“When’s the baby due?”
“When’s the baby due?” (usually said whilst pointing at my tummy)
“Oh no, I’m not pregnant. This is the baby” (as I point to my 10-month old daughter who is the size of an 18-month old and has the hair of a 4-year old)
And then I spend the next 5 minutes trying to reassure them that it’s ok, they haven’t upset me, no no don’t worry, it’s a problem with my stomach.
Why I do this I have no idea. It isn’t ok, it does upset me and they should worry. Because they should never have commented in the first place. Whatever they thought it was, whatever they thought was going on, they should have just not said anything at all.
But there’s the problem. The elephant in the room. I’m standing there with an enormous “bump” and yet I’m trying to hide it and it seems to leave people feeling confused. I see people sneaking peaks at my tummy when they’re talking to me. I’m aware of it every minute of every day. Looking 6 months pregnant, when you aren’t, isn’t particularly easy.
Of course, I know how lucky I am to have had 2 gorgeous children who have led to this. I know I’m #blessed to have been able to carry at all (and frankly, I’m not going to share the pictures, but if you’d have seen me the day before I had Phoebe you’d be wondering how I had managed to carry her without her falling out too). I thank my lucky stars every single day that I was given the opportunity to ruin my body in this way. And that it isn’t (currently) affecting my health in any very serious way. I really do.
But the reality of living with it is hard. Alongside the guilt I feel for finding it hard.
Every health professional who has seen it and examined it inhales sharply and says “wow I’ve never seen anything quite like this before”. “Just typical of my life” is always my reply “ha ha ha ha ha” (incidentally when I was having counselling whilst pregnant with Artie my wonderful counsellor told me I must never say that because it’s as though I’m always expecting bad things to happen and therefore fuelling my anxieties. I’ve clearly managed to take that on board. Not 🙈). Of course, in the beginning people said it was perfectly normal to look like this so soon after having a baby, especially my second. That it wouldn’t be long before I’d be back exercising and it’d soon be gone “you’ll see”. But nobody asked me when the baby was due after Artie. And I knew that something wasn’t quite right. Call it mother’s intuition.
The months rolled by and I could still only fit into my maternity clothes. But the problem was that I’m fairly slim on top so anything that fit my tummy hung off my top half and anything that fit my top half wouldn’t go round my tummy. I wore the same 3 things on repeat. Not easy when you have a refluxy baby who vomits on you approximately 40.8 billion times a day. Baby wipes became (and remain) my best friend and I smelt of milky sick the entire time. Constantly feeling a mess really got me down. And so I went back to the GP. Guess what? She’d never seen (well felt, actually) anything quite like it before. Because when I lie down it’s just your average post partum jiggly tummy but as soon as I stand up…HELLO BABY BUMP. Two scans later and none the wiser I was sent for physio to see what could be done. Thank goodness I was. Because halfway through our second session my lovely physio looked me straight in the eyes and said “I really don’t think this is normal”. Yes it’s normal for ladies to have an abdominal divarification or “diastasis recti” post natally, caused by the expansion required in the abdomen to carry a child but it’s not normal to have quite such a strange shape or for it to feel so heavy and solid. I have never been so grateful for someone’s honesty, especially someone who sees post partum ladies all day every day. I was DONE with people trying to reassure me it wasn’t that bad to try and make me feel better. I needed someone to say “actually this totally sucks and it’s not what I’d expect to see 5 months down the line”. Finally we could start to do something about it.
I was referred to a surgeon who specialises in abdominal repair (“wow this is an interesting case I’ve never seen anything quite like this”. FFS man you’re a specialist. Surely this isn’t the worst you’ve ever seen. Typical of my…ooooops stop right there…) and I had an MRI scan, which has shown there’s no true hernia but my abdomen is so stretched and damaged by the way I carried the kids and the polyhydramnios I had with Phoebe that it has bowed beyond all recognition and is offering absolutely no internal support. Hence lie down it disappears, stand up it’s impossible to miss. I have been measured as having an 8cm stretch in my abdominal muscles. People have probably had worse but it’s pretty rare and impacts on the ability to exercise safely because a lack of core stability can cause so much stress elsewhere in the body. Exercise has always been an incredibly important part of my life both as a way of maintaining my weight (because frankly I’m too much of a pig to manage it through diet) and as a way of maintaining a healthy mind. I’m feeling the impact of not being able to do anything very active pretty keenly.
Experts from across the globe have been consulted as to the best way to complete a repair. The gap is believed to be too wide to repair through physio alone, which leaves me facing my second round of major abdominal surgery in 12 months. It’s an extensive operation, with a lengthy recovery period, and is not a decision I have taken lightly. As a mother of 2 the decision to undergo what is currently an elective procedure (although there are no guarantees it won’t herniate in the future) and to voluntarily enter into the risks which that entails is something which weighs heavily on my mind. I will have some pretty heavy duty scars for the rest of my life.
But I am not just a mother of 2. I am me. I am a relatively young woman (or is that wishful thinking!), who has hit the jackpot with two incredible children but who now needs to feel like herself again. To be away from the prying eyes of strangers asking questions they have no right to ask. To be able to wear the clothes in my wardrobe and not worry how many people will ask when the baby is due on any given day. To be able to exercise at the level I am used to without the risk of further injury or herniation.
The surgery is less than a week away and my focus is on ensuring Phoebe is well settled in nursery as I will be unable to care for her properly for a little while after the operation – the thought of which makes me feel rather queasy, having never spent more than a few hours away from her. I continue to work on some very basic Pilates type exercises to make the muscle as strong as it can be. The better condition the muscle is in then the easier, in theory, it is for the surgeon to work with. They’re probably the most boring exercises I’ve ever had to do in my life but I’m determined to give my poor abdominals the best chance I can. And then we really just have to hold our breath and hope that the surgery works.
My body has done the most incredible thing imaginable. Twice. And I will be eternally grateful. Now it’s time to give it the attention it deserves. It’s time to say goodbye to the elephant in the room.