Diastasis Recti: a separation of your outermost abdominal muscles. The job of these muscles (called rectus abdominis), is to support your back and your organs.
Umbilical hernia: a sac (pouch) formed from the inner lining of your belly (abdominal cavity) that pushes through a hole in the abdominal wall at the belly button.
Shame: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute
Me: all of the above
Five months ago, my sweet Miriam Jane was born. She was actually my smallest baby, born at just 6lbs, 14oz.
Many of you may remember my complaint towards the end of this fourth full-term pregnancy that my upper mid-section was burning all day, every day, without rest. I went on to find out that I had developed diastasis recti, an abdominal separation that is common among women of short stature and having multiple pregnancies (or multiple babies in a single pregnancy). This pic is me at 38 weeks. Miriam Jane made her debut just four days later.
During my quick check in the hospital after delivering, one of the doctors advised that I have my abdomen checked well at my six-week postpartum appointment, and until that point, take it easy. When I went in, they recommended that I continue to wear a belly band and forgo all exercise for an additional eight weeks. That’s fourteen weeks postpartum of no exercise. They also informed me that, in addition to having at least a 3 cm separation, I had an umbilical hernia. My doctor suggested I see a surgeon and warned me against doing any core exercise that could exacerbate the issues.
I left my appointment feeling so discouraged. Not only did I find it sickening that a part of my body that was supposed to stay intact on the inside was oozing through to the outside, but the thought of surgical repair scared me to death. Realize, I have had four natural births, zero epidurals, no c-sections… The closest I’ve ever gotten to a real surgery was a D&C after losing EJ, and, other than anesthesia, I would consider it a pretty easy/non-life-threatening procedure. I don’t do surgery, friends. I am terrified.
A friend of a friend recently messaged me a detailed description of her surgery. I had to open it about six times to make it all the way through. I kept getting queasy just reading about it. As much as I’d love a nip and a tuck to heal and flatten this pooch out…I can’t.
So, like any chicken would do, I vowed to watch it just heal and melt away. Amen.
Yep. Not happening.
Granted, my diet lately hasn’t helped (way too many sweets), and I am pretty sure that I’m one of those breastfeeding moms whose body hangs onto weight rather than burns it away, because I am still 25 lbs heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight, and it hasn’t budged by even a pound in four months.
I never had any problems like this before. Just my natural activity had done wonders after my previous deliveries. Between running around after the kids and good eating habits, I could always get back to my normal weight/shape fairly easily.
This is me just five months after having Eden Grace. No tricks, no diet programs, gym memberships, belly bands, or workout videos. This is just how my body bounced back before. I call it the “I am a busy mom of three” regimen. You know the one…you have coffee for breakfast, get to eat a handful of blueberries for lunch, devour a healthy dinner in 45.7 seconds, and you never sit down…
Notice, my “mommy tummy” was relatively small, especially in comparison to my stomach now. The “I am an even busier mom of four” regimen isn’t working, and according to what I’ve read on diastasis recti…it’s never going to. I have to be more intentional this time, more focused.
Those closest to me already knew about my stomach’s condition, so they’ve never said anything in naivete. Unlike strangers, they’ve never judged me as lazy, pregnant, large, or alcoholic.
That was a new one for me.
We went to visit my brother and his family in WV this past weekend and ended up having to take one of our daughters to MedExpress for a suspected UTI. We left Ava and Eden with my sister-in-law, and hubs and I took Isla and Miriam with us to see the doctor. Hubs dropped the three of us off and ran some errands, expecting to be back before we were even called into the room.
If you’ve been to a MedExpress, then you know that you check in, sit and wait, and then you go to another window to verify information, sign a couple of forms and pay your co-pay. We had already been waiting for some time when we were finally called to the billing window. The only other people in the waiting area consisted of a woman (by herself) and a married couple (probably in their late 70s). It was quiet and peaceful. I had just had a nice, heartfelt conversation with the staff member at the billing window, and I returned to our seats feeling totally at peace with the moment. Isla, before returning to coloring a picture of Elsa that I had brought along, stopped to coo over Miriam, who was pleasantly hanging out in her carseat.
The elderly woman made a comment to me across the rows noting how much Isla loves her baby sister. “Yes,” I replied. “She’s one of four, and she’s by far the most nurturing.” Then, I sat down next to Isla, who had returned to her artwork.
That’s when I heard the man’s whispers. Apparently, he didn’t know how to whisper very well.
She must drink a lot of beer. (brief pause) Why else would she have a belly like that?
His wife in quiet rebuttal:
She did say she had four kids.
And when I heard the wife’s response, I knew it was me. Initially, I just thought he was talking about someone else. A friend, a family member… I just thought they were resuming a conversation that was taking place while I was at the window. I was wrong, of course, and when it clicked, something snapped in my spirit. I felt it. It was a dead-emptiness that suddenly took over all of my thoughts, and I felt such…shame.
I never, ever felt that way before.
Beer belly? I never even drink. Like never. It’s kind of a joke between one of my friends and I that she’s going to find me a wine that I can drink, because I honestly hate the taste of alcohol.
I know, you might be thinking: What’s the big deal? If I were you, I would’ve turned around and said x,y,z… Who cares, right?
I tried thinking those things too. I almost turned around and explained my condition, but I didn’t. I just sat there, in my cloud of shame and hurt feelings.
My husband walked in just as the nurse called Isla back to see the doctor.
When I told him about the whispers later on, I broke down into tears.
After consoling me, he joked, “You should’ve told them that you drink a case a day and you were drunk right then. How else can you stay sane with all of those kids?” I told him that I’d be dealing with a whole other can of worms, but I appreciated his humor.
Fast-forward to two days later. Isla had her follow-up with her regular pediatrician, and then I took her fabric shopping with me in a fun, upscale neighborhood nearby. Since I was pricing fabric for an upcoming wedding, I spent a great deal of time speaking with the shop employee. She was so kind and helpful, so our conversation eventually turned personal with her telling me about her daughter just having a baby boy. Then it came. The naive and innocent dagger.
Looking directly at Isla, she said:
It looks like your mommy is going to have a baby too!
And the automatic response came quickly:
No, I just had one.
Just had one… How long can that possibly work? Five months, eight months, a year? Just is reserved for newbies. I am quickly crossing that imaginary line, if I haven’t crossed it already.
So, I did what I do. Left the shop with a smile and a “thank you”, and took Isla to the local coffee shop, where I drowned my hurt in a blended caramel latte and a double chocolate biscotti. Counter-productive, huh? I know.
Since then, I’ve had a few more cries, I’ve googled a lot, I’ve called my ob/gyne doctor, and I’ve decided to buckle down and take care of this problem. I’m still trying to avoid surgery, and luckily, my hernia is umbilical, so bringing my abdominal muscles back together should also remedy the hernia.
I have created a Pinterest board to keep all of the information I find in one place. I am also looking into the Tupler Technique (aff. link). I’ll keep you posted on that. The burning pain is less noticeable, but still present, so I am going to be more diligent in wearing a belly band and remaining aware of my posture throughout the day.
As far as the shame part, I’d just appreciate your prayers. I know that until I am able to flatten up, the comments and questions are probably going to keep coming. Please, be kind to those moms you see out there whose postpartum bellies are still hanging around. They just might be facing the mother of all tummy troubles too.