I’m going to go ahead and talk about some gross medical stuff here, so feel free to skip this one if you’re at all squeamish.
It’s 5am on Friday, so it’s just (barely) over a week since I had my abdominoplasty operation. I’ve carefully referred to it as an abdominoplasty rather than its much simpler and catchier name: Tummy tuck.
I guarantee a bunch of people are saying, “WHAT!?! This whole thing you’ve been banging on about is elective plastic surgery?”
(This monitor lizard is both shocked and appalled.)
To which I generally point out all the hard medical reasons for me to “need” (rather than just want) this surgery: the 9cm gap between my stomach muscles; the back problems; the umbilical hernia; the sores due to loose skin.
But when I’m able to push past my own self-righteousness, why the hell shouldn’t women be allowed to have their stomachs put back into a vaguely familiar shape? The phrase “mummy makeover” makes me quiver, but seriously why not? Why is it right and good that women should go through the misery of pregnancy for 9 months, the agony of birth, and then also cheerfully accept that they’ll never fit into jeans again, no matter what they do? Why should women’s bodies go through horrific trauma and then also shame their owner for the rest of their lives? I often feel about ninety years old courtesy of my various post-partum health issues, but even the average woman probably ages around 10 years thanks to having kids… and that’s before actually looking after the kids.
I had a tummy tuck last week. Although my stomach muscles were severely separated (in a manner that, as a sports injury, would be covered under medicare-why yes that IS sexist) it proved impossible to have my body stitched back together via the public health system. Believe me; I tried over and over again for years. My youngest is three and a half years old, and I knew within weeks of his birth that something was seriously messed up with my stomach. It’s been a long and shitty journey, and the journey itself has certainly been a factor in my gaining more and more weight (which then of course causes doctors to tell me that all my problems are my own fault. Cause and effect are a thing, y’all), and going through a lot more pain and humiliation than necessary.
One surgeon told me that my stomach gap was probably too small to bother with, but ordered a scan. When I returned to him with evidence of a 9cm gap between my stomach muscles, he told me it was far too big for his hospital to deal with, and I’d need to go to Canberra Hospital (which happened to be where we were meeting, since he works at two hospitals). On both occasions he told me, “It’s out of my hands.”
One surgeon told me that stomach muscles could not actually be fixed (the entire tummy tuck industry is a scam, apparently) but he could add some surgical mesh to fix my umbilical hernia (the hernia means that umbilical stuff tends to poke out of my stomach at times due to the lack of stomach muscles being where they should be). After googling matters, confirming my suspicion that stomach mesh would make any future actually-solving-the-primary-problem operation more difficult and dangerous, I refused the surgery. Shortly afterwards, Australia’s largest manufacturer of surgical mesh was taken to court for their unsafe product. So that was a win. Sort of.
I looked online for a surgeon who worked in both the public and private sector. My plan was to get a straight answer about the surgery by appearing to be a private customer—then, when he confirmed surgery was necessary, tell him that I needed to go the public route. The surgeon I found (and ultimately used; Dr Tony Tonks) no longer does tummy tuck operations through the public system because it’s statistically impossible to get them approved.
Friends suggested a crowdfunding campaign, which I did. It raised around $10,000 (some people chose to give to me directly), and my parents ultimately paid the rest (THANK YOU Mum and Dad). The surgery itself cost a bit over $8000. The anaesthetist cost $1700. The hospital cost a bit under $7000 (for using the theatre room, and for staying two nights in the ICU) which then increased to $10,000 (because I stayed an extra three nights due to a low lung capacity). So if you’re looking to get this surgery, you’ll need about $17,000 if absolutely nothing goes wrong along the way (plus 2-4 weeks off work during which you’ll be barely able to go to the toilet unassisted, and won’t be able to concentrate or stay awake for long).
A huge number of people donated amounts ranging from $5 to $4000. I’m quite anxious about letting people down (goodness knows I have other health issues as well, so I won’t be representing Australia in the Olympics anytime soon), but I’m also extremely touched by all the support. It’s incredibly hard to get past the “I’m so grateful for my kids that I mustn’t complain about anything” notion combined with the self-deprecating “Anything that improves my appearance and costs more than $100 is sheer wasteful vanity, especially if the ugliness is due to mum stuff”. Even though I can tell, logically, that they’re stupid. Having people not just say, “You should do this thing” but put their money into it has really helped me to grudgingly allow myself to value my own health.
In related news, why do so many women feel that a drug-free vaginal birth is the only “good” birth? Because it hurts more, and is therefore morally superior (aka “better for the baby”)? Medicine hasn’t stopped being sexist just because “hysteria” isn’t an official diagnosis any more.
Nowadays, we say, “Hormones”. Or “It’s natural”. Or even “post-partum depression”. Or “a side-effect of weight gain” (I’ve gained enough weight and suffered enough pain to know that when medical people say, “Even five kilos will make a difference” they are often dead wrong. Everything that’s wrong with me right now was also wrong with me when I was twenty-five kilos lighter… which is the reason I’m twenty-five kilos heavier now). All of which are used every day to deny real medical support to women. And once you have more than one medical condition… well! Good luck to you. Especially if one condition is mental illness. Because a problem that’s hard to fix is easy to simplify: You’re a hypochondriac, or looking for attention, or maybe you’re just fat and looking for something to blame other than your own lazy arse. (How do I know you’re lazy? Easy! You’re fat. Fat isn’t a side effect of chronic pain, or a battalion of complicated medical challenges. It’s a side effect of laziness every time. And I can prove it, because you’re looking for a medical solution instead of dieting. What a pig!)
I guess that’s a fairly good summary of the psychological side of this operation. I’ll save the physical stuff for another entry.