Health and Fitness / Life / Parenting

Pilates Saved My Vag (and my Quality of Life)

Me on my last day of Beginner Mat at Lead Pilates in Saskatoon.

It was the winter of 2012. I just pulled up to my house when I started to worry. With me were my baby, her diaper bag, my purse and three bags of groceries. The front door to my house was locked and I had to go to the bathroom.

Those days that was a big problem for me because I needed to get everything, especially the baby, into the house without losing control of my bladder. The shitty thing was, I knew as soon as I stood up, I would not make it. Even if I left all the bags behind, I would not be able to walk to the other side of the car, release the baby seat, unlock the front door, climb the stairs and get to the bathroom. So instead, I sat for a second, took a deep breath, tried not to cry and accepted what was about to happen. The silver lining was that my husband was not home so he would not have to see me pee my pants again.

I know what you are thinking. How? Why? The truth is while it was happening to me I did not have much of an understanding. I knew the issues I was dealing with were part of the package deal I received after having a baby but I did not really comprehend what was going on. There was no education about this in the books I read. There were no conversations about how to prepare my body for something like this. Women I knew never discussed it. I was never warned. It all happened really fast and I was living through it really slow.

To back track a bit, I was blessed with a perfectly normal pregnancy. My only real ailment came around week 17. I started to experience some debilitating hip and back pain that my physiotherapist explained as pelvic girdle pain or sacro-iliac joint pain (SI pain). The only explanation I was really given for this from my physician was that my body produced more of the hormone relaxin than the average woman. There was not much I could do about it other than live with it until after I had my baby and my hips could go back into place.

Because I went 10 days past my due date, the decision was made to induce me. After two and a half hours of pushing, forceps were used to assist my baby out of the birth canal.

The OBGYN who was working with me decided to allow my perineum to tear on its own rather than undertake an episiotomy. After my baby was delivered, I was left with a third degree tear.

A third degree vaginal tear involves the vaginal tissues, perineal muscles and the anal sphincter. If you are having a difficult time picturing this, my vagina was torn almost all the way to my bum hole (but not all the way through as that would then become a fourth degree tear). And yes, it was awful.

To make matters increasingly difficult, sometime within the first two weeks, my stitches fell out and an infection developed (that is right…an infection in a part of the body that is damn near impossible to keep consistently clean without proper bladder control). Because of the time it would take to heal the infection, the OBGYN decided my perineum would have to heal without stitches. He thought he would have to operate to repair the damage but I was lucky and did not require this.

As you can imagine, a lot of things happened in a short period of time. And though there was plenty of information passing between myself and the physicians that cared for me, with everything going on (new baby, meds, trauma), I was not retaining a lot. And though I felt the physicians around me were providing me with excellent care, I did not feel as though there was enough specific information with regard to the rehabilitation I would need. What I did receive was a referral to pelvic floor physiotherapy. On my own, I had a knack for Google and a love of Pilates.

When I received the referral, the doctor who provided it compared my birth experience to being in a car accident and said that I would have to do the necessary work to rehabilitate myself after child birth the same way I would had I been in a bad accident. Truthfully, that conversation set the tone for how I viewed my entire recovery process.

What did I know about my pelvic floor at this time? Not a damn thing outside of where it was located and even then, I did not know as much as I thought I did.

What did I know about keeping it strong? I had never considered the possibility it could be weakened.

What is the pelvic floor? The pelvic floor is a group of several muscles attached to the front, back and sides of your pelvic bones. Imagine a diaper of muscles wrapping around your pelvis and holding everything important together and inside your body. That is your pelvic floor. And when it is weakened, there is nothing holding that everything important together and inside your body.

Risks of having a weak pelvic floor include:

  • Back pain (including SI pain)
  • Hip pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Compromised integrity of the urethra, vagina and anus
  • Incontinence
  • Diminished sexual enjoyment (ie. discomfort or weak orgasm)
  • Dropping of organs into the pelvic muscles (ie. prolapsed uterus)

Here I am, three months post-partum. Traumatized from a delivery I did not understand. Exhausted from my new maternal responsibilities. And in physical distress with no idea how to repair it.

The first time I called Lead Pilates in Saskatoon, I spoke with the owner, Jana. She patiently sat on the phone with me going over the laundry list of details I had rattled off to her about my birth experience and subsequent recovery. As far as the doctors were concerned, I was medically healed. Baby aside, I was traumatized, scared, embarrassed and sad that I put myself through the experience of motherhood. At the time, I was a woman who:

  • Was going to the bathroom standing up
  • Having a difficult time with bladder control
  • Experiencing extremely painful bowel movements
  • Terrified of sex
  • Extreme discomfort when I tried to have sex
  • Inability to reach orgasm
  • Extreme discomfort in the hips, hip flexors and lower back (including SI Joint)
  • Unable to do a kegal of any kind
  • Unable to hold a plank (front or side)

I got the impression from Jana immediately that she understood everything that needed repairing. She encouraged me to come down to the studio and enroll myself in Mommy and Me Pilates.

As described by its creator, Joseph Pilates:

“Contrology (Pilates) develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.”

What makes Pilates so effective in pelvic floor training is that all movements work on strengthening the deep core muscles that surround the spine. During the strengthening process, the pelvic floor is being pulled in and up in its normal support of the abdominals and back. Therefore, the practice of Pilates works toward maintaining a healthy and strong core as well as a healthy and strong pelvic floor.

Lead Pilates is where I started my pelvic floor education. It is where I started to connect the pieces and learn exactly how weak I had become. It is where I could see for sure how my quality of life had changed since having my baby. It is where I strived to get that quality of life back. And not just for me. For her. So we could play on the floor together. So I would be strong enough to stay at the park longer than my bladder could. So we could go swimming. I worked my body with Pilates so I would be strong enough to be her mother. The one I dreamed of being every single day for nine months.

The Leading Ladies (including my pelvic floor physiotherapist) rallied around me. They protected me. They encouraged me. They educated me. They taught me not only how to be strong on the inside but how important it was to be strong on the inside.

I became obsessed with understanding what happened to me and why. And though I was making excellent progress, I could not tell if I was actually healed. After all, the muscles I was working were not visible to me. How would I know when they were repaired? Was there a way to tell for sure? One day after class, I decided to ask Jana and see what she thought.

That is the moment I first learned of Vesy:

“A pelvic floor neuromuscular training system developed by an American doctor to assist individuals to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles without the aid of surgery.” And Lead Pilates was bringing it to Saskatoon.

With the use of Vesy, I was able to see with my own eyes (using the monitor that was receiving messages from four sensors placed on my body) which muscles within the pelvic floor required strengthening. After these messages were received, my Pilates instructors were able to provide me with the exact strengthening exercises I needed. After three months of participating with Vesy program (which included practicing a series of exercises each day), I was able to look at my husband and say, “I am fully healed.”

Fast forward two years post-partum. What is life like when I pull up to my house with my kid, my purse and a trunk load of materials to unload? More often than not, it is entirely uneventful. And when it isn’t, I take a moment to get in control of my bladder. I recruit the muscles that hold it together. I unload my kid, I get into the house. I handle my business.

Never in a million years did I think getting to the bathroom would be an accomplishment. But it is. For me, it is a measure of strength. A measure of rehabilitation. Along with sneezing, coughing, bending, squatting and having a full orgasm. It is all a reflection of a healed body.

I am so thankful I called Lead Pilates for help. I am grateful for their passion, education and experience. I am grateful to these women who are taking the time to educate women like me. Women who are broken and do not understand why. Women who do not know how to fix it. Women who are unwilling to say that losing control of your body is simply a side effect of pregnancy. Because that is not true.

It is no surprise to any woman that we spend an extreme amount of time worrying, especially about our bodies. We read up on the latest fitness trends, we make efforts to eat right and we generally do our best to lead as healthy of lifestyles as we know how to.

Then we get pregnant. And though we, of course, do everything within our power to create an exceptional housing environment for our baby, something gets lost. We spend so much of our pregnancy and our post-partum recovery worrying about what our baby needs that we forget entirely about ourselves and our recovery.

Though having a baby is one of life’s greatest joys, it does not come without its side effects, especially for women like me who did not have the ideal experience. It is time we change the message and integrate the idea that the joy of motherhood requires more than just caring for our baby’s needs. It is a physical responsibility to ourselves and it needs to be met because the quality of our lives is unequivocally linked to the quality of time we spend with our children. And that right there is something worth working for.


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