Do It for You: Surgery When your World Turns Upside Down
Meghan was a very active mom with a very busy house. She loved exercise—from tumbling with her two toddlers to running the occasional 5K. Her world was turned upside down, however, when she had her twins in September 2013 at age 33. “I had four babies in three years, the last a set of twins 14 months after my last child—this time with a C-section,” says Meghan.
While the twins weren’t planned, she and her husband were happy to welcome them into the family, but her body showed the strain of not only having twins, but having four children so close together. When she had the twins, her two other children were ages three and one.
Life Far from Normal
After giving birth to the twins, Meghan found her life was far from normal. “I couldn’t eat even small amounts of food without feeling nauseated. I was nauseous after eating half a sandwich at lunch. Even a bowl of cereal made me feel like I had gorged myself all day. I couldn’t walk without stopping to catch my breath, and my GI tract was off.”
Meghan not only had an umbilical or “belly button” hernia; she also suffered from diastasis recti, or separation of the abdominal wall which can occur anytime during the last half of a pregnancy but is most commonly seen after the delivery. While every pregnant woman experiences a small amount of widening of the mid-line, about 30% of all pregnant women experience a separation of more than 2.5 finger-widths, or 2 centimeters, which is considered problematic.
From the force of the uterus pushing against the abdominal wall to accommodate the twins, Meghan’s abdominal wall had become lax and had separated 4 finger-widths. The thinner mid-line tissue no longer provided adequate support for her torso and internal organs, and her day-to-day life was severely curtailed.
Time to Find a Doctor
Since the separation closes spontaneously for some women, Meghan spent two years working hard to exercise, hoping the muscles would return to their normal position. She found, however, that her normal routine of exercise was no longer possible. “I have always loved running. Before the surgery, I ran a 5 K. I had to stop constantly to catch my breath and walked part of the way. I found I didn’t have any stamina,” says Meghan. She also developed back spasms for the first time in her life. “Once my back spasm was so severe I found myself on my knees in tears—I couldn’t move—my babies were just toddlers.”
Meghan had reached a turning point. “I had to lean on the counter just to wash dishes; I worried about my back getting worse and was constantly hunched over—I had no abdominal muscles to support my back,” she explained. It was time to find a doctor.
“I talked to a few but just fell in love with Dr. Pan,” says Meghan. “She listened to all my troubles—I never had surgery before (other than my C-section) and was nervous and scared. She spoke calmly and softly and didn’t say too much. Instead, she gave me clear options about what she could do to help. Dr. Pan never encouraged me to do anything I didn’t want.”
Meghan adds, “The staff was also so accommodating. They put me at such ease and answered all of my questions.”
The Surgery: Immediate Gratification
During one surgery in March 2016, Dr. Pan repaired Meghan’s hernia, corrected the rectus diastasis, and did the breast augmentation. For the abdomen, Dr. Pan performed a tummy tuck or abdominoplasty. She sewed the abdominal muscles together and flattened the abdomen by removing extra fat and skin of the abdominal wall.
Meghan noticed a difference right away when she woke up from the anesthesia: “First thing I noticed was that I could breathe easily again. It was immediate gratification!” Dr. Pan put her on an effective schedule of pain meds. “I felt less pain than with my C-section,” says Meghan.
Meghan went home to stay with her parents on the same day of the surgery, while her husband was home with the four children. The first two days she rested, not getting up except to go to the bathroom. She had two drains in her abdomen, which she emptied twice a day for three days, with minimal drainage. Within five days she felt well enough to attend an event. “I had surgery Wednesday morning—by Sunday I was able to attend a dear friend’s baby shower. I found I could finally stand up straight—there was a bit of tension but no pain,” says Meghan.
The drains and the bandages from her chest were removed at the same time, one week after surgery. While Meghan returned to her family after two days, she wasn’t able to lift her children or anything over 10 pounds for six to eight weeks. “I felt well enough to do so earlier, but followed the doctor’s orders,” she explains. “This surgery was too important to mess up, and I wanted my body to heal properly so as not to disrupt the fine work Dr. Pan had done for me and my family.”
Dr. Pan kept close track of Meghan throughout her recovery. “Dr. Pan was so sweet and accommodating,” says Meghan. “She saw me after 1 week, 3 weeks, 7 weeks, and then at 3-month intervals to make sure my scars were truly healing and to look for infection—there was none.”
Life Post Surgery
Meghan is enthusiastic about describing her life post surgery. “Everything now feels perfectly normal,” she says. Five months after the surgery, Meghan ran another 5K. According to Meghan, “It was like I never had anything done. I got in under 30 minutes—I had knocked off 10 minutes from my run before the surgery—I could breathe so much easier and didn’t have to stop to catch my breath. Before, without support for my diaphragm and abdominal muscles, it felt like there was a pendulum in my gut—I don’t have that any more. I never dreamed it would be so much easier—it was wild!”
As the mother of three young girls and a son, Meghan admits that she struggled with the vanity aspect of her surgery. “I wanted to do all of this for the right reasons,” she says. As she recounts all the ways her day-to-day life has improved, Meghan concludes, “Being vain has nothing to do with it. It’s about being healthier, being able to exercise, and being a better mom. Now I can run around and play with my kids—before I was watching them from the sidelines.
“Intimately, things are better. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, and felt less desire. I realized I’m too young not to enjoy being with my husband. Now my self esteem is back. I feel like it’s our honeymoon again, even with four children.”
Meghan summarizes, “Don’t worry about what society thinks. Don’t do this for your family, your husband, or society. It’s important to be the best you can be—and feel good about being you. What counts is to feel like yourself again. Do it for you.”