“You will, but not yet”
This is a phrase I find myself saying a lot.
I say it to the beautiful woman, sitting in my room with tears threatening to roll down her cheeks as she tells me she wants to have ‘normal sex’ with her husband. She has come to see me because since her baby was born 5 months ago, penetrative sex has hurt. They have tried three times now and it feels like it’s getting worse, not better. She tells me her sister said she felt back to ‘normal’ about 8 weeks after giving birth and she thought she’d be back to normal by now too.
I say it to the beautiful woman who has started training for the half marathon. She has always run 5kms with no problem, but since she started training beyond 10kms she has been leaking urine. She thought this was something that only happened after you had kids? She hasn’t even done that yet, and she is worried this will get worse. But she is even more worried she’ll never be able to achieve her goal she and her friend have set themselves of finishing the half marathon together.
I say it to the beautiful woman who gave birth 3 weeks ago and wants her figure back but her tummy is still soft and protrudes forward when she stands. She is worried about muscle separation and wants to get back to yoga as soon as she can, but her baby is clingy and wants to breastfeed all the time. She is exhausted and wants to know why her recovery seems to be taking longer than she expected.
Our bodies are amazing. They are capable of producing and sustaining life, and achieving brilliant physical feats of strength, endurance and flexibility. Although our bodies are miraculous, they are not magic. Tissue healing is incredible, torn or stretched tissue will mend given time and the appropriate conditions. Weakened muscles can strengthen with consistent training and good technique. In the world we live in, we are inpatient. We are used to getting things before we have earned them. This does not happen with the human body.
So I tell these beautiful women, “you will do these things, but not yet.” Do not be pressured by your friends, sisters, or social media feeds to rush your body. Seek good advice from a source you trust and follow your own path to recovery that feels right for your body. You have the rest of your life to achieve these goals, right now, it is time to heal and rehabilitate.
Pregnancy, Labour, Breastfeeding, Parenting. Lots of people have done it, lots of people are doing it. Lots of people want to tell you how to do it.
As a new mum, or back up, as soon as you announce your pregnancy, people are full of stories and anecdotes about their experience, and very keen to pass on well intended ‘words of wisdom’.
And unfortunately, you also get conflicting messages and advice from the bevy of health professionals you come in contact with, particularly in those early, sleep deprived days as you are beginning your life as a parent.
Breastfeeding issues? Oh you need to express more. No! Baby to breast ALL the time. More sleep will do the trick! Rub breast milk over your nipples after every feed. No! Get the lansinoh on it! Just some fresh air and sunshine is all you need! Massage the lump toward the nipple, NO - away! Heat before a feed and cold after. More time between feeds, feed as often as you can to keep the milk moving!
AAAAAHHHHHHHHGGGG!!!!! It makes me stressed even writing it. I’m going to say something now that could well put me out of a job.
You already know what to do.
The reason you think you don’t is not your fault. It’s a combination of access to too much information and bad old wives tales.
Let me paint you a picture. I see women who have blocked ducts or mastitis. These are the sickest women in my care. They come in and when they’re in the thick of it, they are clammy, spaced out and desperate. Not only are they very sick, but they are sleep deprived (cos they’re a mum of a newborn), in a state of physical recovery (cos they’ve just given birth), and they are stressed to the max because their baby’s lifeline (their breast) is under very serious threat.
You know what makes mastitis worse? Stress. You know what stresses a mum more than anything? Feeling confused and helpless.
Now, there is lots I can do for this lady but the best thing I can do right away is tell her to TRUST HERSELF. You’re a mum now, that comes with instincts. Trust them, they’re good. More than anyone’s advice, more than the doctor, more than the midwife, the lactation consultant and more than my advice, do what feels right for you and your baby.
The feeling I get when I see the lady’s reaction is bitter sweet. I love that look of relief, enlightenment and trust; but I hate that the reason they understand what I’m saying is because they have been made to think they don’t know what’s best. Not by any one person in particular, in fact, the most reliable culprit will be themselves, that good old self doubt we are all so good at. An injection of self belief and an excuse to stop wasting precious time googling their condition for a better answer can work miracles.
To all mum’s out there, you already know what to do. Stop and listen to your baby and your body, and trust yourself. Then get some rest. That’s always my second piece of advice :)
A lot of people, mostly clients, ask me why I got into pelvic floor physiotherapy. Often the question comes just as I'm about to do an examination and often it's framed like; “How did a nice, young girl like you find yourself doing something like this?”
I normally respond by saying "Well, having a couple of kids makes you interested in the pelvic floor!" or "I think it's the area in physio where I can have the greatest effect on people's quality of life". Both of these statements are very true.
But the real reason I became interested and specialised in women's health is that after my first baby, Lily who is now aged 7. I developed a vaginal prolapse. I was 24, and felt like I was falling apart. I was so horrified that someone like me, a physio with information and education on how to look after my body during pregnancy and postpartum, had still developed a prolapse. I felt defeated. It sent me into a spiral of depression and self pity about my physical future and the possibility of having more children.
How had no-one warned me about this? Where had I gone wrong? Was I expected to live with this diagnosis and sensation for the rest of my life?
I started learning everything I could about prolapse and pelvic floor health. One thing led to another and I was sitting in a post-graduate class at Melbourne Uni studying Advanced Rehabilitation of the Pelvic Floor, I loved it, so enrolled in another course this time, studying Exercise for Women. I realised there was so much more we needed to do to get the right information out there to pregnant and postpartum women.
So, where had I gone wrong? Despite the fact I should have known better, I had let my pride get the better of me. I had conformed to what I saw on magazine covers and Facebook feeds and tried to return to my pre-pregnant self within weeks of delivering my baby. It wasn’t necessarily about looking great, it was just about being independent and capable. I picked up prams, grocery bags, washing baskets, even assisted packing and lifting boxes when we moved house at 6 weeks post partum. I was determined to be seen by everyone, as one of those women, who are competent, successful and fabulous. It's not to say the information about how to do it better wasn't out there. It's just that the noise from my newsfeed of stories about women 'bouncing back' was so much louder and frankly, more exciting.
But even if I may have fooled a few friends or family as to my competency or fabulousness, it was skin deep, and not worth it. So, I now spend a lot of time discussing these issues with my family, friends and very importantly the women in my professional care. It is a driving passion for me to educated women about how pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum recovery not just should be done, but HAS to be done.
It is my goal to dispel myths and images of perfection like this…
And saturate my community with real images like this….
I am very pleased to say that now, I am no longer bothered by symptoms of my prolapse. I delivered my second baby, Eliza (who was 4.6kgs), 3 years after Lily was born. I heeded all my own information about optimal recovery immediately postpartum and long term, and my prolapse stayed at bay. I now regularly participate in fun runs, lift weights at the gym and jump on the trampoline with my kids. Prolapse management and pelvic floor health will always be on the agenda for me, as it should be for everyone. But hopefully, my story and my message will mean less young women are diagnosed due to impossible and unrealistic pressures they may be putting on themselves.
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Please be aware, Womankind Physiotherapy's blog is not intended to replace information and advice from your health care provider. For specific concerns regarding your health you must seek individualised care by your preferred provider.