I like to think of myself as educated. I went to university and obtained a piece of paper that proves that I have a semi-passable attention span, anyway.
I’m what society would consider a fit woman: I eat very consciously, exercise hard almost every day and avoid ingestion of anything I think might jeopardize my shot at an opportunity to roam the planet with gray hair and a senior citizen’s card. I read WebMD and health and fitness books along with my Lainey Gossip.
But, during my latest pregnancy, I was stunned by how little I knew about my body and what pregnancy might do to it. I’m surprised about what’s happened to me, and even more about the fact that nobody told me about any of this — that I had no idea.
Now that I have Diastasis recti and two children, I’m beginning to understand that multitudes of women who have experienced post-pregnancy complications were never told much about it — and that nobody really talks about them.
Here are things I have learned about babies, pregnancy and bodies that I never knew before, even as a relatively educated mother-of-one.
1. Your abs will separate
I had heard that some women experience ab separation in pregnancy. My understanding was that the majority of women who experienced this were women who had large babies, multiples or who had weak “abdominal walls.” I thought I’d probably be immune because I thought I was strong and fit.
The reality is this: All women will experience a degree of abdominal separation in pregnancy — it’s an inevitable part of growing a baby. The size of the separation varies between women and only becomes “abnormal” when there is a postpartum separation of more than 2.5 centimetres. Women need to know about Diastasis recti and check themselves after childbirth. I can only imagine how many moms must be wandering around out there with back pain and an unflappable pot belly, believing that they just need to eat better to get rid of the bulge.
2. Your scar might need a massage
I went to physiotherapy last week after learning that surgery is not the only cure for Diastasis recti (although doctors may tell you that.) Many physiotherapists believe that there are very specific exercises you can do to close the gap between your abdominal muscles — to reduce the chance of back pain and incontinence but also to get rid of a protruding belly that no longer has muscles holding it in place. This is the route I’d like to believe in. The last thing I need is more surgery around my abs.
While I was at physio, my physiotherapist touched my eight-week-old C-section scar, manipulating the hardness underneath and around it. She explained that the hard tissue could prevent my core from performing its proper functions to heal and that massages might help.
It sounded a bit crazy to me and I wasn’t super keen on the thought of a massage therapist rubbing around one of the most sensitive and painful areas of my body. But my scar massage, done by a licensed and experienced massage therapist, was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. My stomach felt lighter. I felt like a vice grip had been removed from around my waist. I don’t quite know how to explain the relief I felt in that whole area afterward.
When she was done, the massage therapist instructed me to look in the mirror. I’m no expert on physiology — I’m not even really competent — so I don’t totally understand why the area around my scar was suddenly less inflamed or why my lower stomach appeared more normal and contoured — but I was amazed and relieved. No one ever told me that my scar would probably benefit from some TLC. I’m making another appointment next week.
3. Crunches are not all that good for you. And you should probably know more about your core
When my stomach didn’t recede after six weeks postpartum and I began to suspect something was wrong, I still didn’t know about Diastasis recti.
“It must be because I’m older,” I thought. “Maybe my skin stretched out and has less elasticity to go back. Maybe I ate too many English muffins in my first trimester and I just have to lose a little flab.”
I did sit-ups at the gym. Pull-ups and heavy lifts felt awful at six weeks postpartum, but sit-ups were something I could do, and I felt productive doing them. Little did I know that I was likely making my problem much worse.
Crunches and sit-ups (and most traditional ab work including planks, depending who you believe) will worsen Diastasis recti because they only work the most superficial abdominal muscles and neglect the core. If the core is already weak, sit-ups will not make them stronger.
To heal Diastasis recti, the core must be strengthened with exercises that involve awarenss of the centre of the body: kegels, stretches, concentrated and gentle pulls. I’m embarrassed to say that when my physiotherapist asked me to flex my core, I didn’t know how to do it. I’m learning now.
4. Sometimes rules are made for a good reason
I wish I had waited the full six weeks recovery period before I started working out again. I believe my 3.5 centimetre gap was worsened due to my overeagerness to get cracking at CrossFit again. Sometimes rules should be followed and sometimes I’m a jerk for not following them — and the only person I hurt with my disregard is me.
I need to tack this on my wall.
5. You are not what you were. That is OK. No, really
I wanted to bounce back quickly. There’s a reason for the name of this column: I planned to spring back in record time and prove that hard exercise, a career, an awesome family AND a firm booty were totally possible for the everyday mom. Plans sometimes go awry and I may never have a six-pack again. I may never close the gap and there may be exercises that might be off-limit to me for the rest of my life.
But I have a healthy and sunshine-emitting baby. My six-year-old is one of the most special little boys on the planet. My husband still loves me, sans rock-hard stomach. Nobody has packed up their respect for me because I’m not breaking any overhead squat records at our gym.
I am healing my body gently now, without the fervor. I have nothing to prove to anyone and my body is not 25 years old anymore. It has coddled and ripened two babies and it needs me to give it the respect and gentleness it deserves.
I’m OK with that, finally.
I wish I’d been OK with it before.
There is not a whole lot of information on Diastasis recti and the postpartum body online, and what is there often conflicts. Please feel free to share your experiences here, or let me know if you have a really great information resource for me to share.