POP at 35 / Story at 51
The birth of my second child was as fast and full on as her personality is now. She came out entangled in the cord, blue and wonderfully brand new. My body took its time to heal the tears and move the organs back into their pre-pregnancy place. Once all systems found their new normal I discovered one part of my body for which this new normal horrified me – a bulge extending from my vagina. It felt and looked like my insides were falling out of me. A furtive look in the ‘Complete Home Medical Guide’ gave me a new word ‘prolapse’.
I took this word and my body to the doctor who confirmed my insides were indeed falling out because the muscles in my pelvis were weak. I could go to the Lower Hutt Hospital and do excercises with other women, holding ever-decreasing sized cones in their vaginas. I have a very healthy “head in the sand” policy that I put to good use; no way was I joining a room full of prolapsed women squatting on cones! I pushed my insides up, read the Kegel exercise paper the doctor gave me, could not make a single muscle down there move so put the paper inside the Medical Guide. I shut my legs, tightened my tummy muscles and got on with life. As my pelvis gained the strength to not split in two I slowly got back on my bike, ran up any hill I could find, hiked with baby in backpack and toddler in the very trendy brand new Mountain Buggy.
Babies grew, workload increased, body issues expanded. I went to a breath physio to help me learn how to breathe. At work my team would complain that I sighed a lot – I was just trying to breathe but they took offense at my exaggerated inhales. I realised I had learnt to breathe in my chest with babies in my belly, then after babies held my tummy tight to regain a little slimness… and held my breath. Learning to breathe was transformational.
Fast forward about sixteen years into perimenopause. I was working with a somatic sexologist to improve my personal relationships and pleasure world. She noted my prolapse and suggested I see a physio to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. The flood gates opened – unstoppable grief, shame and fear tears burst forth… inner critic voices asked how I could have neglected my body for so long; how ugly my vulva looked, how damned annoying it is to struggle with tampons falling out, and on and on. The pelvic physio gave me a little machine that gave tiny electric signals to the muscles to help me identify them and start to strengthen them. I did the work but made little progress. I gave up. I stopped running and started walking, kept up mountain biking and generally decided to just suck it up.
I had another stint with the pelvic physio just recently and we concluded my system must have been permanently damaged. Surgeries using mesh are controversial and are waiting for a replacement technology. I tried pessaries of various shapes – a ring the size of a wrist bangle, a silicone cube. While I could see how they were intended to work I never found comfort with any of them. Apparently many people find them life-changing, but for me they were annoying to use and keep clean, and the idea of something foreign in my sacred vaginal space felt very wrong. At the time of bleeding it is worse, outside bleed time it is manageable.
My biggest fear comes from my mother who also has a prolapsed uterus and has used permanent pessaries. She doesn’t share a lot but enough for me to know that without the pessary her body feels so uncomfortable she doesn’t want to walk as the chaffing makes her bleed. I have seen enough sheep slaughtered from extreme prolapse that the shame and fear resonates deeply within my body. I keep trying to find those muscles. I listen for sensation, and work on my health, fitness and breathing. I keep hoping that one day I will magically self-heal.