Quick Back Story

A week ago Monday I saw a general surgeon to discuss the two umbilical hernias I was left with after my pregnancy with Eliott. Ten years and four kids later, these things weren’t necessarily giving me major problems, but were moderately uncomfortable when they bulged every time I had to sneeze, blow my nose, cough, or laugh too hard.

The first, a typical umbilical hernia, was a little under two inches in diameter and located directly behind what used to be a nice compact and respectable innie belly button. I remember in that pregnancy with Eliott the slow and painful process as I watched it turn inside out and pop like a little turkey timer. I used to bandaid it down, it was so painful at the time. After Eliott was born and my stomach returned to its new normal, I was able to mostly keep it tucked in.

But there is no amount of bandaiding that provided any sort of permanent hope for this outty today. Remember Q*Bert? Anyone? Yeah. It was kind of like that.

The other was just above my belly button and known simply as an epigastric hernia, meaning a tear in my abdomen. It was also pretty small and this one I couldn’t put my fingers into and feel around, but it left a slight bulge above my belly button, and resembled a skin cyst or node of some sort.

Again. Not a huge deal, but what the heck, we’re on Obamacare and might not be for long. Also, this is really the first time since Avery was born that she is finally old enough to climb in and out of everything herself, allowing me to avoid picking her up for the required 6 weeks of healing.

Initial appointment was Monday.

Surgery scheduling calls me Wednesday afternoon to say they can get me in as early as Friday morning.

What the heck.

Just enough time to change all the sheets on all the beds and refresh towels, because Mama ain’t doing laundry for a while.

Meet Q*Bert
Bad light and difficult angle, but my belly button just sort of falls out because of the umbilical hernia, and the slight bump just above it is my other hernia (it is more pronounced in different light).

The Day Before Surgery

Okay so the details are a little spotty, but I’m going to provide a quick rundown of the next 48 hours, just because it seems like something that should be captured.

Thursday morning I’m entering the YMCA at my typical time, when my phone rings for my pre-op phone call.

Good morning Mrs. Wait. This Novant Health Medical Park calling about your surgery scheduled for tomorrow, do you have a few minutes to go over some information? (Sure, just don’t make me recite my social security number, I’m not exactly in a private place right now.)

I duck into the locker room and am given the rundown on what to expect the next day. A few notes that stick out:

Don’t take your fish oil tonight, it is a blood thinner. (Weird. But no problem, I keep it in the freezer and forget to take it nearly every night. I guess this also means no drinking alcohol?) In fact, go ahead and skip all your vitamins except the magnesium if it helps you sleep. You can also take a Xanax tonight or tomorrow morning, with water, if you are feeling anxious about the surgery.

Who will be your support person? (Does my husband count? He’ll be shuttling me back and forth from the hospital with our four kids under the age of 13 who aren’t allowed inside due to the hospital flu quarantine. How long does this surgery actually last?) It would be ideal if he could be there while you are in surgery, just in case the doctor needs to provide any updates, but if he must leave at some point to relieve a babysitter, just be sure the OR nurse has his cell number. (Updates like…? I mean, call me crazy, but this is kind of a simple procedure, right? I mean, like, I’m not going to die or anything. How soon do I get to go home?)

Finally, begin fasting tonight at midnight. When you wake up tomorrow, go ahead and shower like you normally would (haaaah) just don’t use any lotion or deodorant after your shower. And you might want to wear loose fitting clothing that will be easy to get on and off.

My neighbor happens to be in the locker room at the time of this phone call, so I quickly fill her in and ask if she can be on alert the next day in case we need her. She obliges because we live in the best neighborhood in the universe. Then, I go tell my friend at the front desk about this last minute crazy whirlwind weekend, and she tells me she is off on Friday and can come over and keep the kids as long as I need.

How do these things keeps happening?

The Day of Surgery

At this point I am weirdly not freaking out or anything. Didn’t even take the Xanax. I’m a little headachy from the lack of coffee and of course, mildly starving. It is raining and the kids have a day off of school for end of quarter grading. I could not be looking more forward to my drug induced nap in a few hours.

If you haven’t been to a hospital lately, let me quickly update you on some security procedures. Every time someone enters your space in order to do even a menial task (with the exception of emptying the sharps box), he or she must ask you your full name and birthdate before doing anything. Also, they have these grocery store scanning guns which I assume they are using to create my itemized bill. I noticed the nurse scanned my bracelet and then my bag of saline, sort of silently announcing, “You’re paying for that.” Fine.

Then, after protocol, they immediate ask, “How are you doing today?”

At first, I did the typical, “Oh fine. You know, no kids. This is great. Haha.”

But by the time I was being wheeled into the OR, I had had enough of the niceties.

When the male OR nurse went through the name, birthdate, and howareyoufeeling(s), even without drugs I answered, “Well, let’s be honest. I’m feeling a little vulnerable right now. I mean, I’m laying here on a table-with-wheels in a room full of strangers and I have no underwear on. I think a better question is how are you feeling today, because you are a key part of the team that is supposed to be keeping me alive. Did you get enough sleep last night?”

I get a little hung up on the possibility of death inside hospitals.

He sort of laughed. He also assured me he was fine and I was definitely not going to die. Then he announced me to the room (I said my name and birthdate AGAIN) with, “This is Claire, and she’s feeling a little vulnerable today.”

At this point I felt like it was only fair to assure them that I meant vulnerable in the way of leaving my life in their hands, not so much the lack of underwear part. “I mean, I have a whole bunch of kids. My dignity’s been gone for a while now.”

Within a few minutes, they hook me up to the sleepy time meds and the next thing I remember is waking up after what felt like a day of sleeping. I even had dreams. (I looked at the clock back in the recovery room. 45 minutes had passed from start to finish. So weird.)

As I’m coming out of my sleep stupor, though, I suddenly have this crazy memory of John coming out of back surgery, and his breath, which I could smell from the doorway. I kind of panic and then blurt out my insecurity about my breath. Another male nurse gives me a peppermint flavored sponge on a toothpick.

And it is fantastic.

“Do you give these things to everyone?! Why didn’t my husband get one of these?!” I ask.

“Only the nice people,” he says, and he’s not joking.

“Oh that’s funny. No one ever calls me nice. I swear. Like, ever. Never. No one ever calls me nice. I’m not nice.”

“No. I think you are very nice Mrs. Wait. You have been particularly pleasant. And trust me, not everyone is nice in here.”

At this point I do not have the wherewithal to conclude that I have absolutely no idea what I may or may not have been saying while going in and coming out of anesthesia. But I’m just so thrilled to think that here, in what is obviously a very raw and unfiltered state, I’m totally coming across as nice.

As soon as we see John I say, “Hey, tell my husband what you just said. Honey. He said I’m nice! He called me nice. Isn’t that so weird?”

“Oh you must have her on some really good drugs. No one ever calls her nice. I mean. Ever. She’s not nice.”

“No! No, it’s not the drugs. I think, at my core, I might actually be nice. Isn’t that great!”

In hindsight, I think it was definitely the drugs.

Next morning: slight swelling (it got a little worse the next day) and taped up surgery site.

The Day After Surgery

After sleeping most of Friday with minimal pain, I wake up very early Saturday morning (4am early) wide awake, and aching. Trust me when I say, you have no idea how much you use your stomach muscles until they’ve been sliced open, even slightly. Breathing too deep is painful. Talking, even softly, painful. Laying down, not too painful, but laying down and turning my head sideways? Painful.

I end up on the couch and stay awake until Isaiah and the sun both greet me simultaneously. I relocate to my bedroom after John gets all four kids out of the house and off to soccer for the day.

Just as I’m starting to fall asleep, there’s a knock at the door. Assuming, at first, that it is the little girl from across the street, of course I ignore it. But then, instead of the usual 2nd knock, I hear a van door sliding open and closed, and some muffled talking. I hear a few more cars drive by, and I’m convinced it is the Jehovah’s Witnesses, picking what is obviously the best day of my year to come preach me the Good News.

Oh hell no.

I fall asleep plotting my conversation with them when they come back.

At 11am, I finally wake up, shuffle around the kitchen, get a cup of coffee, and my sister calls. While I’m on the phone with her I hear another knock at the door.

“Omigosh, Laura, it’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I know it is. Stay on the phone. I want you to hear this…” I’m saying as I swing the door open with a little less gusto than planned.

A huge pink bouquet of flowers greets me.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve all these surprise surgery elves (nothing, actually, I did exactly nothing), but let me tell you, I couldn’t be more humbled and dare I say it, #blessed, by this great little town we have stumbled upon. Again.

I die.

Then I apologize to the florist for assuming he was a JW. And I actually tell him that. He says he came by earlier but I must have been sleeping. I apologize again, because now he seems even kinder than he did with just the flowers, which prevent me from giving him a hug.

At some point I go back to bed for a little while and wake up to find a chicken pot pie on my kitchen table.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve all these surprise surgery elves (nothing, actually, I did exactly nothing), but let me tell you, I couldn’t be more humbled and dare I say it, #blessed, by this great little town we have stumbled upon. Again.

Today: April 3, 2017

Today I’m off all the Vicoden and have cut back to just Advil. Let’s be honest, I fancy regular bowels, and there is nothing that will stop that train quicker than some Vicoden. My pain is pretty minimal, considering, it just hurts to sneeze, cough, laugh, or move too suddenly.

I’m pretty swollen. Swollen, like, five months pregnant in my first pregnancy, or six weeks pregnant after that first kid. You know the kind of baby bump I’m talking about. I’m icing every hour because it feels good. I’m not sure that it is doing anything.

Also, a few things went differently than planned. First, my doc did not use mesh to fix me. She got in there and realized my tissue is “paper thin” and “You are also tiny, so there was no way to use a piece of mesh without it showing this square right behind your belly button.”

Score one for the fantastic female surgeon who continually thought of cosmetics from start to finish, no lie, in this entire process. Her name is Dr. Lori Kellam and as of today, I recommend her wholeheartedly.

That said, I won’t be able to see what she did for two more weeks. She sutured the hernias and also repaired a short length of my diastasis recti. She did not use any stitches on the outside however, I am being held together by nothing but glue, steri-strips, and a double wrapped belly binder.

The hardest part, dare I admit it, is looking at my house fully knowing that even with John’s best effort, it will be a bit of a disaster for the next month or so. The control freak in me feels good enough to have to consciously make the effort to just let the mess be there.

I will try to remember to update with some better “after” pictures when everything settles down, but don’t expect that anytime soon.

April 14, 2017: Update

Hernia Surgery: 2 weeks post-op.
Hernia surgery: 2 weeks post-op, side view.

Got the tape off a couple days ago. Was very exciting.

There are a few internal stitch strings sticking out of pinpoint holes on either side and it is weirding me out to no end. I trimmed two with nail clippers but they are still a bit pokey. Too afraid to just pull them out.

New innie belly button is tight. Like, physically tucked in there very tightly and it has been so long since I’ve had an innie-belly button I forgot what it feels like. Weird. Honestly. Also, am I going to have to clean this thing now? Forgive the terrible lighting of my bathroom. Scar looks like an upside down frowny face, but overall I’m thrilled that there’s no more skin-lip hanging from the top, nor a Q*Bert nose.

Still minimal soreness and taking things relatively easy. Still on lifting restrictions. But I’m not experiencing the acute pain from sudden movement, coughing, or laughter. The sorest part is right above my belly button where she sewed my diastasis. It is tender to the touch, even. Muscles have a dull ache, but nothing distracting. Sleeping on my stomach is fine.

Because I’m no longer experiencing the sharp pain I had with even minimal movement in the first couple days after the surgery, I’m finding that it is easy to forget that I’m not supposed to be doing any heavy lifting. Like, today I ran the vacuum, briefly, even though it is probably outside of my weight limit. I felt okay for the 90 seconds it took to get that dirty rug clean, but as soon as I finished I could feel it, and realized I still need to take it easy.

May 3, 2017: Update

Got on my bike for the first time in over a year today (don’t tell my doc). Put in about 10 miles and felt fantastic. To everyone (John) who mentioned recovery was not a terribly big deal: touché. Ended up pulling those weird little strings out which was eerie but not that bad.

My scar is a little itchy, and nubby. I’m treating it nightly with Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Swivel Stick, which worked so well on my knee surgery scar I’ve been a convert for life.

July 13, 2017: Update

Hernia surgery: 4 months post-op.

Listen, I’m not a huge fan of taking ab-selfies, though you wouldn’t know it here. This picture was taken first thing in the morning (well, my morning, which begins around 9) and the line across the bottom is an imprint from whatever I wore to bed. It is not additional scarring.

At this point I feel pretty much back to normal. Workouts have resumed completely, including my super rigorous ab exercises (lies, I might do a plank a couple times a week), and obviously all lifting restrictions are off. Again with the terrible lighting, but the scar is barely perceptible. I do keep it SP-F’ed up (like what I did there?) because I know scar spots tend to burn easily. But that’s it.

August 23, 2017: Update

Hernia surgery: 5 months post-op.

Last one, I swear! Just wanted to show an end of summer picture because I think it is worth noting that it is possible not to hate your stomach after 4 kids and a semi-major surgery.

Every once in a while I experience dull soreness or very specific but moderate pain in the site of the surgery. Every once in a while it itches. My actual belly button is a tad tender. (But maybe that’s normal.)

Yes, I clean my super deep innie, and actually the tightness is relaxing a little.

The scar is smoothing out nicely. I imagine by this time next year, it will be a distant memory.

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Post-Pregnancy Umbilical Hernia Surgery
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11 thoughts on “Post-Pregnancy Umbilical Hernia Surgery

    1. UPDATED 9/8: Thanks for the kick in the pants! Seriously. I’ve had pics ready but just hadn’t gotten around to updating.

    1. AAAHHH! I’m so glad. I can tell you now that I’m more than a year recovered and I am so thrilled with my new belly button and no longer having to wear tight undershirts to hold in the nub!

  • Your posts have been such an eye opener for me!! My umbilical hernia is bigger than what yours was. I’m scared to get the operation for two reasons: 1. My daughter is 15 months and I’m the one who lifts her out of her cot every morning and she’s very clingy to me and only wants me after her naps, not her daddy (who is at home at the moment luckily
    For me)
    And 2. I fear the operation because I’d like to have another child in the future but don’t know the implications that this surgery will have on me in say a year or so if I do fall pregnant. Scared the scar might split or something…

    1. I would say don’t be afraid to wait on surgery. My hernia started after my first child but I didn’t have it fixed until almost a decade later – after my fourth child. I was also afraid of getting it fixed and then popping another one. The hernia didn’t get so significantly worse with each pregnancy to make me think I should have had it fixed earlier, truly. I think waiting until you know you are done having kids is your best bet – and also waiting until the last child isn’t as dependent on you to carry or pick up or anything like that. Healing time was a little difficult but would have been much worse if I’d had a baby that needed to be held.

  • THANKS FOR THIS! I also have this, but I’m an older guy who gradually tore muscle in this area over many years while straining during sports activities. I did not realize what was really going on until very recently and your wonderful umbilical surgery series alleviated some of my fears.

    How does anyone get a clear picture in their head of what’s going on inside their own body…? For me, it’s always been a bunch of fuzzy images connected to vague feelings, at best. We should each have our own, personal MRI machines so we can acquire a better notion of ourselves every day. It should be like getting on the scale.

  • Thank you for this very useful post. Could I ask if you have diastasis recti in addition to hernia? If so have you got this fixed? Did the doctor use the mesh? Thank you very much!!

    1. I did have it but it was minimal. It seemed the worst after my first pregnancy, but gradually seemed to tighten up with average working out and a healthy diet, honestly. I do a fair amount of running and that seemed to help the most. When my doc got in there for the hernia she said she went up a little and tightened some of my diastasis as well, but no mesh was used. I think she just went up about two inches (from the inside) and sewed it together. I will say this. After my first was born I could stick almost my entire hand in the cavern that was the separation of my abs (running vertically from pubic bone up to ribs). That is no longer there and has mostly closed on its own. I’d say wait a few years and see if yours doesn’t improve with time before considering surgery. (I also had 4 total pregnancies, so it had a pretty big chance to get worse but didn’t.)

      1. Hi Claire, thank you for the very detailed reply. I have both diastasis recti and umbilical hernia although both of them are minimal and caused from my first pregnancy. Quite recently, I feel sharp pain time to time around the navel area, I’m very uncertain if I should have the surgery to repair or wait to see in case I want to have more children. I noticed your scar was almost invisible, did your doctor perform the cut within umbilical rather than near?

        Thank you very much again, looking forward to reading your reply.

        1. The cut was just above my belly button. (Look for that upside down smile.) It has now been over a year and the scar is even less noticeable, but definitely not completely invisible. I waited to have mine fixed after I knew I was done having kids. The thing is, you could have it fixed now, and it could tear again if you get pregnant again. Like I said in the post, mine got a little more stretched out over time (pre-surgery) but didn’t get significantly worse. It was worth waiting to go through all my pregnancies and fix when I was completely finished, and also back in shape. The body is an amazing thing and has a weird ability to bounce back. My opinion is to give it some time.

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