I was feeling relaxed as the sonographer glided the wand gently over my belly.
I’d been here plenty of times before. With three kids, Tane, now 12, Makaya, 10, and Taison, seven, I loved being a mum.
When my husband, Takahi, 35, and I found out I was pregnant again, we were over the moon.
Heading to my first scan alone, my friend Jane performed the procedure.
As we laughed and chatted, I couldn’t wait to see our new family member. ‘I hope it’s not twins,’ I joked.
But just then, Jane’s face went white. ‘There’s more than one,’ she said slowly. What? I panicked. ‘It’s triplets!’ she announced, completely shocked.
I was still speechless as Jane explained I was eight weeks along and all the babies were progressing well.
My mind raced as I rang Takahi. ‘Three,’ was all I managed to stammer. ‘You’re three months along already? That’s great!’ Takahi said cheerily.
‘No, there’s three babies!’ I shrieked.
Thankfully, the bubs grew without any complications. But as the weeks passed, I began having back and hip problems, and constant aches and pains.
By the time I reached 30 weeks, I’d put on 30 kilos.
At just 31 weeks, my water broke and I rushed into hospital for the delivery.
My beautiful baby girls, Madisyn, Mariyah and Mackenna, entered the world safely, each weighing less than two kilos.
They spent three weeks in the NICU and another four weeks in the special-care nursery.
But when the midwives checked me, they discovered I had a significant muscle separation in my abdomen.
It occurs in most pregnancies to some degree, as the growing baby pushes the abdominal muscles apart.
The standard practice to test the severity of the problem is for a doctor to place their fingers into the muscle gap to measure.
Anything more than two fingers wide is considered a problem. In my case, the gap was a whopping five!
It was like the triplets had torn a hole in my stomach!
A physiotherapist gave me a support band and some exercises to do at home, but nothing seemed to help.
I was hunched over as the separation caused my core to weaken and put extra pressure on my spine.
It was also causing incontinence as my other organs pressed down on my bladder.
A year after the birth, the problems were just as bad. In constant pain, sleep was next to impossible and I would often lie on the ground trying to get comfortable.
I truly needed help.
I did some research and discovered that cases like mine usually required surgery to stitch the abdominal walls back together, so I got a referral to a plastic surgeon.
Unfortunately, after discussing the post-op recovery, I realised I’d need to wait until my bubs were older and didn’t need me to carry them so much.
‘I’ll just battle on until then,’ I told Takahi.
So I went back to the surgeon after their fourth birthday, and was shocked to learn the procedure was no longer covered by Medicare.
It had been re-categorised, meaning that abdominoplasty, or tummy tucks, were only covered if the surgery was done after a significant weight loss.
Even though I needed the surgery for reconstructive and medical reasons, my abdominoplasty was classed as a cosmetic procedure!
Because the procedure no longer had a Medicare item number, private health insurance wouldn’t cover it either.
I almost fell off my chair when I heard it would leave me $16,000 out of pocket. We just didn’t have the money.
But as my problems worsened, I knew we’d have to bite the bullet.
I’m now booked in for the surgery later this month. Our family has had to scrimp, save and take out a loan to pay for the procedure.
I hate the thought of other mums going through what I have.
I’m going to make sure something is done about it.
That’s why I’m sharing my story – I want to see the procedure re-classified.
I was thrilled when The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons spoke out in support of my message.
I hope it can be changed so all mums have access to the help they need.
View Kimberlee's petition on change.org
➤ The medical term for Kimberlee’s condition is diastasis recti. It occurs when the rectus abdominis muscles have separated.
➤ Two-thirds of pregnant women will experience it to varying degrees, but most will find that the muscles return to normal after a period of time.
➤ It’s more common in women who have babies close together, have a heavy baby or a multiple pregnancy.
➤ In severe cases, surgery is the only option to correct the muscle movement.
➤ The condition can cause lower back pain, constipation, and leaking urine. It can even make it harder to breathe and move normally.