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Here's What a Post-Baby Tummy Tuck Really Feels Like

Photograph by Getty Images

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.

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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 by AP 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

"My 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.

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3. Decide if the price is worth it to you

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 muscles."

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