Sometime in the past couple of weeks my (just turned) three-year-old wanted me to pick him up from the floor and swing him up in the air to catch him. It’s something I’ve done hundreds of times and was this way until 36 weeks while pregnant with my second kid. And I’ve been doing exercises specifically so I can stay strong and do this without hurting myself or dropping my kid. Not anymore.
This prolapse, man. It’s a constant reminder that things aren’t all right down there. Pick up the groceries? Hey, here I am! Pick up my kid? Hiya, just hanging out – literally! It’s a drag, for real. I’ve gone from telling my kid that I can’t play with him the way I used to because I’m pregnant to telling him I’m sick and it’s not safe for me to pick him up. I held him in my arms and apologized for things being so different with the new baby. I promised him that I would fix myself.
After my first kid, who is a whirlwind three-year-old, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do physically. Before him I was five months out from a Figure competition, loved Olympic lifting, I was in the recruiting process for my local police service (I had passed the written and physical test), I did a sprint triathlon, and was working up to competing in Brazilian jiu jitsu. My pelvic floor was (temporarily) destroyed after my first (I suspect) from 5 hours of pushing against a bladder that was so full it could have ruptured.
The pelvic floor dysfunction I experienced after my first baby was urinary incontinence (leaking) and fecal incontinence (inability to stop myself from passing gas, also needing to use the toilet RIGHTFUCKINGNOW if I felt the urge to poop.) I found an excellent pelvic floor physiotherapist and, finally, after many months of physio, I slowly started back at the gym. No purpose, really. I’d lost all of my momentum as a first time mom. The missing momentum had a bit to do with my pelvic floor dysfunction, not feeling like myself, and the rest was allowing myself to get sucked into “momdom”. I
swapped the pre-baby me with this hyper-focused, Pinterest obsessed mom thing, and it was all consuming. Also not healthy.
I had fatigue from a kid who didn’t sleep colliding with a history of eating my emotions when tired or stressed. I’ve struggled against disordered eating (restriction) and the rigid meal planning of my Figure competition days really helped me to balance my eating, stay nourished, and not overeat yet avoid restriction. Fitness competition diets don’t work for everyone, particularly those folks who have eating disorders, but it was the magic pill that helped me stay strong and healthy. I stopped following my Figure diet when I became pregnant and stayed off it after the baby arrived. The mix of chronic fatigue from consoling a kid with disordered sleep (night mares and terrors) and emotional eating led to over eating and frequent unhealthy binges. My movement slowed down and I packed on the pounds.
I got sick of living to eat. I found my way back to the gym through this amazing woman who runs Mama Lion Strong and is 1/3 of the founders of Healthy Habits Happy Moms. I knew all the stuff they were talking about, I just needed that push to implement it. And I did with the support of the ladies who have joined the HHHM closed Facebook group.
I took advantage of my civic centres that feature (good enough) gyms but have child minding services that are free if you have a family membership. I started off small and planned my goals around weight lifted, reps accomplished, ignored the scale and committed to a shitty workout if I was in a bad mood because a shitty workout is better than no workout. The shitty workouts became less and less while my clothes fit better, my face started looking less round, and I could keep up with my busy toddler.
Then I got pregnant but kept up the routine. I doubled down and really committed to moving and balanced eating when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 30 weeks. I was motivated to stay off insulin because it would mean a complete transfer of care from my midwife to an OBGYN – something I really didn’t want. I was successful but it took a hell of a lot of work plus tons of tears and a butt load of luck. Insulin would have been so much easier.
I thought I did everything right. I followed the Health Habits Happy Moms (HHHM) expert advice for lifting while pregnant and I backed off the heavy weights plus cut out core work. I focused on really training my posterior chain to help beef up my glutes and support my pelvic floor, particularly because I lost my perky round butt after my first pregnancy. I saw my physiotherapist at 36 weeks to make sure everything looked okay. And I started on this really great web series by world renowned physiotherapist Julie Wiebe to fix my alignment issues that could contribute to prolapse post-pregnancy (I’m bell rung up and a chronic butt tucker thanks to years of ballet as a child.) Then after my baby came barreling into this world I took it easy, which was super annoying because I felt so great afterwards that I could have run a 5K no problem.
Then the prolapse. On Mother’s Day, of all days. If I had to describe it to someone who’s never experienced one before, it’s kind of like when you have a hole in your sock and your big toe pokes through. It doesn’t always poke through though, sometimes it stays put and other times it juts the entire way out. It’s annoying. It makes you wish for a new sock. I constantly wish for a new vagina for sure. I would have been totally fine leaving this one at the hospital with the partially calcified placenta and 10lbs of fluid.
But I can’t. And that fucking sucks.
This brings me to my clinical assessment via the Pelvic Floor Pathway (PFP). The way the PFP handles intake is (1) a group presentation on peeing your pants, prolapses, and how to poop properly, among other things, (2) a clinical exam with a nurse practitioner, (3) and then you see the PFP physiotherapist and/or are referred on to an OBGYN for a surgical consult. You have to fill out a bunch of checklists and paperwork before your first appointment – it’s the typical how often/much do you pee and how much does the badness around your lady parts affect your quality of life. For me, my quality of life sucks. I spend most of my day sitting or lying down because it makes me feel less toe-through-sock but in the vagina area, and my responses reflected this.
I’m type A, goal oriented type of gal and I do well with expectations and firm finish lines. As I was filling out this paperwork, my hopes for what I wanted for myself and my life just crystallized. Three years after my first human, I figured out what my new normal actually is: I want to get back to triathlons (sprints not full. Yet), Olympic lifts, and jiujitsu. Heck, maybe I could even become a trainer like I’ve wanted to do for YEARS. And I was excited to meet with the PFP nurse practitioner to find out how I could do that – pessary, vagina exercises, surgery, magic. . .whatever.
Then the appointment happened. She looked at my goals and said maybe that could happen but it wasn’t a resounding ‘yes’ that any of it would happen in my lifetime. I was talked out of a pessary – I suspected I had a posterior prolapse based on my symptoms – before the pelvic exam. Surgery, I was told, would be the only way my type of prolapse would improve. But I was already committed to having the surgery since my perineum is totally missing because of an incomplete repair. During the exam I was told that the surgeon would probably have me wait until I’m older to fix my prolapse. Why? Because a surgical posterior prolapse repair is only about 75% successful and may need 1-3 revision surgeries in my lifetime. So I’d have to wait until I’m older to have my vagina put back together.
Um. . .what?
Let’s recap: First, I’m not currently having sex with my husband because my insides are losing the battle against gravity. It’s that I can’t wrap my head around it not that it hurts (a question I get asked a lot by folks whose job it is to put broken vaginas back together.) Second, I’m barely moving because when I do I have insides that are a constant – and incredibly uncomfortable – reminder that something is wrong with me. And, of course, the moratorium on lifting anything heavy, which is probably one of the more frustrating prescriptions because I’m a stay-at-home-mom. Hauling around a diaper bag, carseat, and (occasionally) tucking a three-year-old under my arm mid-meltdown is in the job description. Well, and massive amounts of snot, vomit, and poo but those aren’t heavy, just disgusting.
After all was said and done, I was booked in for the physiotherapist a few days later, was referred to an OBGYN for a surgical consult, got dressed, and filled out a survey about the appointment and left feeling a heck of a lot heavier than when I got there. Plus all the sads that go along with the heavy.
“How’d it go?” my husband messaged me.
“I’m going to cry on the way home,” I replied.
And I did. And every day since.
So many questions were left unasked and didn’t really pop up until hours later. How long was I expected to live like this? Until I’m in my 50s because I’m some (arbitrarily) young age that they won’t do surgery on? Even if my quality of life sucks? What about lifting? Am I never going to lift again? Like, for the rest of my life? What about running? And I get it, if you’re not into the gym you’re probably thinking that I should just suck it up. But the gym is my life. It’s where I find purpose and clarity. It’s how I fill my cup when I’m running on empty. But it’s more than that, this affects how I want to mom.
Last week, after almost two months of not swinging him up to catch him in my arms, I promised my son I would keep my muscles strong so I could always wrap him in my arms and carry him for as long as possible. I remember the last day my mom could physically carry me. I had fallen asleep in her bed, and she woke me up and said “you’re too big to carry to your bed, you have to walk.” I wished for one more time, one last carry, to be her baby wrapped in her arms. I’m tall and I build muscle like crazy, this body is built for lifting. To be told that I can’t lift heavy and I might not get my lady parts fixed until some indeterminate time when I’m older was not just dispiriting, it destroyed how I see myself as a mother. It changed how I’m able to live the life that I want.
My husband, who is committed to getting this fixed as much or more than I am, keeps reminding me that it’s so very early postpartum – only 5 weeks, 6 at the time of writing this. My body has a lot of healing to do and things have been put in motion. I’m impatient. I want to stop feeling shitty. Like, yesterday.
Fingers crossed physio goes better.