I was elated when I gave birth to my son. Firstly, because I finally got to meet the little creature that had been living inside my pregnancy belly, and secondly because I was no longer in labour and the pain was over! I remember in the run up to the birth, my midwife told me that it was common for women to experience a tear during vaginal delivery and that the words I wanted to hear were, ‘1st or 2nd degree – not 3rd or 4th’. Once the commotion of meeting my son was over I did indeed hear, ‘2nd degree tear’, but was reassured that I was being stitched up and that recovery should go smoothly.
4 weeks later, the stitches were healed, my pregnancy belly was going down and I was beginning to feel more like myself again. I didn’t experience any additional pain from the stitches and felt like I had healed really well. In fact, I felt proud that my body had bounced back so easily.
Then it started to happen.
I kept experiencing a heavy sensation down below. It was like something was pushing down on my pelvis, or like something was dragging on my knickers. It was such an odd sensation that after a few days I decided to check myself and to my horror I felt something bulging out of my vagina. That moment was terrifying. And, emotionally I was inconsolable. I thought I had made it through childbirth relatively unscathed – I was two weeks away from the ‘6 week check up’ and I had imagined being given the all clear by the doctor and getting on with looking after my baby. Now all I could feel was this heavy, painful sensation and felt as though my body had betrayed me. It had fallen apart at the last hurdle and I had no idea what it meant for me: what was bulging out of my vagina? Would it mean incontinence problems? Bowl problems? How would I go about my day-to-day life? Would I be able to have any more children? All these questions whirled around my brain and the panic set in.
I booked an emergency doctor’s appointment. They told me I had a suspected cystoceles prolapse where part of the bladder falls through the vagina wall. They suspected it was grade 1 or 2 meaning it was relatively small as it wasn’t completely protruding outside the vagina. They asked me questions about my labour: ‘Did you have an episiotomy?’, ‘No, a perineal tear that has now healed’, ‘Was you labour really long?’, ‘No, the midwife said how quick it was’, ‘Were you pushing for an extended time, over 2 hours?’, ‘No, he was out in 40 minutes’. They looked at me puzzled and said it was a condition associated with difficult births or women who had been through the menopause and they weren’t sure why it had happened. We talked further and I remembered a particularly bad case of constipation a week before where I had strained on the toilet. The doctor said that post birth straining can cause prolapse as the body is still recovering from the birthing process. I felt even worse – this was my fault – I had made it happen. I had no idea that toilet issues could lead to something like this. I vaguely remembered being given a leaflet about post-natal care when I returned home from hospital, but none of the midwives had emphasised the importance of being careful about constipation or the potential consequences. The doctor ended by saying that prolapse was a progressive condition and there was nothing I could do to ‘stop it coming out’.
I was so unbelievably anxious at this news that I booked a private gynaecology appointment. They confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis, but the difference was sitting with me, listening to my anxieties and reassuring me there was hope. In fact, there were many options for prolapse – pessaries, surgery and even physiotherapy. Physio for down below! I’d never heard such a thing! Who does such a job? Well, as it turns out, many talented practitioners at ‘The Harborne Physio and Acupuncture Clinic’ at Barefoot Yoga Studios. Over the past year I have seen both Alina Esh and Lisa Hastie who have helped me rebuild my pelvic muscles along with my confidence.
I admit that I was probably in worse shape emotionally than I was physically when I first began my sessions. I couldn’t cope with how my prolapse felt, and I could feel my prolapse all the time. I could barely do a pram walk round my local park without feeling like my insides were falling out and having to stop for breaks (or to have a quick cry). I grew more and more worried about looking after my baby as the demands of motherhood grew and he became heavier and more difficult to pick up. Alina started by just getting me to identify my pelvic muscles. I could remember being in NCT classes and various midwife appointments where professional would ask: ‘have you been doing your pelvic floor muscles?’ and I would answer, ‘yes’. And, I honestly thought I was doing them. It was only when I began physio that I realised I had never done them properly. Alina helped me build up my muscle tone and helped me through those early recovery days by monitoring my prolapse and feeding back on progress. She was flexible with the sessions and even allowed me to bring my son when I couldn’t get childcare.
Lisa built on this foundation by looking at my muscles holistically – identifying muscles weaknesses elsewhere in my body that were impacting on my pelvic floor and giving me exercises to help. She made my exercise plan manageable for a new mother and even helped me transition back into work. Lisa helped to normalise the prolapse: that it is something that happens to women of all ages, that it isn’t something the woman is to blame for and that it isn’t something that has to get worse. Lisa is so personable that she makes what could potentially be an embarrassing appointment completely natural and I have felt empowered by her advice and guidance. In fact, I have found physiotherapy so helpful that I think it should be part of women’s pre-natal care. If at one or two of the midwife appointments there was a pelvic specialist who could help women with their pelvic floor and show them how to do pelvic exercises, it could potentially reduce the rate of prolapse post-natally.
I have written this anonymously because I am still not ready to tell everyone about my prolapse journey. But, I don’t want to remain silent if I can help other women feel less alone. There are so many people who have gone through the same thing and I hope these words encourage women to access help during pregnancy or post-natally. The physiotherapists at Barefoot are knowledgeable, professional and friendly. They will make a plan for you no matter what stage of prolapse or pelvic related difficulty you have. There is hope, there is help – just ring and make an appointment