Pop at 34 / Story at 40
I’m 40 and have two gorgeous high-energy kids who are 5 and 2. Before kids I worked in the outdoors guiding and instructing hiking, mountaineering, ski touring, and rock climbing.
I’m pretty small at about 163cm and both babies were over 9lb. I had intense, full on births and as a result I suffered a cystocele (bladder prolapse) with my first (at age 34). It got worse with my second. I got pretty busted up downstairs and at one point even walking 200m along a flat road to the shop was a struggle and skiing or carrying a pack was completely off the table! I had never felt so weak and incapable in my life. I had little bladder control and a heavy uncomfortable feeling that made me irritable and snappy.
After my first birth, my midwife put me onto the hospital physio and we worked on my pelvic floor with Kegels and exercises. She mentioned I had a prolapse. I had never heard of a prolapse before and the only solution seemed to be exercises that involved me trying to tighten a muscle that I couldn’t even find let alone engage! I found the exercises boring and disheartening because no matter how many I did, it just didn’t seem to help.
About one year later I was visiting a friend who was awesome enough to mention that she had a prolapse and was using a ‘period sponge’ to help manage it. This was life changing and I could tentatively let myself dream that I might one day be able to get back to my old self again! I tried the sponge and it definitely helped but was uncomfortable and really hard to use. Eventually I stumbled onto a urogynaecologist when the physio I was trying to make an appointment with wasn’t available. She introduced me to the ring pessary, an awesome silicone device that sits inside your vagina and holds your insides up where they are supposed to be (how is it that no-one talks about this stuff?!).This was my turning point and it has been a long slow grind back to recovery from here.
With my family’s support I set myself two massive goals. #1 to be a mum that can play with her kids and not just watch from the sidelines. #2 to sit my final ski guides exam. Once I had my goals, I worked backward from there and came up with a plan. I had to break this down into the tiniest baby steps and only focus on the step in front of me or I would become overwhelmed and upset with my seeming lack of physical gains. There were many ups and downs but slowly I could see myself moving forwards.
Once I got my pessary I was able to start walking, just to the end of the road at first. I could comfortably do this while baby wearing. This was perfect because as my baby grew the load slowly increased and I was able to adapt. Over time I began tackling bigger walks, adding hills, going for longer periods of time, and even the occasional run (without baby). Every now and then I would push too hard and would be set back or injured and I would have to start again.
Three years later I had managed to get to the point when I could start skiing again… then I got pregnant with baby number two while overseas working as a ski guide! Let’s just say that things didn’t go exactly to plan with the birth – number two was in a hurry to get out which caused more damage and meant that it was back to the urogynaecologist and back to square one.
This was a pretty crushing blow to me mentally. I suffered postnatal depression but was incredibly lucky to have an amazing network of mum friends and family to lean on. My Plunket nurse noticed that I was struggling and put me onto an awesome initiative in Canterbury that provides free mental health support through pregnancy and after the birth. This allowed me to get out of the slippery hole of depression and back to becoming the mum I wanted to be.
I started the long grind back to fitness again, but this time armed with a cube pessary (for extra support) and the knowledge that it was possible. I discussed surgery with my urogynaecologist but we decided that as long as the pessary was working we would stick with that. This time I added another weapon to my recovery arsenal, Pilates!
I went to a local therapist called Jane Hardcastle (from Movewell NZ Ltd in Christchurch) to work on core strength. To my delight I found that Pilates also engaged and strengthened my pelvic floor which I hadn’t been able to use in years! I chose to use personalised exercise plans rather than group classes and started with the very simplest exercises, targeted specifically to my needs. Doing it this way meant that I could do the exercises almost daily and fit them in around my kids’ needs.
Jane took my limitations into account and I could adjust the exercises to make them harder at my own pace. Slowly, slowly, day by day, week by week I grew stronger. My pelvic floor muscles were no longer exhausted as the pessary supported them through day-to-day life, so they could slowly start to get stronger too.
It has now been almost six years from the start of my adventure into motherhood and I can say that with a lot of patience, hard work, support from friends, family, and my ever present pessary, I am pretty much back to where I was pre kids. I can walk and hike, even lifting and carrying a pretty hefty pack. I am loving mountain biking, rock climbing and of course skiing! Best of all for me is that I can run, jump and play with my kids and I don’t have to shy away when they ask me to get up on the trampoline.
I am also on track to reach my second goal and I can’t believe how far I have come. In only a few short years the impossible has become possible!
For me the biggest learnings were:
Be gentle and kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack, don’t even look at those awesome mums who run marathons two weeks after giving birth.
Have big goals that will keep you moving forward, but break them into bite sized achievable chunks and celebrate every success.
Approach recovery from different angles to get extra benefits and don’t be afraid to think outside the box, eg. pessary, Pilates, exercise, surgery, baby wearing etc.
Accept that things have changed and embrace the new you.
And finally, setbacks happen – expect them, forgive yourself and take them in your stride.
You got this! Let’s spread the word and help educate the masses.