The day I realised I had a prolapse, I had a sinking feeling. As women who have a prolapse would know, the feeling was literal. I felt like everything in my body was, well, sinking down to where it didn’t belong.
I did what any self-respecting woman with an uncertain health concern would do: I turned to Doctor Google.
There it was in black and white. A word to describe the feeling: Prolapse.
I made an appointment with a women’s health physio who, when asking her many and varied but all intensely personal questions (is there no end to the indignity of having a baby?), initially buoyed me. I didn’t have many of the awful-sounding symptoms. In fact, other than the sinking feeling, which she called ‘dragging’, I had none. Maybe I didn’t have a prolapse after all! But I did. Bladder and bowel. Mild, but still there. Oh, and a nice friendly bit of nerve damage to go along with it.
I was devastated.
I hadn’t had difficulty losing my baby weight. My friends were being very kind and commenting on how well and how quickly I had ‘recovered’ after having my baby. But on the inside, I felt as though my body was ruined forever. I felt as though I would be uncomfortable for the rest of my life. I’ll admit it: at times, I would look at my newborn son and think, “Are you worth it?”
When I was pregnant and in the weeks following the birth, I had medical advice from a GP, two midwives, a student midwife, an obstetrician and a gynaecologist. I also did an extra birth course. Not one person mentioned the word prolapse to me.
I had never heard of it. I was in possession of a vague idea that women of a certain age sometimes have issues with incontinence because I have seen ads for incontinence sanitary wear on TV, but that was it. The word ‘prolapse’ was a new one.
Why? Why? Why? Sometimes I feel like screaming this. I certainly said it a lot to my husband (with tears running down my face) in the weeks after my diagnosis.
When you are about to undergo any other medical procedure or operation, the risks are discussed in detail with you. In fact, doctors have a duty to warn patients about potential risks. So why not when it comes to labour?
Childbirth is a common cause of prolapse, so it should be discussed with pregnant women. And more importantly, that taking or avoiding simple actions before, during and after labour can significantly reduce the risk of prolapse, even for women who are lucky enough to get the trifecta that I got: big baby, long labour, assisted delivery.
I’m not a doctor, but had I known about the risk of prolapse prior to my diagnosis, my husband and I would have made that sure my labour was handled differently. Hospital policy said first-time mums push for two hours before intervention. My husband and our midwives could see my baby was stuck in a certain position after about 15 minutes, but I was told to keep pushing for two more hours anyway. It was policy. We trusted the policy. The policy was wrong. Nothing happened in that two hours (other than a lot of pain and physical exertion!) and I still needed assistance from a vacuum to have my baby delivered.
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After my diagnosis, my women’s health physio taught me that an extended ‘pushing’ period during labour increases your chance of prolapse significantly. Who knows, it might have happened anyway. But it might not have.
I would also never have stood up for hours holding my very heavy baby on the day I first felt the sinking feeling, almost a couple of months after I had my son. After my diagnosis, I learned that after a difficult delivery your body needs time to heal (and not just 8 weeks) before you put any sort of strain on it. Who knows, it might have happened anyway. But it might not have.
Almost nine months on and I’m much calmer about my prolapse these days. Luckily, I’m still symptom-free other than a heavy feeling towards the end of the day, which is honestly not the end of the world. I have a solid support team and a husband who, very sweetly, now consults Doctor Google on my behalf so he understands how I feel and what I can and cannot do as much as he is able to.
But I still think pregnant women should be told about prolapse before they go through childbirth.