My dear friend Julie and I had babies here in the big city just five months apart. Our families are both on the East Coast, our husbands commute long hours, we endured parallel sleep deprivation as our babies (and then toddlers) kept us up through the night, and we both were unpleasantly surprised by how much we did not recognize our bodies post-birth. As you can imagine, we don’t know what we’d do without each other.
It is my delight and honor to share Julie with you. She was graciously willing to let me interview her about her experience and share it with you. If we’re not in this together, then we’re going it alone and that just won’t do!
First off, Julie, when did you give birth to that squeezable little red head and at what point did you suspect something was amiss with your body?
That chubby, giggling ginger was born on August 11th, 2013. It wasn’t long after his arrival that I noticed my body wasn’t right, though having never given birth before I attributed any and all pain to pushing a whole baby through some very narrow channels. I assumed everything was normal postpartum discomfort as my body healed and re-adjusted.
In the week following Ben’s birth, I took slow, cautious steps around our apartment and worked my way up to a slow, cautious stroll around the block. I vividly remember saying to my husband as he carried our newborn, “I feel like my insides are falling out.”
As my strength returned our strolls got a little longer, but my steps continued to be painfully slow and the inexplicable heaviness in my pelvic floor did not improve. At my 6 week check up I described the discomfort to my OB who, upon examining, explained that I had a prolapsed uterus. So that confirmed it – my insides were, in fact, falling out.
The doctor referred me to a pelvic floor physical therapist to rehab my nether regions and it wasn’t until meeting with her that I learned of my diastasis. My what? As I teared up, confused to hear that there was yet another thing wrong with my body, she delicately explained my 3 fingers worth of ab separation.
What were your thoughts and feelings when you realized that pregnancy/birth had damaged you in a measurable way?
I was so confused and so very sad. Blame the sleep deprivation, blame the hormones, or just blame the situation, I was simply put, very sad. How had this happened? I did everything right—the prenatal yoga! the eating healthy! the exercise! Why was my body doing this? What did I do wrong? I somehow failed, even though I tried so hard.
I assumed that after birth your body returned to its normal, albeit droopier, state. I never considered the lasting effects that would require great, very intentional work. In this last year, I’ve had to accept my sadness, confusion, and defeat. The feelings are real, but they aren’t productive. I’ve been working to readjust my perspective and appreciate that despite the prolapse and diastasis, I still grew this sweet, little person. A whole person! And that’s amazing. Straight amazing.
What was the course of action you decided to take to get better?
Knowing my personality—I follow directions very well and like being told how to get better vs researching and doing it all on my own—I developed a wonderful relationship with an incredibly understanding and encouraging pelvic floor physical therapist who has guided me through the healing process.
I met with her bi-weekly to measure my progress and adjust my exercise regimen accordingly. My goal was to do these exercises three times a day, but the reality of taking care of a newborn, meant it was more like 3 times a week. But it was something. I looked forward to my appointments, seeing any improvement and hearing her praise (I needed a cheerleader!) as my core and pelvic floor strength slowly returned.
If someone in a similar situation were to choose therapy, what kind of stuff should she expect they’ll do?
From my experience, first, expect to be treated with compassion and understanding. While this is all painfully new to you as you enter the office bleary eyed and defeated, know that the PT sees women like us on the hour. (That fact was so comforting, we’re not alone!)
Second, expect to be examined and presented with a course of action. The PT will take a thorough look at your core and do an internal exam to asses any pelvic floor issues and devise a plan from there—mine included exercises ranging from basic leg lifts to “advanced” kegels. (Who knew there were so many ways to kegel?)
Finally, expect to follow up. I felt very much like a part of a team during my pregnancy—there was my doctor and nurses, my doula and acupuncturist, fellow pregnant mamas, the list goes on.. There was a whole network of supporters walking along side me through those 9 months. I found that postpartum the team did not disband as I feared, but gained members, my physical therapist included. She became another caring face whom I saw on a regular basis that was coming along side, journeying with me towards healing and wholeness as a mom.
Talk to us about splinting. What’s it like to wear a splint? Did you feel it was helpful?
As I mentioned earlier, I follow directions well, so when the PT suggested I wear this velcro brace that cinched and supported my middle section, I listened. It definitely helped and we saw measurable progress. If for no other reason, though I’m sure there are others, the brace made me incredibly aware of engaging my core correctly—no more lurching out of bed to get Ben, no more mindlessly picking him up or wearing him in the front pack for long. It forced me to be intentional about my movement.
Wearing it was not long term, but it was an effective support (mentally and physically) as I began stitching my drifting abs back together.
What has been the toughest mental challenge dealing with prolapse and diastasis recti?
When I see moms running with their babies in fancy jogging strollers, I wonder why isn’t her uterus falling out with that high impact? Or when I see another story about the celebrity and her body after baby, I wonder why her abs didn’t separate and core get all wonky?
The toughest mental challenge for me has been accepting that this is part of my journey as a new mom, the prolapse and diastasis are part of Ben’s birth story. It’s not everyone’s story, and that’s okay. The jogging moms and bikini clad stars didn’t do it better or worse, they just have a different story. And that’s okay.
Has this experience changed the way you think about your body?
Yes! I am strong. My body is strong and wildly capable. It grew a baby and has sustained that baby. And, as time has passed it has shown me its immeasurable capacity to heal. If I’m patient and persistent and gentle, it will heal.
The initially unfamiliar landscape of my postpartum body is now becoming familiar ground. (Though I won’t lie, I’m finding it hard to make peace with my bizarre post-baby belly button…)
Please join me in thanking Julie for her honesty and openness. I don’t know about you, but it made me tear up! There is so much I can relate to. Thank you, Julie!
Aside from being an all-star friend and doting mom, Julie is also an illustrator and custom hand-letterer. Check her out at http://flourishandwhim.com and just soak up all the beauty.