Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Guest Post: A Mormon Mom Gets a Tummy-tuck

I have only ever had two guest posts on this blog: my BIL Scott's mission (mis)adventure in a Russian hospital, and my mom's perspective on raising a special-needs child. So it's kind of a big deal to feature the third guest post today, and it's one I've been looking forward to for months.

Mikael is a dear friend of mine from childhood. I won't gush about her too much. Just know that she is one of the most genuine people you will ever meet, if you have that privilege. She lives in rural Washington with her husband and four children, ages 7, 5, 5 (yes, twins), and 1. Mikael has written extensively about her experience getting a tummy-tuck on her private blog, and I asked her to write this post on my blog so her story could reach a wider audience. I am so glad she agreed.

I said before that Mikael is a genuine person. There is not a drop of guile in her. I know that she would never judge other moms for their opinions on post-childbirth bodies, whatever they are. So please feel free to comment on this post, but please also respect the decisions Mikael has made in her own personal life.


I had just given birth naturally to my identical twin boys at 38 ½ weeks after an intense two hours of pushing in the OR. Sweat was dripping from my forehead, I was out of breath and had a serious case of the “after birth” shakes. I had never imagined my body being put through such an ordeal. I looked over to see the nurses handling my beautiful babies.  Once they wheeled me from the OR to my room, and after I nursed my new babies, they asked if I wanted them weighed. Um, ya! They gently placed them on the scale:

Baby A: 7 lbs 10 oz
Baby B: 7 lbs 7 oz

There was a gasp in the room from everyone. The look on my doctor’s face explained it all. Shock. I would forever be known at St. Vincent Hospital as the rock-star mom who birthed super large twins naturally, tandem breastfed them moments later, and took them home the very next day.

Hours later, after everyone left and I was alone in my room I undressed and hobbled to the shower. I glanced down at the body that was no longer “me”. I was torn apart, stretched out and left with skin and scars that brought tears to my eyes. The nearly 16 pounds of babies that I had carried for the last 9 months ripped me to shreds. Those two babies, that I had prayed so hard for nine months to carry to term, had left their marks on my body in more ways than one. I stood in the shower, hunched over, feeling the water run down all the new wrinkles, bulges and folds that weren’t there before. I will bounce back, I thought, everyone bounces back, right?  But the more I looked at myself the more I realized I was now a disfigured mutant that looked like the moon might have resided inside of me at one time! Bouncing back might not happen this time around like it did with my first baby. Who bounces back from housing the moon in their belly? Spanx would become my best friend. I was changed forever!

I bet you are thinking, “Oh, don’t be so dramatic!” But before you jump to judgments and conclusions or your own solutions you have to know where I have come from.

I have been a ballet dancer my entire life. My body is my instrument in dance which I use as an expression of my art. My sense of self is very strongly connected to my body. I did not say my sense of self-worth is connected to my body, but I can say my self-esteem is very much affected. So when half of my body looked nothing like the body that had so gracefully carried me through the last 27 years of life, I had lost a sense of myself. And I don’t think I am alone when I say these things.

The months following the birth of my twins were consumed with me reinvesting in baggier shirts and so-called high waisted “mom jeans” to hide the bulge. I bought every Spanx, Spandex, and tummy tuck garment on the market. You know that post-partum belly you have for a couple months after you give birth? Ya, that didn’t go away E. V. E. R. I also quickly realized that because my skin was stretched to space and back there was just too much of it to only be isolated in just my belly region. Handfuls of extra stretchy skin, that resembled a balloon after it’s been deflated, now wrapped around my entire waistline, creating one major muffin top. No matter how much weight I lost, how much I ran, and the thousands of sit-ups I did, I was now one massive Costco muffin. Need I say more? Oh, but I will.

After having my twins I went right back to work teaching ballet. I would leave my house everyday with my breast pump in one hand and my spanx in the other. I think my lowest of lows was when my babies were 8 months old and we were headed to Hawaii for the first time in my life. It was obvious I wasn’t going to be sportin’ my former Victoria’s Secret swim suits at the beach anymore. I was on a mission to find a non-mommish bathing suit that would conceal all that extra skin. Mission impossible!  Just try searching in Google, “Tummy Tuck swimsuit,” I dare you. I ended up having my swimsuit custom-made so I could look cute, young, and stylish but have all that skin secretly tucked away.

Well, as secretive as I could get at this point. Thinking back to that boogie boarding incident in Hawaii, I should have worn a full body unitard. I went out in the water to catch some waves when my long  tankini top was thrust up to my ribs by the strong current and my middle section came flopping out over my swimsuit bottoms. I looked down, then looked up to see my audience of vacationers lying on the beach staring. I was surprised I didn’t hear someone pointing at me and screaming “Jelly Fish!”

My once admired body was now a play dough playground for my babies that provided endless entertainment. This new, after-baby body, was my own ongoing awkward joke so I could avoid my deep embarrassment around my husband and close loved ones.

Not only did the appearance of my after-baby body change my everyday life, but I was now having chronic lower back pain due to my separated abdomen muscles. Sometimes my back pain was so bad while teaching ballet that I had to leave the class and ask the dance moms in the hallway for medicine. Sleeping wasn’t comfortable anymore either, I would wake up in pain every morning like I had just slept on a board. What had happened to me? I swore to myself before I started having babies that I wasn’t going to get one single stretch mark, and look at me now! My body was officially broken.

I can’t really pinpoint an exact moment when I knew I would be undergoing elective surgery to correct my destroyed body. I can’t even tell you how, exactly, the thought came to my mind. I come from a very conservative family, so the words “plastic surgery” weren’t in my vocabulary. I honestly feel that I was inspired by God to seek plastic surgery to restore my body to what it once was and to what God had intended it to be for me. In my faith, as a Mormon, we believe that we are daughters of our Heavenly Father and he loves us each, individually. He knows each of us better than anyone and He knows what will make us truly happy, even more than we know ourselves. With this said, my Father in Heaven knows how important my body is to me, personally, and my overall happiness. He also knows the sacrifice I went through, physically, in carrying, delivering, and nursing my babies (his children). Ultimately, it was made known to me, through prayer, that my Heavenly Father had provided this new modern-day medicine, known as plastic surgery, for me to use to restore my body and bring me the ultimate happiness that I deserve. I didn’t fully realize how much my Heavenly Father knows me and loves me until I received this prompting and answer. I am truly a daughter of God and my happiness is so important to him, including me being happy with my body!

I firmly went ahead with my decision to undergo plastic surgery.  After I had the twins I had a gut feeling that I wasn’t done having kids (as much as I wanted to be). I had 3 kids at the time and wasn’t ready to call it quits, but there was also no way I was going to get pregnant right after having my twins. So I used this time to save for my surgery since my health insurance dubbed it as “cosmetic” and refused to cover any of it. We were going to pay cash and I was going to earn every penny!

I also realized that with choosing to have plastic surgery some people would judge me, and I have felt judged already. So many women would tell me I didn’t need the surgery (as if they knew. Did they see me naked? I guess I did do a fantastic job of covering my imperfections up). I might be grouped into the Hollywood blond crowd, or be called vain and shallow. I am sure some people might even think I place too much value on looks. So many moms try to make the extra skin, the broken body, the stretch marks, and all that wear and tear in having and nursing babies something to be proud of. “Wear it proudly,” they say. “It’s a symbol of what we did!” I couldn’t disagree more! For me, wearing my broken body was never something I could be proud of, even if I did love my kids more than life itself.

I was rolled into surgery on the afternoon of July 10th. I had done all the work beforehand, saved for five years, researched like crazy to find the best doctor, run 6 miles a day, eaten nothing but green smoothies and salads, and taken all my vitamins. This surgery was to restore my body, not to “fix” things that I couldn’t do with hard work and a good diet. I was ready. I was content. The Lord was with me on this decision. And I had the best doctor around. I was in good hands!

When I was done with my surgery, I was a bit loopy, but was relieved it was all over. My doctor came in to check on me and handed me a paper. I looked at it to try to make out what it was. “This is all your skin I cut off.” He was so proud. I looked at the picture again. The picture of my removed skin, lying on a table, didn’t gross me out one bit. I mean, if someone handed me this picture on the street I would probably vomit. But I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I kept staring and the more I stared the more I smiled and then the more I smiled the more I wanted to stare.

I was addicted to the picture. It symbolized so many things. It symbolized my last 5 years of struggling with my own physical happiness. It symbolized my long, hard, sick pregnancies that tried me and my husband. It symbolized one of the hardest years of my life, raising three kids under the age of two. It symbolized the four months I had colicky, screaming, wailing, twin babies ten hours a day while trying to nurse them so vigilantly. The many hours I broke down and cried helplessly, praying out loud for the Lord’s help, with my three babies crying in my arms. The picture symbolized how hard my body had worked to get my four miracles here to Earth. This picture, of my skin, was more to me than a picture.  It set me free.

It has been 4 months since my surgery. I am walking on clouds. I am happier than I have ever been in my entire life. I am the best version of me, and I kinda think I am pretty hot too! Looking back at my decision to go forward with this has really made it clear to me how much my Heavenly Father loves me and knows me. I am not sure I would have ever thought of such a simple solution that could bring me such happiness on my own. I also have to admit it’s a bit of a trip looking in the mirror for the first time after surgery. Seeing a repaired and restored self is nothing short of a sweet miracle and a gift from God. You know, it’s the little things like buttoning my jeans every day or wrestling with my kids on the floor or giving my husband the tightest hugs and kisses he has ever known without having to worry about my insecurities. It’s those little things that have changed my life. The feeling of having my body back can only be described as bliss. It is fabulous. Incredible. Carefree. Breathtaking. Undeniably exquisite. My “new” body has broken down walls and built up my self-esteem. I am finally me again. I feel beautiful in every way. My marriage has blossomed and my spirit is no longer bogged down by all that self-conscious crap I would feed myself. I am free! I am free to move on. I am happy. I am truly, overwhelmingly, undeniably, annoyingly, happy!

I had no idea what a huge difference this would make in my life, ultimately changing my everyday life.  I have had the pleasure of being given the opportunity (after five years of saving up) to get plastic surgery. You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to be selfish, and you don’t have to be from Hollywood! I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!

If you have questions for Mikael, you can email her at mikaelmonson at gmail dot com. She is also on Instagram.


Crys said...

Wow! Thank you for your story. I've always been overweight and had the worst the skin in the world so when I got pregnant with my first three children and I got stretch marks and a pulled out stomach, I was mentally prepared (since it was pretty much just a repeat of hitting puberty for me), but with my fourth child at just 29 weeks after two weeks of being in the hospital with broken water I went into labor and was forced to have a c-section because she was breech and so early. It was exceptionally traumatic for me. The scar I could have dealt with, but they cut exceptionally low and ripped the skin up that usually sits right on your lower pelvis up. For weeks after it was so puffed up it looked like I was carrying pillows around in my pants. My daughter is two now and it feels like the muscles never really recovered and the skin, oh the baggy skin in a place no woman (especially one who had three kids already and thought she knew where all baggy skin would always be) well it has been pretty traumatic for me. I also avoid looking the lower half of my body when I look in the mirror and have to be careful about the pants or skirts I buy that they don't show my puffy pillows :( Anyway thanks for your perspective. I think plastic surgery gets a bad wrap for just being a vanity thing but I think we forget that often times people are just trying to get a little confidence back....even if it is about someone no one else sees.

Ariana said...

I know several mormon moms who have had tummy tucks. One who had twins too.

Ariana said...

OH wait, I remember her from seminary! She was nice. I never knew you guys from other wards very well though. We moved there when I was a senior and I was really shy and never made a lot of friends. How do you pronounce her name? She looks just how I remember her in high school. Great post.

mandbrid said...

So great to read this perspective. I've had 4 pregnancies including two sets of twins. I've also recently lost 171 lbs. I REALLY want surgery to repair my body. I've questioned it many times. I wonder if I can teach my children to have healthy body images if I change my body surgically. It is a big decision. I appreciate the perspective I read here. Thanks!

Liz Johnson said...

I really, really appreciate this perspective, too. I admit that it has always been difficult for me to understand where people who choose surgery are coming from, and I think a big part of it is that my sense of self has never been strongly connected to my body. That part really resonated with me. I also applaud you, Mikael, for doing what's best for you, even knowing that people would not understand or judge or scoff.

This is an awesome post!

Liz Johnson said...

(my comment is unclear. When I said "really resonated" with me, I meant that it was the part where things finally *clicked* for me and I could understand and appreciate your perspective.)

Merkley Jiating said...

I think my friend from college (Becca Carlson) is now an in-law of hers. I recognize the name from pictures on Facebook. Anyway, I loved this post. I haven't had twins or a C-section but I still feel irreparably ruined. Although we aren't done having kids, I will be thinking about this for a long time. There are some things that healthy eating and exercise just can't fix.

Anonymous said...

Such a small world, Becca C. was my roommate in NYC! I applaud Mikael's putting her neck out there to share something so deeply personal, and I am glad it brought her happiness. As a psychologist specializing in women's issues, I admire women taking charge of their life and actively seeking fulfillment (whether or not that jives with cultural norms). The only caveat I would give here (not to compete with her idea, but complement it) is that I would think counseling could be a helpful step before an expensive surgery to explore the emotions behind such profound sadness that one's body is not "restorable" postpartum to what it originally was, among other very valid and important feelings she was having, in a non-judgmental safe space. Mary Weins wrote a tear-jerking essay about her journey around her extra skin and stretch marks, and I reposted it here last week: "The healing in this story is not that I have wholly accepted my body or that I will never again attempt to change it. It is that now when rejection rises in me against my body...I have a fuller answer. I can call up the sounds, smells, movements, scars, wrinkles, and dimples of my dear ones and look at myself through the lens of that incomparable beauty. This gives me access to a programming deeper than my culture that reminds me that my being here in this world in a body matters. The touch of my hand on a shoulder, my hug, the soothing sound of my voice, and the warmth in my eyes are irreplaceable to those who carry me in their hearts." Again, not to discount Mickel's story, only to add another layer. My mother had twins, I understand how different carrying multiples wreaks havoc on the body over just one. And I'm so happy Mikael's found peace.

RORYJEAN said...

I really enjoy your perspective. I have diastastic recti and loads of extra skin from pregnancies- I carried my kids practically on the outside of my body and I have a slight frame normally. I have fantasized of a tummy tuck, but always felt guilty wanting something so vain. Thanks for your perspective... I think it is less cosmetic and more about function, when it hurts your back, nesses with your core strength and your ability to wear regular clothes. A blog I wrote about my stomach:

Katie Lewis said...

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm 7 months pregnant with my second and feeling huge, but this totally hit home for me.

Bridget said...

Really?!? I have never known any, which is one of the reasons I was so glad Mikael wrote this post. However, I guess I could know several people who have had tummy tucks but who haven't been as open and awesome about it as Mikael. :) And it's pronounced mi-KELL.

Ariana said...

Our primary president had one earlier this year. For the exact same reasons. She has 5 kids, with twins who are like 12 years old in the mix. She is in fantastic shape...runs 6 miles a day, does occasional half marathons, eats healthy, etc. But none of that fixes the crazy stretched out floppy skin. She is an AWESOME lady. I had no idea she had body image issues. She is not vain at all, and she had the surgery. The only person who will ever see her actual stomach sans shirt is her hubby, as she does not wear bikinis. If I was in her situation, I think I would get the surgery too.

Ariana said...

edit: 10k, not half marathon. I have a problem remembering numbers correctly. :-P

karina said...

When I was 4 I fell off my bed and my two front teeth went through my upper lip. I had a huge scar that meant people would look at my lip instead of my eyes. I was called "Hey Ugly" every day at school. I hated it! When I got my first job I saved up enough money and had plastic surgery to have the scar removed. It was the best thing I've ever done - my entire life changed! Now this post makes me wonder if more plastic surgery should be in my future...the C-section really did a number on me.

Mikael said...

Thank you all for your comments! I understand all of your views and concerns, because I had them myself before the surgery. I might have failed to emphasize what RORJEAN said, having the surgery (for me) was just as much about function as it was about how I looked. When someone injures their knee they get knee surgery. Well, because my tummy muscles were severely seperated it took a major toll on my back, so much that it was hard to do daily tasks without pain. And maybe this is why I am still bitter about the insurance saying it was "cosmetic"! Because to me, this wasn't cosmetic, it was saving my back and healing my body so I could function in daily life again, tightening the skin was just a major huge perk :)

I also loved what mandrid said about teaching our children about body image. I was worried about this because I have a daughter. I wanted to teach her to love herself the way she is! But again, I wasn't born with this stomach. I wasn't changing anything that God gave me naturally. In fact, I always loved the tummy God gave me! I was repairing my body like anyone would do if they had an accident or went through something physically traumatic. So I didn't have any issue with getting the surgery. And post surgery I can say I am a better example to her now than before, my confidence shines and she sees it!
I wanted to thank you all for reading and being so kind. I really think I had to go through this so that my own pre-surgery opinions would be softened. In the end, looking back, the surgery really wasn't as big of a deal as people make it. It was such an easy solution to a problem I saw as so huge ;)

Shannon said...

Awesome post. Thanks for sharing, Mikael!

Sanjay parashar said...

Such a inspiring story for those moms who didn't want to see them in mirror as they tummy looks ugly but after this article lot of moms can think about the surgery but they need to contact best doctor like Tummy tuck Dubai helps a lot for proper treatment!!

Elina Mark said...

Typical costs associated with a tummy tuck will be the surgeon’s fee, the OR/anesthesia fees, postop garments (a body garment) and cosmetic insurance. Some surgeons include liposuction to the abdomen as part of the tummy tuck cost but others charge separately for liposuction to the abdomen and flanks. Personally, I include liposuction as part of my tummy tuck technique so liposuction in the abdominal area will not cost extra.


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