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My friend Tara (not her real name) didn't gain a ton of
weight with her two pregnancies and she quickly returned to her pre-preggo
weight. But while her arms, legs and ass all bounced back, her stomach did not.
"When our son was 6 months old, I still looked pregnant," she says. It's a popular lament among moms, except for the "I also felt like I could feel my organs
through a separation in the middle" part that Tara was experiencing.
As it turns out, Tara had a
diastasis recti (DR), a pulling apart of the two large parallel rectus abdominis
muscles that run from the top to the bottom of the belly. DR occurs in almost every
pregnant woman to some degree as the uterus grows, forcing the abdominal
organs up and pushes the muscles out. (Whoever said pregnancy isn't glamorous?)
Most DRs heal after delivery, although our muscles never close back up 100
percent—not even in celeb moms with standup paddleboard-flat abs. But for
many women, a space remains. Health care professionals measure the separation
with fingers; a space of two to four fingers' width can leave you vulnerable to
strangers asking when you're due—even though your baby is already crawling.
The frustrating part? No amount of weight loss will make
it disappear. In fact, crunches and Pilates can make it worse. Just ask Tara,
whose tummy looked more or less normal in the early morning but after intense
abdominal work or yoga resembled a second-trimester belly (her description, not
mine). Salty food and sparkling water also made her appear bloated.
Exercise programs exist that are designed to close the ab separation (Tupler Technique and MuTu are two examples) but they didn't work for Tara.
"I did MuTu religiously for eight months and it definitely shrunk the gap a bit, but I'd do yoga—even modified yoga—and the gap would just reopen," she explains.
I just wanted my back pain gone, to be able to exercise, to be able to lift my kids again.
What will fix a
DR? Surgery. Namely, a tummy tuck.
Tara is not a "tummy tuck kind of girl," if you catch her drift. And I do; normally we associate tummy tucks with famous actresses who have the kind of career pressure and cash flow that demand or allow that sort of pricey elective procedure. But Tara and her husband live modestly: she's a part-time teacher; he's a medical resident with loans to pay; they have two young kids. The average tummy tuck costs more than $5,000 and isn't covered by insurance, even if being done to correct a DR.
Above: "Kate Plus Eight" star Kate Gosselin's tummy tuck after delivering sextuplets.Photographs byAP Photo/Daniel Shanken/INFphoto.com.
Tara is not a vain person. She didn't want to run around in
crop tops and skintight tanks. She just wanted people to stop asking her when
her nonexistent third baby was coming. And, perhaps even more importantly, she
was developing crippling back pain as a result of her DR—spasms so bad that
she could barely hold her 8-pound nephew, let alone her 28-pound son.
"I didn't go in thinking I would get my bikini body back. I just
wanted my back pain gone, to be able to exercise, to be able to lift my kids
again," she said.
So she saw a gynecologic physical therapist as well as
her ob-gyn, both of whom confirmed her Google self-diagnosis. When physical therapy
and DR exercises didn't work, she made an appointment with a plastic surgeon.
The surgeon was optimistic that
he could help her, but he was upfront about the fact that A) it would require
general anesthesia, B) she would be out of commission for a few weeks afterwards
and C) she would be left with a scar spanning from hip bone to hip bone. Tara and
her husband decided to move ahead, viewing it as a quality-of-life decision.
Here's her before-and-after shot:
What does a $10,000 tummy tuck
feel like? In T's words:
"The surgery was two hours. The pain felt similar to my C-sections
afterwards—coughing or laughing hurt and I couldn't sit up on my own—but I
was actually way less able to move around or stand up straight. I was hunched-over 24/7. The pain was manageable with meds, but we needed lots of help.
Thankfully, my parents took the kids for the first five days, and then we all
moved in with them for another week.
"I had drains coming out of my body for three days and was told
I'd be swollen for up to three months. But less than one week in, my stomach
already looked flatter. And now, at one-and-a-half months post-op, I have zero back
pain, I can feel my abdominal wall. It looks as good as I had imagined it would
look. My scar is ginormous, but it doesn't matter to me if I never wear a bikini
again. I just wanted my core back. And the truth is, I could wear a bikini if I
wanted to. The right bottoms would cover the scar."
A nice bonus: Her breasts look
perkier, now that there's a clear distinction between her chest and her belly.
Tara and her husband joke that she scored a free boob job with her tummy tuck.
Considering a tummy tuck? Tara offers a few tips:
1. Don't underestimate the recovery period
Plan for one to two weeks off of work. Make childcare
arrangements in advance. Lean on family and friends.
2. Research your surgeon
ob-gyn said that [basically] all plastic surgeons are
qualified to perform a tummy tuck, so shop around," Tara said. See if there's one who is
a better fit for you personality-wise or cost-wise. Tara went with one who
performs a special muscle cauterizing technique for enhanced recovery, and she
found him through referrals on a local parenting website.
Tara's husband had to put his medical school loans on forbearance
for a few months to make the surgery work, and they are now striving to
replenish their savings. But for them, this was an investment in her health. "There are women with $10,000
engagement rings. I'm not one of them. I'd much rather have $10,000 abdominal