Rebecca’s story : Pelvic Floor physiotherapy
Rebecca has been in recently after the birth of her first baby. From the earliest days after his birth, she felt a dragging and heaviness in her vagina and was diagnosed with a prolapse. Here is her story:
“At our first hospital visit they gave us a handout of a prenatal exercises. I did these daily, along with calm birth meditations and acupuncture. I read books by midwives, hired a birth attendant, continued my hobby of Latin dance (performed twice while pregnant). Oh and I swam daily in the third trimester and did unusual exercises with a scarf round my belly for optimal positioning of the baby. I’m THAT person! So when I was told 6-weeks post delivery that I had a pelvic organ prolapse I was 1) devastated, 2) mightily angry and 3) CONFUSED! How could someone who had done everything ‘right’ have things go so wrong? Why hadn’t I come across information about prolapse in my birthing preparation?
I researched prolapse extensively and was scared by what I read. Lots of confused and desperate women are asking questions in chat forums, many of the articles are overly medicalised and pessimistic in their outlook. I have a good brain and I can’t understand the diagrams on half of these sites!
I saw a pelvic floor physio and was told that a prolapse can only be “managed” (not fixed), to not do any unnecessary lifting, to avoid bending down, to outsource my housework, and reduce my exercise to a brief daily walk. For how long I asked? The physio wasn’t sure…it depended on my symptoms.
Determined to give myself the best chance of healing, I created a roster for friends to come and hold my ever growing baby so I could minimise lifting him, I used a pick-up stick (the ones elderly people use) rather than bending, we hired a cleaner, and I did those pelvic floor exercises like no one’s business.
Weeks went by, my symptoms didn’t improve much. Every time I lifted my baby, I worried about doing further damage. Every time I lent down to feed the dog, I told myself off. Unless I was with someone I couldn’t do shopping because the bags were too heavy. Our apartment had stairs so I couldn’t move the pram without help. Our dog tugged on the lead so I stopped walking her. I asked myself how other women with prolapse managed. What if they had other kids? Or couldn’t outsource tasks? I asked friends, my mum, other women – “have you heard of or experienced pelvic organ prolapse?” Only a few had even heard of it, no one said they had experienced it. Yet the statistics say 50% of women who have had two or more babies incur prolapse. I felt very isolated in a world where no matter what I did, things looked bleak. My coping strategies of exercise and maintaining my home space were unavailable to me at a time when I needed them the most. The psychological impact of the prolapse started becoming worse than the physical.
But I kept at the exercises doggedly. We went overseas for a wedding and there is even a picture of me on the grass doing them! On returning my symptoms felt worse and my physio said I wasn’t improving the way she’d expected. She recommend a pessary. For those who don’t know, a pessary is a silicone ring or cube inserted into the vagina to prop the pelvic organs up and take load off the pelvic floor. This recommendation delivered a crushing blow to my already fragile sense of hope. Again, I had tried harder than the average person and yet things had gotten worse??
I moved interstate at this point and started seeing my physio Tory. She straight up advocated for a pessary. She explained that it would give my pelvic floor protection when I did my exercises, lifted my baby, or picked something up. She framed it this way – my prolapse in the scheme of things was actually pretty mild, but my hypervigilance about my prolapse was bad news. The pessary was for my head as much as it was for my pelvis! I was too tired to disbelieve her, to research it further, to get a second or third opinion – she put it in then and there.
Mine is a cube pessary that I affectionately call “cubey”. I named it because despite my initial thoughts about what it meant to have a pessary (failure, brokenness, end of sensuality and femininity), it now feels like a friend on the recovery pathway. Pre-pessary I was aware of my symptoms 90% of my waking hours, so much so that I looked forward to sleep so I could forget about them. With “cubey” I am aware of the symptoms 10-50% of the time. The rest of the time I’m engaged in my life. This has been the biggest benefit for me.
Right before I was introduced to the pessary I saw an article with a photo of a young, active, vital looking lady who talked openly about having experienced prolapse. She was smiling! She said she has strengthened her pelvic floor immensely and she uses a pessary when she exercises. I could see myself in her story and it contributed to my willingness to try the pessary. I’m glad I did. It has made this process far more manageable and freed me up to enjoy this special time with my 5-month old boy. I hope that by sharing my story, some other lovely lady going through prolapse will read it and keep the faith that her life can get a whole lot better. I also hope this very common experience becomes a conversation point that every GP, midwife, obstetrician and women’s health physio raises with women before or while they are pregnant. I hope professionals get up to date with treatment options for prolapse, and that safe treatment options become an area of further research. I am a mother now but I was a woman first.