"Stay on your back, and lift up your shoulders."
Um, OK, I thought, fumbling to accomplish the MidWife's request.
It was the end of 2006, and this was my 6-week Post-Partum Check-up after birthing our first baby, Miss Priss. Weight and blood pressure and stitches were analyzed. So far, everything was looking good! And I had no idea what the heck this woman was doing, asking me to hang out in a half-situp and then poking her fingers in the squishy mound of belly hiding (not very well) under my shirt.
"Alright, your abdominal muscles are still separated," she informed me, "put your fingers here...can you feel that?"
I could feel that. But I had no idea of the magnitude of what I was feeling.
"You'll want to keep an eye on that, in case it doesn't close."
I was tired. Too sleep-deprived and rapidly engorging to care. I needed to get home. I needed to feed the baby. And then I'd be putting her down for (what I hoped and prayed to be) a longer-than-twenty-minutes nap. If my midwife had mentioned the words "Diastasis Recti," I didn't hear her. And she knew we would be moving in another few weeks. Watch it for what? And what was I supposed to do about it, I was going to be living in a different part of the country?
It was a good long while before I had the energy to determine what was going on with my midsection. By then, I had tried to return to my pre-baby shape through conventional modes of exercises. Weight lifting, pilates, cardio machines, dance. What I discovered was that I had lost a lot of my strength, not only in my abdominals, but over my entire body. And "consistency," to me, was just a word in the dictionary. I had a starving, rambunctious, barely napping baby, and she was my priority. Exercise, in my mind, is just more work. It's not the "Me Time" that so many fitness gurus keep advocating for new mommies to carve out for themselves. I am simply not built that way. If I had space for "Me Time," it was going to be spent either knitting or napping. (Certainly NOT cleaning the house. That would be nuts!)
I don't quite remember how I discovered the details of my condition. I know I was frustrated. It was 2008, over a year since popping out my princess, and my stomach was still pooching out. Losing weight did not work. I was skinnier all over, but I still had the waistline of someone 3 months pregnant, but with a big difference. Instead of a wonderfully pregnant belly building new life, my abdominals felt weak and jiggly, with very little muscle tone. Mostly, though, I was depressed about how my body looked, the clothes I had to wear to hide my bulge, and the lack of function I had.
Wanting desperately to find a fitness program that could whip me back into shape, I searched Amazon one night for workout books or videos that would be a good starting point for someone as out of shape as myself. Through whatever word-search I had used (and the miracle of the internet) I landed on a book called Lose Your Mummy Tummy, by Julie Tupler**. The description of the book listed the cause of a "mummy tummy" as the separation of the abdominal wall and gave it a name - Diastasis Recti.
I zoomed to Julie Tupler's website and watched a video on how to check yourself for diastasis. Following those directions (the same as the ones my midwife had instructed me) and pushing my fingers into my gut, I found that I had a 2 finger separation at my belly button. I have recently learned to check for diastasis without lifting your shoulders off the floor (a move that causes the separation to close a bit, creating an inaccurate reading) so most likely, my separation was actually closer to a 3-finger width.
Finally, I knew what the problem was - and I had a name for it. It was a relief to have an understanding of what had happened to my body. I googled "diastasis recti," greedily searching for more information on how to correct this condition.
But there wasn't any.
The websites I found that would mention it were medical sites giving nothing more than a definition. The few that offered help, offered it in the form of surgery. Sewing the abdominals back together, they had said (and still say to this day), was the "only" way to repair it.
A handful of YouTube videos I came across claimed to have proper exercises for diastasis that were, according to what I had learned from the Tupler website, completely wrong. Anyone with a separation should never perform crunches, oblique twists or planks. One video in particular was a homemade recording of a young woman lying on her back, arms stretched out to either side, her legs straight up in the air, twisting her torso and swinging both outstretched legs to touch the floor on one side of her, raising them back up, then dropping them to the other side.
How could I possibly be strong enough to even DO that? I pondered.
I ordered the Mummy Tummy book from Amazon and then a corresponding video and splint (or belly wrap) from Tupler's website. I wanted this separation gone. And I was positive I had found the program that would magically heal everything.
The book arrived first, and I read it voraciously. The book went into more detail about the anatomy of your abdominals, explaining that there are three main types. The Rectus Abdominus (aka: the "six-pack muscles") on the top, Internal and External Obliques on the sides, and then, inside everything, the Transverse Abdominus (TA). The Transverse is what holds all of those other abdominals into proper position, and the thing that Pilates instructors everywhere are referring to when they bark at you to "hold in your core." Pregnancy stretches out this muscle, and, for too many women, leaves behind a diastasis recti when the muscle doesn't recover post-pregnancy.
I zoomed through the ins and outs of what my diastasis is, where it came from, how NOT to make it worse, and an unsettling drawing of a paper bag, broken on the bottom with a uterus falling out. This dire warning of what would happen to your organs if your pelvic floor continued to weaken was enough to make me attempt a few kegels right on the spot.
Finally, I arrived at the exercises, the basis of her Tupler Technique. They seemed pretty simple. First were the Elevators. Sitting in a chair or on the floor against the couch, bring your belly button in slowly toward your spine, activating that TA muscle, hold for 30 seconds, then slowly let out. Do ten sets every day.
10 sets? Every day?? OK, I think I can make that work. I sometimes can't even pull it together enough to shower, but these little sets seem doable.
The next exercises were the Contractions. In that same seated position, bring your belly button back to your spine, and then release. Repeat 100 times.
Wait, one HUNDRED times?
Five times a day.
FIVE TIMES A DAY!!!!
"Once you master the Seated Tupler Technique, you can continue to do the ... contractions until your child is eighteen years old! You can also increase the number of exercises to ten sets of 100 per day. I know it sounds like a lot, but if you do three sets of 100 in the morning (this should take ten minutes), four sets of 100 before lunch (thirteen minutes), and three sets of 100 in the evening (another ten minutes), it makes it easier to do ten sets per day. That's not a lot of time when you realize that you are not only repairing your body but flattening that mummy tummy!"
OK, Crazy Lady. I couldn't even manage to use the bathroom for three minutes without a little person crawling all over me, but sure, I'll set myself down and do a THOUSAND of these little pulses for the REST of my LIFE! That sounds SUPER FUN!!!
But the book was fraught with other problems, as well. There were many other exercises listed, from stretches, to multiple sets of kegels, to 15 and 30 minute workout routines. And she seemed to insist that everything was vitally important to the resuscitation of my core, and, therefore, must be done every. single. day. I couldn't figure out what was most important to do, or in what order to do them, or if I needed to start with one thing and then progress to another.
The video came and proved to be even more useless than the book. The workout was painfully slow and not at all energizing or something that you ever had a desire to watch again, let alone use. It was like having Fran Drescher instructing you on how to breath and keep your back straight. The "workout" didn't feel like it was working anything at all, and even had pregnant women performing the exercises, they were so gentle and mind-numbing.
But the best part - really, the absolute BEST PART - was the inclusion of some sort of stage performance that looked like it had been written by, directed by and starred Julie Tupler. It featured actors dressed in costume as many of your favorite bodily organs. Including a vagina.
I forced Hubby to sit down and watch the whole thing with me. It was horrifying, yet oddly mesmerizing.
And when it was all over, that DVD returned to its case, never to be heard from again.
I felt overwhelmed by the strict exercise regimen in the book, underwhelmed by the workouts on the video, and extremely confused by what a Dancing Vagina had to do with any of it.
Although I never followed any of the workouts to the letter, the Lose Your Mummy Tummy book still played a pivotal role on this Journey of Diastasis Recovery. This was the first time I began to learn about the functioning roles of my abdominal muscles (didn't even realize there were so many!) and the importance of proper form. From then on, I was always careful to hold that transverse abdominal in whenever I coughed, sneezed or blew my nose. And I would try to do those "contractions" once in a while when I was driving in the car.
It was a start.
I had gained the tools to (hopefully) refrain from making my diastasis any worse. But I knew, somewhere out there, there had to be a better way to close the separation.
And I was hoping to figure it out soon. Because Baby #2 was on her way!
**Although this post doubled as a book review of Lose Your Mummy Tummy, by Julie Tuppler, I did not include a link to the Amazon listing. It is still for sale on Amazon, but the author has changed her program, no longer using several of the exercises she had originally prescribed. I do not own anything from her new program, which can be found on her website, but if I ever do, I will be sure to post about it here at EverAfterLand.