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This blog is about how everything changed after I gave birth. Not how things changed generally because I became a mum (but of course that happened too, big time!) but simply how it changed my life on a physical level.
I used to be a runner. Not an elite runner, not one of the very best out there, but also not just a recreational jogger. Running was me, my passion, and it wouldn’t matter where I was but when I was running I felt like home. But the pelvic organ prolapse I sustained from the trauma of the very long labour which ended with an assisted birth created a barrier between me and the running. This has been very difficult for me to come to terms with, and I suspect I am not the only one with this problem. I feel however that birth injuries (to the mother) is not something you generally talk about. That’s why I have decided to open up now – and with this blog I hope to reach out to other women who might have similar problems.
Let’s talk about this!
I thought I would post an English translation of my story which was published on the blog Baking Babies a few weeks ago. The original text was in Swedish (and can be found here) and I have had several requests for a translation.
So what was this all about? I was asked to write a constructive text about how I dealt with a very tough time following childbirth, but how I managed to get through it. This was part of a theme where not just me but also a few other readers of that blog shared our stories in order to help and encourage other women that might go through a rough time. I do hope this can inspire also some of you, my own blog readers!
‘The labour and birth did not turn out at all as I had planned. And after that nothing was the same anymore. This is the story about how much the complications I got when I gave birth to my son have affected my life and still do.
I was in so much pain. The injury I had sustained in my coccyx (tailbone) from snowboarding more than a decade earlier got extremely aggravated when I gave birth. I could’t sit without horrendous pains, or even walk. And I felt like a failed mother. How was I supposed to get through this? I live in London since twelve years and gave birth here in 2015. I had a pretty much problem free pregnancy, but instead a long and dragged out labour with various complications. After 59 exhausting hours of contractions my son finally came out with forceps, and in connection with the final stage I sustained a major haemorrhage and needed blood transfusion. The blood loss combined with that I didn’t have any sensation in my lower body from the epidural meant that I remained lying flat on my back for much longer than what was ideal for my coccyx. I had already before labour had some concerns about how my tailbone was going to cope with this task, and soon enough I was going to find out that it hadn’t very well. The pain was almost unbearable.
The initial period after the birth was very tough. I struggled with lots of thoughts and emotions, probably more than anyone around me ever realised. I felt like a bad mother because I was so limited physically and I couldn’t do many normal everyday things – like sit or walk. So I was lying down most of the time, and this was the only chance also for breastfeeding. We lived on the top floor with no lift, and a venture out from home was a major project. Because of the pain I felt too unstable to lift my little baby down all the steps. And what would I do when I had to breastfeed? The sight of a chair could make me panic. In the beginning I never left home without my very special sitting cushion which relieves some pressure on the tailbone. I still use it today when I sit for longer periods. I also learnt how to breastfeed my son in a standing position in a baby sling so I wouldn’t have to sit down to feed him when we were out. But it was really only when it was necessary to leave home in the beginning that we would, most of the time we simply didn’t.
The physical problems also affected me psychologically and I couldn’t help but feeling like a failure. A failure because I hadn’t gone through the labour and birth like the super woman I had hoped I would be. And I hadn’t bounced back to pre-pregnancy me immediately like so many other women seemed to be doing. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t feed my baby like a normal mother seated in an armchair, or even cuddle on the sofa with my son on my chest. You know, like you do. If I would just do these things anyway it only resulted in that my injury felt worse and I could anyway not enjoy it. The pain was just too intense. I was also stressed about the fact that I couldn’t enjoy the days together with my newborn to 100% because time seemed to just fly by and my baby kept growing.
But I found help! Already from a very early stage I started seeing a Women’s Health Physiotherapist. My encounters with her were everything else but comfortable as many techniques performed were vaginal or anal. But thanks to what we did slowly things started to improve. I received exercises to do at home and lots of advice on how to ease my daily activities. It took time but finally I got over that initial and worse phase. The coccyx did not heal – and will probably never do – but the pain eventually became manageable and life could start for real again. I started to sit more, walk more, walk even more, and eventually also progressively start training again.
That’s when I realised how much my newfound prolapse also was going to affect my life. It was so hard to accept that. I have been a runner since as long as I can remember and both trained and competed up until I became pregnant. The running was something that had always identified me. When I was running I was home. To run was ME. What would now happen with my running? I had imagined I would regularly be out for runs with the buggy. And I had thought I would shortly after birth be setting new goals for my continued training. Nothing became like I had planned, it was like starting from scratch again. My running world fell apart.
And on top of that, how should I be thinking with regards to any future children? The thought of another pregnancy and what further damage it could do on both the coccyx and the prolapse was indeed quite complicated. Would I ever be able to run again? At the same time there is a mother inside of me who was born in the same moment as I met my son for the first time. That mother doesn’t care about if I never will be able to run again. The mother inside of me doesn’t want anything else but focus on family and hopefully be able to give a sibling or more to my son. There is that constant battle between the Runner and the Mother inside of me that I am fighting. They are two different people but each with very strong willpower and lots of feelings and emotions. And when I dream away thinking about my ‘pre-baby-body’ and have hopeful imaginations about the running in the future I straight away feel guilty for even thinking that thought. It’s so selfish.
But I have now come to a point where I have accepted that I have to find a balance between the two to fully enjoy life. They have to compromise with each other, this is where life has taken me. And at present the mother is the stronger one: my son is 2.5 years old and I am actually pregnant with our second child! I don’t know what it will mean for my body physically to go through another pregnancy and birth but I believe I will be more prepared this time. Prepared in the sense that I won’t have such high expectations on the recovery afterwards. I will need to give my body the time it requires to heal. Maybe this will affect my possibilities to run in the future even more? But maybe not. This is where I am now and it looks like I will be able to give a brother or sister to my son, and I feel an enormous happiness for that!
A big help for me to move on physically was that I had the possibility to early on meet a Women’s Health Physiotherapist and that I really listened to her advice. And then it has been even more important to let my body take the time it has needed to heal and to progressively get used to training again. It was walks lasting for five minutes that became 10min, 15min etc combined with pelvic floor training, core stability and pilates and I felt stronger and stronger. First 6 months postpartum I dared to try jogging again. It was 30 horrible seconds – I thought everything down there was going to fall out from me! But 30 seconds eventually became 60, 90…. and 16 months after giving birth I had finally reached a distance of jogging 5 kilometers, without anymore worsening my prolapse symptoms. It was a win, but on a level very far away from how I had imagined things would be. But I am confident that it was thanks to the fact that I moved things along so carefully and always listened to my body and the signals it gave me, that I finally managed to start running a little again. Another important help was that I was fitted with a pessary – without this it would have been much harder to run at all. It lifts up the prolapse and decreases the uncomfortable symptoms.
Psychologically it has been important to accept the fact that my body has changed, and that still a couple of years postpartum in fact still is a body in recovery. I cannot expect that it can be like it used to, maybe ever. I take care of my body in the best possible way considering my current position, and like that I prepare it as much as I can for the future. A future with or without running only time will tell.
I think it is extremely important not to be ashamed of your birth- or pregnancy related problems. Even if you don’t think there is help available for your kind of problem, most probably there is and you are definitely not alone. We often see all the positive examples of mothers with perfect labours and women who recover immediately, but most probably we often don’t get presented the whole truth. Many choose not to talk about it and as a result we don’t realise how common it is to have problems after childbirth. A blog like bakingbabies.se is therefore worth gold both thanks to its fantastic information and to simply get an understanding of that we are not alone in this.’
Last week I had my story published on www.bakingbabies.se !!
It’s an amazing Swedish blog written by a women’s health physiotherapist, she talks about everything concerning pregnancy/childbirth/female health. I can highly recommend it. It’s written in Swedish though, so not all of you will be able to read it I’m afraid!
But for those who do know the language and are interested here is my story.
After I had reached my 5K target, it felt like nothing could stop me. This was somewhat ironic as a gentle jog of that distance for ‘my previous me’ wouldn’t be much to talk about. But I wasn’t my previous me anymore, and I guess I had come to a point where I had started to accept this. I felt proud about coming to this point, considering that a year earlier I questioned if I would ever run at all again. It had taken time – a whole 16 months postpartum before I was comfortable enough to do it – but my body felt ok.
And I started dreaming.
It was right in the middle of the cross country season at the time and I was still on an emailing list from my athletics club and regularly got updates about the team’s progress and upcoming races. I never admitted it to anyone but at one point I actually considered to put my name down for one of the races that very season! Even if I would run very slow I would gain some points for the team and at least I would get the chance to get out there on the cross country field….. should I just go for it and don’t care about the performance too much?? The thought was intriguing for a moment.. but it didn’t last very long.
Deep inside I just knew it wouldn’t satisfy me in the way I hoped it would. Sure, I could now do a fairly comfortbable little run but somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it would be too heartbreaking to enter a race and therefore face reality. My level of fitness/running ability was still so far away from pre-pregnancy and even if I tried to think of me as a ‘new me’ I knew it would be too hard to take it.
So I never signed up for that cross country race.
Fast-forward a few months and I had progressed my running and fitness level a bit more. I was pleased with that my body and prolapse could take a couple of runs a week without aggravating the symptoms too much. One day in May I was running through the little forest close to ours, I think I did about 6K that time. And I started dreaming again. I counted the months leading up to a half marathon that same autumn, and calculated how much I would have to increase the distance by each month to comfortably reach that target…..and my heart started pounding faster. It seemed doable! It was as if I forgot about the fact that maybe training for a half-marathon wasn’t ideal for the prolapse, because now that I had gotten back into the running again I just wanted more. And at one point I even thought that I don’t care anymore if I worsen it, if at least I get to do another half-marathon in my life….
But was it the right time ‘already’??? If I just went for it, would all the work I had put in until then have been thrown away, if the result would be that I made my problems much worse? Was that really what I wanted for the future?
So I never signed up for that half-marathon.
But what was all that dreaming about? Could I make any of these dreams come true one day, and maybe relatively soon?
Or was my problem now on a different level, could I actually do it now but I was too afraid to even try??
I walked in the middle of the pack, we were all heading towards the startline. It was a fresh morning – pretty cold but sunny, and the surroundings were just beautiful. We were in the countryside, and an amazing scenery was to be expected over the course ahead. A perfect day for a half-marathon. I was excited to support my close ones that day, and I was so happy to have been part of the training leading up to this event, although in another way now than being the actual athlete myself. I had been the coach, and was about to see inspirational achievements take place in the next couple of hours, and it really was an exciting moment. But the feeling of walking amongst the runners also brought me back to memories of a past which no longer is reality for me. The emotions a few minutes before start – it would be nerves mixed with a thrilling sensation about getting to do what I loved the most. To run on a cold, fresh and sunny morning, together with other likeminded people. A perfect day.
I walked in the middle of the pack but when we arrived to the startline I would take a step aside because this time I was there as a spectator. And nobody knew, but tears were running down my face. Will I ever be one of the runners lining up on that startline again?
Time went by, and I gradually increased my training. I mixed little jogs with spin sessions at the gym – these were the ones that actually got my fitness back to a somewhat decent-ish level. My runs were so far not doing loads for me on the cardiovascular side of things.. I have always enjoyed a good spin class, but in the past they were something I would turn to in periods of injury when I couldn’t run as much as usual. But now spinning became a critical part for me in order to get fit agan.
A health professional suggested I should try the gym class ‘legs, bums and tums’ as it would be such a good workout for me – she was speaking out of own experience as she too suffered from a prolapse. Excited about trying a new class (except from spinning I have never actually been a massive fan of exercise classes but here I was living my new… post-partum life…) I attended ‘legs, bums and tums’ twice. Each time the prolapse got much worse afterwards. And each time I had to skip several bits as they were simply way too much impact for me. I could have tried different sessions, different instructors and eventually find a class that would potentially work better for me – but I didn’t. I basically gave up there and then after attempt number two. Leaving the class feeling unfit as I had to take a pass on the jumping squats or the burpees, and with a sensation of the bladder falling out of me, a general feeling of that I wasn’t doing any good for my body – well that was not what I wanted to get out from a fitness class. Therefore I quickly left that behind me, I just didn’t want to have anything else affecting my mind in a negative way when it came to training, especially if I could choose to avoid it. (Please note – this is is my personal experience and the particular class mentioned may work really well for someone else, with or without prolapse issues!)
And pilates came into my life! This turned out to be an amazing way of getting a really tough session done but with no high impact what so ever. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t always done pilates, as an addition to my running also in the past. It made me feel stronger each time and it gave me confidence that I was doing something which was actually helping my body. At times, especially in the beginning I would get a slight symptom worsening in the evening following the pilates, but I instantly knew which positions to be a little bit cautious with, and soon enough I could pretty much go 100% on each and every exercise during the class.
Apart from ‘running’, spinning and pilates I would do a bit of core stability and strength training from home when I could (and of course pelvic floor stuff), and on a daily basis there was also lots of walking with the buggy going on… yes, I started to accept ‘walking’ as a form of physical activity. Not a leisurely stroll in the park but whenever I got out for a proper, good paced – 45min at least – walk then I would include it in the total. I do believe that all these things combined helped me growing stronger each day.
Jogging more and more turned out to be ok, and before I knew it I was doing 2 or 3 kilometers without any major problems. I just needed to make sure that I planned my running days well, so that I didn’t do too much walking on top of it on the same day. If I did, I soon noticed it would make my prolapse worse in the evening and the day after. Running is also always better in the morning rather than the evening, as that’s always when my pelvic floor is at its strongest!
So as long as things seemed to be going ok, I decided it was time for a more proper target: I wanted to do 5K before the end of the year – to keep you on the timeline this would be 16 months after giving birth. As I reached 4K I knew it was doable but I wanted to make sure I didn’t do it straight away just for the sake of it. I wanted to make sure my body was totally ready for it. And a silly part of me wanted it to be a bit special…! So I did 4K many times, and I did 4.5……
New Years Eve. In my hometown, in the beautiful countryside. To make the whole thing even more perfect I would have of course ran together with my dad but as he had come down with a bad cold at the time he couldn’t. (We had of course done a couple of runs together earlier during my visit!)
I had a great experience this cold and fresh winter morning. It was frosty, it was quiet… and before the end of the year, I did 5K. And I felt good.
Was it time to get excited for real now? What would be the next step?!
There’s a constant battle in my head between still wanting to be the person I used to be, and to just be a mother. But they are two different people. And whenever I focus on the ‘pre-pregnancy-me’ I feel guilty. Guilty because maybe I shouldn’t even think that I could be that person anymore? Life has changed, not just for me physically but on loads of different levels anyway since starting a family. The mother in me often tells me that it’s better to forget about what was in the past, and just move on. Just be a mum.
And the reality is that having my son is the best thing that has happened to me. And believe me, it’s not a cliché. There must be a reason why many women end up going for more children, regardless of previous experiences – may it be a difficult pregnancy, labour or postpartum problems. It seems that you forget about the hard bits and are prepared to go through it again should life take you that direction – because it’s worth it all day long.
And again, of course life has changed in other ways than because of my physical issues. It would be much harder to keep up what I was doing before family – with late night track sessions during the weeks or special Sunday training days, competitions all over the country many weekends of the summer and cross country events instead during the winter. It would be possible of course! But that on its own would put a big pressure on our life now as family and I honestly don’t think I would keep doing it to the same extent even if I my body would allow me to. Because I wouldn’t want it right now. Family is a new priority in my life and I wouldn’t want to focus on it any less than I am already. If anything, I want to do more for my family! Part of me wants to have one and two and three – yes loads of more children and just enjoy family life and everything that comes with it. And I want it now, I don’t want to wait. Family is what is important now.
Yes there’s obviously a But…
Couldn’t I have had just a small part of it still? Even if it wouldn’t be like before, I imagined that I would remain the runner in the family on some sort of level.. I can’t help but feel a bit disheartened about the fact that as it is right now, I am not. And I can’t help that my mind keeps going back to that other person: ‘pre-pregnancy-me’, or ‘running-me’… and the more I want to focus on being a mother and in the future maybe a mother of more children, it would at the same time take me further and further away from that person. More children might not make my prolapse worse, nobody would know that in advance. But I can personally take a pretty good guess on that it would not really make it any better! And whenever my mind travels back to somewhere/someone I am not anymore – well, that’s when I feel that guilt coming over me again shadowing any nostalgic or hopeful feelings and imaginations… Because maybe I should just suck it up and deal with my situation where I am here and now. Accept reality.
There it is – The constant battle.
A couple of weeks went by since my second jog, and it was time to get out there again. I wanted to stick to the plan of initially doing repetitions of short jogs followed by a walk and the idea was to increase the repetitions and/or the length week by week, depending on how I felt.
This attempt was very similar to the second. It was definitely better than the very first one but I still felt like I must have looked like a novice, like someone who didn’t really know how to run. In fact, it kind of felt like I didn’t know how to do it properly. It was a weird sensation where my brain wanted to tell my legs to just go for it and never stop again, but my pelvic floor told me….. well, the opposite.
My running occasions continued. Two weeks between them became one, 60 seconds jog became 90, then 2 minutes… and I could feel that my body gradually responded well to the new impact. Sometimes the prolapse would feel worse in the evening on a ‘running day’, but I could often pin it down to that on top of it I had also walked very much that day. If I took good care and planned my running days well, it didn’t seem to generally make the prolapse worse.
Four months after my first attempt (10 months post-partum) I jogged for 5 minutes on a treadmill at the gym. Clearly, very small steps.
But at least they were steps going forward.
When people ask if I am back to running again postpartum I usually say something like:
‘Taking it slowly still!’
‘Still have some recovering to do!’
‘Jogging a little bit, but not like before!’
‘It will take a while…’
‘Things have changed since I had my baby..!’
I have always been honest with the fact of not running so much nowadays, but I have rarely been honest about Why. As most of you know it’s not because I haven’t had time or interest in going running anymore. Of course time is more limited when you have a child that depends on you, and of course it would be a little more complicated to do late night track sessions on the other side of town like I used to – but with my determination I would always be able to find some time to train even if it’s just from home. I’ve been going for spin classes in the mornings before family is up, surely those session could be runs instead.
If it was only about not having enough Time.
On some occasions I have given the real answer. It is usually to female friends, and more often than not to women who have had children themselves. But most of the time I have not told the whole story. Is it because it is too personal? Because I am embarrassed? Do I want to protect non-mothers from the reality that I faced following childbirth, in case they want to have children themselves in the future? Or because mothers are more likely to have come across the problem and potentially can relate to it more, as most women I have told have never heard about it before. Because it might seem like I exaggerate, or because people won’t understand? Do I avoid telling male friends about it because you simply don’t talk about issues ‘down there’? Because they probably didn’t expect that answer, and probably don’t want to hear about it?
It should be said though that many I have opened up to have been pretty supportive. Also, a couple of male friends were genuinely interested in hearing about my problems. And they thought this blog was an excellent idea in order to reach out about it. These friends have encouraged me!
And why shouldn’t I talk about this? Why is it taboo to talk about birth related injuries, when if I had a hip injury stopping me from running I wouldn’t hesitate to go into detail about it. At the end of the day this is something that has massively impacted my life, when it comes to running but also in my everyday living. And it is something loads of women actually suffer from! And we feel we should hide it from the people around us.
What are Your thoughts on this? Should I spare non-mothers from details to avoid making them scared of having children on their own? Should I explain the issue to the males who ask why I’m not running, also as a way to inform a little bit about what women may go through when having children – or let them believe that the female body bounces back automatically after childbirth?
My personal opinion – and obviously the whole reason why I started this blog – is that we should be able to to be open about this! It is something I feel very strongly about….
So how come I still find it hard to give people the real answer?
Some days I question myself. Should I have just ignored the problem and pushed through, right from the beginning? Was it silly to take it so slowly and progressively with the running? Have I wasted time by being too cautious? When I think those thoughts I go into panic mode for a moment and blame myself for not being a bit more wild and crazy. Maybe it would have worked out fine, and I would be running loads by now, and have done lots of things (running wise still) I wanted to already over these past two years postpartum.
It’s a daunting thought and image….
But the sensible me always wins. I believe too strongly in that listening to your body and not doing too much too soon is the right thing to do. I am actually pretty confident that the way I have done it has been the best for me and my recovering and that it has put my body in the best possible position for the future.
For future running, and for any future potential pregnancy. For my future everyday life.
But that’s me. Now reaching out to you, my readers. What do You think?
How do I remember – or more accurately how do I push myself to do pelvic floor training, every day? Several times per day…
Because the reality is that it is incredibly boring.
First of all (as I have been on about already) I cannot enough stress the importance of seeking professional help with pelvic floor training. Anyone recovering from childbirth – with or without injuries – but we should all do this type of training afterwards to prepare ourselves for the future as parents and for potential further pregnancies and births. (Of course even better to start before pregnancy!)
But it needs do be done right.
I naively thought I knew how to do it, but my women’s health physiotherapist very quickly identified what I was doing wrong and she coached me how to do the exercises properly. It is awkward, sometimes uncomfortable, and you feel vulnerable when you have an internal examination to check the strength of the muscles ‘down there’, but for your long term benefit it is worth it.
There are endurance type of contractions which are long, and should be kept for ten seconds – or longer. And then there are the short type of contractions which are aimed to be a quick squeeze, and then a quick relax. I was told to do my long squeeze and my quick squeeze ten times. At least. And then repeat it three times a day. At least.
Personally, I find it very difficult to relax the pelvic floor. So I need to not only do my ‘squeezing’, but I also need to focus extremely hard on the ‘letting go’ in between.
All this takes time. It requires me to focus. A lot.
The good thing is that you theoretically can do pelvic floor training anywhere, even when you are out and about and know one will be able to tell when you are doing it. At least if it is done correctly, as then no other muscles should be tensing up at all. This is all very good, but I find I still need my 10minutes or so of complete focus for the training to be effective. Even if I am sitting on the bus with my son for half an hour it is hard to get those minutes in, as there is always something going on when you are out with a toddler. And at home! If I lie down on my exercise mat to do my squeezing I can be sure to soon have my son sitting on top of me.
And on the topic that things are usually pretty ‘full on’ when you take care of a child, it is very easy to simply forget about the pelvic floor training.
So I have come up with a few cues to help me remember. For example. Every time I have a coffee I need to do one set of exercises. This is a good one because I like my coffee, and in this way I push myself to ‘earn’ it. I usually have 2 or 3 coffees a day and some of the training sets are sorted.
Another cue is that every time my son falls asleep, it is time to do some squeezing. He now sleeps once a day so I am sure to get one set done in the middle of the day. When he then falls asleep for the night it is time for another.
Lastly when I stand at a bus stop waiting for the bus, and especially if I have a good few minutes until it arrives (and my son is not too bored) then I do some more squeezing.
I won’t pretend that the above works exactly all the time and every day. It doesn’t. But it is a way to keep it in my mind and never forget about that it has to be done. I may miss it for one coffee but when I remember it I force myself to do more next time. But to be frank – even if I didn’t have the cues I have come to a point where the pelvic floor subject is hard for me to overlook. It may sound depressing but it is often the last thing I think about before I fall asleep at night… Although it could simply be because I sometimes end up trying to do my last squeezes for the day before I go to sleep but it usually doesn’t work when I am too tired. Again, I need that focus or it won’t be successful!
I kind of hate that it is on my mind so much and that I have to do this training – but I do have to do it – and I have had to come to terms with this idea. I cannot escape the fact that I need to take care of my pelvic floor, and not just for now but for the rest of my life.