Laser hot mamas
Kim Carney / msnbc.com
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/19/2007 8:51:04 AM ET 2007-09-19T12:51:04

Like many moms, Adrienne Chevalier tried various creams in hopes of reducing the stretch marks that accompanied her first pregnancy, but other than a natural fade from bright red to shiny white, nothing worked. So the petite 23-year-old receptionist and actress from Montgomery, Ala., decided to try something more “dramatic” — Fraxel laser treatment.

“I’d worked hard to lose the weight, but I could only get myself to a certain point,” she says. “People would say you look great for having had a kid, but I wanted to look great in general. I wanted my stomach back.”

Like Chevalier, many women these days are willing to go to extreme measures to become laser hot mamas. According to an April 2007 survey by KRC Research (on behalf of Suave), out of more than 3,000 mothers, 67 percent said they would rather regain their prebaby body than their prebaby sex life.

“We’ve definitely had more moms coming in over the last five years,” says Dr. Arielle Kauvar, clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine and director of New York Laser & Skin Care. “A lot more women want to correct the problems they’ve developed during pregnancies.”

Those problems can range from stretch marks and loose belly skin to spider and varicose veins to melasma (brown pigmentation on the face from hormonal changes) to milked-out, deflated breasts. And although our mothers and grandmothers had to make do with cocoa butter, thick hose and hefty Cross Your Heart bras, today’s moms (many of whom fit snugly into the “yummy mummy” category) are heading to the plastic surgeon and skin care clinic for breast lifts, tummy tucks and the latest in laser treatments.

At Houston’s Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Center, Dr. Mark Schusterman started getting so many requests for the same postpartum procedures that he created Makeovers for Moms, a program that packages procedures such as breast lifts, tummy tucks and liposuction into one-fell-swoop surgery.

No more Mrs. Doubtfire
“When I first started the program three years ago, I’d see two to three patients a month and now I see five to six patients a week,” says Schusterman. “A lot of these women have worked hard to look good before their pregnancy and afterwards they say, ‘This doesn’t work for me.’ As one patient put it, ‘I’m not ready to look like Mrs. Doubtfire yet.’”

But the current run on postpartum cosmetic procedures may not necessarily be about clinging to a youthful prebaby ideal or capitulating to society’s current obsession with hot celebrity moms such as Angelina Jolie, Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham.

“Hormones alone can wreak havoc on a woman’s body during and after a pregnancy,” says Dr. Joel Schlessinger, a dermatologist in Omaha, Neb., and president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. “And many of the changes hit older moms harder. In my practice, we’ve seen a 50 percent increase in the number of women seeking postpartum treatments in the last five years. And my data show that the largest subset is women in their 30s, when pregnancy takes more of a toll.”

Of course, childbearing can do a number on women in their 20s as well, as Rachel Ervin of Tacoma, Wash., can attest.

In her third trimester, Ervin developed a painful skin rash known as PUPPP (Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy). “It was really bad on my stomach where I had stretch marks and it made the scarring there even worse,” says the 28-year-old first-time mom.

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After the baby was born and her belly didn’t snap back, Ervin opted for a skin-tightening laser called Titan, a treatment she felt would be less invasive and painful than a traditional tummy tuck (“I’ve had enough pain this past year.”).

Still, her decision was not an easy one.

“I’ve always been ambivalent about the beauty industry,” she says. “I used to live in Berkeley, I’m educated and I’m definitely of the school of thought that women don’t need it — it shouldn’t define us. But when you have a baby, your entire body changes and your whole self just gets pushed to the side. I wouldn’t trade anything for what I have now, but I felt I needed to take care of myself.”

Ervin’s rejection of the “mother as martyr” mindset is fairly indicative of what author Jessica Denay calls a “hot mom,” a term that has more to do with embracing your sense of self than the surgically enhanced sex appeal of the “Desperate Housewives” set.

“After you have children, it’s easy to push yourself so far down on the to-do list that you fall off of it all together,” says the author of “The Hot Mom’s Handbook” and founder of the 100,000-member Hotmomsclub.com. “But you’re not going to be the best mom unless you’re the best you.”

Denay says she’s not surprised that some moms are turning to cosmetic procedures to maintain a certain status quo, especially considering many women are coming into motherhood after 10 to 15 years of a life that regularly involved travel, careers, fashion and style.

What about me?
“If you’re a mom having your first child at 35, I think it’s harder to give up that perception of yourself,” she says. “It’s both a culture shock and a body shock.”

And then there’s the sticker shock.

The clinic that helped Alabama mom Adrienne Chevalier feel comfortable in her bikini again charges approximately $3,500 for four Fraxel treatments. The Titan skin-tightening procedure Ervin received – which requires five treatments in all — costs about $5,000. Dr. Schusterman’s Makeovers for Moms can run anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on which procedures are cobbled together.

And some say there could be an even greater cost — at least for some.

“I’m not opposed to cosmetic surgery but I think one needs to be aware that the first year postpartum is a time of enormous vulnerability,” says Diana Lynn Barnes, a licensed psychotherapist and founder of the Center for Postpartum Health in Woodland Hills, Calif. “The body has gone through changes, the psyche has gone through changes and it’s not a time to be making dramatic decisions about one’s body. A woman could go in for breast augmentation and then later realize it was a mistake. That doesn’t mean that every woman who walks in to have postpartum surgery is depressed, but I think it’s something doctors should be aware of and should screen for.”

Diane Mapes is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "How to Date in a Post-Dating World."

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