Mina Starsiak Hawk knows that plenty of women embrace their post-pregnancy bodies, scars and all. But after two pregnancies, both requiring C-sections, indications for bactrim plus breastfeeding, the Good Bones star no longer felt comfortable in her body.
"My C-section scar was a very visual and physical reminder of not looking like myself and not feeling like myself anymore," Starsiak Hawk, 36, tells PEOPLE.
The HGTV star and mom to Jack, 2, and Charlie, 4 months, says she lost not only confidence but actual strength — she had developed diastasis recti during her pregnancies and was left with 4-and-a-half in. of separation in her abs.
"I do a very physical job and I like working out, and your core is so attached to everything, every movement I do, like swinging a hammer," she says. "And I just didn't feel like I was going to be able to work out and get this back to where I felt strong, like myself, like I did before kids."
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Both factors led her to opt for intensive plastic surgery — a tummy tuck, liposuction and breast implants, a series of surgeries often referred to as a 'mommy makeover.' Starsiak Hawk had been planning it since Jack's arrival in 2018, and after Charlie was born in September she started looking for surgeons. She eventually settled on Dr. Peter Koltz, a plastic surgeon in Toledo, about three and a half hours away from her home in Indianapolis.
"I went and talked to him and asked all the questions and just felt really comfortable," she says.
On Dec. 5, she went under the knife for the five-hour surgery. Starsiak Hawk doesn't remember getting back to the hotel that night, or anything else until she woke up the next morning for her first post-surgery appointment with a nurse, who helped her shower and put on a tight compression garment to reduce swelling. She also had to learn how to take care of the drainage bags now attached to both hips and the base of her tailbone to manage the excess fluids from the incisions.
"It was uncomfortable," Starsiak Hawk says. "I felt like an alien, because I had drains to collect this bloody goo. It's like you're peeing and having your period all at the same time."
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The tummy tuck also meant that the skin on her torso was pulled as tightly as possible, and she couldn't fully stand up for about 10 days.
"Your muscles are so tight because they pull everything so snug [that] you're kind of hunched over," she says.
After three days in Toledo, she and her husband Steve Hawk, 39, drove home, where she (attempted) to rest for the next few weeks. But Starsiak Hawk, a self-described "terrible patient," grew restless after about seven days and decided she was ready to go off the pain medications and start ripping down shelving in her house.
"I felt great, so I'm literally using my drill and my circular saw and organizing stuff," she says. One day later, "I felt like I'd been hit by a train and then trampled by an elephant."
That convinced Starsiak Hawk to at least try to slow down, and now, eight weeks into her recovery, she's feeling a bit more normal. Her drains are out, and the scarring is looking better. "I still wear some compression stuff," she says, "because it helps the healing and helps the skin reattach. But I'm getting there."
It will take three months for the swelling to go down completely — and a year to see the full results — but Starsiak Hawk is already thrilled.
"Believe me, surgery is hard, recovery is hard, time away from work is hard," she says. "I also recognize that I'm in a very good, lucky position that I was able to do what I felt like I wanted and needed to do, to get to a good place. I feel strong, I feel attractive — and I feel like myself again."
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