Belly of the Beast

I accept my body as it is. I really do. It’s been through a lot. It has kept fighting for me, even though sometimes it feels like it is against me. I know this because I am still breathing. I know this because my body has grown and birthed three humans. It has then fed and carried and soothed them. It’s not easy for my body to do these things and to then be also pinned to a desk and a screen in order to make a living. It’s not easy for my body to be a motivational speaker, hostage negotiator, and entertainer (aka a parent), jobs that carry overtime hours that are immeasurable. It’s not easy for my body to live in a concrete jungle when all it wants to do is have open air. It’s not easy for my body to be bent forward, texting and answering and waiting and doing and shouldering. It’s just not easy.

And sometimes, when I get dressed into my pjs way too late at night, I catch a glimpse of my belly and I’m like, oh wow. What is going on in there tonight? Sometimes it looks like a drained elephant. Sometimes it looks like I may actually be 6 months pregnant. Sometimes my belly button looks like it is a lone hiker in the Grand Canyon. Sometimes it has got a pooch and a sturdy shelf under my left rib cage. Sometimes it just looks like a belly. But, after seeing this, I bring myself back to all that my belly has done and all the burdens it holds and I feel nothing but gratitude and acceptance.

HOWEVER. Gratitude and acceptance with my body can often be confused with resignation. And, so, lately, I’ve become willing to find the middle ground here and say, yes, I accept this as my body and it’s changing appearance does not affect my worth … but also, yes, I wonder if there is a medical condition inside my belly that deserves care?

I wonder.

This reminds me of when my middle kiddo was barely 2 years old and I got rushed to an emergency biopsy of my breast, after I felt a suspicious lump. My gynecologist, upon feeling it, turned white as a ghost and called her breast surgeon colleague on her cell phone while still in the office right away. Everything turned out ok, thankfully. A benign fibroadenoma. But, after the biopsy, I met with the surgeon to discuss the results. I was lying down on my back, shirt off, in order to get examined. After she was done, she told me to sit up, which I did by rolling straight forward. She sat back quickly and said, “Oh, you have an umbilical hernia, huh?” I guess the rolling forward movement had caused my belly button to do its alien maneuver, where it used to pop straight out with any forward flexion of any kind. Instead of being like, OMG, HELP ME, IS THAT WHAT THIS IS, I got extremely embarrassed and was like, oh yeah, no bigs, I got it figured out.

I felt so so so lost right at that moment. Like, crap, I’m a former ballet dancer, a former Pilates teacher, a current postpartum corrective exercise specialist, I own a business called MommaStrong. This is NOT supposed to be happening to me and I MUST be doing something wrong. I remember feeling invaded and exposed and simply convinced myself that she was wrong. I did not have a hernia, I thought. I was too strong for pregnancy + childbirth to have affected ME.

I think back to that moment often now, after having had a third baby, and after many years in between that have granted me knowledge that has brought to our awareness the prevalence of deep ab dysfunction. And I wonder why, at that time, I felt such a huge ping of shame and embarrassment when she saw my umbilical hernia? In fact, I question if I still am living with it now? What am I not talking about when it comes to my belly? What am I still hiding? Why? If this were an injury to a non-mother or an injury to another part of the body, I wouldn’t be so quiet about it. There is something in here that elicits a sense of failure because I couldn’t walk out of pregnancy and childbirth like a glowing rock star. There’s something that feels like it eroded my worth because this part of my body didn’t come out unscathed. Like, somehow because I have an injury here or a lasting condition, something is very wrong. And, add to that the fact that my profession is functional fitness and deep ab/pelvic floor integration … wow.

So, I am going to tell the truth. I have healed my body in most of all the ways. I have entirely resolved my back pain, my SIJ dysfunction. I have healed my formerly constantly pulled neck and impinged shoulders. I have taught my body to be with, without causing former damage, degenerative disc disease courtesy of a life as a ballet dancer. I have reintegrated my abdominals and managed my diastasis recti. I am not in pain every day like I used to be. I am actually really impressed with how much I have healed and I am incredibly proud of what I teach.


I still have stuff happening with my belly. What gives? What is it? I don’t mind the loose skin, the stretch marks, the not-flat belly. I’m good with these. Truly. But the lingering pooch doesn’t feel normal. There is something more happening here and I know I am not alone. I read so many emails and so many messages from other members who are like, hey, I’m integrated and out of pain, but something is still not right in my midsection. They don’t mention size or appearance, they mention a KNOWING. Something isn’t right in here. Some of them wonder … is it digestion? Is it a hernia? Is it an injury I can’t see? Did my deep abs not recover? Why does this worse later in the day? What am I doing wrong?

Now, if this topic wasn’t stuffed into the container of “Get Over It: Things that happen when you have babies”, then we would listen to this KNOWING and we wouldn’t tell a person to “accept it” or “celebrate it”. We wouldn’t tell people to make peace with it. We would say, huh, let’s take a look and see what is going on.



So, that is what I am going to do. I’m going to take my acceptance of self and body, and ALSO take my knowing … and I’m gonna trudge through the belly of the beast. I’m going to ask questions from professionals, get evaluated, experiment, test, try again, keep asking and I’m going to see what happens. Maybe the answer will be: Not much you can do about it. In which case, you know what, after all the investigation I’m going to dedicate to this mystery, I’ll consider that an expert answer backed by substantial evidence.

You and your belly deserve unconditional love. You and your belly ALSO deserve expert answers with substantial evidence. Both things can happen. We don’t have to choose one or the other.

Join me this summer, along with Jya Plavin, Stephanie Dillon, Viki Kelly-Quirk, and a special guest, for a most spectacular online Zoom workshop called The Belly of the Beast. It will be the delivery of all that I have learned, sandwiched between these incredibly brilliant humans who will be discussing breathing, ab anatomy, digestion, stress, and even social/cultural influences. Here are the details:

Saturday, June 26th, 2021
1–4 CST | 11–2 PST | 2–5 EST

1 hour 45 minutes of education around our “centers”:

  • Courtney’s story
  • Anatomy and muscle function of the deep abs
  • Anatomy and function of breathing
  • Stress vs stressor response and relationship to posture and ab function
  • GI Issues and the relationship to deep ab and pelvic floor function
  • History, Culture, & Bellies — Oh My!

15 minute break
1 hour “Centered” Class*: Breathing, intense abs, anchor point activation, and posture
30 minute optional Q&A after the workshop

And, all participants get a bonus swag package sent to them!

*Modifications during the Centered Class will definitely be provided for those who are pregnant or newly postpartum, but also be aware that some of the suggestions will be applicable only after full recovery from pregnancy/birth.

I hope to see you there.