By DARLA ATLAS
For some women, trying to bounce back into shape after a baby is akin to dreaming the impossible dream.
Impossible without a little surgical help, that is.
“Some have done everything they can to get their body back, and what they see is loose skin everywhere,” says Dr. Gregory Stagnone, director of the Plastic Surgery Center of Dallas. “No amount of exercise will ever help.”
Enter the “mommy makeover,” a phrase that has taken off in the plastic surgery field over the past few years. Typically consisting of breast augmentation, a tummy tuck or liposuction — or a combination of the three — the procedures are designed to reverse the wear and tear that having babies can sometimes cause.
Although there are plenty of questions to ask before anyone considers cosmetic surgery, local doctors say there’s no questioning its popularity.
Angela Aguirre is a believer. The Rockwall mom of two kids, ages 8 and 4, started working out in December 2010 and lost 30 pounds, “but my stomach didn’t look any different,” she says. “There was loose skin, and it kind of had a round, potbelly appearance to it. I’d been working out really hard for a year and three months, and thought, ‘Surely by now it would be tighter.’”
Next step: a visit to her family doctor, who told her that after two C-sections, the muscles in her stomach were separated.
“He said, ‘There’s nothing you can do to fix that, other than having a tummy tuck,’” she recalls. “They cut open the skin and pull it up, and then they lace your muscles together like a shoelace and pull them tight.”
Aguirre consulted with Stagnone and decided to have a breast augmentation as well as the tummy tuck, because she says she could see the lasting effects of breast-feeding each son for a year.
“I just thought that if I’m doing to do it, I should do it all at once,” she adds.
After her surgeries in March, the first few weeks of recovery were hard: “I’d compare it to my C-sections. You can’t lift and things like that. But after six weeks, I was back to exercising lightly.”
And the results?
“It’s better than I had expected,” she says. “My husband’s very pleased. He says I look the best that I’ve ever looked in my life.”
While she says some family members “were shocked, because some people don’t believe in altering yourself,” Aguirre thinks it’s a matter of personal preference. “I’ve noticed that my self-esteem has gotten better.”
That subject comes up often when plastic surgeons describe their mommy makeover clients.
“These are some of the happiest patients we take care of,” Stagnone says. “We see mommy makeover patients every consult day — to the point that it’s becoming probably half of my practice. It’s typically the 30-to-40 age group who are young and active and just want to get their old selves back.”
But all of that happiness isn’t cheap. Stagnone says breast reshaping and a tummy tuck could cost up to $20,000.
“A mommy makeover can mean a lot of different operations — some that can be done in 2 ½ hours and some in seven hours,” he says. “What you’re paying for is time in the OR, and it’s an expensive place to be.”
Then there are the risks. Dr. Michael Bogdan, a plastic surgeon with offices in Southlake and Dallas, says a tummy tuck is “major surgery, so there are the standard risks of bleeding and infection. There’s also the risk for clots, so it’s important to walk around after surgery.”
Stagnone and Bogdan both say they’re selective about who they will operate on. For example, if an overweight person wants a tummy tuck, “there’s nothing really that you can tuck, because it’s very full,” Bogdan explains.
He also checks with his patients about their future plans: “One thing you definitely don’t want to do after a tummy tuck is have more children. It tightens the stomach wall muscles and also gets rid of extra skin, so they tend not to fare as well. It’s kind of smart to wait until after having babies.”
If a potential patient wants liposuction as a means to lose weight, that person will be turned away, Stagnone says. “You can’t suction enough fat out safely to make a significant difference on the scale.
“The most fundamental aspect of getting good liposuction results,” Stagnone adds, “is that the skin has to have a certain minimal tone and thickness. If somebody has really loose, saggy skin, liposuction will usually leave surface deformities and irregularities.”
These days, the total number of liposuctions performed is rising because the devices used are being sold to people who are not plastic surgeons.
“Yesterday I had a consultation with someone who’d had two liposuction procedures done in a med spa,” Stagnone says. “On her inner thigh there was no fat at all, and the skin is stuck to the muscle. To me, it looks no better than a burn victim.”
Although such mistakes can be difficult to fix and are sometimes permanent, Stagnone plans to treat her by “performing liposuction in the saddlebag area and prepare it for reinjection. So we’re putting fat back into the thigh area. Isn’t that ironic?”
Both doctors say the majority of moms being made over are pleased with their results.
Aguirre, the Rockwall mom, says of the surgery and recovery: “The way I look at it, it was six weeks out of our lives. Now I can be happy for the rest of my life. It’s a good trade-off.”
Darla Atlas is a Fort Worth freelance writer.
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