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.
But worse that that was this feeling that there was nothing I could do about it. The odds are that my prolapse happened because of my fast labour, because rather than my body stretching open slowly it was stimulated into forcing my baby out. I can’t count how many times I’ve mentally replayed the delivery and I wished I hadn’t been induced, or that I’d had a c-section, or that someone had told me what might happen to me, and not just the baby.
The reality is there’s no safe surgery to fix prolapse quickly or easily, even though statistics say that half of all women experience prolapse after giving birth to two kids. Which just seems crazy to me… I mean how can we have cronuts and 3D printers but not a solution to help women who are raising the next generation?
It was about this time that I saw a new physio who changed the course of the next 12 months.
She gave me hope in the shape of a 2.5 centimetre piece of silicon – a pessary. If you haven’t heard of a pessary, don’t worry, neither had I. Essentially it’s like crutches for your crotch: a silicon cube (or oval) that’s inserted like a tampon to prop up the pelvic organs so they don’t rest heavily on the pelvic floor (and can start healing). With the pessary came a slither of light… maybe there was some hope after all?
These days my pessary (who I refer to as “cubey”) has become a friend. I don’t even feel when it’s in anymore, but it’s always there in the background as a strong, silent support getting me back to health. I’m gradually starting to reduce cubey’s use to daytime only and my physio is hopeful that I will eventually only need it during exercise or heavy lifting.
Before the pessary I struggled to keep my pelvic floor “on” while I lifted one leg five centimetres off the ground. But now, after 12 months of rehab with Cubey on board, my pelvic floor is officially classed as “strong”.
I can exercise, clean and most importantly, lift my baby. I still have a prolapse – that will never change – but after a year and a half I am beginning to put the pieces of “me” back together again… which includes finally starting to dance again. Stepping out onto the floor for the first time I felt that familiar life energy whoosh through me again, something that had been missing for what felt like so long. And finally, I felt I was back.
Did you suffer from prolapse after giving birth? How do you manage it? Tell us in the comments section below.