I was both excited and terrified to give birth. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I was confident enough in my pre-birth research to believe I could handle labor and delivery. But no one prepared me for the hell childbirth would put my pelvic floor through, and it’s time we start talking about it more.
Yes, I had heard the endless jokes about how, after giving birth, I would pee every time I sneezed and have to cross my legs when I laughed and probably also pee my pants when I ran at the gym, but these discussions weren’t thoughtful or informative — they were quips that, when reality set in for me, felt retroactively cruel. Most discussions around postpartum pelvic floor troubles amount to little more than “a ha” moments meant to prove that becoming a mom somehow “ruins” a person’s body in gross and embarrassing ways. Little attention was paid to what I would need, feel, or experience in real life.
Instead, the months spent leading up to the day I’d push my son into the world revolved around two things: staying healthy for the sake of my future child, and figuring out how I would care for that child when he arrived. My body and I were an afterthought.
Needless to say, I was ill-equipped to handle the ways in which pregnancy and childbirth would change my pelvic floor. What’s worse, I was too self-conscious and uncomfortable to discuss it with anyone, including my physician or close friends. Trapped by the ongoing narrative that women must have children without having any physical proof of the rigors their bodies endured to have said children, I didn’t want to admit — even to myself — that my body had changed and I would have to work on certain areas to feel comfortable (or even totally operational) in my own skin again.
But what I was experiencing is not at all uncommon. It’s estimated that as many as 35% of new moms experience urinary incontinence postpartum, and 20% of first-time moms suffer from severe pelvic floor muscle injury after a “normal” pregnancy and delivery. As our bodies change to accommodate a growing fetus or fetuses, our pelvic floor muscles, as well as the nerves and soft tissues that surround them, soften to allow for our uteruses to expand and our bellies to distend. And just like it takes 40 weeks, more or less, for our bodies and muscles to stretch, it can take weeks — even months or years — for our bodies and muscles to recover.
It wasn’t until a friend of mine became a mom herself and was unafraid to discuss the damage her pelvic floor had endured after a grueling labor and delivery that I found the courage to discuss these changes with my doctor and find a way to improve the state of my own pelvic floor. Ruling out any significant damage that would require medical intervention, my doctor suggested some simple workouts meant to strengthen the pelvic floor. She also suggested I find workouts that focus on the mind-body connection, as I was simultaneously dealing with the mental health ramifications of suddenly becoming a mom and dealing with all the responsibilities that come with parenthood.
That same honest, shame-free mom who helped me discuss my pelvic floor woes suggested I try P.volve, a high-intensity, low-impact at-home workout regimen. Instead of simply relying on Kegels, a well-known and easy workout that targets pelvic floor muscles, P.volve focuses on a more holistic approach that includes abdominal and back muscles that can improve and strengthen your overall core. Via their blog I learned the difference between an underactive and overactive pelvic floor, and how to correct both in a way that was safe, effective, and comfortable for me and whatever phase of the postpartum process I was in. Through P.volve’s mind-body connection philosophy, I also learned that something as simple as diaphragmatic or belly breathing can also help reduce tension in the pelvic floor and improve my range of motion. And when I was ready to move my body a little more, P.volve’s three-minute core workout, that uses plank steps, knee extensions, and hinge and twists, helped me target the areas that were most impacted by childbirth.
P.volve takes it a step further, with their Pelvic Floor Strengthening Program. Utilizing the p.band, p.ball, and other P.volve movements and equipment, I had a number of well-rounded, full-body workout routines that could help assist me in strengthening my pelvic floor and the muscles surrounding it.
P.volve’s approach to an area in the body that is often overlooked is a testament to the ways in which the company focuses on a full-body, mind-body-soul connection. Every workout seamlessly relied on a 360-degree approach, including the core workouts that made me feel powerful and present in my postpartum body. Via multidirectional movements that targeted a number of muscles, including my obliques, I felt more in tune with my muscles as they were growing stronger.
Whether it was a simple but powerful step back and reach exercise, twisted leg lifts, or step back arm rotations, getting the entire body involved to strengthen the pelvic floor made me feel more powerful, more confident, and less ashamed of the reason why I was working out in the first place.
Pregnancy and childbirth are, by design, not glamorous. The ways in which our bodies change and evolve during gestation, labor, delivery, and postpartum are rarely as clean and clear-cut as the media and ongoing, outdated conversations surrounding motherhood would lead us to believe. Discussing our pelvic floors and the ways in which they change is certainly one way to give soon-to-be moms more information that will leave them better equipped for the challenges, and the successes, ahead. And finding ways to strengthen the parts of our bodies that were altered by pregnancy is not proof of how our bodies have failed, but a reminder that they’ve always been strong and deserve to have that strength reinforced, celebrated, and acknowledged.
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