I will wholeheartedly admit, I got a little cocky after my third baby.
Settling into the first few days of maternity leave with Rory, I was still very much in go mode. With my previous pregnancies for Porter and Cole I was working up until the day I went into labor. With Rory, it wasn’t much different; although we have a bit more of a complicated backstory but I will give you those details in her birth story later. But you should know I don’t have a slow nesting phase where I sit contemplating in a rocking chair or refold baby laundry. My nesting propels me into full on get-shit-done mode which I channel into 2 mile walks every morning, long working nights getting my thoughts down on paper, and vacuuming my baseboards and or ceilings.
Either way, I was feeling invincible and confident when I got home from the hospital. Doubled with the excitement of no longer having my huge belly in the way so I could physically do things again. And by ‘do things’ I mean, pick up and play with my boys, decorate our house for the fall and rearrange my entire storage area, including moving tubs of christmas lights and wrapping paper to fit a new logical categorical operating order by holiday. Did I mention I am a little bit Type A and have a hard time sitting still?
Warning: please do not do anything I mentioned above in your first couple of weeks post birth and give your body time to rest and recover.
Later that week, I was feeling a strange pressure and intense cramping. Something wasn’t feeling right. When I plopped down on my couch I felt as though I was sitting on a ball and remember thinking “well that’s… different”. That evening, as I was getting ready for bed, I saw what I thought was a humongous, egg sized blood clot coming out of me. You know, the kind the doctors warn you about when you leave the hospital as a 9-1-1 type of situation. Except when I went to touch it, I felt sensation.
Holy crap that isn’t a clot, that is part of me.
Fear, shock and utter disbelief poured through my, like ice in my veins. I felt physically ill – and if you have ever seen me in person, you may know that I am pretty much covered in tattoos. I used to watch open heart surgeries as a kid. But I was unprepared to see this.
Naturally any weird illness or accidents always happen at close of business or on a weekend in the Renus household, so I phoned a friend who is also one of my most trusted medical resources and an ICU nurse who has seen it all. She advised me to take a picture for my OB and to seek medical attention if I spiked a fever, had worsening pain, or if I just felt like I needed to, but she believed I was experiencing pelvic organ prolapse. Well, sure enough when I went to my OB that week and showed her the picture, before we even got to the physical exam, she put her hand gently on my shoulder and said “Bless your heart, that’s your uterus”. Gotta love the south.
Pelvic organ prolapse is classified differently depending on the pelvic organ affected. The most common types are cystocele (bladder), rectocele, or uterine prolapse. With uterine prolapse you can experience four different stages; starting at stage one where the uterus is in the upper half of the vagina, to stage four where it is completely out of the vagina. I was later horrified to learn that nearly one half of all women will experience some degree of pelvic organ prolapse in their lifetime. One half of all women? How is this the first time I am hearing about this and why, only now that my organ is downward-dogging out of me, instead of preventatively or during time of postnatal care?
And yes, I went back to read my discharge papers line by line – nowhere does it mention the word prolapse. You’d think they may want to mention somewhere that organs can, I dunno, basically fall out of your body?
Admittedly, I went down the GoogleMD wormhole and spent a lot of time in a scary place without real answers. Was my uterus going to die? Did I cause damage? Do I need surgery? But I did emerge with one thing to know for sure; I need to resume pelvic floor therapy – stat.
Unfortunately, I feel women don’t know much about pelvic floor health early on in life. I know I didn’t. I sort of knew what it was from yoga (mula bandha), and I heard about “kegeling” mainly in the context of a Cosmo magazine under the headline “have better orgasms”, but until I started pelvic floor therapy during this last pregnancy I didn’t understand the critical importance of this muscle group. It literally acts as a basket to hold up your organs people. She’s kind of a big deal.
During the exam my OB had been hopeful that I will recover with pelvic floor therapy since my tone looked good and I have not had another episode of stage 4 prolapse since that day. All I can do now is commit to doing the work with my physical therapist and not act like a blasé she-hulk in the meantime.
Since the prolapse episode I have felt both guilt from failing to honor my recovery and anger from the lack of education and awareness. I feel as though I should have known better to prevent this, but the rational part of my brain knows that it sometimes just happens. A pelvic floor therapist on Instagram educates her follows on her experience with prolapse (cystocele) after suffering from bronchitis during her third trimester. So if it can happen to someone well educated in the field, why do I feel like I should have done better?
Eventually these feelings may subside, but they are also made more complex by the instinct that my body is telling me it is done having children. My heart is having trouble letting go of the hopes of my fourth (and would be final) child. However, this past pregnancy was not only physically hard on me, but also hard on my marriage as we both juggle demanding full time careers in tech (more on that another time though) with other little children at home. I need to give myself the time and space to grieve while also finding ways to honor my body and all it has given me.
I am telling my story in hope that it helps even just one person. Helps them to let go of any shame or guilt they carry after they experienced prolapse. Helps them to get educated in order to prevent prolapse in the future. Helps them take an interest in pelvic health in general. Women’s health can be scary at times, but we can’t shy away from talking about it or plead ignorance just because it’s uncomfortable.
Talk about it. Share your stories. Keep it real.