POP at 41 / Story at 57
I had never heard about pelvic organ prolapse before experiencing my first one. A second and third followed, one of each type!
Prolapse 1 – uterus
The birth of my second child, a boy, was non-problematic but very quick, about 2.5–3 hours from the first contraction to giving birth. I believe it was probably the cause of my problems. I had just had my 41st birthday at the end of September 2004 and had been healthy and active looking after my daughter, born the year before.
However, everything changed a week after my son was born when my uterus prolapsed! When I discovered the lump sticking out, I had no idea what it was and went to see my GP immediately. My GP thought it was a bladder prolapse and he informed me that I was very young for it to happen, as usually it was the elderly who had this problem. He inserted a pessary to try and hold it inside me and told me that the ring may or may not work – it came off within a couple of days! I was not to lift either of my children or anything else and to continue with my pelvic floor exercises – which I had been doing throughout my pregnancy. I was referred to a specialist nurse. (This was in England, before emigrating to New Zealand.)
The diagnosis was uterus prolapse, not bladder. The treatment involved me continuing my pelvic floor exercises at home, having the strength of my pelvic floor muscles checked daily by the nurse as well as daily electric shock treatment to try and stimulate the muscles. After three months of treatment there was little improvement and so I was referred to the hospital. It was decided that I should have a vaginal hysterectomy to solve the problem.
The recovery time from the hysterectomy, on top of the time from the prolapse, meant I was unable to pick up either of my children for over a year! This led to day-to-day practical complications raising a baby and toddler without help when my husband was at work. In the supermarket everything had to be put into lots of bags to reduce the weight. It also affected me emotionally. The prolapse did not make me feel desirable, I was worried about further damage to my body, and we didn’t have intercourse until after the hysterectomy recovery.
Prolapse 2 – bladder
We emigrated to New Zealand in 2006 after having had a trouble-free year health wise. I was finally able to enjoy time with my children.
A year later, at 44, I bought a Pilates ball to do some exercise which came with an exercise wheel. Unfortunately, when I used the wheel for the first time, my next prolapse occurred. My GP told me that my bladder had prolapsed, not to lift anything heavy and arranged for me to see a specialist. By this time my children were old enough that they could climb into car seats on their own – however I struggled if they had a tantrum!
I had an anterior colporrhaphy operation to hold my bladder back in place.
After a healing period of about six months I decided to start Argentinian Tango. Dancing required me to use my core muscles and I had no major problems with my prolapse over the next few years. Sometimes my prolapse would pop out temporarily if I had been doing excessive lifting, but after stopping all lifting and resting up it would return to normal.
A few years later I decided to take up a new hobby and my friend and I started a beginner pole dancing course. At the time I naively thought that we would just be dancing around the pole at ground level and didn’t realise the amount of strength that was required. Initially I could only lift my body off the floor by 2cm, but I persevered. At the time I did not realise how much difference pole dancing would make to improve the quality of my life!
Prolapse 3 – bowel
I had my next prolapse at the age of 49, when my bowel prolapsed through my vagina. At first I thought my bladder had prolapsed again until I was informed otherwise by the specialist. A posterior vaginal repair and sacro-spinous fixation for rectocele followed to hold my bowel in place. There was no obvious event I can relate to the cause of this prolapse. The specialist informed me that I was at extremely high risk of having more prolapses due to my medical history and that I was to not even lift a bucket of water for the rest of my life. I was extremely upset as this would give me no quality of life and I would be unable to even mop my floors, wash my car etc. I was also very anxious about having sex again as my vaginal area had been operated on.
After my operation I met the female NZ pole champion who had done lots of research into pelvic floor and lower core muscles as she had returned to pole after having her first child. Although she is an elite gymnast compared to me, our discussions led to the fact that gently building up my muscles could only do me good in the long term. I rested post op as prescribed but then did not follow the specialist’s advice and returned to pole classes in a gentle way, focusing on ground based dance work. Six months later my muscles had developed enough for me to enter my first national NZ pole dancing competition in the beginner category!
I later participated in several shows, alongside some of New Zealand’s best pole dancers. During the introduction to my performance in Auckland, in October 2015, the MC talked about my prolapse history and how pole dancing had helped me to rebuild my muscles, which I found quite emotional – but I was still able to perform! Outsiders to the pole dancing scene will be interested to learn that audiences at pole shows are approximately 95 percent female, so I hope this prolapse information could have been useful to others.
I remember the first time that I was able to hang upside down by my legs on the pole and then actually have enough pelvic and lower core muscle strength to lift myself back up again, without using my hands – I wanted to tell everyone! I believe that unless someone has suffered from prolapses, it is difficult to understand how much the lack of those muscles can affect you.
Having discovered that pole dancing could help rebuild my muscles made the biggest change to my life. I always informed my pole teachers of my medical background as I was concerned about causing any more prolapses. I have found the pole world to be very knowledgeable and supportive. Building up these muscles has given me a wonderful quality of life, enabling me to partake in various activities as well as being able to do my daily chores in the house and garden. As an additional benefit, both Argentinian Tango and pole dancing have enabled me to embrace my sexual side, which the prolapses took away from me.
Reflecting over the past sixteen years since my first prolapse, I wish there had been some information out there, both in an informative and supportive way.
In recent years I have been looking for a replacement hobby to keep my pelvic floor and lower core muscles exercised. I have taken up kayaking, which I am really enjoying and feel it is working wonderfully in engaging my problematic muscles!