Do you have difficulty sitting, sleeping, going to the bathroom, running, peeing without sneezing, or having intercourse? Moms talk about having to pee all the time or joke about peeing when they sneeze, or not wanting sex because it's not as fun or is uncomfortable, but the reality is, these symptoms aren't inevitable and can be medical conditions worth seeking help with. We talked to five women experiencing a range of medical issues after childbirth to get their sides of the story....
PELVIC FLOOR PHYSICAL THERAPY
Anonymous Mama, Age 24-27 (recovery over three-year span)
The most important thing I've learned in my experience is to be my own advocate. We've been taught that once you have your baby, your body will have changed, and at 6 weeks you can resume your life with physical activity. I remember telling my midwife at my postpartum check ups that my vagina felt "off" and she said, "well honey, you've had a baby, your body won't be the same as before." It seems like an innocent thing to say, but it dismissed my complaints of painful sex, and my prolapse went undiagnosed until after my second baby. If new mothers were given a pelvic floor physical therapy exam as part of their postpartum plan, many women would have avoidable symptoms that are generally accepted as the norm ("mommy bladder" leaking when jumping, "mummy tummy" which is actually Diastasis recti)
I knew something wasn't right during my second pregnancy and searched for answers until I discovered I had a prolapse. I had no idea it was possible to have a pelvic organ "fall" It isn't told to mothers as a possible risk of vaginal birth. My first birth was traumatic. I delivered in a birth center, and purple pushed for 3 hours. My midwife almost transferred me to a hospital due to exhaustion and my baby's big head circumference. My midwife assured me that I didn't tear. My baby's head was pushing against my pelvis for so long, he had a hematoma that attributed to his hospitalization for jaundice.
After the birth of my second baby, I got a diagnosed with grade 2 rectocele prolapse (pelvic floor no longer supports the rectum) overactive bladder, and pelvic floor dysfunction from a urogynecologist. She also discovered internal scar tissue and perineal scar tissue where I indeed tear from my first birth. I started pelvic floor physical therapy where I learned just how important the pelvic floor is, and how the way we hold our body can affect it. I was able to become asymptomatic with my prolapse, close my Diastasis recti from 3 finger widths to 1.5, and learned proper body mechanics to keep my pelvic floor happy. My physical therapist was an angel to me, she truly improved the quality of my life and my marriage.
Finding a good Pelvic Floor PT can be difficult, find someone who studied through Herman & Wallace, or a PT with an osteopathic background. Dr. Sarah Ellis Duval at Core Exercise Solutions offers many at home programs online for postpartum moms, she is a wealth of information regarding the pelvic floor.
Biggest takeaways: Be your own advocate! Learn proper body mechanics to support your core and pelvic floor! Become BFFs with your pelvic floor PT! You can't take care of your family if you aren't taking care of yourself, prioritize your health, and have hope.
ROUGH EPISIOTOMY HEALING
Kerstin, Age 28 (26 when it happened)
Just for a bit of context: 19 months ago I had an emergency episiotomy performed (without lidocaine). I needed a vacuum assisted delivery because my son quite literally got stuck; we quickly learned that not only did he have a head size in the 99th percentile, he also was a compound presentation (born with his fist and arm next to his head). Due to that, I ended up with a third-degree tear.
Recovery from the episiotomy and tearing was much more difficult than I anticipated. While my incision healed quickly, it took weeks for the muscles to heal and the pain to completely go away. The most helpful piece of advice I have is to not compare your recovery to other moms! Talk to other moms for experience and advice, but don't compare two childbirths and recoveries. I was initially discouraged that friends who had babies at the same time as I were back to exercising and normal activities by 6 weeks postpartum. It took me closer to 10 weeks postpartum to even feel like I wanted to resume those activities. It really helped me to remember that I tore a muscle in a very sensitive area of my body, and to be gentle on myself (physically and emotionally). If I had torn a calf muscle or quadricep, I wouldn't expect to be back to jogging a 5k in six weeks.
I don't have resources to refer to speed along recovery, but I can share the recovery tips and tricks that helped me! I was a huge fan of sitting on ice, and even needed to sit on ice after I begun exercising again. During the initial recovery, sitting on solid surfaces (think a kitchen chair instead of a couch) really helped minimize pain for me as I didn't have to deal with my weight shifting on cushions. For that same reason, I was advised not to sit next to people on couches for a few weeks. I was also a huge fan of using Dermoplast Pain Relieving Spray to prepare myself for bowel movements. Overall, recovering from the episiotomy and tearing was the most difficult aspect of childbirth for me. However, it wasn't extreme enough of an experience to deter me from having a second child (I'm currently pregnant, but hoping for an episiotomy free birth).
I had my first daughter at 27, she's 2.5 now. I was healthy, active, a teacher. I gained exactly 25 pounds. I had a text book pregnancy until 38 weeks when I developed preeclampsia. Delivery was rough, and I ended up with pelvic organ prolapse. I had never even heard of it. I was completely blindsided. I discovered it on my own (which was terrifying and dr Google didn't help) and mentioned it to my OBgyn at my 6 week appointment. He said, "it's not that bad, do some kegals and you're fine to go for a run. You can always have surgery." Absolutely horrible advice. Surgery options are lacking and not often successful. I found a support group on FB and have a PT consultation next month. It's altered how I live. I no longer run. I can't use tampons. I feel pain and heaviness when I carry my daughter or do any heavy lifting. Despite this, I am hopeful that with PT that things will improve.
Many of the women I have "met" through the support group on Facebook have had to deal with urinary and fecal (yes, fecal) incontinence. I feel lucky that I did not have any incontinence issues. I don't mind speaking publicly about prolapse. I've found that talking about it will only help other women, so I'm happy to speak up.
I found a few online resources, google was both horrifying and helpful. I managed to find a blog by a woman named Natalie Hixson. She was just starting out creating an online program, and created a Facebook group to gather feedback. I was lucky to be part of this group. (I do not subscribe to her program, I just happened to make some great connections there and then moved on to what suited me.) The women in the Facebook group are trying to do all they can to heal naturally, before considering surgery. Many are younger, new moms, or moms having more children and navigating pop (pelvic organ prolapse) through pregnancy and delivery. Here is where I found resources, hope, and a voice. After my initial OB appointment where my pop was diagnosed, I felt unheard. Like it wasn't a real issue. But it very much is. I switched to a different doctor, the one who was on call and delivered my daughter, but a miscarriage prevented a thorough exam to treat my prolapse. I found a PT through another mom friend, not a doctor. There are some great online sources to help find a Pelvic floor/woman's health PT.
The advice I would give to another woman dealing with pop, especially in the beginning, is to do your research. You are not alone. A good urogynecologist and PT are invaluable. If you don't feel heard, find another doctor. You are too important to settle.
Pelvic Sanity in Laguna Hills, California is run by an amazing and highly recommended PT.
Trista Zinn with Coreset Fitness teaches hypopressives, which many with pop find to be helpful. She is in Canada, but does online sessions
Ladies, thank you so much for sharing your stories of experiencing pain after childbirth. Readers, have you had pain after having baby? There's always great conversations in our private Facebook Group
for only moms.