I will get back to running marathons!

POP at 29 / Story at 30

I first learnt about prolapse during my pregnancy, and that exercise too soon postpartum could cause it. That was the extent of what I knew about it and if I’m honest I didn’t even know what it really was. Only that it was “bad”. It was then I decided to make visiting a physio at six weeks postpartum a necessity to get what I expected to be a “good to go” diagnosis. At least I would have done my due diligence. 

Well, at five weeks postpartum my hemorrhoids had gone, my stitches were healed. But I realised all did not feel “fine” down there. I already had my physio appointment booked for the following week but took myself off to the GP at the recommendation of my midwife. She assessed me and said it was a minor posterior prolapse and it would be best I see a private pelvic physio (as not funded).

The pelvic physio confirmed a minor posterior prolapse, and I had very weak ability to perform the required exercises for improvement. I was sent home with a vaginal stim machine – lovely. This would help me stimulate the muscles. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week for the next four weeks. As if time was an abundance of mine alongside caring for a newborn! I was determined to fix it so I did it, and later was very glad to hand back the machine and be done with it!

The work was not finished though; I then graduated on to doing pelvic exercises 4–5 times a day. At least this could be done literally anywhere. I had no idea if doing these exercises would work, or what the end result would be. But I kept doing them every day because at least it was something I could try and do to make it better. 

This experience so far has affected my mental health quite severely. I feel I am missing out on so many lovely newborn experiences such as walks with my baby in the carrier or pram, or even just popping into a store carrying his car seat. These are all a struggle for me, and my physio strictly advised against the latter. Basically, if I can avoid heavy lifting I should. This is no easy feat with a now 12-week-old baby who needs to be carried around for half the day. It pains me that I can’t enjoy this bonding as I can feel the discomfort of the prolapse and wonder whether I am doing more damage or prolonging my recovery by carrying him all the time. I am also not one to be stationary for so long, I would love to be going on hikes, walks and runs but the prolapse has left me uncertain and stuck at home. 

Before being pregnant I was very active – something I took for granted unfortunately. I go through phases of different things whether it’s netball, weight lifting or running. Just before my pregnancy I ran a personal best of 1 hour 43 minutes for a half marathon and was starting to delve into sprint triathlons too. I lived in London during this time and would easily walk 25,000 steps a day on the weekend. I definitely didn’t let being pregnant slow me down either. I ran a (slower) half marathon at eight weeks pregnant, did weights and small runs up to twenty-nine weeks, and tackled the hills of Wellington walking for 30–90 mins every day (hello Lockdown!) until forty weeks pregnant. 

Right now, I don’t know how much of my previous active life I can return to. I have a ‘mild’ posterior prolapse, but my physio has recommended I don’t aim to run a half marathon again. Unfortunately, when someone says don’t, it just makes me want to even more! But honestly, I would settle for a quick 5kms. It is really scary not knowing if I will be able to return to the same level of exercise I know and enjoy. It is the mental aspect of getting a “sweat on” that I miss. I wish there were more success stories of women returning to activity. It is hard not knowing what I will be able to do or not do in the future, and what the length of recovery is like.

I also understand that I am in a very privileged position to be able to afford a private physio. I keep hearing how common prolapse is, but that it isn’t covered by ACC is astounding. It makes me sad for how many women must be going through this, who perhaps don’t understand what is wrong with them, and can’t afford to see the right person to get on the path to recovery. 

Nearly five months post diagnosis everything looked much better. It felt like the prolapse had gone and the physio went so far as to say it had. We came up with a long-term plan for how to safely continue returning to exercise. I have gone for a few runs with the ‘couch to 5km’ app – a lot harder and slower than I was used to. The half marathon just over a year ago seemed like a very distant memory. I have also done a few weights sessions at the gym. I was starting to feel very optimistic about returning to the exercise I knew and loved pre-pregnancy.

Unfortunately, recovery isn’t a linear process and I have since had symptoms of my prolapse again. But I still have hope that I will be able to get back to running and weight workouts as I used to do. It may just take longer than I had hoped. I found a programme online run by an Australian physio and former professional netballer (Empowered Mother), and so far I am really enjoying that I can do a programme that I know is designed for women with prolapse. It’s a promising start!