This story is for the mamas, or partners of mamas, or parents of mamas. In fact, anyone who has ever been in relation to anyone who has carried a baby.
My babies are older now - ages 9, 6 and 3-year-old twins. But, I’m not here to talk about parenting. I’m here to talk about our postpartum bodies. Like, way postpartum – this condition carries on for years and years, unchecked, unnoticed, just another thing us mamas solider on with.
When our twins were ten months old, my body broke. I had a seemingly insignificant and small accident – slipping while reaching to pick up my twin boy – and my neck completely seized up. The pain of my neglected, stiff neck was beyond anything I had experienced. It crushed me and left me incapable of almost everything. I couldn’t turn from left to right. My jaw locked, and I could barely talk. The pain radiated from the tip of my neck to my shoulders. I couldn’t sleep without a good dose of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Fear took hold. Crazed healing women was born. I booked to see an osteopath, a physiotherapist, an acupuncturist, a masseuse – all providing very temporary relief, only to have the pain return within hours. Finally, I tried a chiropractor. She did nothing to heal my aching neck but she did put me on the path to healing. After hearing my history –my pregnancies combined with years of desk-sitting and poor posture – she decided to do a diastasis check.
“Honey,” she said. “You have a huge separation; you have diastasis recti.”
“What is that?”
“Your abdominals separated when you were pregnant with the twins and haven’t healed. I’d say that improper alignment and a weak core combined with two other pregnancies are the culprits. The twin pregnancy was the tip of the iceberg.”
Diastasis recti – the crazily common prenatal and postpartum condition that no one has heard of - well, at least I hadn’t. One study, published in PubMed, found that up to 60% of women may experience diastasis recti postpartum. Some pelvic floor physiotherapists claim that 90% of mothers have diastasis recti.
Our abdominal muscles and connective tissues are stretched during pregnancy to accommodate our growing baby (or babies in my case). Essentially the ‘six pack’ is pulled apart – either partially or fully – so much so that the stomach protrudes.
I recalled vague memories of being told this in hospital. The physio did come to see me. And he or she gave me a flyer. However, in my hospital room, with my twin babies in their neonatal cribs and two other children to consume me, I didn’t take it in. I don’t even think the flyer came home with me. There was no follow up. No further mention of it. No further thought of it - until my body broke, that is.
The only slight silver lining was that I finally had a reason why I couldn’t shift my post-baby pooch. I was tired of being asked, “when are you due?”. My abs bounced back seemingly intact after my first two children. Now it looked like I was permanently pregnant. This, I found out, was a common side effect of diastasis recti.
So, if you’re a mama with an unshifting pooch, chronic back pain, a niggling sore neck, super tight hips, pelvic floor dysfunction or restricted movement in the pelvic arena, poor posture, constipation or bloating, then you may have diastasis recti. These are all common side effects of the condition. Crazy what we contend with, hey?!
Our twins are now three. I have spent the last two years trying to rebuild my core from the inside out. I’ve worked with a physiotherapist and tested an online program. But, despite the 6am alarm that had me bleary-eyed in the lounge room doing my exercises four times a week, my neck and back still ached and my separation was, well, still separated. So much so that I had a hernia pop out of said separation. Yes, a hernia!
Surgery was next for me. I tried to avoid it; I did. But I have since learned that are some abdominal separations that require surgery. Dr. Sarah Ellis Duvall (PT, DPT, CPT, CNC) says on her website: “If the fascial damage is extensive, the patient is loading correctly, tried multiple PTs and the abdominal separation is causing issues like back, hip, pelvic floor or neck pain, then call the surgeon.”
Now I had hoped - or even reasonably expected - that my diastasis recti repair would be a procedure covered by my insurance company. I had had a physiotherapist, GP and two surgeons all confirm that I was suffering “mechanical issues” due to it. Yet, despite supporting letters from the surgeons, the insurance company said no, and the cost was not covered. Insurance companies claim that the procedure is elective and cosmetic. For me, there was nothing cosmetic about it. I was in pain, had mobility limitations and could no longer lift my kids. And throw in a hernia to boot!
Reluctantly though, we paid for it. I’m fortunate we were able to. As I write, I’m in the throes of post-surgery recovery. The surgeon found that my abdominal muscles were still separated by 8cm. Surgery was, in fact, the only option for me. Elective? I call BS! Is this fair? Hell no!
Perhaps it's time that the insurance coverage for diastasis recti is reviewed - not by men, but by mothers who have lived with it.
~ © 2020 Lara Charles
Lara Charles is an Australian writer and mama living in Aotearoa, New Zealand, with her husband and four children. She is a storyteller, here to give rise to the everyday person searching for meaning and completeness.
Every so often I'll drop a line about what I'm pondering or reading or watching. You'll also be the first the know when my book is released and go in the draw to win a copy! Thanks so much for signing up.