When “Mommy Pooch” Gets Severe: My Journey to Repair My Diastasis Recti

diastasis recti

If you are a woman who has given birth, you have probably at some point after childbirth been asked the dreaded question, “So, when are you due?” 

Hopefully it only happened to you in the early stages post-pregnancy.

For me, I had become used to that question popping up two to three times a month, four years post-pregnancy. 

For most ladies, it will take a few months for your belly to shrink back down to a more pre-pregnancy size. And most likely, your body is never going to look quite the same as it did before you grew an entire human.

And I’ll take a moment to remind you — that’s ok.

You just provided a perfect home for your child to develop and grow, your body did exactly what it was designed to do to keep you and your child healthy. And you are a ROCKSTAR for handling all the ups and downs of a pregnancy journey.

So now that we’re in agreement that it is totally normal to not “bounce back” immediately after childbirth, let’s discuss a common post-pregnancy ailment — “mommy pooch” a.k.a diastasis recti

Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti, a separation of the ab muscles,  is extremely common in those who are pregnant and during the postpartum period. It affects 60% of people. And it usually resolves itself within eight weeks of delivery. However, about 40% of those who have diastasis recti still have it by six months postpartum.

I am sharing my experience with severe diastasis recti in the hope it will help bring more understanding and awareness to this post-pregnancy ailment. And ultimately help reduce the stigma behind surgery as a solution. 

3 Things to Know About Diastasis Recti

1. It is a real thing that is severely painful, and can disrupt everyday life.

2. Diastasis recti is not always treatable by physical therapy alone, despite what insurance or some medical professionals may say (and it’s also not just a “cosmetic” issue!).

3. It is WAY more common than you think

My Experience with Diastasis Recti

It was probably three to four months after the birth of our triplets when I was sitting on the couch and noticed a strange bulge in the middle of my stomach.

Obviously freaked out, I took some photos, sent them to my physician, and scheduled an appointment. Good old Dr. Google had me convinced it was a hernia, or an abdominal separation I had never heard of — diastasis recti.

I impatiently waited for my appointment, meanwhile noting symptoms like pain when sitting up, an inability to sit up when lying flat, and pain when standing or holding things for an extended period of time. All things I had previously attributed to recovery from a C-section and multiples pregnancy. 

A Diagnosis

At my appointment, the doctor did confirm I had an abdominal separation of approximately one hand, and no hernia. She discussed exercises I could begin to do at home and put in a referral to physical therapy for some additional exercises and assistance. Relieved that it was nothing as serious or scary as a hernia, I hopped right into my physical therapy routine. 

I went to sessions of PT, where I had immense pain doing even the simplest of exercises (even doing a leg raise while lying down) and suffered pain for days afterward.

I couldn’t keep up with my “homework” assignments because of the pain and dealing with three babies at home. It quickly became clear that this wasn’t the right stage of life to be attempting to do that much exercise, I “didn’t have time” for taking care of myself.

A year passed, I got a part-time job, and the kids starting going to daycare. It was easier to get out of the house for my therapy appointments, but once again when it came to physical therapy, I failed.

Side note: there are many women with less severe diastasis recti who are able to achieve fantastic results with PT, I am not saying it doesn’t work. If it does for you, that’s awesome! 

Looking For More Options

At my yearly checkup three years post-pregnancy, I asked my doctor again about the pain I felt daily from my diastasis recti. I was struggling when lifting my children, had to wear support binders all day long, and still had a hugely protruding stomach (I looked like I was six months pregnant).

She continued to tell me my only option was PT, blowing past my request for a surgery consult immediately, and basically told me to do a better job doing exercises at home.

At this point in my journey I’d discovered a few support groups for moms with diastasis recti, and had been learning about surgical options to repair severe abdominal gaps similar to my own.

My mind was BLOWN by how many other women had a story very similar to mine. Living for years in pain, trying all the exercises, begging their physicians for referrals. Getting shut down and told, “You need to try more exercises,” or, “It’s just cosmetic,” and, “There’s nothing actually medically wrong with you.”

It’s hard enough for us as moms to take the time to think about ourselves, to devote time to our own comfort. And it’s incredibly discouraging to be shot down over and over by medical professionals and/or insurance companies. 

I am so thankful for the moms in my support groups who shared their stories. Who took the plunge and had their muscles surgically repaired, and then came back to report their life-changing results.

They encouraged me and assured me that sometimes, you just need a little help. So I began looking for a plastic surgeon. 

diastasis recti

Contemplating Surgery

Still I couldn’t help but wonder — do I really need surgery? Isn’t that a selfish, cosmetic, “easy way out”? Is it really affecting my life enough to justify the long recovery time?

Not to mention the cost. But that’s a WHOLE other conversation.  

The thing I found out about diastasis recti, is even when it’s documented in your medical chart as severe and you’ve jumped through all the hoops with a general surgeon to fix the muscle repair, insurance still most likely is not going to cover it.

Unfortunately, it is still generally classified as a cosmetic procedure from an insurance standpoint. So much so that we have a name for the lucky ones who get approved in our support groups: unicorns.

So after years of dealing with constant backaches and debilitating pain, I finally decided to get a consult with a plastic surgeon. Looking to repair my diastasis recti and also remove the large amount of excess skin I had post-pregnancy. 

The Consult & Surgery

I had my first (and only) consult with the Center for Plastic Surgery in Fargo. They helped me feel comfortable through the awkward and self conscious moments during my assessment. They listened to my concerns, and seemed genuinely dedicated in their role throughout the process. 

Surgery to repair an abdominal separation is a major surgery that requires six to eight weeks of recovery time.

Still, I knew surgery was the right choice for me. 

For the first five days I was in the most excruciating pain of my life. Then for weeks I couldn’t stand straight or sleep without being elevated with a mountain of pillows. I felt guilty for not being able to lift or play with my children. And struggled to do even the most basic daily activities.

Despite what some people think about plastic surgery, believe me when I tell you that this is NOT the easy way out. 

But I would still do it all over again. 

I am still recovering. I haven’t been able to enjoy the full benefits from my abdominal gap repair and what removing 2.5 pounds of extra skin has done for my daily pain and self confidence.

But I am already here trying to spread awareness of severe diastasis recti, dissolve the stigma of seeking a surgical solution, and let other mommas out there struggling with the pain know that there is hope.

I’ll shout it from the rooftops (as soon as I’m able to climb a ladder again!) — do the surgery. Take care of yourself and your body. You don’t have to keep suffering. And you are not alone.

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Traci is a mother of four kids and two pets and lives in West Fargo with her husband, Dave. She has 4 children : Nora – aged 6, as well as Harrison, Hendrik and Heath – 3 year old triplet boys. Throw in the cat Attila - age 12, and Bulldog/Lab Abe- age 11, and their house is pretty much the nonstop chaos you would imagine. Traci works part time out of the home as an interior designer & sales consultant at Floor to Ceiling Carpet One in Fargo, ND. Working part time gives her the flexibility she needs to handle appointments and activities with the kiddos, but also have a place to turn on her “creative brain” and give the “mom brain” a break. Her hobbies include home renovation projects, a relaxing soak in the tub, and getting coffee from Caribou and then sitting in the van in silence. Having triplets has really changed the way Traci and Dave run their household and parent their children. Efficiency and schedules are key, and one of her passions is helping new moms of multiples navigate those first few challenging years. One of her sons, Harrison, has cerebral palsy and intractable epilepsy. Having a child with complex medical needs has helped fuel her other passion of spreading epilepsy awareness and increasing support for parents of children with special needs. Writing about her sons journey has been a way to express her emotions and reach other families going through a similar situation. You can read more about Harrison on his facebook page Hope for Harrison. You can read more articles from Traci here.

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