By Bittina Erikson
If I have learned one thing from having a vagina it’s that if something seems wrong, it probably is; your body will tell you when something’s up. When I turned 35 I made a vow to myself to love and accept the changes my body was starting to see with age but my conscious acceptance of my body started during the pregnancy and post-partum phase of my story.
Summer of 2018, I was a few months postpartum with my second baby. It was the 4th of July and I got my first postpartum period (of course I was wearing white shorts to boot) and as I had done a million times before, I just put in a tampon. I started making my traditional fruit pizza for my family’s annual picnic, and it was business as usual until my tampon literally ejected itself within 30 minutes. WTF. How could my vag betray me like this? Did I forget how to use a tampon after not using one for over a year? I went back to the bathroom and remedied the situation, only to have it happen again within an hour. I changed into jean shorts, got myself a pad and cried a little on the inside, gave up on trying to use tampons the next few days, and then called my doctor for an appointment to get examined.
What came next wasn’t at all what I expected. When I told my doctor what had happened, she asked me if I also had any issues with going popping. Turns out that having to lean back in order to get my bowel movements going is not normal. My doctor examined me and asked if I had ever heard of pelvic organ prolapse. I felt so defeated and thought it was something only old ladies dealt with. She sent me to a specialist who confirmed the diagnosis: prolapse of the bladder and bowel. Literally, all of my organs were trying to fall out. After receiving this news, I just wanted to cry.
I ultimately decided to have pelvic floor reconstruction surgery. I could have worn a pessary and done physical therapy, but because I was planning to leave my job with amazing health benefits to be a stay-at-home mom, I decided that if I was ever going to have the surgery, now was the time. Overall recovery from the surgery was very similar to my experience recovering from vaginal childbirth, with a few more restrictions. The hardest part was not being able to lift my six-month-old, who weighed about 20 lbs.
There was one complication that I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemy, having a Foley catheter for 10 days. I had to change and dump my own pee bags every few hours, and haul a bag of urine around, strapped to my leg.
I cried a lot during those days. I was also exclusively pumping at that time, so having tubes attached to all of the most sensitive parts of my body all at once made me want to crawl out of my own skin.
I’ve seen statistics that say half of women over 50 have some type of pelvic floor dysfunction, but women usually suffer in silence. Let’s change that! Let’s talk about it with our peers, make the topic less taboo, urge our healthcare providers to refer us for pelvic floor physical therapy after childbirth, and support each other. I have a friend who wears a pessary for exercise, and I was SO happy to know someone who was in the same boat as me. It made me feel so less alone, especially in the days I was sitting in the waiting room of the Urogynecologist with the proverbial cast of the Golden Girls.
I’m always happy to chat- so please find me on Instagram if you feel so inclined. @Bitsybythebay
Other resources include: @whymumsdontjump, a UK woman who shares her story and wants to promote prolapse awareness and https://www.voicesforpfd.org/.