Is there such thing as “getting your body back”?

“We literally have a new body after the baby is born! To realize and embrace this truth will not only free women from the oppressive notions that we have to ‘fix ourselves’ after having a baby, but also allow us to let our bodies heal properly (by being kind and gentle with ourselves in postpartum). I truly believe the more this is taught the more we will help moms enjoy being moms!”

“If you stay active during pregnancy,  your body will bounce right back after baby”, “After the baby is born you can work on getting your body back”, “How long did it take you to get your body back after having the baby?”

How many of us moms have heard phrases like these? Our culture and society tends to treat pregnancy and birth like a temporary disability where we are “not quite as attractive as we could be” and that we should get back to our “normal shape/size” as soon as we can after the baby is born. I am calling a big, fat FALSE on this untrue and HURTFUL suggestion!

A new baby means a new mom. After having my first son, while I was working on my prenatal/postpartum training education, I learned specifically what happens to a woman’s body biologically during pregnancy and childbirth. I was amazed at ALL that happens! We literally have a new body after the baby is born! To realize and embrace this truth will not only free women from the oppressive notions that we have to “fix ourselves” after having a baby, but also allow us to let our bodies heal properly (by being kind and gentle with ourselves in postpartum). I truly believe the more this is taught the more we will help moms enjoy being moms!

What are some of the specific cultural concepts I want to expel or push the boundaries on when it comes to the mom’s body during and after pregnancy?

  1. You are fat when you are pregnant and should remedy that as soon as possible when baby is born. Ok mama, first of all, being pregnant is NOT being fat. Completely different. And what is this phobia we have with body fat any how? I mean yes, of course a high percentage of body fat is correlated with certain serious diseases and can even shorten your lifespan. BUT carrying a little extra fat is NOT bad. In a world obsessed with image, there are some messed up ideas about what HEALTHY is. You can be skinny and be healthy. You can be big and be healthy. Heck, you can even be fit and/or skinny and be UNHEALTHY!! Also, after having a baby, you will carry a little extra fat. IT IS NORMAL. Your body is recovering from a traumatic process and you are (maybe) creating all the nutrition for another human being. You need a little extra reserve right now.
  2. At 6 weeks you can resume all the activities you did before being pregnant. Nope, nope, nope. Some women heal from childbirth very quickly. But most of us take time to heal. Do you know the healing period for the pelvic floor muscles after pregnancy? 4-6 MONTHS! Think about that! Do you think doing a bunch of squat jumps is the best idea at less than 2 months postpartum? For most of us, no! I think this guideline should be changed to: “you may start light exercises once your pelvic floor physio has checked you and cleared you. And you should progress from intentional core connection exercises where you make sure your body is activating its muscles correctly” (because all the stretching and overloading from the last 9 months can definitely mess up this sequencing that was once so automatic).
  3. If you exercise throughout pregnancy you will be able to “bounce back quicker”. I am a firm believer that exercising (specific to the individual) is beneficial for the mother and baby in pregnancy. I do also think it can have positive effects on the mother’s body after baby is born. BUT we need to examine specifically what this exercise is and what it is achieving. Doing back squats as 75% your max may feel like a modification good enough for your pregnancy, but what is it really doing to the body? Are you bearing down to perform this task? Then you may think your fine but that poor pelvic floor and ab muscles are probably being damaged in the process. I emphasize to all my mom clients that after having a baby, you are starting at 0. You need to FIRST HEAL. And when the healing is well underway you need to progress appropriately and carefully back from your 0. Some muscles may feel “unaffected” by the pregnancy process, but the supportive/integral muscles were affected and you need to let them be your deciding factor when you progress an exercise. What??? Confused? That’s why experts like myself do what we do. I am always taking courses that help me to be educated on how to help my clients do this. This nitty-gritty work isn’t as fun as going out for a 6 mile run at 3 months postpartum. But it is necessary for the proper rehabilitation time of postpartum. AND it will save you from having to be rehabilitated for YEARS instead of months! Take the slow road and you will get to your goal even faster!

Ok, I’ve ranted a lot. I definitely have more thoughts on this BUT I’ll save those for another time. I guess I just want you to start thinking for yourself about the messages being sent you day-in, day-out and whether they are helpful or hurtful to your health (physically, emotionally, mentally). Because the TRUTH is, dear mama, your body just created, carried, delivered a human being! That is HUGE. I hope you honor your body, thank your body, respect your body and it’s needs. Don’t “punish it” for not being what you thought it should be. Be respectful of yourself and everything will fall into place!

Living with prolapse part 1

I have prolapse (aka pops, aka pelvic organ prolapse, aka my organs are falling out of my body!). Sounds awful, right? The first time I had heard of this term was when my pelvic floor therapist was conservatively diagnosing me with it. I had had my second son 2 months before, I was a certified postpartum fitness trainer. So how did I not know about pops? That was what I wondered too. And more importantly “how did I get it?”

If you have been in a similar situation I am sure you had the same questions as I, “how come no one told me about this before?” “How did I get this?” “What does this mean for my life moving forward?”

I. was. devastated. My whole identity shifted…AGAIN…because it already had shifted after the birth of my first son and prolonged hip pain. I thought I had done everything right! My mind raced back to the birth, every detail: good and bad. I went over all my activities in the last two months, every symptom. But mostly I just sunk into a defeated cloud. My body had betrayed me. I thought I had done everything right. I HAD done everything right as best to my knowledge.

During my OB follow-up appointment and my pelvic floor therapy appointment, I was diagnosed with a grade 2/border-line grade 3 bladder prolapse (in layman’s terms: the muscle tissue in my vaginal canal was so weak and compromised that my bladder was sagging down to the opening of my vagina). I felt like there was a tampon in my vag ALL THE TIME. My pelvic floor felt like it was “falling down” and hanging and felt…well…very tired. It was not a good feeling. I also felt weak. And now that I was aware of my situation I was very self conscious of everything just falling out with some wrong movement. I mean organs aren’t suppose to just fall out of your body when you’re in your early 30’s, right?!

My pelvic floor pt was AMAZING. She helped me reconnect with my pelvic floor muscles, again (after second baby). But I sadly learned that most of the time prolapse can not be fixed, symptoms can just be managed. Surgery has less than a 50% success rate long term and is pretty invasive. So again, why did I not know about this ahead of time?? This experience just solidifies to me the lack of education for women on their bodies and preventative maternal care.

As a trainer and fitness enthusiast, I felt ashamed of my body. Prolapse isn’t like a sprained ankle or bad knee. I couldn’t tell my fellow trainers at the gym that I couldn’t squat because my organs were falling out of my body. I watched other moms and trainers go on with their lives and routines without any issues with heavy lifting or impact training (so I thought). I definitely went through a period of desperation, embarrassment, discouragement. Which is not fun when you are trying to cope with having two kids and enjoy the new baby at home.

The good news is, in hard experiences is TRANSFORMATION. Through this experience, I fastened myself even harder to my mission. To tell other moms what I wish I had been told. To inform and educate them on their bodies, especially during the season of bearing children and how to care for them smartly. I let go of the pressures of the fitness culture to “look perfect” or “move easily”. Instead, I became a very mindful exerciser. I chose my exercise based on what did good for MY body, not what I thought I should be doing. I educated myself and became hungry for information. I took several courses to learn about  the pelvic floor and it’s integral role in our overall strength. I learned how to include working my pelvic floor muscles in my exercise routine and change what I needed to allow it to continue to heal properly from the trauma it had been through.

I am sad that it took this injury for me to start listening to this part of my body but I am thankful for the professionals that surrounded me and truly helped me to get better and BE better in how I care for my body. I want to pass on this message to other moms. I would rather another mom follow some simple rules and tools for postpartum exercise and have a healthy, long-term, active lifestyle, than end up injured and confused.

You may be wondering…what did I do that led up to prolapse? Well, I have some ideas. To be honest, though, it usually is many factors that makes someone susceptible to this kind of injury. There are definitely some events that progressed this situation, but overall it was many things. I will comment on a few here so other women can be aware of their own susceptibility toward prolapse:

Quick comment: prolapse is an injury to the pf. The pf is so much about “pressure management” (think inhale and hold-inner pressure management in your core). So anything that effects this management and the muscles involved negatively can put you vulnerable to similar injuries.

My list:

  1. Bulemia when I was a teenager
  2. lack of core strength most of my life
  3. Bad posture most of my life
  4. Long distance runner since high school
  5. Running with lazy form (including two full marathons)
  6. Running during pregnancy (all the way up to 20 weeks)
  7. Running too early postpartum (within the first couple months) before my pelvic floor is fully healed
  8. Long pushing phase with my first child
  9. Genetically weak fascia and hypermobility of the joints
  10. Hip injuries (including pubic symphysis injury) during first birth with a looong recovery postpartum
  11. Lack of muscle and strength in hip stabilizing muscles (these I have intentionally worked on and seen a lot of difference in the last few years)
  12. Lack of connection to my core and pelvic floor overall-still working on:)
  13. A HUGE factor was following a free you-tube channel that advertised “postpartum safe exercises”. I did a lot of jumping and impact movements with wide legs that put ALL the force down on my pf while I was still healing from birth!!

I could probably find more reasons but these ones give a pretty good idea of what to look out for if you are wondering about the state of your pf.

I am still in the middle of this journey. Stay tuned for my journey of recovering with prolapse…

**If you have recently been diagnosed with prolapse and are feeling defeated or depressed like I was, please stay tuned (or reach out to me). There is a lot of hope and healing in my story as I learn how to be intentional with my body but also continue to move and be ME!