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My Split Stomach

As told to C. Rosenberg

Are people asking you when you’re due long after baby is born? You might be struggling with diastasis recti. What this surprisingly common condition looks like — and what you can do about it

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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OPEN SECRET I’d kept my friends apprised of my situation and what I was learning about diastasis recti, but I knew there were so many people who’d never heard of it — and maybe were suffering too. Why is this a secret? I wondered. Why aren’t obstetric offices plastered with articles about diastasis recti?

B y the time I was 15 years old, doing 300 sit-ups a day was just one part of my exercise regimen. As befits a fitness buff, my abdominal muscles were as tough as a brick wall.

After my first child was born, the brick wall was gone. I tried every ab exercise that exists, dieted like crazy, biked and walked, but with zero success.

After my third child was born, things escalated.

“B’shaah tovah!” strangers “congratulated” me on the “impending birth” during those weeks and months postpartum.

“Is this normal?” my husband asked.

“I think you should get it checked out,” a friend said. “This is not normal.”

“Why isn’t my abdomen going back into place?” I Googled every variation of the question I could think of, but nothing solid turned up, so I turned to my OB.

“Exercise,” she said dismissively.

I had a feeling many women in her practice express the same sentiment — but I really had a problem. I wasn’t just searching for a thin waistline. I didn’t bring it up with my primary care physician, but I did go through several OBs, and they were all dismissive.

With each subsequent pregnancy, the situation exacerbated. It wasn’t just an issue of not looking fit; I felt as if I couldn’t physically support my pregnancy. I took to wearing a thick, supportive belt beneath my clothing — a support most other women have naturally. As I’d enter my ninth month, I’d daven to Hashem that I should give birth today; I felt as if I couldn’t hold the load any longer.

By the time I had four children, I looked more pregnant months after birth than my neighbor did immediately before she had her twins. The difference was that I wasn’t carrying anything besides a bloated stomach.

Refusing to give up the search, I finally stumbled upon my eureka diagnosis: diastasis recti. This condition isn’t just extra pounds put on during pregnancy; it occurs when organs bulge onto the connective tissue between two stomach muscles known as rectus abdominis. The larger the gap between the muscles, the less power the connective tissue has to hold the organs in their proper places. As the organs push out the connective tissue, the stomach appears larger. Furthermore, the exercises everyone told me to do were the very exercises to be avoided!

I did a quick self-check and found that I could fit my entire fist in the gap between the rectus abdominis muscles!

“I think I have diastasis recti,” I told my OB at the postpartum visit.

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Can you check?”

She did — and then admitted that I did have the condition. “But you can’t do anything about it anyway,” she said.

Upset and discouraged, I left the office. Where was the cure I was hoping for?

Now that I knew what I was looking for, I could finally do a targeted search. The solution Google sent my way? Get an abdominoplasty (commonly known as a tummy tuck), a procedure involving removing excess skin and fat, plus sewing together the recti muscle (sometimes two separate procedures). Not for me.

In addition to the hefty price tag (upward of $10,000, and since it’s viewed as cosmetic surgery and performed by a plastic surgeon, insurance companies may not cover the cost), pregnancies are discouraged after tummy tucks, and I was hoping my family would still grow. Additionally, I couldn’t imagine the difficult, prolonged recovery.

I continued with my research. And hit the jackpot with my discovery of the Tupler Technique — an exercise program created to close a diastasis.

I read scores of reviews from experts unaffiliated with the Tupler Technique, and a slew of testimonials.

“You look fantabulous!” my friends and former exercise partners told me. “Your stomach is totally gone!”

I even learned that coaches who walked people through the tummy-tuck procedure recommended the Tupler Technique first; Tupler was everywhere. Since it involved an outlay of only $150 for their stomach splint and exercise DVD, I felt comfortable giving it a try.

The splint is meant to hold the muscles in proper position, while the exercises ensure that the transverse (innermost) muscles are used for everyday activities. This prevents the weakened connective tissue from becoming overtaxed, and allows it to regain its strength to bring the muscles back together and close the gap.

I’d been through the gamut of exercise options; Tupler was a breeze compared to all that. Ironically, more difficult was learning and remembering what not to do, as well as how to go about daily activities. I’d been doing sit-ups since I was a little kid; now I had to relearn how to get out of bed! Sit-ups put needless pressure on abdominal connective tissues, while rolling to the side and getting up in a slow, curling motion don’t.

Sneezing, coughing, bending, getting up, sitting down, picking up a baby, etc., all engage the core, too; I needed to make sure I was activating the proper muscles instead of simply pushing outward and thereby straining the connective tissue. (excerpted)

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