I had an umbilical hernia repair with mesh in September 2017, having had a hernia and diastasis recti for five years. You can read about the diastasis and my experience during those five years here.
I had an initial meeting with a consultant which was no longer than ten minutes; in this consultation he looked at my belly and confirmed I would be having an operation within six weeks. Up to this point I had been expecting to be told I was making a fuss over nothing, and to stop wasting precious NHS resources! When the consultant announced there would be an operation, I asked for more information about recovery time and so on, but the information I received was not terribly helpful. I was told it would be day surgery, but that I definitely wouldn’t be able to drive myself home (I don’t even drive anyway), and that recovery time would be “wait and see” – not very useful when you’re a single parent and need to get your child to and from school every day!
When I received my date for surgery I arranged for S to stay with a friend for the first few nights after my operation, and for my sister to spend the first night with me since one is not supposed to be left unattended after a general anaesthetic. As it happened though, the hernia got stuck about a week before the operation and I ended up having emergency surgery.
Before the operation the surgeon talked to me about what would happen. He explained that if the part of my bowel that was stuck had been damaged they may need to re-section the bowel. I had heard about people having issues with mesh, so I asked about the risks involved. His response put things into perspective for me: there is an inherent risk involved with putting anything “foreign” into the body – but “not to be over dramatic here, but if we don’t do this operation there is a chance you could die.”
Umbilical hernia repair with mesh
I was going to share a YouTube video that shows what’s done during the surgery, but it’s a bit squeamy – and something I made sure not to watch until after mine had been done! Feel free to search YouTube though; there are lots of videos detailing exactly what is done during surgery of this kind. My surgery was done “open” rather than laporoscopically, and under general anaesthetic.
When I woke up from the operation I was fairly groggy, but also surprised by my pain levels which were not too bad. I was also dosed up on morphine though! In order to move me back to the ward, they asked me to shift myself over to a different bed, which I managed – I found that my fear of searing pain inhibited my movement more than the actual pain did. Again – morphine played a part here!
A little later on the ward someone came and walked with me to the toilet, which was about ten feet from my bed. Again, I was more worried about hurting myself or pulling my stitches – there wasn’t a huge amount of pain and I managed to get myself in and out of bed ok. Overnight and the next morning I had morphine a few times but wasn’t in agony; more just uncomfortable, and nervous of moving or using my stomach muscles.
I stayed in hospital overnight and went home the following afternoon with some codeine for pain management. At this point I was terrified of ripping out a stitch or something. I’d been told that there were internal stitches and that I should avoid lifting anything because if the stitches broke, I would need to have the entire operation done again.
The operation was on a Thursday afternoon; the surgeon told me I should keep the dressing on until Friday afternoon, and not have shower until Saturday – other than that, just give it a good few weeks before having a bath or going swimming, avoid standing with the wound directly under the shower, and allow the stitches to dry out properly any time they got wet.
By the following Tuesday, I was at a school sports day, standing in a damp field for two hours. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience of my life, but it was manageable. The main thing I was affected by was the anaesthetic – I didn’t feel myself for a good few weeks afterwards and it took me several months to get my head “back in the game.”
Immediately after I’d had the operation, people commented that I looked skinny; I felt like I’d had weight loss surgery and was so pleased. Having an umbilical hernia means that rather than just being “fat” you have a lump sticking out above your navel, which can often be mistaken for pregnancy. My hernia had got so bad that even my most baggy clothes couldn’t hide it; I felt self conscious all the time. Now that it was gone, I was so pleased.
Within a week or so, I was able to walk into town and lift small items. I walked S to school in the mornings, and for a couple of weeks a friend brought her home for me so that I didn’t overdo it. I felt good though and the wound healed fairly quickly. The scar itself is around 5cm long and runs horizontally across my belly button. This means that most of it is actually inside my belly button and barely noticeable – that might change if I lose some weight though!
For a long while there was a knot of what I imagine was internal stitches beneath the external wound. These remained for months after the visible stitches had dissolved and the wound was closed – but they weren’t uncomfortable.
When I originally went to my GP to ask for help with my hernia, I requested a referral for physio. I’m not sure if the different departments spoke to each other or anything, but around a month after my operation, my first physio appointment came through. After five years of having a diastasis I had kind of resigned myself to it always being there so I was surprised when I saw the physio, who is an expert in diastasis, and she told me it wasn’t that bad and it was possible to close the gap.
I was given some physio exercises and advice about how to stand, to make sure I wasn’t arching my back, where my hips should be and so on.
To be honest, I was shocked when I went back to see the physio a month or so later, and was discharged! I thought she must be wrong and that the gap couldn’t possibly have closed – but it had.
At the time of writing, it is eight months since I had my operation. The wound is completely healed, and the lump I could feel internally has gone. My diastasis has closed – though I am always mindful of ensuring I don’t do things that could stress the area.
I’ll be honest; until a couple of weeks ago I was getting the occasional twinge which I think must have been from the mesh which is obviously not as flexible as the flesh around it. I am still wary of doing things that involve a weight that cannot be carried close to my body, or anything that doesn’t feel “stable.”
It’s also interesting to note that this past week or so is the first time since having my operation that I’ve actually been able to tense my deep internal abdominal muscles. The best way I can think of to explain this is that when you’ve just had a baby and they tell you to exercise your pelvic floor – to start with, your brain simply cannot find the muscles; it’s like they’re not there. I wasn’t even really aware that my brain was not in touch with all of the muscles of my belly, but just lately I’ve found that I’m able to suck my muscles in and together much more than I could before. And I think perhaps my being able to do this has strengthened my core and might be the reason I don’t feel twinges from the mesh any longer.
Incidentally, the image at the top of this post is of a glass sculpture by Geraldine McLoughlin currently (June 2018) on display in Salisbury Library and forming part of Salisbury Art Trail. It has nothing to do with the post really; I just really liked the sculpture!
Anisha · 24/10/2018 at 01:23
Hi – thanks for sharing your experience. I am reading your blog just now as I have been diagnosed with umbilical hernia. As per research it can be treated with exercises but after reading your blog I somehow feel surgery is the only option. Can you please share how is do you feel now after a year?
Amanda · 28/12/2018 at 13:09
Thank you for posting this – I’ve struggled trying to find out what the experience is like after the surgery and you’ve answered many of my questions!
Joanne · 05/02/2019 at 21:42
Hi Vicky, thank you for sharing. How wide was your DR. Mine is very wide and interestingly I went to see a hernia specialist this week who told me to have a tummy tuck to sort it all as my gap was too wide!
Vicky Charles · 15/02/2019 at 11:08
Oh wow that is an interesting one! My DR was about 5 fingers at its worst. I’m really lucky in that once they sorted the hernia the muscles went back (with help from physio) fairly quickly.
Can you get a second opinion? A tummy tuck seems a little extreme. But I am by no means an expert on that front!
Robin Leslee · 18/11/2019 at 15:58
I’m having a repair to this same area this Friday, I have diactus recti but the only sign is that my belly button isn’t as deep and I can feel the muscles separate a tad if I do sit ups (which I avoid). I’m very nervous as I really want to develop a strong core, do you feel like you can do exercise you couldn’t do before..? Will I never be able to do sit ups etc? after surgery?. Mine was caused by pg and throwing up for literally 18 months through both pregnancies.. I’ve waited 5 years to get it repaired but I’m still nervous as heck.
Jade · 14/05/2020 at 04:57
Hi Robin, I am interested to know how you went with your surgery. I am so nervous but I haven’t even requested the surgery yet. Only been told I have one. Mine is a result of vomiting 40-50 time per day of my pregnancies. :(
Jessica · 19/06/2019 at 03:41
Hi i love your experince!!!! I can deff relate. Do u have a pic of before and after sugery ?
frankiegreen (@franticspracks) · 31/08/2019 at 03:36
This is really helpful Vicky. Saw GP today who confirmed umbilical hernia (which I suspect I’ve had since first baby, now 11!) and is referring for surgery. I wish I’d read your post and done some further research prior as I’m wondering post appointment if I might also have Diastasis recti as generally look about 4 months pregnant (had 3rd child 3.5yrs ago) and even before pregnancy with her noted domed tummy so will query with surgeon. Thanks for useful and practical piece on this.
Crystal Gilham · 26/02/2020 at 17:20
It takes 3 layers to cover my belly button. I have tried to see how wide my muscles are but I’m not able to. My back is in extreme pain every morning. My oldest is about to be 11 and I’ve looked pg since having him. I barely weighed 100lbs and then he was born 8,13. My 3rd…..almost killed me as well. He was born a little premature at 9,14 and my leg would separate from pelvic bone. The back pain takes my breath away! I constantly look 9 months pg. I went in at 206 and I’m currently at 156. My stomach sticks out further than my boobs and I breast feed. My 3rd child is now 5 months. My aunt saw me when I was trying in clothes (problems finding the right size) and she said it looks like I have a hernia. Anyone experience back pain with it?
Anna Alford · 09/04/2020 at 09:54
I have got an incarcarated umbilical hernia and now awaiting an appointment at the hospital but with it being a terrible time with the coronavirus, it may be a long wait. I am concerned it will strangulate before I get seen. Your article is very helpful. Did you find the hernia made you feel sick quite often? I have felt really sick for days. Thanks
Stephanie Delp · 09/06/2020 at 06:39
I can relate to this. I had a hernia surgery but it did nothing. What Is the name of the surgery that helps?
I’m not able to even paint my toes…just like when I was prego. I look prego but I’m not. I see a doc tomor but I want a new family doctor since first surgery did nothing and now I look even more prego.
Angela · 16/06/2020 at 14:56
I also have the same condition and this is my first child.My doc says I shud finish with child birth and then I can fix it.I feel really uncomfortable cos my cloths don’t fit like they shud because of the bulge.
Amz bal · 07/09/2020 at 13:15
Hello I am having umbilical hernia surgery with Mesh too next week. And I am very terrified of the mesh especially as I still want to have another child. Please can you tell me your experience of the mesh …… does it hurt? Are you able to stretch your tummy? And how did you heal your diastasis?
Diastasis Recti and Umbilical Hernia: My Experience - Single Mother Ahoy · 25/11/2018 at 17:22
[…] Like many women, after having a baby I found myself with a diastasis recti – and then an umbilical hernia too. I lived with these for five years, and then in September 2017 I had an operation to repair the umbilical hernia. After this I had physio which has helped to repair the diastasis recti. This blog post details my experience. You can read about my experience of umbilical hernia repair with mesh here. […]