I was six weeks postpartum after giving birth to my second son. He was eight days overdue and was “well done,” weighing in at a mighty eight pounds nine ounces–more than two pounds bigger than his older brother.

It was just about time to go for my follow-up appointment with the doctor and that meant I was allowed to return to my exercise regimen, which included running. I squeezed into my spandex and laced up my shoes. A run meant half an hour free from nursing, burping, shushing or changing diapers. 

I stepped out into the late Spring morning, did the requisite stretching, and started to move at a gingerly pace down the sidewalk. 

Um, Oof!, Ow! What the heck was that pain in my lower abdomen? This was a sensation I hadn’t felt when I’d resumed exercising following the birth of my first son.

I really wanted to push through the pain. After all, I had waited to get back to the things that I loved doing–the things that made me feel like, well, me.

But it was not to be. I stopped jogging and decided a walk was the order of the day. I would bring it up at my doctor’s appointment.

I remember laying on the exam table and lifting up my shirt so the doctor could examine my stomach. I had described the pain to him. He began prodding me and then asked me to lift my head off the table and look towards my feet, as though doing a sit-up.

I watched with horror as he sunk a few of his fingers into a cavity by my belly button. Just as he had thought, I had what he called a diastasis recti. It sounded more like something that got stuck coming out of you-know-where–not a hollow space in my stomach.

But it was, in fact, related to my pregnancy–in layman’s terms I had “mummy tummy.” That was sixteen years ago.

I asked the doctor how it could be fixed. I wanted my old tummy back. The short answer was it couldn’t be fixed–at least not without surgery.

Surgery! I just had a baby. That option was not on the table.

Demoralized, I turned to Dr. Google, looking for alternatives that would help restore my abs to their former glory. I tried a number of non-surgical interventions. I bound my stomach with a velcro belt; I did countless abdominal exercises to heal the connective tissue so that the left and right abdominal muscles could be joined once again. The description for these exercises made it sound like my stomach muscles were star-crossed lovers that had been forced apart by an unwelcome interloper. I felt guilty blaming my baby for being the source of this change to my anatomy.

Despite my determination nothing worked. My pooch wouldn’t budge and the pain, although dulled with the passage of time, would whine whenever I attempted to use my core, like when I went snowboarding and tried to stand up, or when I performed a burpee during a pre-dawn HIIT class. This constant reminder was not a badge of honour; it was a mark of motherhood I wished I could erase.

I went so far as to consult a plastic surgeon to see if the procedure to reattach the muscles would be covered by health insurance. Alas, the procedure commonly referred to as a tummy tuck was and still is not considered medically necessary. Just my luck.

I was scared by the prospect of surgery, but I was ashamed moreso for even toying with the idea of cosmetic surgery. I didn’t want people to judge me for wanting something that could be perceived as vain or superficial. I couldn’t justify it in my mind–my own bias was influencing my hesitation.

Then I spoke to a friend who had had four children, two of them twins. She had the surgery when her youngest was a few months old. She likened it to maintaining a car, except that unlike cars, we can’t trade in our bodies for a new model. She said she wanted to feel comfortable–and confident–in her own skin for the rest of her life and that she didn’t need to justify it to anyone but herself. 

That conversation was a turning point for me. My perspective began to shift as I did more research on the surgery. Would the recovery be painful? Yes. Would I look like my old self? Not necessarily. Was I really that shallow that I needed cosmetic surgery to feel good about myself? Maybe. What I came to realize is that there is a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way, even after childbirth. As a young new mother, I assumed that I would snap back after my pregnancies only to be disappointed by my own naivete. If I was going to do this, it had to be for me and not because of some outward influence.

I am now recovering from the surgery. It only took me sixteen years to reach this point. True, I’ve told friends that the surgery was to “repair” my stomach muscles, which it was. But truth be told, it was more about mending my self-confidence and like my friend said, feeling comfortable in my own skin. I am happy with my decision because it was mine to make, regardless of what I see in the mirror.