hospital a day early, walked up the two flights of stairs to my apartment and immediately resumed my seven mile daily step count. The weight dropped off within a few months and I was in my pre-pregnancy clothes.
Still, something wasn't right. Backtrack to 3 months pregnant, when I noticed during a round of ab exercises that I had a bulge in the center of my stomach. I did some reading and discovered a common condition called diastasis recti which is the weakening of the linea alba holding your rectus abdominus muscles together.
In layman's terms, when a woman gets pregnant, the ab muscles associated with a six-pack are stretched to accommodate a growing fetus. That stretching pulls on the connective tissue between the muscles (the linea alba) and creates a "gap" in the middle. Usually this starts to occur after month 5, when everything is really beginning to stretch. For me, it appeared within 12 weeks.
Once the gap reaches two to three fingers’ width, it's typically diagnosed as a "real" diastasis. I, personally, could shove my entire fist into my abdominal cavity from sternum to pelvis by the time I gave birth. Because I noticed the separation early, I followed all the rules: I avoided ab exercises, I never sat up from a laying position and instead rolled over to prop myself up from the side. I didn't do planks, I started the Tupler Method (didn't work) and the Mutu System (failed miserably).
When I asked the three different OB-GYNs at my practice if I should be concerned, they all said the same thing, "Our bodies are designed for birth, everything that needs to go back, will." For a problem that afflicts at least 30% of pregnant and postpartum women, I was given precious little information except "Don't worry, it's mostly cosmetic."
So I looked for support. I read all of the posts on "loving your mom bod."I spent night feedings looking up #bodypo pictures on Instagram. I told myself I had just given birth and I tried to feel something akin to appreciation for my body.
The internet had told me I'd bounce back. When I didn't, the internet told me to shut up and love myself. The women I encountered told me that after enough time passed, I'd feel like myself again. The doctors I asked told me it was "normal" and would "heal."
None of the above was true for me and I have a sneaking suspicion there are other women out there who feel the same.
Cue plastic surgery.
It took me months to finally stumble on an the article that changed my life—a story from a woman who had opted for surgery to close her diastasis. Now, I'm a person who refuses to take Tylenol for a headache. I rely on yogurt for yeast infections and don't wash my hair more than once a week because, you know, chemicals. After reading that article, it took me about five minutes to decide to join the 116,352 people a year who have abdominoplasties, a.k.a. tummy tucks.
The internet had told me I'd bounce back. When I didn't, the internet told me to shut up and love myself.
For the fifth most popular cosmetic procedure in America, tummy tucks are woefully misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, they have nothing to do with weight loss (although the procedure is often coupled with liposuction) and isn't recommended for people whose weight fluctuates greatly or who may have another child. Thankfully, I fit the bill and decided to go full steam ahead with surgery.
Most of my friends still maintained the same mantra, "You look great for having a baby!" But I didn't want to look great for having a baby. I wanted to look like myself.
I wanted to feel like myself: strong, capable, and without jiggles. So I found a board certified surgeon in Miami for a reasonable price and kept the whole plan a secret until I was cut open and stitched back together again.
Here's what happens during the procedure (warning, this may make you queasy): My surgeon cut a 12-inch incision from hip to hip right below where a bikini bottom would fall. He sliced a perfect little circle around my belly button and then then tented my abdominal skin, leaving my belly button attached to my body below. With my skin out of the way, he sewed my abs back together from right between the bottom of my breasts all the way to my pelvic region.
He then cut about 7 inches of flesh from the bottom of my tented skin flap and poked a new hole where my belly button would now be. He laid the skin flap down reattached my belly button in its new hole and then sewed the whole thing down along the original incision.
At least that's how I understand it—I was dead asleep with anesthesia the entire time. When I finally woke up, I was drugged, groggy and half naked. The nurses yanked my dress on, unloaded me on my husband and waved goodbye as I stumbled to the car. Unlike surgeries done in hospitals, patients who opt for a surgeon with an independent outpatient facility do not stay overnight.
And then the healing began. For the first three days my pain level was a solid 8 out of 10. The narcotics prescribed for me did nothing, so I switched to ibuprofen at the end of day three and felt a modicum of relief for the first time. I went back to work at 10 days and had to take frequent breaks to lay on the floor with my feet in the air because supporting myself in a sitting position was too physically demanding.
For five weeks I stood at a 90-degree angle because my skin was too tight to straighten up. I wasn't allowed to pick up my 18-month-old son or my laptop until six weeks. At eight weeks I was still incapable of exercise or laying flat on my stomach. Thanks to a yoga instructor friend, I finally started getting my range of motion back at nine weeks and ran for the first time at 10 weeks.
For reference, that's two-and-a-half months of not being able to function normally, while parenting a toddler and working full-time. The whole process was the antithesis of the image I previously had of a posh woman who opted for surgery over actual work. I was the patient of a plastic surgeon and nothing about it was glamorous or easy.
However, when I finally ran for the first time at 10 weeks, I noticed something miraculous. I could see my toes. There was no pooch obscuring my view of the ground. My hips were steady because I had core muscles holding my body in place. My knee that had drifted inwards over the last several months was slightly more straight. My back didn't hurt. My shirt didn't pull around a midsection that puffed out.
I was flat. I was stronger. I was in control of my body again.
When I went home that day, I put on a dress I hadn't worn since I got pregnant and I knew it was worth it. All the body positivity that people tried to force on me pre-surgery, came naturally in a flood of gratitude.
I will never look exactly like I did before having a baby. I'm not sure anyone ever does. And I may not look like the woman you imagine when you think of plastic surgery. But I do know this: I've joined the ranks of thousands of average women who have solved a very real problem with surgery.
We are real, we are here, and I, for one, am so thankful to be amongst them.