“Walking a mile in someone else's shoes isn't as much about the walk or the shoes; it's to be able to think as they think, feel what they feel, and understand why they are who and where they are. Every step is about empathy.”
― Toni Sorenson, The Great Brain Cleanse
My postpartum walk has been an adventure, to say the least, but looking back on the journey I am thankful for each experience because it ultimately led me to identify my true passion and calling as a pelvic health physical therapist. I'd like to share my personal experience because without it I would not be where I am today.
I was blessed with four beautiful children, two of them are cuddled up next to me on the sofa as I write this post. The other two are napping upstairs. These four children are the joys of my life, and often also the biggest challenges. I knew motherhood would be a challenging adventure, people are always talking about that on social media. What I was not prepared for was what a challenging adventure postpartum recovery would be. The stuff NO ONE tells you.
My first sweet baby was born via emergency C-section, after long labor that stalled. That recovery, besides the unexpected incision pain, was easy. I bounced back to working out at my boot camp class without any issues. I felt like my pre-baby body returned and was functional. I found out that I was pregnant with my second baby about 18 months later.
I decided that I longed for a vaginal birth and decided to try for a vbac (vaginal birth after cesarean). I did ALL the research, changed physicians, hired a doula, and prepared for an all-natural hospital birth. I failed to research one important aspect of birth....pushing and how to maintain an intact pelvic floor.
My labor started a week before I delivered. I took two trips to the hospital, only to be sent home and told I was not in active labor. Finally, the day came and I was exhausted after nearly a week of prodromal labor. After laboring at home for 8 hours, it was finally time to go to the hospital. Things progressed quickly and I began pushing about an hour after I arrived. I quickly learned that my pushing efforts were not working, I had no idea what I was doing. The nurses and my OBGYN coached me to push. I don't remember the details, but I can remember being flat on my back with my legs bent back in a typical American delivery style. I remember being told to hold my breath and bear down during a contraction. I remember when he said, " You better get this baby out now or we will need to head to the OR." I remember being told I was going to tear and needed an episiotomy. The minute that baby was placed on my chest was the best feeling ever.
My baby was here and healthy, and breastfeeding was a breeze. I had quite a bit of perineal pain and transitions from stand to sit were awful. I remember that the first bowel movement was about as awful as the ring of fire during delivery. Perineal care was a long tedious process, and dermoplast was my best friend. I recovered fairly well, and the pain at my perineum dissipated. I went to see my OBGYN for my 6 weeks follow up, he examined my episiotomy location and released me to work out and have intercourse.
I returned to boot camp, and that first class I was surprised to find that with every jumping jack I leaked urine. I also found out that I couldn't jump rope without significant wet pants. I felt like I couldn't keep up and knew enough from my career as a physical therapist that something was not right, and I was NOT ready for boot camp at six weeks. I quit. I quit the one exercise program that I had found that I loved.
Thankfully, I had a friend from physical therapy school that practiced as a pelvic floor PT and she was able to give me some tips and guidance in rehabilitating my body. However, eight months later at my annual OBGYN exam, I was diagnosed with a uterine and bladder prolapse. My return to normal activity with an unstable pelvic floor had led to some damage. Thankfully, I was symptom-free. To learn the symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse see this post (coming soon). I knew I needed some serious bodywork to improve the stability of my pelvis and help avoid surgery to repair my prolapse. This led me to be fearful of any and all exercise. This led to postpartum anxiety and depression.
I became active in several facebook groups on the topics of postpartum pain and realized how many women were suffering without a clear direction of treatment. I quickly realized I loved commenting on the posts and directing women to pelvic floor physical therapy and then one day it clicked! Maybe I would like to become a pelvic floor physical therapist.
I reached out to the ones in town, and by the grace of God I was not only mentored by the most experienced pelvic floor PT in town, but I was offered a job working beside her. I began my certification courses in the pelvic floor ( this was fun- basically spend the weekend with your pants off practicing on each other). However, I will never forget finishing my first course and calling my mentor and proclaiming that I was meant for this.
I began my career treating pelvic floor dysfunction in 2015, all along vowing to repair my pelvic floor before becoming pregnant again. I knew I still had some work to do on strength. Well, it turns out that God had other plans. I became pregnant with SURPRISE twins in July of 2016. My first thought was my poor pelvic floor.
However, carrying twins 100% has made me a more skilled physical therapist. That pregnancy challenged my body to its limits. I experienced severe pelvic pain, urge incontinence, diastasis recti, piriformis syndrome, gout, squamous inclusion cyst at the site of my old episiotomy and worsening of my prolapse and now experienced symptoms of pelvic pressure. While this sounds terrible, I now see very clearly that it was all part of God's plan to help me gain valuable knowledge from experiencing the diagnosis I commonly treat.
My birth experiences have led me to discover my true calling in life, and I now love the work I do daily which is such a gift. My experience with rehabilitating my body after twins has led me to develop my method for pelvic floor dysfunction. I launched the R.I.S.E. Method in December of 2019. You can learn more about it on my website.
Now, it has been nearly three years since the twins were born, and I have returned to exercise. I am running 10 miles a week at Orange Theory, I can jump without leakage, and my pelvic pain has subsided. I will admit that my pelvic floor is far from perfect. My stress incontinence is gone, my urinary urge incontinence is gone, my prolapse symptoms are gone, and my diastasis recti is healed. I can still leak at times ( cue stressful daughters soccer game during the luteal phase of my cycle - jumping & screaming together + hormones), but I am 90% improved. I plan to make it to 100% very soon, and you can bet I will let you know when I make it there.