I will never forget the day I first heard the term prolapse. I was both a postnatal mum of two babies (delivered in 2 different countries, using 2 different health services) and a fitness professional. Forging a career and small business working with mums. When the basic details were shared with me, I was horrified by both the condition and the fact that I had no idea that this could even happen.
My learning curve was steep.
Exercise is and always will be a magic pill
For many women, their experience is similar. They learn the true meaning of prolapse upon the diagnosis being given to them. Prolapse literally means to fall out of place. But how do you move and function with everyday activities when you fear your uterus or your bladder, or bowel is going to fall out?
For many, they don’t. They stop doing the activities that once brought them joy. Whether this is running, going to the gym, or playing sports. Their daily thoughts are overwhelmed by weighing up what their pelvic floor can, and cannot handle. Mental well-being and physical activity are so tightly linked. Regular exercise can be the ladder out of dark places. So, removing this ladder has massive repercussions.
Many women with pelvic organ prolapse are also diagnosed with depression or anxiety as they carefully navigate their new world. And for a condition that affects around 50% of women who have had children, you would think prolapse would be better known. And better understood. But alas, because it has to do with our private parts or even bursting the bubble of what a perfectly natural birth can be – prolapse is still largely discussed in hush tones.
But is it possible that a condition, just as life-changing as pelvic organ prolapse, can also bring benefits?
If very challenging experience gives us the gifts of growth and understanding? Then what can pelvic organ prolapse teach us? How do we remain active with the threat and fear of losing our internal organs?
To answer these questions, I asked 3 women who have lived through grief, the shame and the challenges of experiencing pelvic organ prolapse. And although there is no magic answer to prolapse, there is magic in their wisdom that they share with me.
Kylianne is a dear friend, whom I have written about before here. Kylianne is a fitness professional, turned adventurer and runs her own business, Move For Mental Health in Western Australia. And every time I look at this image below, I cannot help but smile right back at it.
Kylianne told me this:
“When initially diagnosed with prolapse I spiralled pretty hard and fast mentally, my new normal had begun and I didn’t quite know where to begin. Mainly because exercise provided me with a way to cope with my mental illness and secondly because it was my career to move and help other people move to feel better.
Fast forward eight years still living with three prolapsed organs, the experience provided me with a personal and professional learning journey that I may have not leaned into otherwise.
Prolapse taught me the power of the workaround, being adaptable with the ability to bend around the things that don’t go to plan. It taught me the value of seeking help and allowing myself to be supported. It taught me the value of really listening to my body and how the suppression of emotions is not an effective way to overcome challenges.
Prolapse has taught me that having positive mental health was reliant on having many strategies to boost and protect well-being not just exercise. My prolapse showed me my inner resources, strengths and what I could achieve when I had a real mission and purpose.
It’s not about the things that happen to us. It’s about how we choose to respond.”
Don’t you just love her? I know I do. Kylianne is doing amazing things and I am just so proud of her.
If you are not following her on socials – get on it here. I love watching Kylianne’s outdoor adventures and I know you will too.
Then I reached out to another dear friend of mine – Amy Dawes. If you have not read how we met, don’t forget to circle back to read this blog – Almond Croissants and Birth Truama here. The story of our meeting is very endearing.
I have heard Amy speak about her birth trauma many times, at many events. And her experience never fails to move me. Amy used this experience to establish the Australasian Birth Trauma Association. ABTA provides peer-to-peer support for those experiencing and understanding birth trauma, research, advocacy and education for health professionals and obstetric care providers.
Here is what Amy told me about the gifts of prolapse.
“Prolapse has taught me to fully listen to my body. For example, I know my symptoms are often worse in the lead-up to my period. I know that if I do an intense workout in the morning, then I need to be kinder to my pelvic floor in the afternoon.
I now train, not with fear. But with intention.”
I literally cannot put in words how proud I am of Amy and what she has achieved. I do feel incredibly privileged to count her as a dear friend.
The journey to return to or to start exercise can be fearful with prolapse. But it does not signal the end. As Kylianne mentioned above – there is the power of workarounds.
To explore this further I reached out to Stephanie Thompson. Stephanie is an author of The Day My Vagina Broke, a podcaster and a thriver of prolapse. Stephanie’s bravery in sharing her story and breaking down the stigma of prolapse has helped many women. And I highly recommend reading her book (I did so via audible and both laughed and cried) and checking out the wealth of knowledge in her podcast (I have purposefully linked to the one where she interviewed me… but there are plenty of great ones!).
Recently, Stephanie was on the brilliant ABC show – You can’t ask that. Check it out here.
Here is what Stephanie has to say about living with prolapse.
“When you’ve lived with significant pelvic organ prolapse for almost 7 years and during that time you’ve seen very little medical advances or research in this pelvic health space, it can be easy to become frustrated.
Like many women living with prolapse, I’ve been seen by many doctors and physiotherapists, listened to podcasts, read medical journals and participated in online forums.
It is probably in these online forums where I’ve learned the most from other women who have really lived experience with prolapse. Along the way I’ve tried and tested ways to live with my prolapses, knowing there are no current pessaries (that stay in) or repair surgeries for me right now.
Of course, there was a process to grief, acceptance and then the motivation to continue living the most fulfilling life I could with what I had. I started to think outside the box and be creative in my approach to managing daily tasks.
For example, if there was something I can no longer do like standing in the shower at night and washing my hair (because of the downward pressure after the day) I use a plastic chair in the shower to sit. This simple $10 chair from the hardware shop was the start of collating all the tips and tricks I’ve picked up along my POP journey. I like to call them ‘workarounds’.
Stephanie has gone one step further and carefully crafted her top tips and workarounds into an invaluable e-book that you can find here.
As an educator, I have for the last 15 years, been sharing information on and around prolapse. Ideally, as fitness professionals, we want to train women so that they enjoy exercise. So muscles grow and bones remain strong. Honestly, if exercise was a pill, it would be a magic pill. As appropriately prescribed exercise is the best common denominator to improve or avoid all chronic conditions.
I also know that fear can stop both women from returning to exercise and for fitness professionals to ask the necessary questions to support women who have pelvic organ prolapse.
Replacing fear with understanding and empathy
For both groups: You won’t always get it right. There will be some days that you will push too hard and feel like you have taken a step backwards. There will be other days when the world is your exercise oyster… and then a whole lot of days in between that are all about showing up, doing what you can and reaping the benefit and joy that regular movement gives you.
June is pelvic organ prolapse month and I wrote a series of articles about POP (see below). I also delivered free training for fitness professionals to upskill them when working with women who have pelvic organ prolapse. Check out this Masterclass created for Fit Pro’s and fitness enthusiasts!
July is all about birth trauma awareness… watch this space!
Awareness will always be the biggest antidote to fear.