It all started a year ago, when I went to my OB/GYN for my annual exam.
Jennifer Ginsberg: Ever since I had my daughter 2 ½ years ago, I'd been plagued by a bulge around my belly button that at times made me still look pregnant. No matter how much I dieted or exercised, that bulge would not disappear. I asked my OB to evaluate it, hoping I was being vain and my tummy didn't look as bad as I suspected. But I got a reality check when she delivered the news to me -- I had an umbilical hernia.
Umbilical hernias are common with women who have given birth to large babies, had multiple births, and are often accompanied by a tearing of the abdominal wall. My daughter was a whopping 9.5 pounds, which is remarkable, considering my slender frame! After my C-section, my abdominal muscles were torn apart, hence the hernia was born.
Apart from the cosmetic reasons for choosing surgery, a woman might need to repair the hernia if she is also experiencing pain or protrusion through the opening the hernia creates. In my case, I certainly felt profound discomfort at times, especially when I wore anything that was snug around my midsection. And I was totally unhappy with how my tummy looked, and longed to be able to comfortably get dressed and feel confident in a bathing suit.
When my OB told me that abdominal hernias can become dangerous if any part of a person's intestines become trapped in the tears of the abdominal muscle, that sealed the deal for me. I was going to get it fixed. And I hoped at the same time that my surgeon would take care of my "cat tummy" as well. Those of you who have given birth know exactly what I mean. It's that saggy, squishy, postpartum abomination that is impervious to any form of physical exercise.
I found a wonderful doctor who promised me he could fix the whole enchilada. He recommended that in addition to my hernia and muscle repair, I should get a mini-abdominoplasty, i.e., a mini tummy tuck. I asked if there was any exercise that could resolve my "cat tummy." He assured me that there was no fat there -- it was all skin, and the only way to get rid of it was to cut it off.
Again, I questioned if I was being vain. I needed the hernia repair -- yes. But a tummy tuck (even a "mini" one) seemed extreme. But after much consideration, I decided that while I was going to be under anesthesia anyways, I might as well get it done. It would be my gift to myself after giving birth to two beautiful (albeit large!) babies, and devoting the last five years of my life to raising them.
I did research and spoke to my friends who had similar surgeries. I heard what I wanted to hear and ignored the rest. I told myself that I was going to be uncomfortable for a few days, but I'd be back to my normal life in no time. I didn't heed the warnings from my doctor, who told me that I would "hate him" for the first week after surgery, or from my friend, who described the pain as "shocking." I thought I would be able to show up for my work commitments one week after the surgery, and be able to rehearse and perform in a play as well.
When I woke up from surgery, I felt like my entire body had been run over by a truck. I spent the next three days in an after-care facility, and had a 24-hour nurse administer my medications and empty my drains and catheters. The pain was indeed "shocking" -- not even in the same category as the discomfort I felt after my C-section.
In fact, it was so excruciating that I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, and couldn't get comfortable, even after taking my pain meds. The only thing I could do in those early days was lie as still as possible, breathe, and pray to fall asleep. Once I got home, I went straight to bed and stayed there for a week, only getting up to go to the bathroom. I still had drains in my body and slept in one-hour increments.
When my doctor came to the after-care facility for my post-op visits, he assured me that my post-surgical symptoms were all very normal. "I told you that you would hate me," he said with a grin. For some reason, I didn't remember him telling me that I would feel like I had been beaten by a sledge hammer from head to toe.
Did I mention that he said I would hate him? I despised him -- his cavalier attitude, his suggestion that I start tapering off my pain meds after a few days, his smug smile when I told him I wanted to die. "Well, you just had your stomach cut open! What did you expect? To be doing yoga by now?"
Actually, yes! I did expect to be doing yoga by now. And hanging out with my kids, doing my work, and rehearsing for my play. I certainly did not expect to be glued to my bed in an ugly grannie nightgown, barely able to get through an episode of "Judge Judy" or an issue of Us Weekly without nodding out.
I hated myself for having the surgery. I hated not being able to be there for my children and show up for my life. I had to remind myself that the surgery was necessary, and eventually I'd be grateful I had done it.
It's been two weeks now, and yesterday I got my drains out and decided to go for my first short walk outdoors. My doctor told me to take it slow, not get my heart rate up, and rest at the first sign of any discomfort. I hoped to make it to Starbucks and back, which is normally a five-minute walk from my house. After 10 minutes, I was a quarter of the way there and felt like I was going to pass out. I turned around to come home and got lost ... seriously -- I got lost one block from my home! I walked right past my house, stood on the corner, and didn't know where the hell I was. And I hadn't been on any narcotic pain meds for several days!
My husband got scared when I didn't return, and he found me on the street corner, looking dazed and confused, and promptly put me back in bed. I talked to my doctor again, and he told me that if I didn't take it easy, I would re-injure myself and end up back on the operating table. "You can't power your way through recovery from an abdominal surgery," he said. "It's all about taking care of yourself and taking it very slow." When I told him my intention was to start going to four-hour rehearsals and perform in a play this weekend, he said, "Absolutely not! You will be risking your recovery if you do that. You shouldn't even be driving, let alone sitting upright for that long!" At that point, I realized that I had to cancel all work commitments for the next week and heed my doctor's advice -- take it slow!
I've managed to change my perspective, rather than beat myself up for my inability to have a Super Woman-style recovery. In a strange way, this surgery has been a reset button for me. All that matters is my health and my family. Everything else is extra at this point.
Every day I'm getting stronger, but I'm still exhausted and uncomfortable much of the time. I'm grateful I'm able to spend more time with my children in small increments throughout the day. I'm getting help where I can and trying not to feel guilty about it.
I realize now that this recovery will be longer than I expected, and it might be six weeks before I feel like myself again -- quite a steep price to pay for a flat tummy! But I stand by my decision to have this surgery, and I only can trust that once I am fully recovered, I'll be grateful that I did it.
For any of you considering such a procedure, be prepared to be in horrible pain for at least a week. Make sure you have lots of help at home. At times you will feel regret and wonder why you went through with it. But if you are realistic about your expectations for recovery and have lots of support, you can get through it!
|Jennifer Ginsberg is a Los Angeles mother, writer, and addiction specialist with over 15 years of experience in the fields of alcoholism, addiction, and recovery. After receiving her MSW from the USC School Of Social Work and MAJCS from Hebrew Union College, Jennifer served as the clinical director of a 120 bed drug and alcohol treatment facility. She also co-developed an addiction prevention program for Jewish youth, which has been implemented in synagogues nationally. Jennifer now works privately with people who are impacted by the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol and writes about all topics related to motherhood, addiction, and women in politics. Read more about her life at angstmom.com|