Belly Button Blues

Hannah has an umbilical hernia. It’s a small hole in the abdominal wall under the belly button, and it’s the reason that she has such a pronounced outie. It’s not painful or problematic, and Hannah actually likes it. She’s rather proud of her ‘sticky-out’ belly button, in fact.

I had an umbilical hernia as a child, but mine resolved when I was preschool-aged. Most of them do, in fact it’s rare for them to persist beyond the first year or two. But Hannah’s has. Since she is now 4 years old and her hernia has been more or less the same for over two years, the odds that it will fix itself have gone way down. And so last Friday we found ourselves at Children’s Hospital for a surgical consult.

Hannah and her belly button at 6 weeks old

This isn’t the first visit we’ve paid to general surgery at Children’s Hospital. Our previous doctor sent her in for a consult at 5 months, because he thought we needed to fix her hernia right away. Thankfully the surgeon we saw said that we should go away and live our lives and come back in 4 years if it was still there. I’m glad about that, because considering outpatient surgery for my preschooler is much less upsetting to me than considering it for my infant.

The problem is that it’s more upsetting for Hannah. Like I said she likes her belly button just fine, thank you very much. She sees no need to change it. And she’s a little scared of hospitals and strange doctors and all that jazz. Although they go to great lengths to make the hospital experience as easy on the kids as possible, it’s still scary for a 4-year-old.

Hannah and her belly button at 3 1/2 years old

If the hernia isn’t painful or life-threatening, and Hannah likes it, why are we going ahead with the surgery? I’m concerned that Hannah won’t like having such a prominent outie as a teenager. And by then it will be bigger and it won’t be possible to reduce it in the same way. I have a slight outie from my hernia, and Hannah probably always will, too. That’s fine. But I know I’m glad to have a small outie rather than a big one, and my best guess is my daughter will feel the same way as I do.

During the surgery they will create a small incision and sew the abdominal wall shut. Then they will tack down the centre of Hannah’s bellybutton for cosmetic reasons. the whole thing will take about a half hour, and we will be able to stay with her while she’s put under and then again in the recovery room. The stitches are dissolving, and there will be no restrictions on activity. We don’t have a date yet, they will probably call us in a month or two, and for now I’m in no rush.

I hope we’re making the right choice, correcting the hernia, but I have no way of knowing. I’m just doing the best I can, like every other mom in the world. It’s pretty much all I can do, you know? Mostly, though, I’m just thanking my lucky stars that my hand-wringing is all about Hannah’s bellybutton. No matter what she’ll be fine, and I am so very grateful to know that.

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  1. Eve had surgery when she was three to close an extra sinus in her ear that kept getting infected. I was a little nervous about her going under general anaesthesia even though the surgery was so minor, and everyone in the waiting room with us was so gracious and comforting, even though many of their children had much more serious problems. Be prepared for her to be really upset and disoriented coming out of the general — popsicles were a big help 🙂

  2. on the other side, if you don’t correct it, she will be less likely to take her clothes off as a teenager.

  3. Your daughter always seems so cheerful and optimistic, Amber. It’s so great to always read. I really like how proud she is of her bellybutton, and I am sure you’re making the right decisions.

  4. I will never forgot the terror I felt as my Hannah was put under this past winter. It was one of the scariest days of my life. She was only under for about 15 minutes, but the time stretched on forever. She wasn’t having any of the recovery rest time though…she was awake and we were getting the HELL out of there…she jumped off the bed and got her shoes on herself and then grabbed my hand to go…the nurses were giggling at her – little ones don’t normally want to rush out of the recovery room like she did.

    I hope your Hannah has a speedy recovery too….and I am sure she will love her belly button even more when she is older and wants to get it pierced!

  5. Emily R has a good point 🙂 I’d probably put off a cosmetic surgery until later. On the other hand, kids can be quite cruel, so I can see why you want to do it now rather than later. I hope that Hannah recovers quickly and doesn’t blame you for taking her pride and joy away and replacing it with a “comforming” belly button.

  6. When I was little I had two veins that showed on my face. I forget the name but they were also called “spider bites” because they looked like red bites under my eye. My parents opted not to get the laser surgery to remove them, saying that they’d give me “character” and knowing that they’d go away on their own. They did go away eventually, but I probably would have had them removed when I got older if they stayed.

    On a different note, they did opt to put casts on both my feet when I was about 6 months old to correct my pigeon toes. So they did both (leave it and fix it) and both turned out just fine. I’m sure whatever you choose will work out in the end.

  7. Amber, It sounds like you have a very good surgeon who took a conservative approach initially. I understand the agony of the decision process for surgery. Our son was born with craniosynostosis and had surgery at CHOP in Philadelphia at the age of 3 months. It was so agonizing for us because even though this was a birth defect with potential for significant skull deformity, it was still considered cosmetic surgery. That meant we had to choose yes or no. What made us decide to go ahead was the possibility of teasing in the cruel preteen/teen years and of course, his own self esteem. We had a huge sense of relief when the decision had been made and it was over. Trust your gut. You know your daughter. Glad you can stay thru the anesthesia! Melissa

  8. Hope it goes nice and smoothly. I’ve been impressed with the local children’s hospital and how welcoming it seems.

  9. Lil R had a surgery when she was only 1 year old – she was born with a cleft palate and had it repaired on her 1st birthday (a sucky way to spend the big #1, lemme tell ya).

    We had to be overnight in the ICU because of the type of surgery and two things have stayed with me – 1, the plastic surgeon, staff and nurses are so skilled and gifted, and we are so fortunate to have these skills and treatments available to us. SO fortunate. I took comfort in that then, and still reflect on it – how lucky we are to live where we do. And 2, how visually unlike herself Lil R looked coming out of the anesthetic. She was puffy and raspy (combo of drugs, breathing tube and mouth surgery), and I hardly recognized her or her voice.

    A bit of a downer, but I wish someone had told me about the temporary visual change – I found it jarring and felt terrible for not recognizing her right away.

  10. Amber, you are making the best choice for you and your child. Period. She may like her belly button now, but I’m sure she will like her NEW one just as much! Maybe, once she is fully recovered, you should have a “Belly Button Party! to celebrate her new belly button! You could even do belly button cup cakes!!

  11. It’s a tough call, because there are serious risks with any surgery, and to take those risks for something purely cosmetic?

    BUT, on the other hand, sadly there are also serious risks for teens with low self esteem, and it’s such a sensitive age where even little things can seem like a big crisis. I had acne as a kid, and I swear I still suffer low self esteem because of it (my skin is clear now and I come from a stable loving home).

    It’s such a tough call. My doctor says she’d never put her two kids under general unless it was to save their lives – it’s too risky otherwise. This coming from a doctor!! But on the other hand, kids go under all the time and are just fine.

    No two situations are the same, and you know Hannah better than anyone. I think if you follow your Mom intuition, you’ll make the right choice 🙂

  12. While the surgery is largely cosmetic, it isn’t completely cosmetic. The hernia is a hole in the abdominal wall, and fat, fluid, and even intestine can (and have) come through it. This is what makes the belly button stick out. While the risks of that are low, there are a few. And because she’s a girl she might one day be pregnant and that would certainly stress the abdomen further. At her age, this is generally considered ‘necessary’ surgery by most doctors, although it has cosmetic elements for sure, and those did influence my decision heavily.

  13. Oh, poor wee thing! It’s scary having to face something like this (Tristan was quite traumatized by having a mole removed last year and it took the nurse and my husband to restrain him when it was time for the stitches to be removed) but it sounds like you are very well informed and in good hands. A friend’s daughter has a prominent “outie” and as she gets older she is becoming increasingly self-conscious about it, but I don’t know if it is because of a hernia.

  14. we need to speak to someone about our daughter’s belly button hernia…it sounds like you had a good surgeon …can you forward his/her name so we can go for a consult..thanks and all the best

  15. cara lamborn says:

    My daughter needs this surgery, but the dr does not want to tack the extra skin. Do you have any pictures of her belly button now?

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  1. […] late April I shared with you that my 4-year-old Hannah had an umbilical hernia that required surgical repair. Finally, on Monday, she had the procedure. It was a completely […]

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