I’m going to start with a family trip to a transport museum. It’s not a particularly happy memory but it gets better, I promise.
It was a grey, damp day and I was cold. I was well wrapped up but I was chilled to the bone. No energy. No interest. No words. A forced smile as my son and daughter delighted in the old planes and trains, zipping around the warehouse and pointing at the displays. Theirs was a world full of colour. Mine was dark and muted. My head was filled with pelvic organ prolapse and I was reminded of it with every movement — that bulge weighing me down in every sense.
The prolapse had happened a few years earlier, after the birth of my second child in 2015. My daughter had been born by caesarian section for breech and I was desperate for a vaginal birth this time around. I fought for it. I got it. It didn’t go especially well. After a long labour, my gorgeous boy with his white blond hair came crashing into our lives. He was fighting fit but I was straight to surgery after a 3rd degree tear.
This was the point at which I wish I’d had a greater understanding of my body. I had joined the 3 percent of women in the UK who tear from the vagina through the perineal muscle and into the anal sphincter. The midwives were full of sympathy. I still thought I’d ‘done it properly’. Eye. Roll.
We staggered through the next couple of weeks with feeding problems, sleepless nights (and days), I couldn’t sit down without a pillow…and then it happened. I had strained on the loo. I had lifted my toddler. I will probably never really know why it happened but my pelvic organs had prolapsed into my vagina.
I’ve been lucky in the sense that my symptoms are at the manageable end of the spectrum. I feel the bulge, my toileting is not what it once was, tampons and menstrual cups won’t stay in but I don’t have pain and I don’t have incontinence. I also got to see a pelvic physio early on, so I had someone to guide me through pelvic floor exercise and to lend an understanding ear as I tried to come to terms with the fact that things would not return to ‘normal’.
And that was it. For the next few years I got on with being a mum to two pre-schoolers, wandering in and out of Facebook groups, losing pessaries in car parks (don’t ask), fearful of movement and feeling somewhat broken. It wasn’t something I really talked about. It’s not something anyone talks about. And it’s not an easy thing to bring up in conversation. On one occasion I was working and suddenly needed to haul some heavy equipment. I couldn’t and I didn’t feel able to explain why. I felt weak and that’s not who I am. That’s how I felt in the museum too. A bit lost. And sad. And fearful.
I was constantly reading advice against running, jumping or lifting your kids. Against coughing or straining, or standing or breathing the wrong way. You can’t live life to the full when you’re living in fear of things getting worse.
I’m not sure when the turning point came. It may have been a chance conversation in a shopping centre when my son was 3. I bumped into a friend who revealed she also had a prolapse and recommended a physio. I decided to see what I could do to improve my situation.
I started seeing the physio. I also asked for an appointment with a specialist NHS nurse who went through my notes and gave me a better sense of what I was dealing with. I got more and more cross about the stigma and shame surrounding pelvic floor dysfunction so I tapped out an anonymous post on Instagram.
The kindness was overwhelming. Complete strangers understood completely and no one was dismissive or horrified. I carried on asking questions, sharing my experience, unloading and moving forward. Then I put my name on it because I felt like I couldn’t smash taboos with a paper bag on my head and even more people reached out.
I ended up meeting two women locally who also have pelvic organ prolapse. We rendezvoused in a cafe in actual real life and if you listen to the pod, you will know it has blossomed into our ‘Pop Club’ where we can laugh (or cry) at our predicaments and support each other.
Why Mums Don’t Jump is a community now. It has given me the confidence to get past the fear of losing my insides and build up my fitness from safe exercise programmes to pilates and even some running (with the ok from my physio), which I so wanted to do.
Making the podcast has been a hugely cathartic experience. I have shared my story and trawled the minds of so many of the wonderful experts who are working in this field. I am privileged to have heard the stories of some of the women affected by prolapse or other pelvic floor disorders who have spoken out so bravely. Some are on the pod. Others have written to say that hearing from those women has given them hope.
Remembering that trip to the museum breaks my heart a little but I honestly feel like a completely different woman today. That’s not because there’s a miracle cure. I still have POP. But it doesn’t rule my life. The single biggest driver in that has been sharing my story and finding that it resonates with so many other women. Despite what society has taught us, it is not our fault and it is nothing to be ashamed of. We need to find a way to talk more about our vulvas, our vaginas, our most intimate parts; about lumps and leaks and pelvic pain. We can ask for help. We can improve our situations. And we can feel less alone because we are really not!
Guest blog by Helen Ledwick from Why Mums Can’t Jump.
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