real life

'I've had 3 children, and 3 c-sections.' An honest account of what it was like to get a tummy tuck.

I’m currently resting in bed post a “tummy tuck” and thought I would share my experience on having a full abdominoplasty, post three children (all c-sections) and at the age of 38.

I didn’t make the decision to have a tummy tuck lightly at all.

I would say that I have always been a relatively ‘normal’ weight. But no matter my size, I’ve never had a flat stomach. Even on my wedding day when I was at my lowest weight, I still had a protruding tummy. I put it down to my genes and my body shape because I trained my butt off, and while I wore the bias silk cut dress of my dreams, you can still see my tummy in the wedding photos.

But then came kids. My first child was a c-section, followed 21 months later by another child and another c-section. Within a year of my second child I got back to my pre-baby weight at the age of 35 which was a small 12. But the stomach issue just got worse. My waist went wider and thicker and the skin got saggier and heavier. So even though the scales were kind, I was totally out of proportion with what looked like a bag of oranges tied around my mid-section.

I know what people say. Especially men. Just run more. Eat less. Cut out the wine.

But try telling that to every mum of young children out there, THERE IS ONLY SO MUCH WE CAN DO. There’s such thing as SURVIVAL. So I just continued to do what I had done for much of my adult life and that was to hide my stomach with clothing. Always wear high-waisted pants, mum jeans and shirts, nothing tight against the skin. I tied jumpers around leggings to hide everything and wore long coats and tops whenever possible. I liked scarves too, as they could just hang and cover the front of my tummy. I always wore dresses in a tent shape, or moo moo dresses as my husband liked to say – never any styles that were fitted at my waist.

Three and a half years later I had my third c-section, and what I call my “body-breaking” baby. I love my third child to bits, but if my abdominal muscles were separated before, they were now non-existent.

Absolutely nothing worked on my mid-section.

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"I was so uninspired to even go out because I was never comfortable in how my clothes fitted." Image supplied.
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My back hurt.

I did spin classes. I did personal training. I did the no drinking thing, the no carb thing. By the time my third turned two, I still looked six months pregnant. Then I turned 38 and was in more pain as my tummy drooped south and became a burden to even carry or squish into spanx or jeans. Spanx were a non-negotiable. Every. Single. Day.

I had been a client of a cosmetic centre for over two years - just for facials and dermal treatments - and each time I visited, I would see the plastic surgery services they offered. I followed their social media and started to think: maybe I should have a tummy tuck one day?

I knew it sounded vain.

I don’t know what made me actually call and book a consultation. I’m not sure if it was my little ones always grabbing my tummy and calling it jelly (!), or being so uninspired to even go out because I was never comfortable in how my clothes fitted, or that I was sick of my own self-pity. I knew that I trusted all of the plastic surgeons because they also owned and ran the clinic I had an existing relationship with.

I also knew how important it was to see a specialist plastic surgeon, because I had seen and heard so many botched surgery stories of girls seeing surgeons who were really only GPs.

I did my research and knew I wanted to see a plastic surgeon who was FRACS accredited (Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons), ASPS accredited (Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons) and ASAPS accredited (Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons). I have three young children who depend on me and who I love with everything I have, there was no way I was going to risk my body and life with a cowboy doctor calling himself/herself a surgeon. I already had the mum guilts about considering taking time out to have a tummy tuck.

Booking my consultation was the hardest step, but when I went in, the doctor explained why everything I was doing in my day-to-day life was never going to get rid of my 'mum-tum'. I felt relieved to have someone on my side.

Basically, I thought a tummy tuck was just slicing the fat out of the mid-section and joining your stomach back up again. While this is the case for some people, after three children and three c-sections, an abdominoplasty becomes much more of a reconstructive process rather than just a cosmetic procedure. I was on crutches for nearly all of my pregnancies with sciatica, and ahead of my tummy tuck, I hadn't realised how it would assist with back pain.

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Before the surgery. Image supplied.

According to the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, an “abdominoplasty repairs the rectus diastasis (muscle separation after pregnancy) as well as removing skin from above the umbilicus to the pubis. This not only restores the trunk to its pre-pregnancy shape, it also restores core strength, essential in converting a moderate disability to a trivial issue and allows a woman to live a life free of background pain and worry about injury.”

So the decision was made to undergo a full abdominoplasty (which would be a scar from hip to hip) and a full rectus diastasis to stitch my abdomen back together - which had separated to 3cms.

My doctor gave me all the information, went through each step of the process - including the operation, the post-care, and the recovery - as well as each and every risk. There was no obligation to proceed or book the surgery, but I just felt that it made sense medically and that nothing I could do was really going to change the problem. Did I really want to be 50 and still complaining about my stomach for another 20 years? No.

We set a date for the surgery (four weeks after the consult) and his secretary gave me all the information I needed to prepare for it.

Here's how it went:

Pre-surgery preparation

This consisted mainly of Google. I Googled everything to do with tummy tucks, read every forum, spoke to anyone I knew who knew someone or who had been through it, and stalked and researched.

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I wanted to be as prepared as possible, and I got excited. From what I was reading, people didn't regret the surgery, and many had called it life-changing.

Having been through three c-sections, I wasn’t afraid of pain or discomfort, but I do remember reading one sentence that I took hold of and kept in mind from someone in New Zealand who had gone through the procedure: “Let's just say that a c-section is a runny nose and a tummy tuck is pneumonia.”.

I mentally prepared by being realistic about recovery and having little expectations, so if it all went well and I lost a little bit of my stomach I would be thrilled.

The few weeks before surgery I kept active every day and reduced my alcohol intake, so I would be giving my body the best chance of recovery.

The week before, I went and got my compression garments from the shop that was recommended. I sorted out the payments, I went to Kmart and bought daggy trackies and loose tops - nothing that would hurt the incision mark. I packed my suitcase like I was going to a maternity ward. But this time I would have time for Netflix, a Kindle and a few magazines.

The day of the surgery

On the day of admission (Wednesday) I was really excited. I didn’t want to tell our kids what I was doing, so we decided to tell them that I was going into hospital to get my back fixed which was hurting after carrying three children.

I was booked in for three nights post-recovery, and boy was I grateful for that.

I remember going in, getting my surgical robe on, and the surgeon coming in and drawing some markings on the areas he was going to work on. I then remember walking into the theatre, talking to the anaesthetist and then, lights out.

I woke up in recovery with the most gorgeous bunch of nurses I have ever met. I stayed there until Saturday morning, and it was the best thing for me. Someone monitoring me 24/7 and a team of nurses helping me every step of the way.

I do not know what would have happened if I had gone home after day surgery. I read that happens a lot in the USA, but there is no way I would have been able to go home to a hectic household with three children. And with the emotional rollercoaster you go through – it’s so nice to have the nurses to come in and give you a cup of tea (and your painkillers) and be there to support you through it all.

Here's how the days after surgery went:

Day 1

So excited. This is going to be like a holiday.

Day 2

What have I done? I can’t stand up. I’m hunched like an old lady. This is not like a c-section. But the doctor comes to check up on me and I am on track.

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Day 3

I will survive. I’m sure I will. Took a peek at my stomach, it’s flat. My 'jelly' is gone.

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After the surgery. Image supplied.

Day 4

Time to go home. I don’t want to leave this hospital and these nurses. Ever.

Day 5

I can stand, I can walk around, I can run baths for the kids, I can do it all!

Day 6

Nope, I can’t do it all. I need rest. Bed-rest. No kids, no trying to do everything.

Day 7

I can see an outline of my abs.

I have not seen abs for about 15 years.

I am having my dressing changed today by the nurses - then I will see them again at the 3 week mark, and my doctor at the 6 and 12 month mark.

Was it worth it? Yes!

Am I vain? I wouldn’t say I am obsessed with my body image, I just hated my stomach. Everyone who knows me knows how much it bothered me. I was always complaining about it, and it wasn't fun to be around.

Ultimately, my surgeon removed a 1.5kg wedge of skin from my mid-section and a further 900cc with the use of liposuction which is frequently used hand-in-hand with an abdominoplasty. I have his mobile number and he is contactable 24/7 if I have any questions post-operation.

A tummy tuck might not be right for everyone. But so far, it was right for me.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The featured image is a stock photo. 

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