POP at 31 / Story at 33
In June 2020 I gave birth to my second son. It was an uncomplicated birth – long labour but with a very short pushing phase. Everything seemed fine, no tearing or bleeding like at the birth of my first son. No one told me that anything was wrong. A week later, while travelling to visit my father before he passed, I noticed something down below wasn’t right – a bulge in my vagina opening. I phoned my midwife, but only got hold of her backup midwife who told me it was normal and would go away.
It didn’t and, as most do, I started googling my signs and symptoms. I read about prolapse, something I had never heard about. The google information sounded miserable. I was devastated and emotionally taxed from bringing a new child into this world and dealing with my father’s illness.
I could feel the dragging feeling inside, I was constantly conscious of it, constantly worried, constantly checking and second guessing myself that every little movement I made was making it irreversibly worse. Google was not my friend, and shed only negativity.
Exercise had been a large part of my life, a really big part of my mental wellbeing, and often the only time my brain stopped working overtime. I was devastated to think my exercising days were over, that I shouldn’t even pick up my baby, my toddler, the groceries? I was angry that I didn’t know this could happen, that maybe I had done something to cause this, that I wasn’t given the chance to help myself before it was too late. I felt broken, hopeless, hurt, anxious and jealous of others who could pick up their children without a second thought. And when I told people about it they either reacted with sorrow for me or a ‘that’s common’ kind of view – I didn’t understand why this was something I didn’t know more about until it happened!
Luckily for me, once back home, my midwife recommended a highly-recognised pelvic health physio. She went out of her way to see me at just two weeks postpartum, and diagnosed me with a stage one uterus and stage two bladder prolapse. During our meeting, she never once made me feel like my life was over. Instead, she gave me hope we could work to improve this and that time would be my friend. She was realistic that as a mother, I was going to have to be able to do things like squatting down to pick up my child, and did not set unreasonable standards. I walked out of that meeting feeling hopeful for the first time.
At my six-week check-up, things had improved slightly – not the stage of the prolapse, but the tissue and tone of my pelvic floor was improving. My physio sent me away with a plan and some exercises I could start doing, and just two weeks later fitted me with a pessary, a complete game changer! My symptoms were almost instantaneously gone! I grew stronger and more empowered week by week as I gained knowledge of my body with the guidance of my physio and a few other online resources.
I discovered a new passion. Exercise was important to me, but what became more important was helping other women going through similar experiences. The stories I read of women struggling with their postpartum bodies and not getting the help and resources they required shocked and mortified me. I was lucky to find help straight away, and I wanted to gift this to others. I wanted to help other women become empowered and gain a new and stronger understanding of their own bodies. I wanted women to know there is a way, there is help and they are not alone – that together we can rehabilitate and get back to what we love doing.
The system lets us down. There’s so much on birth, on babies, on breastfeeding, and little to nothing on the changes to our bodies, the injuries that can occur, the emotional and physical scars we are left with, and are just meant to get on with.
Therefore, at three months postpartum, I made the decision to study to become a personal trainer, specialising in pre and postnatal womens’ health and rehabilitation. I wanted to work alongside the physios that helped me, and guide others to continue their forward path in exercise, and make them feel confident and empowered within their bodies again.
At 11 months postpartum, I can still feel the slight bladder prolapse but my body is stronger. I exercise differently now, but in a positive way as I’m more in tune with my body and understand how to work with it. I haven’t returned to running and HIIT (high intensity interval training) type exercise, but feel that if I wanted to I could work my way up to it.
Being diagnosed with a prolapse is definitely life altering. I still worry about it at times and I’m conscious of what I do, but I’m confident in my body coping with what’s thrown at it and that I will find a way forward no matter what lies ahead.
This won’t be the same story for everyone, but I’m proof that change can happen if you keep working at it!