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  • Writer's pictureEmily Echols

My Broken Body

April 2018: Before MUTU System September 2018: After MUTU System

It happened again. Someone asked me if I was pregnant. The last time was over a year ago and I thought maybe I was in the clear. She did a valiant effort backtracking and then later apologized. She saw how her question made me shrink, my eyes getting misty, my posture improving.

The first time it happened I was six months postpartum with my second child. It happened twice within a week. I granted those people and myself grace. I was only six months postpartum. I still had baby weight to lose. It was an honest mistake.

The next time my youngest was almost two. I’d lost all the baby weight by then. I said no, my eyes focused on the floor. I quickly gathered my kids and left the party. I never wore that shirt again. I posted a rant on Facebook about how asking a woman if she is pregnant reduces her to her appearance and her fertility. Lots of people came to my rescue. “You’re beautiful! You don’t look pregnant!” But I kind of did.

The first time I heard the term diastasis recti I was pregnant with my second child. The doctor was measuring my belly, jumped, and rolled back on the wheeled stool. I asked what happened. He said he felt a baby hand. I didn’t understand why that was surprising. He explained that I had diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles often caused by pregnancy. I had a gap a few inches wide where there was no abdominal wall, only stretched out connective tissue. That’s where he felt the baby hand, in the gap. He almost held hands with a baby in utero.  

After the time at the party I decided it was time to fix myself. I researched diastasis recti and mostly found people’s blog posts about doing the exact thing I was trying to do. In general, doctors either say it’s not a big deal or offer to stitch it back up, which turns out to not be very effective. I learned that I shouldn’t be doing crunches or planks, including any exercises in push-up position as these could make the gap wider. The suggested exercises all focused on the transverse abdominal muscles, the ones on the sides.

I did exercises on my own for a while. Then I bought the MuTu System. It consists of a daily walk, daily core exercises, and intensive exercises you do a few times a week. The first few weeks you re-learn how to walk, sit, stand, and breathe. I know that sounds crazy but most of us, especially after having a baby, are so disconnected from our core and our pelvic floor that it’s really important to know how it’s supposed to work. Putting my body in proper alignment was an important first step and surprisingly difficult.

The first time I tried to do a walking lunge I nearly fell over. A light bulb went on. That’s what abs are for! They keep you from falling over. I didn’t really understand that until that moment. Suddenly so many things made sense. Kneeling to bathe my children hurt my back because I wasn’t using my abs to keep from falling over. Instead, I pushed out my rear to balance myself, thus straining my back. The day that I did an actual squat and engaged my abs to pick up a heavy laundry basket felt like a victory. I finally, and possibly for the first time in my entire life, had functional abs. I knew what they were for and I knew how to use them in my daily life.

I’m still doing MuTu but instead of the intensives I’m doing Beachbody Workouts with my husband. When I have to modify the exercises, I use a diastasis recti-safe MuTu move instead. I also find myself using my abs for things I wouldn’t have previously thought where abdominal exercises, like roller skating.

I’ve made so much progress. A few months ago I physically wouldn’t have been able to do roller derby because my abs weren’t strong enough. My belly, the ridge down the center of my stomach has gone down. My gap, which started out as fist-sized, is now down to two fingers. Some pants that haven’t fit in quite some time fit again. And yet. I still look pregnant.

I wanted to take a photo of what I was wearing when the person asked if I was pregnant so everyone could tell me I didn't look pregnant. I thought about taking a photo in workout clothes. I thought about sharing a photo of me pregnant out-to-here so I could snarkily say, “This is what I look like when I’m pregnant.” But that’s not really the point. Instead I’m sharing my MuTu before photo and my progress photo. I thought about just sharing the before one but I decided to show what's possible.

When I was researching diastasis recti it was very encouraging to see women whose stomachs looked like mine. Women who were in pretty good shape but who had this mound in the middle of their stomachs where they had no abdominal muscles. Some of them took pictures leaning over, showing how this spot in the middle of their belly hung down, even though the rest didn’t. So I took a picture today. In case this is how you look, know that you’re not alone. Recently we went to a children’s museum. I noticed woman after woman, chasing after small children, shaped just like me. All of us with our broken bodies.

This is what I look like. And you know what? This may be as good as it gets. Lots of women with diastasis recti never fully close the gap. According to MuTu it’s more important to have functional abs than it is to completely close the gap. The problem is, I don’t know how to dress this body. Even if this is improvement and even if this is what functional abs look like, I still don’t know what to do with this body. Clothes aren’t designed for this shape unless they are maternity clothes. Going up a size doesn’t really solve the problem because then the clothes are too big elsewhere. Loose tops that seem like they would be flattering settle on my stomach because it sticks out the farthest. I have about three outfits that I feel good in. The blousy dress I wore on Sunday is no longer on that list.

When I ranted about being asked if I was pregnant the last time, a friend shared a story. She was a hospital chaplain and she was visiting a woman who’d just given birth. The woman needed to use the restroom and the nurse didn’t come right away so she offered to help her. As she helped the new mother to the bathroom the words “This is my body, broken for you” came into her head. Those are words we say in the communion liturgy when we break the bread. Maybe instead of feeling offended or sorry for myself, I should be attaching theological significance to this. My body created new life. My body was broken for my children. My body fed my children.

Perhaps my vanity is another thing I should sacrifice for my children. It was never a necessary or good thing anyway. Perhaps my sensitivity about being asked a question that is not entirely unreasonable needs to be sacrificed. Lately, I've been trying to focus on what my body is capable of doing, the ways I am able to use my body and less on what it looks like. Even that squishy mound in the middle of my stomach that I hate, my children love to rest their heads on.

The truth is, however much it sucks when people ask if you're pregnant and you're not, they ask because they want to share in your joy. They’re not trying to make you feel insecure or fat or ugly. They’re not trying to make you feel like you're somehow a failure or a disappointment for not being pregnant. They’re not trying to point out your brokenness. They just want to share in your joy.

There has to be a way to say “no” without sucking all the joy out of the room.

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