After nearly a year and a half postpartum, I still didn't feel back to my old self. I had a constant dull pain directly in my belly button whenever I lifted my son (who happens to be in the 90th percentile for weight and height). The pain was also present if I pressed lightly on my abdomen. I wondered if this was a symptom of diastasis recti (which I also have). My almost 4.5 finger gap closed to nearly 2.5 finger separation after becoming a member of the Every Mother Reclaim program. I decided to take this question to the super helpful and positive exclusive community Every Mother offers as a part of the membership. To my surprise, a lot of the women within the group had similar experiences and thought I may have “umbilical hernia”. This was a relief to have a lead to go off of, so I set out to get a medical professional to help diagnose and treat this odd postpartum pain I was having. The pain was the main motivator for my investigation, but also I had a “sunken hole” around my belly button which I thought looked abnormal.
So I set off my journey to get medical advice and sought the help of my OB-GYN. I was amazed that my doctor said she couldn't help me with this issue remnant of my postpartum state. I then reached out to my general practitioner and she also was uninformed of this condition. She referred me to a surgeon for further diagnosis. The first surgeon wanted to implement a piece of mesh and said I shouldn't have this done if I was planning to have more children. MESH!? I didn't want this foreign object in my body. I also want more children. This resolution didn't sit right with me, so I again researched for another doctor to get a second opinion. The second surgeon really made all the difference. He gave an in-depth explanation of my condition and presented my options. My surgeon stated that the option to move forward with the surgery was not a medical necessity but I should weigh the pro’s and con’s of not only proceeding with it, but continuing to live with complications from my umbilical hernia. I decided to schedule the surgery. The surgery includes dissolvable stitching to the tear, while also tacking down my protruding belly button and bulge that persisted from the umbilical hernia. The benefit to the stitching is that the possibility for additional pregnancies is still in my future. Resolving the tear may also help reduce future pain from stretching in pregnancy.
I never thought twice about postpartum healthcare and the need for reform in this area. Let me tell you this; there is so much work to be done in postnatal care. I went through a journey of misdiagnosis, calling several doctors, getting turned down and feeling lost altogether. I consider myself to be somewhat a fortunate person. I live outside of NYC where I can find many healthcare options and I am surrounded by resources that are at my fingertips. If this feeling of hopelessness can be felt by someone in my situation, imagine a mother who is less fortunate. I want to bring light to the lack of awareness and share my story. No mother should feel lost or accept long term pain as a side effect of childbirth.
Here's what I found out after my entire journey through the medical community and the most helpful information I ultimately received from the second opinion surgeon:
What is an umbilical hernia?
An umbilical hernia (also dubbed “postpartum hernia”) is a postnatal condition that can commonly be coupled with diastasis recti and occurs when part of your intestine sticks out through a small tear opening in your weakened abdominal muscle wall (yikes, I know!). You could notice a protruding belly button, pain when core movements are performed or when pressure is placed on the area. It can also impede the total recovery of diastasis recti. It is not always necessary to resolve this with surgery as it is unique in the level of pain and severity of the condition for each individual.
If you suspect you have an umbilical hernia, here's how you can navigate this issue:
- First, go see your general practitioner to obtain a referral for a general surgeon who specializes in abdominal hernia surgery to diagnose the area of concern. Your primary care physician may also prescribe an ultrasound which may not capture the condition. A visit to see a surgeon may still be necessary even if ultrasound does not show umbilical hernia present.
- The surgeon may suggest a CT Scan or offer a physical exam depending on the severity. A second opinion is always in good form if you don't feel 100% comfortable with the initial diagnosis. I went with my gut feeling here (no pun intended) and I found a doctor willing to provide more information on my condition and options that did not involve mesh being implanted in my abdomen.
- If you do decide to move forward with the surgery you can expect 6-8 weeks downtime with no heavy lifting and light exercise 2-3 weeks afterward. I plan to ride a stationary bike and switch to Every Mother’s Reclaim Light program to promote blood flow and healing in a safe guided path.
No mother should feel lost in her quest to understand what has happened to her body, and how to repair it. I owe everything to the community of Every Mother and am fortunate they are creating a movement to help all mothers. We don't have to accept our bodies are less than what they were pre-pregnancy. We don't have to accept the “mom pooch”, the lower back pain, incontinence, or any long term pain from normal activity. We should trust our intuition that something just isn't right and expect the medical community to provide the resources necessary. The postnatal medical community has a long way to go (in my opinion), but with spreading knowledge we can help provide power to a new generation of female empowerment. Past generations lived with these conditions and more because the knowledge sharing at scale just wasn't possible. Most importantly, they didn't know the normalizing of postnatal conditions that are treatable. Listen to your body and demand answers! I'm so glad I did. My surgery is scheduled, and I plan to report back to continue sharing my experience with umbilical hernia.
Megan Jannetty is an Every Mother member and mother of 1