Well, it’s official. My children ruined my body. More specifically, the second child if I’m really pointing fingers. If there was ever any doubt – which, there really wasn’t – but if there ever was, it disappeared last Thursday.
To explain, I must go back for a moment to 2010 after I had Elena, was not working and was as anxious as a lightning bug caught in a jar to rid myself of any sign of two pregnancies. Enter my longtime friend Weight Watchers, and my new(er) best bud, Jillian. As in, Michaels. She and I spent many mornings together…weights, crunches, jumping jacks….more crunches, more jumping jacks… It was somewhere in there that I noticed my stomach looking a little funky. I won’t go into details but figured I clearly still had work to do. Fast forward a few months when I was at the doctor and she pronounces, “You have a hernia!” Me: “A what?” Her: “A hernia. Does it hurt?” Me: “Oh, I’ve been wondering about that…it seemed strange…no, it doesn’t hurt.” Her: “Then don’t worry about it.” So, I didn’t.
It’s bugged me from time to time – knowing it’s there and still not hurting at all, but kind of a cosmetic thing. In recent months I’ve noticed more of a change in my stomach (sorry if this is TMI), feeling large and round. It affects how my clothes fit. There have even been some days where I wondered if I might end up being the next star of that hit reality TV show, I didn’t know I was pregnant! where the chick has the baby and swears she never even knew she was expecting. Seriously? Who does that really happen to? Well, possibly me! Or so I remember looking in the mirror one day thinking. Then more realistically, I thought, “Could this weirdness be related to the hernia? Has it gotten bigger, maybe?” Dr. Google started to overtake me….”bloated stomach, hernia”…”weight gain, hernia”… nothing. Of course I also saw that hernias do have the potential to cause danger suddenly….emergency surgery…etc, etc. Hmmm…what if…
Finally, one day about a month ago I was sharing my annoyance with a couple of coworkers (hey, a little water cooler hernia talk never hurt anyone, right?) and hearing them declare, “You need a second opinion!” was all I needed to make an appt. with my current primary doctor who said, “Well, I’m not sure if it’s a true hernia or a thinning/stretching of your abdominal muscles, but whatever it is – it’s big!” Gee, thanks for the confirmation. Next stop: a general surgeon’s office, which brings me to last week.
I’m sitting there reading the cover of People sitting in the rack on the wall, armed with my “What to expect from hernia surgery” brochure the nurse had given me, when the doc walks in, asks what’s going on, I lean back – which is what really makes my stomach look obviously gross (again, sorry if that’s TMI, but it’s true) and he says, “That’s not a hernia, it’s diastasis recti.” Me: “Um, dia – what?” Him: “Classic diastasis. Your stomach muscles have separated to the right and left side, so you have no support in the middle…you have two kids?” Me: “Yes.” Him: “Were they big?” Me: “Yes.” Him: “Yep, your ab muscles never came back together.” Me: “What can I do to fix this?” Him: “Well…outside of considering a tummy tuck…unfortunately not a lot.” He also told me that the tummy tuck would of course be done by a plastic surgeon to the tune of about $10K, not covered by insurance and oh, BTW, quite painful. Me, for a millsecond, in my head: “Only $10K huh?” Apparently the good news in this all was that I didn’t need surgery to fix what was wrong. I left the doctor’s office and drove back to work wondering if that was really the good news…or the bad.
Needless to say, my online medical degree kicked in again when I got back to work since I was dying to learn more about my new condition. Within 10 minutes I went from being a little annoyed to a lot annoyed. First of all, I probably had some of this after Ian, but the second pregnancy really cinched it. Thus this whole thing being Elena’s fault. (Not that I plan to hold it against her for the rest of her life…well, maybe just half.) The symptoms were all so familiar: feeling, and looking, bloated and even pregnant; gastrointestinal issues (I’ll leave it at that) and of course, back pain. (Oh, you mean like last weekend when I sneezed and almost ended up on the floor because it caused tremendous pain in my lower back…which happened to get really bad after Elena was born?) Suddenly it was all making sense.
The other fun thing I learned was that what really makes it almost irreversibly worse and causes a real “cone shape” (cone-shaped stomach…check)) is doing the wrong kind of exercise, especially regular crunches. Um yeah, remember what I mentioned earlier about my friend Jillian? Grrr. Then there was all that yoga with lots of ab strengthening exercises. Double Grrr. And apparently diastasis recti is not like a super rare thing – it can happen in the last part of pregnancy and often repairs itself after birth but sometimes not – especially when you do stupid things like crunches. (And even the way you lift things can make it worse.)
So, here’s my question: Why didn’t my OB/GYN check for this, or notice it at my postpartum visit and say something like, oh, I don’t know, “Whatever you do – don’t do a bunch of sit-ups!!!!” And then, here’s where my suggestions get really crazy…maybe offer some advice on what to do instead, which is apparently that you have to be very careful about locating and specifically doing some exercise that will strengthen the transverse abdominal muscle. As troubling, if not more, was that I had a (female) doctor after that tell me I had a hernia, and a third (female) who also couldn’t diagnose it – though to give her credit, she did suspect that it might have been this rather than a hernia.
I also found it notable that the (male) surgeon, who immediately knew what it was and said he sees it all the time from women who come in thinking they have a hernia, had no idea how to at least do something to improve it. No knowledge of the exercises that make it worse, or that strengthening the transverse abdominal muscle can help it…nothing. Oh, except there was that tummy tuck suggestion. So helpful. Oddly enough, I almost asked him if I should really increase my crunches and if maybe that would help? Now I wish I would have because I wonder what the answer would have been. Perhaps, “Sure! But I’d go ahead and limit it to 300 or so a day.”
Frankly, what scares me a little about this experience is that this isn’t the first time in the past few years that I truly feel like I’ve learned more about a diagnosis or potential condition from doing my own research on the Internet than I’ve gotten from a doctor’s visit. In fact, I experienced an appointment where a doctor told me that some specific symptom I had was not a symptom of X condition, when in fact I had read multiple sources online that specifically said the opposite. I didn’t refute the doctor’s claim because ultimately they were the only true medical professional in the room (my degree arrives next month), but I was very skeptical. I know that everyone who has a computer thinks it comes with a medical degree and it must drive those in the profession bananas, but at the same time – why am I learning possible ways to help diastasis recti that don’t involve a plastic surgeon from websites and not my doctors? I used to have full trust in doctors but lately, not so much anymore. I’m realizing more and more that we have to be our own best health advocates, and for that, all I can say is thank goodness for Dr. Google!
So no, I’m not fat…or pregnant…I just have a medical condition that makes me look that way. I still need to do more research on what specific exercise might help, though it seems that what’s out there involves purchasing some sort of video…belly band…I don’t know. Sounds like a big gimmick to me. Yet, by the end of the day on Thursday two of my friends at work said they knew of moms who had/have diastasis recti, and bought the miracle video and it had helped. Who knew? I’m feeling kind of desperate so maybe I’ll give it a try. I’m also going to look into whether or not there are physical therapy options. Of course if none of that works, there’s always that tummy tuck.