Since S was born five years ago, I have had an umbilical hernia and diastasis recti.
A quick explanation of those terms: when you’re pregnant your rectus abdominus muscles (the ones that run vertically down the centre of your torso) separate so as to allow space for the baby to grow. In two-thirds of women who have had more than one child, they don’t go back (many women remain unaware of their diastasis and just wonder why they can’t get a flat belly or hold it when they need a wee). A hernia occurs when parts of your innerds poke out between that gap in the muscle. Mine is an umbilical hernia because it pokes out above my navel. It’s not very pretty, and losing weight only serves to make it more obvious. I will not post a photo her because it is not nice to look at. Perhaps I will do a “before and after” transformation-type photo in a few months!
I had physio for a while when S was very small, and managed to get my diastasis gap down to one finger (gaps are measured by how many fingers you can fit into the gap; one finger is not considered to be a problem at all). However, stupid as it now sounds, it had not occurred to me that in order to maintain things, I needed to keep doing the physio exercises. I thought the problem was fixed and I could just get on with my life. Over the last few years the diastasis has quietly crept back out so that now it’s four fingers wide (it was only three fingers when I first went for physio). The hernia is much more pronounced, and where I used to be able to just “pop” it back in and it would stay that way for a while, it now just comes straight back out. And sometimes it won’t go back in; it gets stuck and I have to lay very still and concentrate on relaxing all of my muscles until I can coax it back in. If you’re making “vomit” faces right now, welcome to my life. I already had a phobia of belly buttons.
A month or so ago, I went to my GP to ask for a physio referral. I showed her my belly; she was very polite about what is essentially a disaster zone. There is constant fresh scarring around my navel from my nails as I push the hernia back in numerous times each day. She told me I needed a form for self-referral to physio, and then suggested she refer me to a surgical consultant too. I said no; I didn’t want to even entertain the idea of surgery. I explained to her that I am a single parent with no back-up care for my child.
Twenty years ago my mother had surgery for her hernia. She had to arrange for my sisters to stay with her brother in Surrey for several weeks while she recovered, and it was months before she was able to take them to school herself again. My sister once told me that while she had enjoyed living with our uncle, she had thought she must have done something wrong to have been sent away. I can’t stand the thought of the same thing happening with S. I walk her to and from school every day, up a rather steep hill. I walk everywhere; I’m very independent (a mixture of choice and necessity). I don’t have time to spend a month or more flat on my back, unable to even lift a saucepan – which is what happened with my mother.
The GP told me that right now, a hernia operation would be minor day surgery with a short recovery period, whereas if one day it gets stuck and I can’t get it to go back in, I could be looking at emergency surgery with a month in hospital and no time to plan a contingency. I agreed to the referral.
Shortly after this, I met Jaime, who blogs at The Oliver’s Madhouse, at an event. She recently had an operation for her diastasis recti – but on a much larger scale. I talked to her about how it had gone, and she told me she had been in a lot of pain for a while (hers was much more serious) but pointed out that hers had been getting progressively worse for many years. She told me that now everything had healed, she was really glad she’d had her operation. I began to think perhaps if I did need an operation, it might not be the end of the world.
My appointment was last Monday; I spent a maximum of three minutes speaking to the surgeon, before being sent down to the pre-op assessment ward and overhearing that my operation was to be marked as urgent, and would happen within six weeks.
I almost fell over! ( If you’ve not already seen it, you can watch the Facebook Live I did that evening here) Perhaps because I’ve been living with it for five years, I didn’t think my hernia was that big a deal. I honestly expected to get to the hospital and for the surgeon to tell me off for wasting his time before sending me away with another self-referral form for physio (from whom I have still not heard). At most, I expected to be told to come back in six months to see how bad it was, perhaps to be put on an endless waiting list. I did not expect to be swabbed for MRSA, and to receive a letter a few days later to inform me my operation will be at the end of September.
I have never had an operation before. The only time I’ve ever stayed in hospital overnight was when I had S, and aside from physio, I don’t recall having been there since. I have been given very little information as to how serious the operation is, how long recovery will be, what I will and won’t be able to do. The leaflet that came with my appointment was a generic “welcome to the day surgery unit” leaflet with no information about my particular operation. I am a person who likes to know details: what exactly will happen; who will be there; how long will it take; when will I be home; what will I be able to do; how long will I take to recover. I know next to nothing, and it’s panicking me.
I’ve a friend who is a personal trainer and recently underwent a hip operation, from which he recovered ridiculously quickly, astounding his doctors. I know he was preparing for this both mentally and physically beforehand, so I asked him for his advice. He gave me lots of practical advice, but the best thing he said was that I should think of this only in a positive way: cultivate a calm mindset; don’t read anything negative about the procedure; remember that although this is a big deal for me, it’s a routine “day at the office” for the surgeon; don’t listen to anyone who brings doom and gloom to the party. So that, and a great deal of meditation and affirmation is my plan… oh, and relying heavily on friends and family for help – gulp!