In October of 2010, I sat on my couch in baggy sweatpants. I had little sleep to my credit and spit-up stains on my shirt. Among newborn baby snuggles, dread filled my mind. My “new normal” looked pretty bleak.
It’s probably not what you’re thinking. This was my third child and I knew all too well how life with a newborn can play out. That I was prepared for.
What I hadn’t expected was a new reality in which I might not be able to stand for more than 10 minutes, be intimate with my husband, pick up my kids, walk, run, or wear anything besides loose sweatpants ever again.
You see, I had just been diagnosed with a stage 2 bladder prolapse (or Cystocele as the medical world calls it) at the age of 30. To my knowledge, the only other people on earth struggling with a bladder prolapse were well beyond menopause. I wondered how on earth this had happened to me.
If you’re like the majority of American women, you’ve never heard of pelvic organ prolapse. Allow me to remedy this.
The word “prolapse” literally means “to fall out.” “Pelvic organ prolapse” refers to a woman’s cervix, bladder or rectum falling from its normal position into the vagina. This usually causes a visible bulge, and often the organ or tissues will even protrude from the vaginal opening.
The cause? Weakened connective tissues in the vagina from one or more of a variety of causes including: childbirth, heavy lifting, straining during bowel movements, and insufficient estrogen levels.
Chances are, at this point you’re either sitting up in your chair nodding along with my experience or you’re sitting there prolapse-free thinking, “Why should I care? I don’t have a prolapse.”
Sadly, that’s where you could be wrong. Most women diagnosed with prolapse have never heard of it until they exhibit fairly severe symptoms.
You read and hear nothing of organ prolapse in pregnancy books or at OB/Gyn visits. Most doctors casually dismiss it as being a non-issue. But if you have a prolapse it’s a BIG issue.
In the days following my diagnosis I felt broken, unsexy, bombarded by “what ifs” and afraid to move for fear my entire pelvic floor would be hanging to my knees. I pored over the internet for information on running and exercising with prolapse. Soon it all began to sink in. Life, as I’d known it, was over.
The information I found was pretty devastating. Every article I read assured me that I could never run again and my body was in as good of shape as I could ever hope for it to be.
Subsequent weeks found me red-nosed, surrounded by heaps of tissues on the couch. The depression hung around for months. I have always enjoyed running as a way to lose weight and de-stress after a having a baby so this diagnosis created a lot of frustration and heartache.
My fear of exercise soon had my post-pregnancy weight creeping steadily up and my self-esteem at an all time low. Without opportunities for endorphin release, my stress levels were high. The prognosis left me in a mental fog for months.
As time went on I slowly began to feel better “down there” yet I was still afraid to exercise. Hope of ever feeling young, fit or vibrant faded. I felt lonely and decidedly old among other moms with babies or young children. It seemed like they were bouncing back and gaining momentum with each passing day. I was positive I was the only one among them with the vagina of a 90 year old.
My turning point came after listening to a radio show which featured two women's health physical therapists. They discussed how physical therapy can help heal a prolapse. Finally, someone offered me some hope! I booked an appointment the next day and, as my therapy progressed, I felt better and slowly gained my life back!
Now, years later, it’s hard to believe how difficult my early experiences with a Cystocele were. My life is better than normal. I feel confident and comfortable in the bedroom. I weight train (with modifications), work out regularly and run about 26 miles a month! I’ve lost all the baby weight and then some. A recent visit with a new doctor even revealed my prolapse has receded!
If there’s anything I want every woman out there to understand, it’s this: prolapse is not just an “old lady” disease or a “birthing trauma”. It can happen to anyone!
There are ways to strengthen your pelvic floor, and not just with kegels. You can live a happy, active life with pelvic organ prolapse.
If you suspect you may have a pelvic organ prolapse, please know you are not alone. Seek out a supportive gynecologist and a physical therapist who specializes in women's health. There is a lot of hope to be found. Don’t stop looking until you find it.
If you are a woman without prolapse, start this conversation with your gynecologist anyways. Take preventative measures now. See a physical therapist who specializes in women's health and learn what you can do to maintain your healthy pelvic floor. Self-care is the key to maintaining a healthy pelvic floor at any age or risk factor.
Still wondering how a bladder prolapse made my life better?
Over the years it has connected me with amazing women who need to hear a voice of hope and recovery. Now I get to encourage and help women with prolapse and educate those who do not have one.
My struggle has developed into an opportunity to connect with and bless others. In turn, I’ve been blessed. Whatever you’re facing, that can be your story too.