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the two little lights in my world (Dylan and Mei), currently 5 and 2 years old
As a fashion blogger, sometimes I feel like being a mom can be glamorized and the struggles and changes to our bodies aren’t talked about enough. I know that as I adjusted into motherhood, I adjusted into a new sense of normal for my body and was surprised to find that it was even different after every one of my pregnancies. Kids are an absolute joy and miracle, yet what I didn’t realize before I had my own children was just how much your own body changed as a result and what that struggle looked like. I am putting myself out there and will readily admit that I doubted whether I wanted these pictures to be on the internet. Know that I am as vulnerable as anybody else. At the end of it it all, I know that being vulnerable can also be powerful. I sincerely hope that this will bring light to an issue that many women face, especially for many of us mothers out there.
#1: First, just a bit of background on my 2 pregnancies. My first pregnancy happened much more quickly then we expected which we were so grateful for, but it quickly became a rollercoaster of emotions. After the first few weeks of first-trimester nausea passed, at 13 weeks pregnant I suffered an hemorrhage in my uterus and was admitted into the ER for bleeding. Several hours and ultrasounds later, it was determined that the baby was ok and I just had a subchorionic hemorrhage (SCH), or . My case wasn’t too bad but it did instantly classify my pregnancy as “high risk” and my doctor had me on bed rest as much as possible. I have always been an active person and a part of me had done so much research beforehand as I had wanted to still stay fit throughout my pregnancy, but of course it all went out the window as I was, of course, willing to do whatever was best for the baby.
first pregnancy: 35 weeks pregnant
I continued to bleed til almost the very end of the pregnancy and didn’t do anything much more than just light walking. My fitness levels obviously declined significantly at the end of it all, but honestly I just couldn’t have been more grateful that I had my beautiful healthy baby. (I do have a full post on my subchorionic hemorrhage experience if you’re interested in reading more.) I gained under 30 pounds total throughout that first pregnancy but lost quite a bit of muscle. I was diligent with stretch mark oils and luckily didn’t get any stretch marks that first time pregnancy, and was even more surprised to find that my stomach actually did mostly bounce back to normal a few months post-pregnancy.
Even from my first pregnancy, I had a slight “mommy pooch” under my belly button that I attributed to the extra 5 pounds that I was never able to shed when it came to getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight. When you’re petite, you tend to notice every pound sometimes! I used a postpartum recovery belt to try and get everything to shrink back but didn’t see any difference after using it for over 2 months. I resumed working out again but continued to be frustrated just seeing how “soft” I was overall. Frustrated, this was when I also decided I needed to switch up my workouts from doing almost exclusively yoga to adding in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio and strength workouts. I went on sugar detoxes, cut out processed foods, and event went Paleo for awhile yet still at the end, my lower belly was now my new problem area.
3-weeks postpartum – wearing Sakura Bloom ring sling (similar)
#2: I got pregnant the second time around and this time really stayed in tune with my body and backed off pre-emptively when it came to my workouts. This second pregnancy was completely different from my first as it was significantly easier on me from a physical standpoint and I loved that I actually was able to continue working out throughout the entire 9 months under coach supervision. But, if you look back at pictures of me when I was pregnant, my belly was enormous. It’s true that your body remembers being pregnant and I felt like even at 3 months my belly looked like I was 6-month pregnant! My belly button never really “popped” with my first pregnancy yet popped before I even reached the third trimester for my second pregnancy.
second pregnancy: 38-weeks pregnant
I was also pregnant with my baby girl (Mei) and she liked to sit higher and thus stretched out the thinner skin at the top of my belly which resulted in stretch marks despite my same diligence in stretch mark oils. Once I delivered and was cleared for exercise again, I couldn’t wait to get back at it. My same gym offered “mommy + me” classes that offered childcare and I attended consistently 3-5 times a week yet found that I had an even more difficult time bouncing back this second time around. I also used a different postpartum girdle that seemed to get better review in the hopes that it all would help me get my body back to its original shape, but unfortunately it could only do so much.
I have been a good 10 pounds on average above my ideal weight after my second pregnancy and my body definitely responded completely different when it came to bouncing back. That “mommy pooch” was much more noticeable and stubborn. I love my workouts and eat pretty clean yet I still couldn’t escape looking completely bloated / pregnant by the end of the day. I’ve definitely made huge progress when it comes to my fitness journey and yet I also knew that I basically could only take pictures when it included abs first thing in the morning as my body would instantly bloat and look pregnant once I had any food in me. I even had myself tested for food allergies, eat completely dairy free and for a time even went gluten free when I was eating paleo to see if that would make a difference, but unfortunately nothing made a difference. It wasn’t until I saw a doctor for my back issue that I realized the problem was my abdominal wall was just completely stretched out!
I still remember this picture as I hadn’t eaten anything in over 18 hours to make sure my abs were flat and bumped up the exposure so you couldn’t see my belly wrinkles!
My Diastatis Recti (Abdominal Muscle Separation) Diagnosis
I noticed early on postpartum both times that I would see a little ridge form in the middle of my abs whenever I tried to do a sit up. I eventually learned that that’s an indication of ab muscle separation. I actually distinctly remember about 4 months postpartum laying down on the floor with my gym coach and feeling my ab muscles with my fingers as we learned how to identify whether we had diastasis recti on ourselves. At the top ob my abs, I could fit about 1.5 fingers and at towards the middle I I actually fit 3 almost 4 fingers! I worked to rehab my diastasis recti and shared a guide I followed that made me much more aware of my pelvic floor and helped tighten my core muscles overall.
Unfortunately I started having back pain regularly and after going to see a doctor, it was essentially a side effect of my diastasis recti. My abdominal wall was weakened to a point where it wasn’t holding anything in and causing my back to overcompensate as a result. My ab muscles were still separated 2″ across at it’s widest point.
stomach right before surgery:
ab muscles split 3 fingers apart at the widest point
lots of belly button wrinkles and skin laxity plus a few stretch marks for good measure
Fixing Diastasis Recti – How I Decided On Abdominoplasty (“Tummy Tuck”)
Even after working to rehab my diastasis recti through various exercises and training programs, my abs had basically gotten to the point where they were close to their “best” as far as separation goes. Yet, I still had over a 3-finger separation and constantly felt bloated / looked pregnant by the end of the day. My abdominal wall had just basically quit on me after the stretching from 2 pregnancies and didn’t have the ability to hold anything in anymore. The solution would be to have surgery to stitch my abs back together and this procedure is done as part of abdominoplasty (or a “tummy tuck”). Even given my back pain, diastasis recti repair is considered an elective, cosmetic procedure and therefore not covered by insurance. I will admit that I was surprised to learn that I would basically need plastic surgery to fix what I thought was a medical necessity. It saddens me even more to realize that there may be so many women out there in a similar situation struggling with their post-baby bodies and can’t get the help they need only for financial reasons.
Fixing Diastasis Recti – Selecting the Right Surgeon and Team
For me, I needed relief from my back pain the most although I will admit I was happy about the fact that a tummy tuck procedure would help me lose all the stomach wrinkles, stretch marks, and lose that lower-belly “mommy pooch”! Getting a tummy tuck is major surgery so it was my top priority to find a highly skilled doctor that would give me the results I wanted and had a team that I could trust. There are different techniques when it comes to plastic surgery and each will provide different end results, recovery time, and even scar healing.
I made sure to search for one that was double-board certified, specialized in “mommy makeover” type surgeries, and had an extensive portfolio that I could view to see what I could expect when it came to a scar. Online reviews also of course made a huge difference and even when reading review sites like RealSelf, I was able to get an idea of the work from different doctors.
For me, I went with Dr. Michael Bogdan who is located out of Southlake here in the DFW area (#notsponsored in case you’re wondering). He had a passion about his work that I didn’t feel from talking with other doctors and I loved his easygoing yet somewhat nerdy nature that I really related to being an engineer myself. He had pictures of work he had done on those with similar body types and post-baby issues as mine and I was completely blown away with the results. Plus he provided extra post-op care to ensure successful scar healing and you could definitely tell the difference in the “after” pictures. There were even bikini fitness models that he had worked on before and they would be wearing the tiniest string bikini with really no visible scar to be seen. I loved that he could explain how that was accomplished in every case when I asked for details.
The abs are stitched together and tightened “like purse strings” and yet also in many of the pictures I saw of my doctor’s work on bikini fitness models, they had a defined “6-pack”. When I asked Dr. Bogdan how that was accomplished given the stitching process, he even told me some of his tricks that he’s personally learned over the years that he does in order to achieve that result — I was definitely impressed!
The surgery itself is a long story and so I will be having a separate surgery / recovery post going through those details. I will say at the end I was surprised to hear from Dr. Bogdan that my abs were stitched together a total of 8″!! It definitely explains a lot as far as all the bloating I experienced up from post-pregnancy up to this point!
I did want to mention that one of the details I didn’t realize was so important when choosing a doctor was also asking about the rest of the team. In particular, the anesthesiologist plays a huge role in the operation process and make sure that your doctor has a regular one that he uses and works well with. For Dr. Bogdan, his anesthesiologist is actually his wife! They met while they were at Stanford Medical School and are an amazing team. I have no doubt that my surgery and recovery have gone more smoothly because of how well those two work together.
Fixing Diastasis Recti – Scarring
I have a few scars from my tomboy years as a child and I still regret them to this day, so you can imagine I was dreading the idea of choosing to get another one. The scar is similar to a that from a c-section and is placed low on the tummy (although the tummy tuck incision is about twice as long as a c-section). A good plastic surgeon will also be able to work with you to customize its exact location based on your clothing preferences as well as work with you to ensure that it heals properly. I personally was scared of a raised, red scar like I had seen of others’ c-sections but there are also options to help with scar healing in addition to having a good procedure done with a skilled surgeon. I was able to work with Dr. Bogdan on its exact placement (he had me bring in a pair of underwear that I wanted to use to have cover the scar on the day of surgery when he did his markings). Dr. Bogdan also had his recommendations when it came to taking care of scars and I’ve had post-op appointments at 1, 5, and 20 days post surgery to ensure that I’m healing properly. I actually just had my 3-week post-op appointment yesterday and am so happy that my scabs are nearly all gone and am starting more rigorous scar therapy now. I have an additional appointment at the 6-week post-op mark next to assess healing further and let me say, the post-op care really makes a huge difference! I also did a ton of research and found multiple options available to help with scar healing including silicone sheets like Embrace and ScarFx / NewGel+ that aim at making scars flat and of course a popular cream like Mederma also works to lighten and fade. I will be sharing all about my recovering including my specific scar care in a separate post that includes also some of the details of the surgery. I would also say that it’s important to ask about a surgeon’s post-op scar care and ask to see the “after” pictures including how the scar looks.
Fixing Diastasis Recti – My Thoughts So Far
So has it been worth it? For me now that I am 3 weeks post I can already say that I actually feel like my pre-baby self! I think I had actually forgotten what that felt like and omg, it feels so good! The phrase “tummy tuck” sounds really scary and I’ll admit I was nervous before the actual surgery (which I will go into detail on in another post if you’re interested!), but the results are permanent and it has seriously had such a positive impact on me already. I still have a long recovery road ahead of me but I’m honestly excited for what’s to come. My scar is actually already healing pretty nicely and maybe I’ll even be able to wear a bikini this summer! I seriously feel like I just have so much of myself back now. I didn’t realize how much my body had changed since kids and how much I just didn’t feel quite right in my post-baby body until I had this surgery. Pregnancy and kids definitely take a big toll on our bodies. I’m a big believer in “you do you”, and as a mom, it’s even more important that we take care of ourselves so that we can better take care of our family.
Thank you to all of you for supporting me on this fixing diastasis recti journey and I will definitely have another post up soon to answer the questions that you all have asked so far — there was just too much for it all be included in this post!