After I had my first baby, I expected the usual few months of post partum “mummy tummy.” I expected my newly outie belly button to go back to the innie I was used to. Stretch marks could stay or go, but I was OK with that, since they weren’t too bad. Months passed, and I still looked several months pregnant. I admittedly had a lot of shrinking to do. While I was pregnant, my belly looked like a torpedo, sticking straight out in front. You couldn’t tell I was pregnant from looking at me from behind, but from the front and sides – oh boy! One checkout girl at a sandwich shop hit the nail on the head when she said (in her thick mexican accent), “You got a BIG ONE!”
So, to sum up so far, my belly grew to enormous proportions during my pregnancy, and never shrunk back to anywhere near its normal, unpregnant state. About 6 months after I had my baby, I turned to the internet for help. I found a book called “Loose your Mummy Tummy,” by Julie Tupler. It had great reviews and seemed to be the best one out for this kind of “situation.” I ordered the book, read through most of it, and learned that I had a diastasis recti, A.K.A. “mummy tummy.” (Fun fact: anyone can develop a diastasis recti, whether they’ve had a baby or not, even men.) Here’s how Julie Tupler explains it:
The word diastasis means separation. So a diastasis recti is a separation of the rectus abdominis or the outermost abdominal muscles. When the muscles separate, the connective tissue that joins them stretches sideways. The more it stretches sideways the thinner and weaker it becomes.
OK, so now I knew what the problem was, and that it would probably not fix itself over time. I did a few of the exercises, but I found the book a little confusing. It describes several different exercises and I wasn’t sure where to start. My half-hearted attempt didn’t really do anything except make me more hopeless that I could ever get my body back to normal. I stopped wearing fitted tops. I couldn’t really wear dresses because they all just made me look pregnant. I tried to come to terms with my new post-baby body.
Dun dun dun DUN! Baby number two came along. Planned, so no drama there. My already stretched to the max belly got EVEN BIGGER with this pregnancy. I was pretty consistently a couple months bigger than with my first (I have pictures to prove it). After I delivered my second baby, the hospital gave me a wrap/binder to help shrink me. It actually seemed to work pretty well. For a little while. I got to a point where the binder wasn’t really small enough to squeeze me anymore. But I STILL had a mummy tummy. I still looked several months pregnant. I pulled out my Mummy Tummy book from time to time, gave it a few more half-hearted tries, saw no results (not that I put much into it) and got more and more hopeless.
Beginning a couple months after baby number two was born, I was having some pain in my belly button and in a straight line out to the right side of my belly button. I went to my OB to get checked out. He diagnosed me with an umbilical hernia. He confirmed that I also had a diastasis recti. He said I’d need surgery to repair the hernia, and that the only way to fix the diastasis recti was to have a tummy tuck. He sent me to a General Surgeon for the hernia. The General Surgeon gave me the same info I got from my OB. The hernia operation would be a small operation, but I’d have to be knocked out, and I couldn’t nurse for 12 to 24 hours after. Having nursed my first baby for 18 months, I planned to nurse my second baby for at least a year. She never took a bottle, so facing surgery, recovery, finding someone to help take care of the kids, pumping to store up a 24+ hour supply of milk (to be safe), AND getting my baby to take a bottle…all added up to a very distressed mama. (There are other details in here about what I found regarding nursing after a surgery, but I’ll leave that alone for now.)
I had kind of a slow and steady nervous breakdown over a several day period. I started having more pain, and I was terrified that my hernia was going to get incarcerated (that makes me giggle every time…like my hernia’s being thrown into prison). So I tried to get seen by the surgeon, but of course, it was a Friday! Long story short, I ended up going back in to my OB that afternoon. He told me it still seemed fine (not incarcerated), but that I should get it repaired ASAP. Back to the surgeon the following Tuesday. I started crying before he even came into the exam room. Nervous breakdown was still brewing. When he came into the room, I burst into tears. He grabbed the tissues and suggested (very nicely, I really wasn’t offended) that maybe I was depressed and that I go see this particular doctor because I didn’t have to live this way. Once we got past all that, he said I could wait on the hernia repair until after my move (YES, one more thing adding to the situation was that we were buying a house and moving in a few weeks). He said he sometimes teamed up with a Plastic Surgeon to do a hernia repair/tummy tuck, because, just like my OB, he said the only way to fix the diastasis recti was with a tummy tuck.
OK, doctor number three: Plastic Surgeon. I know and love several people who have had one or another kind of plastic surgery, but it has NEVER been anything I could see myself doing. Just never made sense to me why you’d go through the pain, risk, and expense of surgery just to make yourself look better. Personal opinion. Not passing judgement on anyone else’s decision. But I had read that repairing an umbilical hernia and not repairing the diastasis could lead to a recurrence of the hernia. Also, since the diastasis leaves your organs held in by basically saran wrap, rather than a wall of muscle, I was concerned for my safety and health in the event I had any kind of abdominal trauma.
At some point between my last General Surgeon appointment and my Plastic Surgeon appointment, I ordered the Tupler Technique – the whole shabang! DVD, guidebook, abdominal splint, and dyna band. More about this later…
So, I saw the Plastic Surgeon. This was just a horrifying (but pretty humorous) experience for so many reasons. A story for another time. Basically, the doctor AND nurse both basically rolled their eyes at me when I asked about repairing my diastasis with exercise. It seemed like they were tired of people thinking this was an option. Like fixing a diastasis with exercise was some unicorn pipe dream. I got the usual “you can do all the crunches you want, honey, but it’s not going to do anything” response. I didn’t give any rebuttal, because it was obvious that they didn’t know much about using this proposed method of exercise to repair a diastasis recti. I managed to make it through the appointment without puking, and decided against the tummy tuck. The PS said that because my umbilical stump was so stretched out, I wasn’t at a very high risk of incarceration, I decided to put off my hernia repair for at least a few weeks and to see what progress I could make on my own using the Tupler Technique. Quite ironically, my Tupler Technique products arrived in the mail just a couple hours after my PS visit. Foreshadowing, perhaps?
So, enter Tupler Technique magical unicorn box delivered to my very own doorstep. Halleluia, let the angels sing! I sat on the couch looking at this small (much smaller than I had expected), plain, brown, cardboard box. Could this really be the answer I had been praying for? Would I prove all three doctors wrong and NOT need a horrific surgery to repair my diastasis recti? Or would the whole thing be a sham, do nothing to repair my diastasis, and prove the doctors right, leading me back down the road to either surgery or a life with my poor, hopeless mummy tummy?
Ready for more? Read Part Two here.