Why I Opted for Plastic Surgery
Edit: In October 2022, I had my breast implants removed. I no longer endorse implants. Learn why here.
Warning: Photos will show lots of skin. No full nudity. Photo gallery at the bottom of the page.
As a result of 3 pregnancies and obesity, I was left with a lot of loose skin. No amount of exercise would tighten it up. I have been consistently exercising for well over a decade, and have not been obese for nearly 2 decades at this point. I felt awkward in my clothes, forever adjusting them to try to conceal my belly. I became a master at posing to minimize it. I also was sporting a very mismatched pair of saggy, pendulous breasts; a size C and a DD to be exact. When it came to shopping for things like bathing suits, bras, and shirts, I had a heck of a time. I was resigned to a life of sports bras and solid colors.
In 2019 I had been fascia blasting for 2 years. While it helped tremendously with my chronic pain issues, my belly was not tightening up. I tried CryoSlimming and spent well over $1000 to try to freeze the stubborn area. Within days it went back to how it was.
I’m 5’1″ and had been hovering around 130#, exercising both strength and cardio 6 days/week and working an active job. And this was where I was at.
To work that hard, that consistently for so long is very frustrating to me. Since going vegan I had incredible energy. I feel better than I ever have at 45 years old. Yet, this….
Summer 2019 I started giving thought to this “mommy makeover” surgery. I poked around on the internet a little bit and saw the cost would be around $20,000, so I set the idea aside. Since becoming debt-free, I save for things that I want, and that was a bit out of reach anytime soon.
But the idea wouldn’t leave my head. In September I was on a fascia blasters Facebook group looking for more ideas on how I could fix this belly, and a gal said she had a tummy tuck, and it was the best thing she ever had done for herself. She had traveled out of the country and it was not very expensive. So, I started shopping around. I also joined this group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/235763626785590/
While prices in Mexico, Columbia and the Dominican Republic were very low, I just did not feel comfortable. I stumbled across Miami as a hotspot for cosmetic surgery and started searching in the tummy tuck groups. There were 3 surgeons that really stood out to me as being excellent and affordable. We do have a plastic surgery center about an hour away, so I also set up a consultation with my “local” surgeon. I took nude photos and sent them off for virtual consultations with the 3 in Miami. Awkward? Yes! But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!
By this time it was November and I was on the verge of my 45th birthday. I knew in my heart this is what I wanted to do.
Now to answer the question of where I went and why.
Spectrum Aesthetics got back to me with a quote of $7500 including extended tummy tuck with muscle repair, lipo to 2 areas, breast lift and augmentation, pre-op visit, post-op visits and support for a year), and post-surgical garments (binder, bra, compression socks). I opted for silicone breast implants to give my desired shape – most of you never knew I was a C on the right and DD on the left and had a hell of a time shopping for clothes. Anyway the silicone brought the total to $8300. I booked my date on November 22, 2019. The date was set for April 15, 2020. And then it ended up being postponed due to COVID-19, to May 20, 2020.
Dr. Ortega was so humble and personable. He’s been at this for 30 years and is a sculptor in my opinion when it comes to mommy makeovers. I felt completely comfortable the moment I met him, which was on the day of the surgery. He took one of my original photos I had sent in, marked it up with proposed changes, and then we both signed in agreement. After that he made the same markings on my body, explaining and telling stories as he went. There was always a female assistant in the room.
Oh and then I also paid the Wausau facility $75 for a consultation. Nice surgeon, but the portfolio was not exactly the work I was looking for. Estimated cost $21,000 not including pre-op and post-op visits, garments, etc. Likely would have had a night at the hospital.
Flight to Miami (Fort Lauderdale) was about $250 round trip via Southwest out of Milwaukee and they were awesome about carting me around in wheelchairs on the return. 2 checked bags included.
Hotel was $850 for 9 nights at Candlewood Suites, for a 2 bed (and recliner, thank God) handicap accessible suite with a kitchenette. They also had a great cancellation policy, and that was important to me in case I was postponed again.
I did rent a car which I could have done cheaper but it was around $400 for 9 days and 2 drivers.
Pre-operatively I had to have lots of tests done. I had met my deductible in January with physical therapy for my shoulder, and that brought the tests down to a few hundred total. Otherwise it may have been closer to $1000. Off the top of my head it was mammogram, chest x-ray, abdominal ultrasound, EKG, urine, blood for CMP, HgA1C, TSH, HepC, HIV, pregnancy, CBC and I think even some others. My local provider (shout out to Tiffany Miller NP at Aspirus) has been awesome and supportive.
Post-op medications for me were Norco, Zofran, Lovenox, Cephalexin and Flexeril. Would have been about $150 but with my insurance it was around $8.
You can do the math and see why I’d rather go to Miami and have a doctor who does excellent work, than spend at least double and not be satisfied with my results. I’d recommend Dr. Ortega for sure.
I had heard stories regarding long waits for appointments at Spectrum and poor communication, but that was not my experience. The staff was kind and courteous and I have had no problem reaching someone when I need to. They are still following up with me by phone weeks later to make sure all is well.
In Miami, the pre-op appointment is the day before surgery. They take your height (they said 5’2″ and I’ll take it!), weight (127# that day) and vitals. There’s drug and pregnancy testing, and photos.
The day of surgery I actually went to Dr. Ortega’s other facility, iBody. I was relieved, because drop off and pickup would be easier than Spectrum’s tight parking garage, and the facility is not as busy. The assistant brought me back where I was screened for fever and given shoe covers. In the exam room I was given cap, gown, underwear, compression socks and booties. I took another drug and pregnancy test, and also a COVID-19 test. I had brought a backpack with my wallet and a blanket, and wore a long zippered robe to/from.
One thing he asked was why I wanted to do this. I was caught a little off guard, but it was easy for me to answer. I want my body to be as awesome as the rest of my life is.
Items I would recommend having:
I basically lived in this thing. I wore it to surgery and they put me back in it for discharge. Aside from having to wash it, it’s been my go-to. I’ve worn a maxi dress a couple of times, but this is one thing I could not go without: Women Zipper Robe Short Sleeve
An electric recliner would be fantastic. I had a manual at the hotel for the first week but needed help pushing in the foot for the first few days. I could not sleep in bed, so the recliner was the best option. At home I thought I would just use pillows in bed, but I could not get comfortable. I’d highly recommend renting or purchasing an electric recliner for at least a couple of weeks. I ended up borrowing a zero gravity lounge chair from a friend and padding it with a quilt and pillows, but it’s not very cushy.
I actually brought a personal blender with for making smoothies that would be easy to consume and boost my recovery. My favorite was a scoop of vanilla protein powder, 1/2c frozen pineapple and a handful of kale or spinach, with just enough water to blend. High in protein, contains bromelain from the pineapple to help with swelling, and greens are full of nutrients!
And this guided meditation. I cannot recommend it enough! I started listening daily at about 2 weeks out, including while I waited to go into the operating suite. It made such a difference in my nerves. I felt calm, confident and excited! I subscribed the app for a month and still listen to the affirmations post-op. https://www.healthjourneys.com/successful-surgery
Regarding the recovery…
It is crucial to have a caregiver. I chose my mom, who happens to be an experienced nurse. She was absolutely fantastic. There are recovery houses all over Miami, but no one is as good as Mom 🙂 She can handle emptying drains, administering and keeping track of meds, giving anti-coagulant injections, and helping with showers, cooking, getting the damn foot of the recliner shut in the middle of the night, you name it.
I was discharged as soon as I woke up from anesthesia. This was the hardest part. They do not send you off with pain meds. Your caregiver can go get them from the pharmacy while you are in surgery, and that’s what she did. I wake up hard. I also normally wake up vomiting but they were excellent about meds to make sure that did not happen. My mom picked me up. It’s foggy but I remember being in quite a lot of pain and wondering if the taste of the anesthesia gas would ever leave. Bumps in the road hurt on that 15 minute drive to the hotel. Once there, she was able to get a wheelchair from the hotel and get me up to the room. I took a pain pill and just tried to breathe through it all. Felt like hours before it was under control. For the first 3 days it was all pain management, scheduled, even during the night. By day 2 it was manageable, though. Probably a 4-5/10 versus 8-9. I was able to walk to the bathroom but was completely hunched over like an 80 year old lady who rarely stands up! I had 2 Jackson-Pratt drains sticking out of me – 2 for breasts and 2 in my mons pubis that went up into my rib area.
For that first week post-op, I rested a lot. I would get up to walk frequently and then sleep more. I took up watching Netflix on my laptop. It was a comfortable hotel room. Mom took me on a driveabout to see the area once I was a few days post-op. I loved seeing the colorful stucco houses, palm trees, and Banyan trees.
When it came time to head home, we took a scenic route from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. I had the opportunity to dip my toes in the Atlantic ocean for the first time, at Hollywood Beach. It was heavenly.
We were traveling during COVID-19, so we took all precautions. Both of us being nurses helps! We wore our masks, even using N95 on the airplanes. Nothing was crowded. On a 150 passenger plane, it ranged from 18-50 passengers. I had sanitizing wipes for my seating area, did not eat/drink/toilet during the flights, etc. Beaches were closed when we arrived, but Broward County was open upon our return, hence my brief beach experience. Dipping toes in the Pacific and the Atlantic were on my actual bucket list, and I checked them both off in within the same 6 months with my mom. Awesome. I’m hooked!
Flying home was alright. I flew in to Milwaukee, which is 20 minutes from my mom’s home. Her awesome husband does the drop off and pick up, helping with bags. When I booked my flight I requested wheelchair assistance. Southwest Airlines was great! They carted me around all 3 airports (had a layover in Orlando) and I was among the first to board, with my assistant (Mom). By this time I was mostly off of prescription pain meds and nausea control, but saved one of each for this long travel day.
After spending the night at Mom’s, I drove the 4 hours home. It wasn’t bad. I made one stop for gas/bathroom and one for coffee. Since that day (8 days post-op) I have been off of prescription pain meds entirely (took my last one before bed that night).
Being home has been fine. I take rest breaks and sometimes naps. The hardest part was having the 2 drains in until 15 days post-op. The insertion sites were sore whenever I bent or walked, so I really just wanted to sleep until they could come out. The problem was getting comfortable. We do not have a recliner, so I had tried setting something up on the couch. After a few days my back hurt so bad – far worse than my surgical sites. A friend offered his “zero gravity” outdoor lounge chair, I padded it up with a quilt and pillows, and it’s been a lifesaver. I would say having a recliner would be the way to go, though. At day 17 I finally got a wedge pillow and put that in bed, with a jumbo yoga bolster for under my knees and was able to sleep in bed. To wake up without a stiff neck and back this morning was wonderful!
There are things that I didn’t expect, like how numb and foreign my belly would feel due to the nerve damage. I’ve always heard that liposuction is very painful, but I did not experience that. In the areas that received lipo, I just feel bruised to the touch, and that is lasting several weeks. For the most part I don’t notice it, unless I bump something or get a back rub from my sweet husband and he touches that area (bra line and flanks).
Recovery is longer than I anticipated. Dr. Ortega recommends the following for me, mostly due to the repair of rectus abdominus from xiphoid to pubis (abdominal muscles were separated):
6 weeks for work and lifting anything over 10#
12 weeks for vigorous exercise such as mountain biking
So, this is the summer of walking for me.
I wear a surgical bra 23/7 for the first month, an abdominal binder and compression stockings for the first 2 weeks, and then a faja or similar garment with an abdominal board 23/7 for the next few months. It’s a long process, but for me the results I’m already seeing are worth it.
I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Time to live the second half of my life, comfortable in my own skin.
Update at 11 1/2 weeks post-op…
What a journey!! Here are some random things about recovery:
The worst was that I had a couple of dissolvable stitches under my right breast become infected about 3 weeks post-op. 2 months later, I’m still dealing with an open wound. I have to change the dressing every 3 days and pack it, so it heals from the inside out. I expect I’ll have an odd scar on that side, but it is under my breast. You can see the dressing in the black and white photo. It’s been a bummer, but it is healing. My local wound clinic has been the best resource. Dr. Ortega’s office was very responsive in the early stages as far as prescribing wound care and antibiotics, but there came a point I wanted local help, so my local primary care provider wrote the order for the wound clinic. Post Added 9/14/2020 with photos.
At 5’1″, find an off-the-rack faja that fits is impossible. I ordered a custom from Contour Fajas and I only regret not doing it sooner. It is quite comfortable (for a faja, anyway). I have changed clothes a lot today and opted for no compression, and I really should have worn it. I feel more swollen than usual. At this point, part of me is tempted to wean myself off, because they say 3-6 months.
I started doing some light jogging and modified strength training at around 5 weeks, and have done so every day since. That has been good. I wear an abdominal binder when I work out, which helps me feel more put together.
At about 10 weeks post-op I could finally sneeze without it hurting.
I went mountain biking and pushed my limits at 11 weeks post-op, and my abdominal muscle repair actually hurt. When I push too hard or do too much, that’s where I feel it.
I’m still numb and swollen above my tummy tuck incision. I know that takes several months to go away, so I am just riding it out.
I have a physical job and went back to it at 4.5 weeks. 6 would have been more appropriate.
For my tummy tuck scar, I use Bio Oil and this: Gelzone Garment Belt Silicone. I tried 2″ silicone tape, but it rolled up. This gives my scar area a little support and compression. I cut it from 6″ down to 4″.
Update 2022: I believe the breast implants were making me very sick. Read more here.