The more we share, the more we help other people heal!
Below is my old co-worker's journey that I had her write up for me because I feel like it represents SO many people's stories that we just don't hear about. I keep sharing in hopes that you'll share your story, too.
I've been pretty active my whole life. I started swimming and playing tennis when I was really young, played competitive volleyball for 8 years, and after my playing days were over, I still managed to play on the beach recreationally when possible. After feeling like my shoulder was starting to feel the wear and tear of overhead sports, I was introduced to distance running. Nothing super crazy, but I had committed myself to running a race every month (5K, 10K, obstacle races, or half marathons).
When I found out I was pregnant, I checked out a lot of mom blogs and spent hours scrolling through the #fitpregnancy posts on Instagram. My OB-GYN said that whatever activities I was doing before getting pregnant, I'd still be able to continue throughout my pregnancy. I had also read on those mom blogs that staying active will help my body 'bounce back' after delivery, so that was motivation enough to keep me going.
My pregnancy wasn't as easy as I had hoped. I had all day sickness for 4 months with frequent bouts of vomiting (I had somehow managed to lose 5 pounds during my first trimester from all the vomiting). I found out that I had a fibroid on my uterus which, when flared up, caused me to stop everything I was doing and bend over in what I can only describe as the worst menstrual cramps ever experienced, including one trip to the ER. When the second half of second trimester hit, I was much better. I continued to do my training runs and was able to complete 3 5Ks, 2 10Ks, and 3 half marathons during my pregnancy, the last race being a 10K about 3 weeks before delivery. By the time that last run was completed, I was ready to take a break. I was so uncomfortable, and I knew that I deserved to let myself rest, but being on social media was making me wonder why I wasn't able to push myself like all these other super pregnant women.
Delivery day came, and long story short, after 2 excruciating hours, I pushed out a baby!
I did the best that I could to enjoy those first few weeks of motherhood, no matter how sleep deprived I was. But one of the most inescapable things that my body was experiencing was some loss of bladder control. Every time I laughed, I peed. When I sneezed, I peed. When I coughed too hard, I peed. There was one night, I was holding the baby, waiting for my husband to get out of the bathroom. I got up with a sudden urge to pee, waited outside the bathroom door, and actually fully peed myself. That was definitely a low point of my life, and I cursed myself for not working on my kegels throughout my pregnancy because in my mind, that was the obvious reason as to why this was happening.
The peeing issue continued, but as I was approaching my 6 week postpartum appointment, all I was hoping for was the 'all clear' to get back to working out. That appointment finally came, I was back to prepregnancy weight (thanks, breastfeeding!), but I didn't mention the peeing situation. He checked me out and said that I am free to work out again. Yah! When I got home from that appointment, I threw on my running clothes to go for my first postpartum run. Literally, I ran no more than 30 feet from my house, and I had already leaked. I thought I'd push through it, ran another 100 feet, leaked even more, and not even making it to the end of my block, I turned around and walked back home. That walk of shame made me think 'Maybe I'm just not ready to get back to working out. Maybe I still wasn't completely healed from delivery to start running again.' I felt embarrassed and powerless.
Over the course of the next 2 years, the peeing issue improved but was still there. I changed the course of my day to always make sure I go to the bathroom any opportunity possible. I crossed my legs every time I sneezed. I hoped that would help. It didn't. I also tried to work on those pesky kegels. That didn't help either. Surely, if I try to strengthen my core muscles, that would solve the problem. Nope. I went through this miserable cycle of not wanting to work out because I kept leaking, ended up emotional eating, gaining weight, wanting to work out to get back into shape, and then being discouraged by the leaking. The secondary punch to the ego was that I majored in Kinesiology with an athletic training emphasis and also earned a Master's in Exercise Science. I felt like a bit of a fraud that someone with the amount of knowledge I have about the human body, specifically the musculoskeletal system, would surely know enough to overcome this problem.
I kind of just accepted that this was just going to be my life now. Trips to the gym were now swimming in the pool or riding the elliptical machine because those low intensity exercises don’t cause leaking. I would never fully be able to enjoy the active lifestyle I had prepregnancy, and that's the price you pay when you decide to have a kid, I guess. It was depressing. I felt that somehow I was losing part of my identity, and without much reason, I was starting to resent my husband. I would cry sometimes thinking how unfair it was that my body had failed me with all of these postpartum setbacks while he got to carry on and do all the fun stuff with our son that I couldn't do for fear of leaking all the time.
My outlook started to change after my son's third birthday. A former coworker of mine had been posting about her postpartum journey on Facebook and Instagram. I knew her as an intense crossfitter who was insanely strong and dedicated to her sport. She had posted about how frustrated she was that her body didn't 'bounce back' like she thought she would even though she was working out at a high level of intensity. The more information she shared, the more I thought about my situation. I decided to finally stop feeling sorry for myself, be more proactive, go see my doctor, get a prescription for pelvic floor physical therapy, and then cross my fingers that things will get better.
Embarrassingly, I hadn’t seen my doctor since before I got pregnant, which was over 3 years ago. I called to schedule an appointment, only to find out that she didn’t work at that office anymore. Because of my HMO limitations, I asked to see a female doctor at the office, and I was scheduled for the following week. I was cautiously optimistic that this would be the beginning of my renewed active life.
The appointment didn’t go great.
Me: Can you please write me a prescription for physical therapy?
New doctor: Why?
Me: I want to see a pelvic floor physical therapist about some of my postpartum issues.
Annoying doctor: Well, that’s just part of having a kid. You should really work on your kegels.
Me: Yeah, I’ve done that, and I’m still not able to go back to pre-baby activities like running and jumping without having leaking.
Ignorant doctor: You should look into Poise pads if you’re having leaking issues.
Me: Right, but there’s this pelvic floor physical therapist who comes highly recommended and she won’t even see me unless I have a prescription.
Judgmental doctor: But physical therapy won’t do anything for you. Plus, it wouldn’t be covered by insurance.
Me: I understand that, but I’m still asking you for a prescription, knowing that I’ll be paying out of pocket because this is how important this is to me.
After my persistence, she begrudgingly wrote me the prescription. I hated that whole interaction. I guess I naively thought that a woman doctor would be less resistant to my request, but I was disappointed to find out that was not the case.
As soon as I got home, I called the physical therapist who was recommended to me. She was in high demand, so I was put on the waitlist, which at the time was about a 3 month wait. During that time, I checked out some of her youtube videos to get a head start on my progress. Although the descriptions were very detailed, I’m the type of learner who needs hands on, tangible response to fully understand concepts. Little changes in my posture and shifts in my weight made some marked improvements already. I remember going to the gym, finding the courage to get on the treadmill, and start doing some slow intervals of walking and light jogging. I lasted about 20 minutes before I stopped, not because of leaking, but because I was out of shape and this type of exercise felt foreign to me. This gave me hope. Never, in the previous 3 years, was I able to doing any sort of jogging without leaking, let alone for 20 minutes!
Fast forward 3 months, and I was able to see my women's health physical therapist***. It was emotionally therapeutic (no pun intended) to sit with her and explain all my concerns about my postpartum body without judgement. She didn’t tell me it was hopeless or that life just won’t ever be the same after having a baby. She was understanding, compassionate, and eager to help. Over the next 2 hours, she evaluated my posture, pointed out my improper running mechanics, tested the strength in my legs and core, and gave me useful, meaningful feedback. I was also given some homework to help strengthen muscles and focus on my posture. This is exactly what I needed. I needed someone who wanted to help instead of being dismissive. I needed someone to ask me questions instead of jumping to conclusions. I needed someone to evaluate me instead of lumping me in the huge ‘postpartum women’ group.
This has been a game changer for me. I have a much more positive outlook on exercise. It isn’t something I’m actively avoiding, and I’m no longer shying away from intensity. Since my appointment, I went to a trampoline park with my son for 2 hours and didn’t leak once. I’ve been able to run alongside my son on his bike all over our neighborhood without leaking. These seem like very small victories, but when you’re on the verge of giving up hope, thinking that your body will never actually be your body anymore, the small victories are what you appreciate.
***She saw Julie Wiebe in California
***She saw Julie Wiebe in California