My diagnosis of a vaginal prolapse was life changing. It has changed my life, literally. But maybe not for the reason you are expecting…
I have always loved sport – the faster and more dangerous the better. My particular favourites over the years have been horse riding, hockey, horse polo and downhill mountain biking. I coached and played polo professionally for a number of years and during that time I learned to play through pain. At broken bones, teeth, ribs or concussions I would dutifully knock back some ibuprofen and get back on my horse. A useful trait when you have a really bad blister and are half way up mountain, but as it turns out, not so useful when you are pregnant or just had a baby and continue to push yourself too hard.
I discovered CrossFit in 2016 and loved the competition, the camaraderie and the mix of gymnastics, weight lifting and bodyweight training. I will openly admit now that when I fell pregnant I was determined to train through my pregnancy – something that I think was exacerbated by social media and influencers that I followed who made it look so easy to train pregnant and “bounce back” after birth. I was sensible enough to research about training in pregnancy and the guidance varied from “keep doing what you have always done” to “keep your heart rate out of the red” to “just do pregnancy yoga and go swimming”. I was someone who loved to throw a barbell around so I followed the guidance, bought a FitBit to monitor my heart rate and carried on.
Our baby boy was born after an incredibly long labour, nearly two hours of bearing down, a ventouse and episiotomy. Over the next few weeks I started to heal and at around four weeks postpartum I was itching to start to train again. I bought a one size fits all postpartum programme and started with week one – two weeks early. Not only did I do this, but I then decided that a 5kg med ball for my first glute bridge since birth was a good idea – all because I thought I was strong – and quickly after that I realised something wasn’t right.
My GP cleared me for exercise at my six week check, but I knew they were wrong. I felt lost and alone and helpless. Of course I did what everyone would do in this situation and I Googled. I frightened myself with what I found and I was convinced my life as I knew it was over. I was fortunate enough find Becky nearby in Berkhamsted and booked in to see her – where she confirmed my fears. I had a vaginal prolapse. I immediately asked about surgery options, as I was desperate to get back to feeling like “me” and I remember her saying that there was so much I could do to rehab and I didn’t believe it was possible.
Like so many women who are given a diagnosis of prolapse, I was devastated and it was all I could think about as I could “feel” it constantly. My health and physical fitness were everything to me and I quickly spiralled into an incredibly negative mindset as I realised that I couldn’t even walk up the stairs without feeling like my vagina was going to fall out - let alone walk the dog, carry our baby in the carrier or pick up a barbell. It took over and it became all-consuming.
Why did I not know about prolapse or diastasis when the statistics for women are so high?
My mother had suffered from a vaginal prolapse but I hadn’t put two and two together and realised that it was something that could happen to me. Why do we not talk about this? Why do we not get educated about things that can fundamentally change our lives so that we can be aware of them and make empowered choices? No one had ever taught me about the connection between my pelvic floor and core, intra-abdominal pressure or the strategies available that you can use to manage this pressure. The way I had trained during pregnancy was in line with the recommendations and yet here I was. I felt angry and let down by my midwife, my GP, my Consultant, my gym and at myself as my arrogance and recklessness had also been to blame.
Becky was right though and on my rehab journey I came to the realisation that when looking at the fitness industry there were massive gaps when it came to supporting and working with women (particularly pre- and postnatal women). I played a sport professionally and worked with numerous personal trainers over the years and not one of them had ever told me about anything that I was learning. Fitness professionals adopting the same approach to training both men and women was totally wrong. Women need specific advice and help when it comes to heath and fitness - particularly pre and post-natal women.
Pregnancy and postpartum are such incredibly vulnerable times for women. Everything you know about your body changes when you are pregnant and then it changes again when your baby is born. It is easy to feel lost and out of control. You need guidance and support from a team you can trust and who understand what you are going through and how to work and look after your body. They should be able to support you to reach your goals whether that is exercising during pregnancy, getting back to a something you love, or working out how to move freely again if you have suffered from any trauma.
Prolapse changed my life. I feel lucky to have been diagnosed early on in my postpartum recovery as it meant I had access to help and rehabilitation. It also inspired me to retrain as a Women’s Fitness Coach so I can help women and share what I have learnt. I wanted to help bridge the gap I had found in the fitness industry and help support women like me to reach their fitness goals – whatever they may be. Every pregnancy is different and every postpartum journey is unique. I love being able to guide women and feel honoured to be involved with everyone I work with.
If you are feeling how I felt then - lost and confused - if you are pregnant, or you are a new Mum who is trying to figure out how she returns to exercise and looks after her postnatal body, then surround yourself with a team of people that understand what you are going through.
Having a baby has changed me in many ways. I am nearly two years into my postpartum journey and I am still working on getting stronger every day. I still have symptomatic days - sometimes they are hormonal, sometimes due to not drinking enough water and being a little constipated and sometimes (I hate to admit) I may have pushed a little too much. The important thing is that I have my life back. I can walk the dog, throw a ball or stick, lift a barbell and run around in the garden with my son. There are many things that I still can’t do but I am working towards being able to get back to those as well.
Prolapse changed my life. I do what I do because I am passionate about making sure that women are better informed and educated than I was. I love helping women in the same place I was to get their lives back and reach their health and fitness goals.
The Mummy Movement PT