Like many women before me, I was scared about giving birth, but as per my usual approach to life, I worked hard in an attempt to conquer it.
I researched, did the Calm Birth classes, hired a doula, had weekly acupuncture, took a variety of natural pills and did weird exercises to correctly position the baby for a natural birth. I also continued to dance throughout my pregnancy, which I was so incredibly proud of. Dance had been my hobby for 20 years, always keeping me connected to myself and anchoring me both physically and emotionally. I loved introducing my bump to what made me ‘me’.
By the time my due date came around, I felt I was ready for everything… except of course, what actually happened.
I was induced and gave birth after a speedy one and a half hour labour and then haemorrhaged shortly after. I lay on the delivery table as they tried to stop the bleeding. I remembered people talking about the ‘high’ after a natural birth and I felt so far away from that.
But, over the next few days I recovered and began to feel proud that I’d managed an intense birth without pain relief and that I had a healthy baby boy. Five weeks later, that all came crashing down when I took a walk and suddenly felt like something was falling out of my vagina. And, it kind of was. Because, although I didn’t know it yet I was about to be diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse.
I’ve told this story to many women over the past year. Not one of them knew what a prolapse was, and honestly neither did I before I googled my symptoms.
I was irritated at the lack of knowledge and awareness out there, and angry because this shouldn’t have happened to me. I was slim, fit, healthy and literate – I read all the books, did my pelvic floor exercises, I even stretched my perineum – I’m that person. I cried when the GP confirmed it was prolapse. I have never felt so broken in my life. For me, this was the ultimate loss of femininity, I felt like I would forever be shelved as an expired woman.
I was sent to a women’s health physio and told the grim news that prolapse can never be cured, only managed. She also told me that I should minimise all heavy lifting – for life. That meant limiting lifting my baby, how often I walked, and even housework.
She joked: “Isn’t it nice to have an excuse to outsource cleaning?” but all I felt was hopelessness. At a time when I had bottomed out both physically and figuratively, even my usual coping strategies of dancing and keeping my house tidy had been taken away from me. So I stayed at home with my unsettled baby, trying to not lift him, and emotionally began to fall apart.
I was simultaneously frantic and depressed. Every time I lifted something, I worried I was doing further damage. When I walked I could feel my vagina rubbing on my underwear – and it hurt. And, despite religiously doing my rehab exercises my pelvic floor remained weak. I counted the hours to sleep just because it was a break from reality. And all the while I was trying to be a good mum, forcing smiles for my boy, desperately wanting to protect him from the turmoil inside of me. The mother that I had worked so hard to be was buried underneath an avalanche of grief.