I Chose Plastic Surgery To Feel Like Me Again in My Postpartum Body

After years of struggling with severe postpartum diastasis recti and body confidence issues, I made the decision to undergo surgery. It wasn't an easy choice, but it's one I'm now glad I chose.

Surgery knives
Photo: Getty Images/Portra

Before I had kids, I had a long list of things I said I would never do. Allowing a kid to sleep in my bed and plastic surgery were both at the top of my list. One thing I've learned from parenting is the moment you make a grand announcement like that, especially when the word never is uttered, you can bet you are about to get a preverbal cream pie right in the face.

Not only do I share a bed with a child who repeatedly kicks me in the kidneys all night, I also underwent postpartum plastic surgery.

I know I'm not alone. Famous mom Amy Schumer recently opened up about her decision to undergo a similar postpartum procedure. "I feel good. Finally," she wrote on Instagram. "Never thought I would do anything but talk to me after your uterus doesn't contract for 2.5 years and you turn 40."

I get it.

Over the course of four years, I gave birth to three enormous babies. My last weighed nine pounds, which gave me a baby bump the size of a beach ball. He was so large that the newborn clothes we brought to the hospital did not fit and my mom had to go buy a 3-month-old size onesie so he would have something to wear home.

So it was no surprise that these massive babies wreaked havoc on my midsection and forced my abdominal muscles apart. Because of my petite stature it was more pronounced, and even years postpartum, I still looked several months pregnant.

I thought if I just worked out hard enough, my muscles would eventually go back together, so I started a grueling workout routine that included lots of abdominal exercises. But several years went by and it became obvious it wasn't working—I still had toned arms and legs but the stomach of someone in their second trimester. People would regularly stop me and inquire about my due date and even try to rub my "pregnant" belly. It was utterly humiliating. I would politely smile and explain, but each time it chipped away at my self-esteem. Not to mention, I was also experiencing severe back and pelvic pain because of my extreme muscle separation.

Additionally, three cumulative years of breastfeeding had given me the breast reduction I never wanted. I lost three entire cup sizes that I kept hoping would come back, but never did. Looking in the mirror felt like an out-of-body experience; it was so bizarre not to recognize the person staring back at me. None of my clothes fit and my body did not look or feel like my own.

I always assumed I wouldn't need plastic surgery because I would just embrace my new curves, but there was a lot I didn't understand about my postpartum body. I decided to see a plastic surgeon, who diagnosed me with a severe form of diastasis recti or rectus abdominis diastasis (RAD), a condition where the six-pack ab muscles separate during pregnancy.

Danielle LeBlanc, M.D., F.A.C.S., a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon based in Fort Worth, Texas, explains that during pregnancy, the growing uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen and that RAD is an abnormal increase in the distance between the inner borders of the two rectus muscles. There are varying degrees of RAD and exercises can improve the condition in some cases. "Sometimes exercise alone can strengthen the transverse abdominis muscle and improve symptoms and function without actually closing the gap anatomically," she says. "But to physically restore the anatomic separation completely requires surgery."

Deciding on My Postpartum Surgery

At first, I felt ashamed to undergo surgery to fix the issues caused by my pregnancies. It turns out, I wasn't alone. Aisha White, M.D., MBA, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Austin, Texas, says some of her patients express similar sentiments.

Many assume that those who opt for postpartum plastic surgery are doing it solely for vanity, which is not always the case (but if it is, there should be no shame in that either). Sometimes these procedures can really improve the quality of life of someone suffering from serious postpartum issues. Dr. White explains that diastasis can weaken the abdominal muscles, causing discomfort or pain and difficulty in lifting objects or performing other routine daily activities and tasks.

Another common postpartum procedure is an abdominoplasty, also called a tummy tuck. "Abdominoplasty can restore strength, pelvic function, urinary continence, and back support," says Dr. LeBlanc. "It is restoring 'normal,' which in turn makes you a stronger mom so that you can enjoy being active with your kids."

As soon as I booked my surgery, I began to second-guess my decision, but after a quick pep-talk with my awesome surgeon, I realized that in my case, surgery was the only option to permanently fix my issues. I couldn't imagine dealing with the physical pain for much longer or the long-term toll it would take on my self-esteem to continuously be asked if I'm pregnant. So I decided surgery was the best choice for me. It makes me feel even better seeing moms like Schumer being honest about their experiences, too.

Restoring Body Confidence

Dr. White wants to eliminate the stigma of having cosmetic procedures, especially since patients can reap mental health benefits from even minor physical altercations. "I'm big on people making choices for their own bodies," says Dr. White.

Dr. LeBlanc echoes the same sentiment. "There are several studies demonstrating improvement in body image, self-esteem, and mental health," she says. "In my own patient population, the transformation following abdominoplasty can be quite dramatic. Patients change the way they dress and carry themselves, which improves how they interact with others and how they function publicly and intimately."

But if you're considering going under the knife, experts advise patients to do their due diligence and research, educate themselves, and not let anyone pressure them. Dr. White emphasizes there is a wealth of information available online, but every person's body is unique so it's important to have an in-person consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon. She recommends finding a surgeon who aligns with your vision, that you're comfortable with (even if it takes a few tries), and not to be afraid to ask specific questions and address all your concerns.

While it's tempting to get seduced by the allure of amazing results, Dr. White cautions not to glaze over the possible cons as well: "A lot of people don't want to talk about the potential downsides, but that is crucial so they know exactly what is involved and can make a truly informed decision. Take control over your own body and health."

A Personal Choice

My recovery was long and incredibly painful, and yes, I have scars. There was no change in my weight, which is fine because that was never my intention. While this was unequivocally the right decision for me, postpartum cosmetic procedures are certainly not for everyone. There are many prohibitive factors and it's not without risk. Plastic surgery is expensive—it usually isn't covered by insurance, except for certain medically-necessary procedures. Abdominoplasty, for example, typically isn't covered. A parent also needs help with child care and household duties during recovery, which isn't feasible for every family. And for many others, surgical alteration is simply just not for them.

If you choose to love your postpartum body and wear your stretch marks and looser skin like a badge of honor, I salute you. But I also don't judge anyone who chooses to go the surgery route. What I learned through this experience is that many of my preconceived notions were false and unfair and that plastic surgery and body positivity are not mutually exclusive. Parenting and body confidence are hard enough, so I applaud whatever choices moms make to feel like their best selves.

The light at the end of the tunnel? I had a great experience and I'm very happy with my results. I'm finally pain-free and I am no longer asked if I'm pregnant. I now look in the mirror and recognize the person staring back and I'm feeling my confidence and sparkle returning. I have reclaimed my body and I'm back to looking and feeling like "me" again.

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