This is about the tummy tuck (or abdominoplasty) I had a year after my second child was born. This post probably won’t be of interest to my regular readers but I felt I should put this out there so others may benefit.
I wanted to write about this shortly after I had my procedure because I was frustrated with the lack of information out there, but I didn’t have a blog back then. Doctor’s websites are clinical and informative, but I wanted to know what a real person goes through, how it feels.
I want to help other women who might be in the same boat as me by sharing my experience. Although it has taken me some time to get up the nerve to actually do it. For some reason this feels deeply personal and vulnerable.
Regular readers, forgive me. Skip today and I’ll go back to taking pictures of ugly crap tomorrow.
Ever since I decided to get a tummy tuck, I spent a lot of time on the internet trying to get a candid and honest account of what it is like. I got lots of generalities. I wanted a blow-by-blow with no sugar coating. Despite my efforts I was unprepared for the experience and suffered unnecessary physical and emotional pain.
I thought having had two c-sections would prepare me for the recovery. It didn’t. I had unrealistic expectations and became depressed when they weren’t immediately met. With five years behind me, I can honestly say that it was the right thing to do. I am happy with the results and am glad to have a strong and intact core. I’m glad I did it but happy that it is over.
There are plenty of people and websites that say they can be healed without surgery, and that may be the case for some, but it wasn’t for me. I consider myself to be athletic and was aggressive and regular about working to heal my diastasis. I worked with professionals.
A tummy tuck is no joke and it isn’t the easy way to get your body back. It is painful, expensive and not without very real risks. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are certain that you have explored all the non-surgical alternatives first.
A general surgeon explained that since my diastasis didn’t heal after a year of rehab, it was unlikely that it ever would. He recommended I see a plastic surgeon to fix it. I felt like my back and core integrity was compromised by the split and I admit that my vanity was involved. I hated the way I looked.
It was hard for me to admit that I wanted plastic surgery. I had been against it on principal for so many years. I had to let go of worrying what other people might think of me. I wanted my body back.
Suffice to say I was very thin and active at the time and could tighten my abs to make my waist look small, but the second I relaxed I felt like everything fell apart. I could press my fingers through the diastasis and feel my internal organs, which really freaked me out.
At the time I took these photos, I was almost ten pounds lighter than I am now. The bottom right hand photo is of me lying on my back.
I did my research and found a board certified plastic surgeon that provided references. He charged what was about the going rate, perhaps a little more. I firmly believe that you get what you pay for although I have completely blocked out the cost. It was a lot.
When a friend of mine decided to get a tummy tuck, I shared my experience to support her during recovery. Keep in mind that she was using the same surgeon that I did so I felt comfortable telling her what she would likely experience. I am unfamiliar with other surgeons’ protocol.
I am not a doctor; this is my personal experience and should not replace or supersede doctor’s orders or advice. Please err on the side of caution and discuss your plans with your doctor.
I am very type-A and I like to be prepared. I am sharing my experience of a tummy tuck in hopes that it will help you. I hope it isn’t intimidating or frightening because I am very frank.
Remember that this was my experience and yours might be very different but if you can be prepared for the worst, you might find that it is easier to manage.
I believe that knowledge is power and I would have had a better experience had I known exactly what lay ahead of me. I am really excited for you and I know how happy you will be with the results. Dr. K is an excellent surgeon and his head nurse is wonderful. You are in good hands.
I want to make sure that you are physically and emotionally prepared for the procedure so you will have the best possible outcome.
PS: It has been a while since I had my procedure so my time frame for when you get stitches out, can exercise, etc may be off. Always follow the doctor’s orders.
Your friend, Vivienne
Prior to Surgery
You will meet with a nutritionist who will give you supplements to take prior to the surgery, starting a week or more before the big day. You will also be given a list of foods, supplements and medications you should not take. Do as directed and get a med box to dole out your pills because there will be lots of them.
Purchase several boxes of scar strips (Curad or Mederma are a couple brands I know of; they may be cheaper if you order them on-line) you will need at least four boxes and the big strips are the best, you can cut them down with scissors to make them last longer. The strips work well because they compress the scar to flatten it.
Also purchase a couple long, soft, knit tank tops that come down well over your hips. You will want to wear these under the elastic compression garment that the doctor gives you. It will make things far more comfortable.
Fill your prescriptions and study the dosages and time frames for taking your drugs post-op. You don’t want to wait to figure it out after the surgery.
Start a folder for all your information (keep this letter in it). Create a chart so you can check off the drugs as you take them and note the times. Take note of what drugs can and cannot overlap.
This is very important. You must keep up with your meds, especially the pain meds because you don’t want to get behind the pain.
If your schedule calls for a middle of the night dosage, set your alarm and wake up. The pain is worst in the morning when you’ve slept through a dosage and the meds have worn off. It’s better to just wake up for a minute and take the pill.
This is not a time for being macho or seeing if you can handle the discomfort. You will heal faster if you manage the pain.
If you aren’t prescribed a stool softener, get one OTC and some Metamucil. The opiates will slow down your digestive tract and constipation can be a very uncomfortable and potentially serious complication. Believe me, you don’t want anything else going on with your abdomen.
Remember to wait two hours after taking the Metamucil before you take any drugs, the fiber will interfere with the absorption. Please discuss this with your doctor.
Set up a recovery space. If you have a good recliner, sleep there. It is much easier to get out of recliner than a bed. Keep water, meds, food, phone and entertainment within arm’s reach. Make plans for someone to do your meal prep and help with the kids for an entire week. No joke. It will take at least this long.
Do not kid yourself into thinking you can go back to work after a long weekend.
You will be taking narcotics so you won’t be able to drive. Reach out to friends, set up play-dates, and check your calendar for school events and things that you might need to attend or beg off of.
Day of Surgery
No food, of course, before your surgery. You will be instructed to shower and wash the area with a special soap and not apply any lotion, deodorant or perfume. Show up wearing comfortable pajamas, a robe, and slippers. No one will care what you are wearing and the nurses will commend you for being practical.
Don’t wear anything that you have to slip over your head and don’t think you will leave looking all sexy and thin. You won’t. Bring a book because you may have to wait around a bit.
You will meet with the doctor and he will draw on your torso, the nurse will do your I.V., then the anesthesiologist will show up and you won’t remember falling asleep.
When you wake up it will be done. You won’t feel any pain because of the local and the nurse may offer you something to eat. The nurse will help you dress and call someone to pick you up.
You will feel dopey but kind of okay. Spend the entire rest of the day in bed. DVDs are great because you won’t be able to concentrate well enough to read. You will be drifting in and out all day.
You will be sent home in a compression garment (girdle) that you must wear 24 hours-a-day for the next five weeks. Although it is very medical looking, it really is the best. I tried getting Spanx or Flexees because they were smoother, but they really didn’t feel as good. You need a ton of support.
Steer clear of anything with boning. Just use what the doctor gives you and wear the cotton tank under it for comfort since it is rather itchy.
You will have a drain placed in your incision and the nurse will show you how to “strip” (empty) the bag of fluids. I found that wearing overalls worked the best because I could feed the line out of the side buttons and I liked having nothing tight around my waist. I wore a small satchel that I put the bag into so it was discrete, or I slipped the container into the pocket of the overalls.
The drain line is held in with a stitch. Removal is quick and the timeframe depends entirely upon the state of your swelling. I waited about a week. It burns a tiny bit when they pull it out.
Your incision will be very red and puffy. You will look and feel like you’ve been cut in half. I can’t emphasize this too much, it will look scary.
The wound will be everted (a method by which the approximated edges of a wound are turned outward; formed by encircling with the needle a larger amount of tissue at the depth of the wound than at the periphery. www.encyclo.co.uk/local/21001) at the stitching line and will look ugly and alarming but will heal flat. It will eventually become a hairline scar, barely visible. Just be prepared for this and know that it will look great in several months.
I can’t remember when I was cleared to shower, but I recall being very nervous about it. I didn’t want to look. I also didn’t want to show my husband for a very long time. I felt like I had made a big mistake and I was ashamed to show him.
You will not be able to straighten up for about a week. Each day you will get more upright and you will notice that when you are current on your meds you will feel okay and can stand straighter. When they wear off you will start to hunch over again.
Again, stay up with your meds. You need to rest a lot during this time. You will notice that you tire very quickly and feel weak. Take it very easy and don’t plan any social functions or outings. If you need to cough, hold a pillow tightly to your abdomen, it helps.
The abdominoplasty was the hardest recovery I’ve ever experienced. It was easily twice as hard as my c-sections. There was the pain, the inability to stand up straight and the fatigue. Even the simplest activities were exhausting. I had a friend drop by unannounced and she stayed to chat. All I wanted was for her to leave so I could rest. I’ve never felt that tired. It’s a temporary state but one you should be emotionally prepared for.
You may have feelings of regret and depression when you are in pain. You will wonder why you did this to yourself, you might even feel like you’ve been disfigured. This is normal. Remember that what you are seeing is not the end result, you are at the beginning of a lengthy healing process.
Removal of Dressings
When your dressings are removed, brace yourself for a good deal of swelling. The area around your incision and your midline (roughly an anchor shape) will be extremely swollen and your navel may look like a tight slit (mine did, because I did not have enough skin removed to warrant making a new, round one). It will be ugly, bruised and horrible looking. This is normal.
I was horrified when doctor and nurse said my work looked great. It did not look great to someone who didn’t know what she was seeing. They were able to take the long view because they’ve seen thousands of these, but I hadn’t. So be prepared to feel mangled. I did. I think I Googled “botched tummy tucks” all night and cried.
To be perfectly honest, I was hoping that they would remove the dressings and I would suddenly have Jessica Alba’s torso. I didn’t look like her before I had kids and I certainly wasn’t going to look like her after, even with a tummy tuck. Of course I knew this intellectually, but I held that desire in my head. That desire hurt me.
Expect things to look bad for a while, it will make things easier on you.
Every day your swelling will go down (working from the outside towards the center) noticeably, for a month or more, so look forward to that. It’s actually an exciting time because each day there is a measurable change. You will have no feeling on your skin, it will take months for feeling to return but it will come back slowly.
Check to see if you can start using the scar strips now. Cut them to size and change them after showering. Wear them religiously for three months, day and night. It’s worth the effort. When it is comfortable to do so (i.e. absolutely no discomfort) you should massage your scar.
10 Days and On
Although you will be able to walk around from day one, at around 10 days you should be feeling upright and pretty good, but weak. Resume activity according to your doctor’s instructions and don’t push it. I think I started working out at five weeks (as instructed) but abdominal exercises caused a burning sensation so I laid off.
It took a good three months for my abs to feel strong and like they weren’t tearing. My doctor assured me that I couldn’t “undo” the work after five weeks but it felt like I could. I’m telling you this so you are prepared for that feeling.
You can stop wearing your compression garment. At first you will be psyched but you will soon realize that you will need to wean yourself off it slowly.
First stop wearing it at night. Don’t leave home without garment, even if it means stashing it in your purse. You might feel fine without it but find that after a couple hours you feel tired and weak and will want to put it back on.
I had to drive back to the gym one night to retrieve it from my locker because I needed it. It takes about a week to wean off the girdle fully and you might want to continue wearing it when you exercise for a while.
Most of your swelling will be gone but you still may have more to go. I think I went back to doing aerobics (starting with about 15 minutes) and did light weights for my arms and leg-work. I steered clear of crunches for some time. I think you can return to sexual activity at this time as well.
The next few months to a year
Sensation in your skin will slowly return and your scar will get flatter and thinner. It will be red at the margins, which will fade with time. By three months you will feel solid and back to normal. That compromised feeling will be gone. You will also have dropped a couple pant sizes.
It really does take this long to stop feeling guarded when you cough or do ab exercises. To this day (five years post-op) I still have a little numbness on the surface of my abdomen, but it doesn’t bother me.
Refer to this post when you are feeling worried. Ask your doctor lots of questions, especially at the pre and post-ops. Reach out to someone who has undergone surgery for moral support. You may have feelings of regret and depression as you recover. Know that it is very normal to feel this way and it will subside once you heal and are able to resume normal life.
Recovering from a tummy tuck was a hard and painful experience but I don’t regret it at all. In case you are wondering, if you are considering a breast augmentation, now would be the time to do it. You will be so flattened by the tummy tuck that you might as well take advantage of the recovery time.
I will be honest, my abdomen is not entirely free of stretch marks, I don’t have the perfectly smooth skin of my youth, and my belly button is still a bit strange looking to me. But I am strong, I can dance again and lift weights and not have my stomach bulge down the midline. It is a vast improvement.
My abs comes from pole dancing and crunches. All the plastic surgery in the world won’t give you muscle tone if you don’t exercise and eat right.
So that’s my experience. It’s a little scary sharing it, which is ironic given all the other things about myself that I share freely on this blog. I suppose I fear being judged.
As for my friend, she reported going through many of the same emotions and physical challenges that I did. She said it was helpful to have my guide on hand, it kept her focused on the future when things were tough. Today she is thrilled with her results and glad she did it.
Feel free to comment (but please be nice) and ask questions. I can’t give you any official advice but I can talk about what I went through. Good luck to you.