fitness, pelvic health, Self Care

Painless Periods are Possible

I got my first period at age 11. I was devastated. My mom and all of my aunts and older cousins didn’t get theirs until they were 14 or older, so it wasn’t even on my radar, or my mothers for that matter. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t talk to my mom about it until she approached me about my stained underwear. The conversation pretty much went, here’s some pads, don’t go swimming, there’s tampons too, but you’re too young for those. Welcome to womanhood.

I don’t remember my first period to be painful, but I do remember pretty much every single one after that to be. Menstruation was so awful, I was pretty much incapacitated for at least one day a month, from age 11 until the time I was 17. And up until that point, the only thing that would help the pain was drugs, or sleep, or a heat pack. Well, who can sleep or use a heat pack during classes in highschool? As much as I wanted to stay home and sleep all day, my parents weren’t a fan of having me stay home just because of my period, I mean, women get it every month and go to work and function, I should too. That’s just how it is. It’s like a badge of honor to brag about how horrible your cramps are.

Then I went on the pill for 10 years (side note: !!!!) and forgot about it. I went to university, moved in with my boyfriend, got engaged, got married, bought a house, moved across the country, got a great career, and then it was time to make another human. So I went off the pill. And OH. MY. GOD. My ‘regular’ periods came back with a vengeance! It was like my body was getting revenge on me for pumping it full of artificial hormones for all of those years. And there it was, I was back to having debilitating periods again.

But… Why? If you think about it logically, why did human females evolve to be completely incapacitated by this perfectly normal human function? If we were ‘wild’ it would leave us extremely vulnerable very frequently. I’ve spoken to many, many women who have similar experience to me when it comes to their periods. I am not an anomaly.

I listen to Katy Bowman’s Podcast regularly and she has an episode where she discusses menstruation, and it was mind blowing. To summarize what she says, when your uterus sheds it’s lining (the endometrium), it leaves a wound, of sorts, and the lining combined with the bleeding of the wound, is the bloody discharge we know as a period. Well in modern society, our limited movement means that the organs and muscles within our pelvis do not get the ‘movement nutrition’ that they require, which results in limiting blood flow to those parts over time. This results in the impaired ability of our body to heal the wound associated with menstruation, resulting in severe pain and excessive bleeding, also known as menorrhagia.

So what can you do about it? Well if you ask the mainstream, take painkillers or go on the pill. Or just deal with it. If you ask Katy, or a lot of ‘healthy pelvis’ movers and shakers out there, movement is the answer. I know, it seems crazy. How on earth can movement affect my periods? Well it’s almost a ‘use it or lose it’ sort of thing. You have to move those muscles and organs around in the way your body was designed to move, in order to signal your vascular system that they require blood flow in order for them to function optimally. Your body is very efficient, and only sends the minimum blood flow required to keep your cells alive, but keeping them alive doesn’t necessarily help them function at their best. Your cells have to be active and demand blood and nutrients!

In modern society, we basically stand or sit all day. Some of us walk a bit. But very, very few of us squat or sit on the floor or use our legs to their full potential in their full range of motion. Our bodies have adapted to this limited range, and stopped sending adequate nutrition to the parts we don’t use, like our hips and our pelvis. I wonder if this has some influence on the skyrocketting rates of infertility and hip fractures or replacements? Now, this is totally just my own personal theory, with absolutely no scientific evidence, but something to think about!

So what did I do that helped me? First, went to pelvic floor physio. They helped me connect with my pelvic structures and learn how to move and activate them in ways that I hadn’t been. Second, in the midst of my prolapse diagnosis meltdown, I bought the Nutritious Movement for a Healthy Pelvis program from Nutritious Movement and started doing it immediately. I cannot describe how much I love this program. After just one day of doing the movements, I was sore in ways I didn’t even realize one could get sore, and felt so much more connected with my body, at a time when I felt like I was falling apart.

But I digress. I was surprised to find, two months after starting to incorporate my (new) PFPT exercises and the Nutritious Movement for a Healthy Pelvis program, I got my first postpartum period. I had heard horror stories from women about how the first postpartum period is the worst period ever. Like your body has saved up those 10 months (in my case) of periods to give you all at once. This was not the case for me! It was like the only reason I knew I was having a period, was I was bleeding. That was it. I mean, I was a little cranky, but other than that I felt great! I wasn’t buckled over in pain. I did not have to take one single pain pill. Not one! That is completely unheard of in my lifetime. Even when I was on the pill, I still had at least one day per period that I had to take at least 1 pain pill.

I really wish I had known this when I was a teen. If I could go back in time and tell myself what I know now, I could have saved myself so much pain and discomfort. I hope this information helps some of you better deal with your periods, and hopefully get to a pain free period like me!soup-salad

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Birth, pelvic health, postpartum, Prolapse

How I Healed my Prolapse (Part 3)

Continued from Part 1 & Part 2

After seeing Kristen, I felt so much better. I wasn’t worried about picking up and carrying Nugget around, I wasn’t worried about carrying laundry up from the basement or hauling in groceries. I was able to actually live my life.

I started doing the ab work Kristen suggested, and I was absolutely astounded at how effective they were! Who knew such tiny movements like lifting your foot off the ground could have such a dramatic effect. The first day I did the exercise for a total of 6 reps. I know, barely anything, but I wasn’t able to maintain proper technique after 6 so I stopped. The next day I was blown away by how sore I was. We went grocery shopping and I was waddling around like I was 9 months pregnant because my TA was so sore! It was a total lightbulb moment for me. It made me realize just how much your TA functions in supporting your pelvis and trunk through every day movements, like walking! It made me understand further how diastasis recti can influence your movement and why it is so important to keep it in check if you have one.

I did the PF progressions she suggested. I was surprised to hear she suggested going PF contractions with a full bladder, but if you think about it, that’s like an internal load on your PF, and it’s like adding plates to the barbell! I was able to get even more in tune with my body, and really feel how and when my PF was contracting and monitor the forces at work.

I went back to see Kristen a month after our initial appointment feeling great. I informed her that a lot of my symptoms had subsided and other were explainable by reasons besides prolapse. She laughed “well you can go home now!” she said, jokingly, but I probably could have. She reassesed my abs, alignment and PF. After she was all done she said “Well you’re boring! There isn’t much going on here! Your PF is strong and contracting reactively and is well coordinated with your TA. Your anterior wall is ‘stretchy’ but I wouldn’t say you have a prolapse!”

I wanted to cry, again. But this time tears of joy.

But I hesitated. I was worried. Nugget was my first baby and I definitely had plans of having more, and hopefully sooner rather than later. So I asked Kristen what to do. I was nervous another labour and birth would do even more damage. Should I come see her in pregnancy? How does she recommend labouring and pushing from the perspective of a PT? Can I prevent prolapse with future babies?

So many questions.

We had a lengthy discussion about labour, pushing and delivery. It was so nice to talk to someone openly about birth who was about the function and physiology of the female body, and she gave me tools to go into my next pregnancy & birth feeling strong and confident.

And that’s how I want you to feel. Strong & Confident

Not broken, or fragile, or sad or depressed.

Strong.

We are all strong, we just need to see it within ourselves.

Now if you have read this series of blogs, hoping for a how-to list of things to do to heal your prolapse, I am sorry that I didn’t deliver.

However, I will give you this one To Do.

Find a pelvic floor physiotherapist. A good one. One that supports your goals and lifestyle. Not all physios are as open and supportive as Kristen, and you don’t have to accept that. If your physio refuses to give you progressions, or only tells you your options are to swim and walk, never lift anything over 5lbs (that’s realistic) and never spread your feet wider than hip width, find a new physio. There are good ones out there. If you don’t leave your appointment feeling confident you know how to live your life without fear and anxiety, you need a new physio. They should support your goals, not crush them.

 

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Birth, fitness, pelvic health, postpartum, Prolapse

How I Healed my Prolapse (Part 2)

Continued from this post.

Luckily, I was able to score a cancellation with Kristen, otherwise I would have to wait months agonizing over my broken body. I was able to get in to see her two days later.

Now, I have never met a physio I didn’t like (true story), but there was something about Kristen. We just clicked. Our personalities were totally in sync and we had the same values and beliefs. She started the session by reassuring me, she could tell I was nervous. She said she knew many, many women who had a similar diagnosis to mine, and who live complete and normal lives, that I shouldn’t let this hold me back.

She assessed my alignment, my musculature, had me squat and stand while feeling my back and sides to assess how my muscles engaged. She had me lay down and assessed my abs and glutes, and informed me that my transverse abs aren’t as strong or coordinated as I thought, but gave me exact steps how to correct them.

She then did an internal exam (which I describe for you here), which I was most worried about. You see, the physician who had diagnosed me with prolapse had informed me that my pelvic floor (PF) muscles were extremely weak. She had rated them 1.5 on a scale of 5. She described it as barely perceptible with no endurance. The problem I had with that assessment is she didn’t allow me to coordinate my contraction with my breath, it was more “aaaand GO! NOW!” and I was a bit caught off guard. When Kristen assessed my strength, she allowed me to exhale with the contraction and take my time. She almost laughed when I told her the doctor told me my PF was weak, she rated me at a 4 out of 5!

I left the appointment feeling so much better, relieved that my PF wasn’t weak, and looking forward to moving on with my life. I booked another appointment for a month out, just to follow up with the ab work she gave me and the PF progressions she had suggested. Kristen encouraged me to call her with any questions, and unlike some professionals you speak to, with her I knew she really meant it.

The next day I had a thought. She never gave me any limitations for movement or exercise? Everything I have ever read online about prolapse is a list of don’ts. So I sent her an email, and fully expected it to take a week or two to hear from her, if at all. A few days later, she phoned me at home. The first thing she said was, stop Googling. She doesn’t consider postpartum prolapse in the same category as post-menopausal prolapse because there is so much at play postpartum. Your body has so much healing to do, and especially if you are breastfeeding, that can take a really long time, and to be patient. She told me to not limit myself at all because I have a strong PF and to trust myself, use good form and breathing and listen to my body. She suggested I do what I would normally, ease back into things, and if something exacerbates my symptoms, to maybe back off a bit next time. She didn’t see the value in restricting a young mother like myself.

This was the best thing I could hear. Instantly vanished any fear I had about carrying Nugget around, about doing daily activities, going for long hikes, or getting back into weight lifting.

I was happy again.

~Stay tuned for my progress with the exercises Kristen gave me, and how our next visit went and what she told me~

how-i

pelvic health, postpartum, Prolapse, Self Care

How I Healed my Prolapse (Part 1)

So I mentioned in previous posts that I was diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse. This is a really common disorder in women, who have or have not had babies, though it is more common after vaginal childbirth.

I am sure mine was caused by 2+ hours of active, hard, hold your breath and bear down pushing, like I talked about in my post Hold Your Breath, Count to Ten, Push Your Baby Out and Your Uterus Too. Now, I’ll admit, I still struggle with my birth. It was not the birth I had planned for. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t the smooth, clean, athletic event in the way I had envisioned. That was all compounded 100x when I was diagnosed with prolapse.

After I left the doctors office who informed me my bladder and uterus had fallen, I cried.

You guys, I cried so hard. I couldn’t even make it to my vehicle in the parking lot. I was actively sobbing walking across pavement.

I couldn’t help it. I was thinking, how could I let this happen to myself? I knew better! (or at least I thought I did) I trusted my midwife and she let me down.

Listen, I know thoughts are illogical. But I was devastated. I felt broken. The doctor gave me absolutely no guidance as to whether or not I needed to alter my lifestyle. She told me my pelvic floor was super weak and basically told me I needed to do kegels, 10 x 10 seconds, twice a day. That’s it. I was terrified. I was scared to pick up my 21lb baby. Do you have any idea how awful it feels to be scared of picking up your infant when he needs you? I’m sure a lot of you do, and can agree, it’s fucking terrible.

I went home, drank some wine, and told my husband. We tried to move on with our lives, but it kept creeping up on me. My husband wanted me to go get tires put on some rims for my car. I had that gross, helpless, sinking feeling, as I told him he would have to put them into the car for me, since women with prolapse aren’t supposed to lift anything heavy (or so the internet told me).

Luckily, the doctor had suggested I return to physio. She gave me a list with some suggestions, she said I could try and return to Michelle, but since I (apparently) didn’t have success with her, here are some other recommendations.

I liked Michelle, but there was something missing in our relationship. She didn’t seem all that comfortable guiding me back to the types of exercise I wanted to do. I wanted to lift heavy things, sprint, jump, and do the things I loved. She didn’t have much experience in that area, and to her credit she tried her best to guide me, but she didn’t give me much confidence.

I went over the list that the doctor gave me, and found one of the physio’s was based out of a sports medicine clinic. A light bulb went off, that’s exactly what I needed! I called the clinic, found out that Kristen had a cancellation in two days, and booked myself in!

~Stay tuned for my experience with Kristen, what I learned and how I healed myself, both physically and emotionally from my prolapse~

how-i-healed-my

pelvic health, postpartum, Self Care

Your Vagina Needs Therapy

It’s true.

I’ve said it time and time again. Maybe in nicer words, but I’ve said it. If you’ve had a baby (vaginal or otherwise), you need to see a physiotherapist (PT). And not for your back or your shoulder or your knee. For your vagina. More specifically, your pelvic floor (PF), or the muscles that surround your vagina and hold up your bladder, uterus and rectum. Those muscles that are *supposed* to stop you from leaking urine when you run, and are *supposed* to help you hold in a fart, and are *supposed* to relax and contract when you have sex and reach orgasm.

That’s what they are *supposed* to do.

I am putting *supposed* in between asterisks because they don’t always do these things, in all women. And that, my friend, is why your vagina needs therapy.

If you saw my previous post about PF dysfunction, and you are maybe having some issues, you’re maybe considering going to see a PF PT (first off, yay!). But maybe you’re nervous, ‘what exactly do they do at PF PT?’ you ask? Well that’s what I am here to tell you.

First off, most physio’s will have you fill out a questionnaire, so they can get a quick grip on your symptoms, your obstetrical history, and what your goals are. Most often the start off with an initial consultation, that is longer than your regular visits, so they can get to know you and do a thorough interview to assess where you are at. They want to know how many babies you’ve had, how you had them (vaginal or c-section), whether or not you’re currently having issues with leaking, discomfort with sex, and any pain or heaviness.

Then they will most likely assess your posture or alignment, movement patterns and sometimes feel the muscles on your back or sides while you move, like squatting up and down. They may also pay attention to your breathing while you move, or have you pick something up to see how you do it. They may even just assess your movement patterns without you even realizing, they are professionals and have a keen eye, and a lot of people move differently than they usually do when they know someone is watching! Then they will assess your abs, have you lay and lift your head and feel your belly to see if you have a diastasis recti (separated abs) and have you contract your transverse abs to see how well you are able to connect with them and how strong they are.

Then comes the fun part.

Okay maybe not fun, per-say, but the meat and potatoes of the visit, so to speak.

The Internal Exam.

This is probably what most women are nervous about, but I promise you, it is nothing compared to a pelvic exam by a doctor, a PAP or, hello, giving birth. I’ve been to two different PTs and both of them made me feel so comfortable, it didn’t feel awkward at all. They assess your tissues from the outside, get you to cough and bear down before they even touch you, then they touch the outside to see if there is any tension or tenderness anywhere. Then they insert a gloved, lubricated finger into the vagina and have you cough and bear down again to see if there is any prolapsing organs. Then they feel all of the muscles in your pelvic floor from the inside if your vagina, and assess them for tension or tenderness again. Then they have you do a pelvic floor contraction (or kegel) and assess how strong your muscles are and how coordinated they are with each other. They may also use their other hand to feel your abs to see if they are coordinating properly with your pelvic floor.

At this point it varies between PTs, but some may do some myofascial release, or scar tissue release or massage. Then most will work on teaching you how to do a PF contraction properly (if you don’t already, which most women don’t if they have been to PT before). Then they will work on improving your contraction, maybe positioning their hand in different orientations to assess how all of the different muscles are contracting. Depending on where you are at in your rehab, they may have you do some minor exercises (think lifting one leg up, or lifting your hips, no jumping jacks!) while laying on the table and assess how well your PF responds to the movement.

After that, they will conclude the internal,  and leave the room to give you a chance to get dressed. Then they will come back and discuss what they thought of everything, give you some exercises as homework and discuss whether or not you need to schedule another visit (or two, or more).

That’s it! It’s really not as bad as you may have thought (I hope!) but I promise you will leave with a whole new appreciation and understanding of your pelvic floor, and your body as a whole! The pelvic floor is an integral part of how your entire body functions, and supports some very important organs, I hope you plan to take care of it the same way you’d take care of any other muscle in your body if it were to go through a trauma like the PF does in bearing a child.

Don’t neglect the pelvic floor!