This is a bit of an uncomfortable, unspoken conversation for so many of us. It’s taboo. It’s embarrassing. It’s not socially encouraged to speak about your pelvic floor. This may be in part due to a lack of awareness about the function of the pelvic floor, but also because when the pelvic floor is dysfunctional it’s usually creating problems we’d rather not speak about. I want to lift the lid on this and start a conversation. So I will start with my experience. Post birth I have come to appreciate my pelvic floor and realise the bloody incredible job it does during pregnancy and birth. After my birth I was left with a grade 1 prolapsed bladder. This is not deemed too serious on the scale of prolapses but for me it has had quite a big impact – physically, but also psychosocially. In fact, the anxiety about the state of my pelvic floor and the immediate aftermath of birth was particularly upsetting as I basically had no bladder control for several days and slowly had to train myself again. That’s what a distended bladder during birth will do to you. I’ll spare you the details of how this actually felt post birth (and for me, at least 4 weeks thereafter), it’s not a great feeling, so I hate to imagine how a more serious prolapse feels. I saw a Physiotherapist who specialises in the pelvic floor about 8 weeks after birth and while I made good progress and improvements, months later, I felt things had slipped backwards and I sought a second opinion (from the incredible Angelina Lee, here in Darwin, Australia). In just two sessions (the second one being today, before I sat down to write this) I have noticed huge improvement. This Physio has been a lot more thorough with her approach, so the results I’m getting are better, her approach has also been more holistic. Important, right? During pregnancy I gave very little thought, attention or care to my pelvic floor. I assumed as a healthy woman with a normal low risk pregnancy it would all be roses. It’s dangerous to make assumptions like that. Especially given what our bodies endure with pregnancy and birth. Our anatomy is AMAZING. I have so much respect for the capacity of the body and the pelvic floor to heal and recover post birth. As I left the Physio’s office this morning, I asked her whether the pelvic floor can be damaged in normal birth – whether it can also leave it more vulnerable (as well as following traumatic birth). Her response, was ABSOLUTELY! She explained that at conference she attended, an article compiling the data and maths of the forces on the typical female body during pregnancy and birth determine that it was impossible (in relation to the pelvic floor, and probably the pelvis etc) for women to give birth. We know this is just not true though! Women give birth naturally and normally everyday, everywhere, it is completely possible and entirely probable that most women will have a vaginal birth. During our discussion, I offered to my Physio that surely it’s possible because there are so many variables such as the elasticity of the pelvic floor etc. My Physio explained that it is exactly these variables that both make birth possible but cause the stretch of muscles, nerves and connective tissue that leave us vulnerable and sometimes with some post natal problems. I love that this just proves, we cannot know everything. Science cannot explain and prove everything. There is still so much we don’t know about that which is largely unexplainable (by science and physics and maths) but that happens daily, countless times over in the most ordinary way. It’s extra-ordinary!
Our bodies and biology is mind blowing. The mystery never ceases to astonish me. I actually really love that we just don’t know how to explain the body’s ability to give birth in terms of figures and forces. It just is. And that is nothing short of a miracle. The bottom line of these insights, for me is that I would be taking a preventative approach to pelvic floor care DURING pregnancy if I had my time over. I share this with you because like me, it may be something you haven’t even considered (there’s HEAAAPS of other stuff to work out). Seriously though, I’d be prioritising your pelvic floor over spending countless hours trying to determine which pram is best, or what breast pump to buy etc etc. You can see a Physio who specialises in pelvic floor care during pregnancy even if you feel your pelvic floor is totally fine. There may be specific things/exercises you could be doing to really support your pelvic floor and minimise its vulnerability before birth. This could make your postnatal recovery just that little bit easier. I want to talk about this to demystify what is generally a topic we don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole. And I’ll leave you with this, from my own entirely personal, experiential and intuitive perspective, the foundation of Women’s health is healthy reproductive and sexual organs, and within that a key element is a functional and happy pelvic floor.
Clancy Allen is a Certified Doula, Kinesiologist & Yoga teacher specialising in pre-natal yoga. Clancy provides birthing services around Newcastle & the Central Coast, NSW. Clancy is passionate about birth being experienced as a rite of passage where women experience and know their power.