My Body After Birth
Twenty years ago I had a scary birth that had me spend some time in the ICU. In less than 5 minutes I went from early labor to a scene from “ER” with doctors yelling, 10 people in my room, and a George Clooney-esque doctor I had never met before wheeling me into emergency surgery. I had an emergency C-section (different from a standard C-section). We spent about 3 weeks in the hospital altogether.
I am a trained classical singer and have an intimate relationship with my abdominal muscles. Together with my voice teacher, we were able to get them to respond again after that birth, but after my next birth, that wasn’t the case. When I would try to do a sit-up, my abs would pooch out instead of pull in (which I now know is doming). I couldn’t voluntarily suck my stomach in at all. I asked doctors, they said it “was normal after birth, give it time”. This was a real problem for me. I couldn’t sing opera, I couldn’t lift weights, I couldn’t really get back in shape. But, I was busy with a baby and a 4-year-old, so I grieved, got on with life, and put it on the back burner.
Fast forward seven years, and there was more time to work on me. I wanted to sing again. I wanted to get in shape and started the loooong journey of getting in touch with my core muscles again. I worked with my brother who is a certified trainer. I asked my doctors again. I worked with my voice teacher who helped me. I asked my chiropractor who seems to understand the whole body. I did research online, which eventually introduced me to something called diastasis recti, something previously unknown to me. I self diagnosed and asked my primary care physician for a referral which she gave with a skeptical look on her face. Then COVID happened. So, just recently I made my first appointment, where my physical therapist who is certified in specializing in the pelvic floor and postpartum confirmed that I do have diastasis recti and it’s probably fixable. I wanted to cry. I told her I couldn’t engage the muscles much at all to do exercises. She said that I was a good candidate for something called dry needling that could re-stimulate the muscles as well as exercises that would start small and increase in difficulty as I progressed.
Now, as I lay here on the table and she inserts long needles similar to acupuncture needles into my lower ab muscles, I think about how I got here, and it makes me so mad. I’m actually outraged on behalf of women everywhere. Why did I have to self diagnose? Why isn’t there more support for women postpartum (it’s a hard time)? Why isn’t this kind of help standard practice? I don’t blame my OBGYN, she is spectacular, I blame the system. Now that I have finally found the help I needed after 15 years, I want to share it! I want to shout it from the rooftops for all women to hear!
SO, SISTERS, HERE IT IS, STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH OF MY PHYSICAL THERAPIST:
Q: WHAT DOES A POSTPARTUM PHYSICAL THERAPIST THAT SPECIALIZES IN THE PELVIC FLOOR FOCUS ON?
A: There are so many different diagnoses that we treat. The pelvic floor is a bowl of muscles at the bottom of the pelvis. We can be called Pelvic Floor Physical Therapists (PTs), Pelvic Health PTs, or Pelvic PTs because we specialize in that area of the body, but that area of the body is connected to a lot of different things. It’s not just in isolation, so we look at the whole body.
Q: WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON THINGS THAT YOU SEE IN POSTPARTUM WOMEN?
A: It depends on how the baby was delivered. A lot of times we see any kind of pain, incontinence, or other urinary symptoms like urgency, frequency, difficulty urinating, constipations, weakness of the core or pelvic floor, posture-related problems because when the baby is growing the posture changes, pain with sex, and diastasis recti.
Q: WHAT ABOUT PROLAPSE?
A: We see prolapse a lot, too.