‘I got my Bikini Body back’
After years of abdominal crunches and big pants, Lisa Milliner resorted to surgery to get her bikini body back
I’m standing naked in front of the bedroom mirror. I can see my paunch with its saggy skin. My waist has vanished, and I know my nagging back pain won’t go while my stomach muscles are so weak. Yes, I can tuck my belly away in big knickers and no one would know my secret, but this post-baby pouch has eroded my self-esteem and my sexual confidence. My husband insists he still finds me sexy, and I do believe him, but my tummy has never recovered from two pregnancies, the second of which made even the midwife’s eyes water. Son number two weighed in at a whopping 11lbs 4oz (5.1kg). I have exercised, crunched and Power Plated my way through the last five years, but nothing has made a difference. My looming 40th birthday is the trigger for my final decision. I want my body back and I’m prepared to take a shortcut to get it.
My decision is made. Now I have to find the surgeon. As a beauty writer, I’ve known cosmetic surgery guru Wendy Lewis for years, so I ask her who she’d recommend. “Laurence Kirwan,â€ she says, without hesitation. I look on his website, read the testimonials, then book an appointment. In the waiting room of his Harley Street office, I leaf through books of his work (befores and afters). Professor Laurence Kirwan trained as an aesthetic plastic surgeon in America and has performed operations, such as tummy tucks, for more than 20 years on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ve definitely come to the right place. But can he make my tummy look better? “Without question,” he says. “No amount of exercise is going to restore the elasticity in stretched skin. Abdominoplasty is the best and only treatment – we can dramatically improve your stomach, your shape and even your posture.” I feel euphoric. I know it’s an expensive operation (£6,000), but it’s what I need to do. I’m not asking to look like Madonna, I just want to look normal. A Week Before Surgery I have a strange dream in which I wake from surgery to discover that, while my saggy belly has gone, in its place is a TV screen. The Night Before Surgery The boys are having a sleepover. I struggle to stay calm as I say goodbye. They know I am having an operation and will have a big cut. I get home and start to panic about all the things that could go wrong. My husband puts his arms around me. He has always said he’s happy with me just the way I am (all very Bridget Jones), but he understands why I want the op and he’s incredibly supportive.
The Big Day
Before my pregnancies, my abdominal muscles ran vertically from my chest bone to my pelvic bone, each side of my tummy button. Now, they have parted, creating a large Kangaroo-style pouch with stretch-marked skin. Dr Kirwan’s job is to darn the muscles back together before pulling down the skin below my chest and anchoring it just below my bikini line, creating a new belly button hole in the process. Finally, he will cut away the excess skin (including my C-section scar) and stitch up the wound. I will have a long scar running from one hip bone to the other, which will be hidden beneath a bikini. As I stand in my hospital room in my bikini bottoms, Dr Kirwan begins to draw the battle lines across my abdomen. It looks like my five-year-old has been let loose on me with a marker pen. As I reach the theatre doors, I am terrified. All operations carry a small risk – post-surgery clots, infectionâ€¦ Not for the first time, I feel guilty for putting my children and husband through this. I start to cry.
Waking from the three-hour surgery, I feel surprisingly good. No pain, just a heavy feeling across my tummy that feels like one of my sons is sitting on top of me. Dr Kirwan says it went very well. I call my husband and text family and friends. I can’t resist a peek under the covers. I’m zipped into a beige corset, very Hollywood starlet, but I feel more Frankenstein than Marilyn Monroe. Then I discover the drains, which emerge from underneath my bikini line. These long thin tubes drain blood and fluid from my belly, and are connected to plastic suction bottles. It is probably the single most horrific thing I have seen. Unsurprisingly, I have no appetite.
Day 1 The next 24 hours are hideous. The pain is much the same as a C-section, but the general anaesthetic and painkillers cause my blood pressure to drop. I feel faint. Dr Kirwan’s right-hand woman, Connie, undoes the corset and removes the wadding. I’m scared and excited – this is my first look at my new tummy. Unbelievable. It’s so flat that I barely notice the shocking hip-to-hip scar. When I do, it’s not as bad as I thought it might be. My new belly button hole is perfection. My husband comes to collect me. I feel like an old woman, stooped and shuffling, and it takes him and a nurse to get me out of bed. I feel nauseous and start to wretch. I can feel my stomach muscles straining against the stitches. It’s almost unbearable. The drive home is not much better. When the boys arrive home, they look nervous when they see me. I smile and reassure them. It’s so wonderful to see them and I try to hug them, but the slightest jog sends pain shooting through my body.
Day 2 My husband helps me to the loo. “This is a real insight into what it might be like when we’re in our nineties,” he says. The thought makes me laugh out loud. Big mistake. God, it hurts to laugh.
Day 3 Dr Kirwan removes one drain. There’s a tugging feeling inside as the long perforated tube is gently pulled through my abdomen. I’m told to regularly empty the remaining drain to keep the swelling to a minimum – grim. We look at my new belly. As I lie there, all I can do is blink back my tears. My husband is amazed.
Day 5 Final drain removed. Hurrah! I know the sight of them has been worrying the boys. I’m starting to straighten up from the stoop I’ve adopted for the last few days.
Day 12 My first proper shower since the operation – I feel uncomfortable. My belly is swollen. I look pregnant and feel crushed. I smooth silicone cream along the scar to aid healing. It feels numb and my tummy muscles feel abnormally hard to touch. Dr Kirwan has suggested some brisk walking to kick off a post-op exercise regime, and the boys love that I’m taking them to school again, even though it takes a bit longer than usual to get there. Week 4 Another milestone, it’s the first night without the corset. I feel vulnerable without its support, but am thrilled that the swelling is going down. My tummy looks amazing and the scar is healing well, although I still have a few barely noticeable stretch marks just above my bikini line.
Tw o Months I’ve ditched the corset and I’m back in my jeans. I feel incredibly slim now I don’t have that tummy hanging out in front of me. I also have a waist again – it disappeared after my pregnancies, but now my womanly curves are back! Three Months Dr Kirwan said not to do any abdominal work for six months, however, I can still enjoy going swimming, walking and doing some gentle jogging at the gym. It feels fantastic to be doing some real exercise. Four Months I catch sight of myself in the mirror – that’s my belly, not Kate Moss’s. It’s actually mine. I start sorting through my underwear drawer. Out go the big pants; in come the sexy new bikini briefs that I have bought. Six Months I’m on the beach in the south of France. It’s the first time I’ve worn a bikini in seven years. There is still slight swelling around my bikini line, but no one notices except me. Would I recommend a tummy tuck? Definitely, but with a word of caution: a tummy tuck may be a shortcut to a better body, but it’s not an easy option. For me, the results have been worth it. I feel sexy, confident, strong and inspired by my new body. I feel like the old me, the real me, the me that my husband fell in love with.
Source: Woman & Home January 2010