This post about my experience with postpartum after giving birth to my daughter was originally published on my old blog on December 5, 2012. I was 18 weeks postpartum at the time. Since then, I have received dozens of emails from women struggling with similar situations asking for an update. In anticipation of an update, I wanted to republish the original post.
Today’s post comes with a TMI warning, but I’d like to talk about why I really stopped running. I’ve thought about whether or not I actually want to post about this, but here’s the deal: I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who have given birth in the last few years, and if there’s anything new moms can talk about, it’s their birth experiences in (sometimes horrific) detail. And really, for better or worse, most of the ladies on deck want to have an idea of what’s in store for them.
Going into having a baby, I thought I had heard a fair number of detailed accounts about the birthing process and what to expect postpartum. Maybe I’m just living under a rock, but what happened to me around eight weeks after giving birth is not something I heard anyone talk about, though according to websites and doctors it’s not uncommon among women who recently gave birth. But at the time it happened, I didn’t even have the words to describe what was going on.
I stopped running because I had a bladder prolapse. From WebMD:
In women, the front wall of the vagina supports the bladder. This wall can weaken or loosen with age. Significant bodily stress such as childbirth can also damage this part of the vaginal wall. If it deteriorates enough, the bladder can prolapse, meaning it is no longer supported and descends into the vagina.
Leading up to my postpartum prolapse, whenever I attempted to exercise (I had been given the “all clear” to workout at six weeks), stuff in my pelvic floor region felt… loose. Loose enough that I wasn’t comfortable. Loose enough my runs quickly became walks. But I figured it was just a normal part of postpartum recovery. That is until I was hanging out one day, minding my own business, when I felt a “thud,” like something was falling out of me, and sure enough, something was. Honest to God, I had no idea what was happening, could not even wrap my head around how to describe this to Google, and thought I was going to be rushed into surgery to fix whatever it was.
Turns out, a prolapse not that serious (at least not mine; there are several types of pelvic organ prolapse and they can range in severity). My gynecologist told me it was “no big deal” (which she has the annoying habit of saying about a lot of stuff that I’m sure is really “no big deal” on the spectrum of horrible stuff that can go wrong after giving birth, but it sure feels like a big deal to me). And, because I was only eight weeks postpartum there was nothing they would do at that point.
I told to keep doing kegels and call at 12 weeks postpartum if it was still bothering me. It was devastating and I was so worried that I would never feel normal again. I resolved to stop running, in the hopes that it would help me heal because it’s pretty impossible to support your pelvic floor while participating in high-intensity cardio. I went to yoga; I did kegels; I waited for my postpartum prolapse to get better. It didn’t get worse, but it didn’t stop feeling uncomfortable either. If I was too active, my pelvic floor muscles would fatigue and my bladder would descend. While it wasn’t painful, it forced me to change my lifestyle and it drove me insane.
More than anything though, I was angry and upset. I don’t have a lot of experience feeling like my body has failed me, but that’s exactly what it felt like. I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do (like run) because of the prolapse, which affected my quality of life.
At 12 weeks postpartum, my doctor referred me to a specialist, a urogynecologist. I realize that I’m very lucky to have access to and the insurance to cover one of the best hospital systems in the country with a top Integrated Pelvic Health program (not to mention this is one of the most well-run and organized doctor’s offices I have ever been to). After visiting with the doctor, the news is pretty good.
First, my prolapse is mild to moderate, skewing more toward mild than moderate. My pelvic floor strength is good, especially considering I’m only 18 weeks postpartum. Apparently, it can take a full nine months for your pelvic floor to recover from childbirth, longer if you’re breastfeeding, so I’m actually doing pretty well. The doctor also reassured me that nothing I did (like running or Zumba during or post-pregnancy) caused this to happen–I can blame this entirely on pushing out an 8-pounds-plus baby. The symptoms I have will get better with physical therapy (yes! there are PTs who focus entirely on the pelvic floor, who knew? In France, apparently women routinely get pelvic floor PT after giving birth, prolapse or not), but the bad news is, like so many things, things aren’t ever going to be exactly the same as they were before giving birth.
So what now? I feel less angry now that I have some answers and an action plan. I start PT this weekend. And I’m getting fitted for a pessary, a medical device similar to the outer ring of a diaphragm that will help support my bladder and make exercise more comfortable. And with the doctor’s reassurance that it won’t make anything worse, I’ve started running again.
Anyway, as much as I’m not super comfortable sharing this embarrassing issue, I figured if I had no idea what this was, other people out there must be similarly confused, horrified, and upset by their own postpartum prolapse experiences, and maybe it would help to know that they aren’t alone. So, there you have it.