Natal Active founder Claire Gleave shares the story of her diagnosis and how, despite being told she wouldn’t run again, recovered to continue running with prolapse.
I hope this story will give hope to anyone wondering if they can continue running with prolapse, or if they will run again at all. After the birth of my 3rd son, I suffered somewhere between a grade 2 and 3 prolapse following a straightforward labour, but ending with a manual placenta removal (if you’ve ever seen a vet help a cow to birth a calf, the procedure is akin to this).
I say somewhere between, because my medical care postnatally was so woefully inadequate that I had to forcefully ask my gynaecologist to give me an internal examination to assess what was wrong and even then she fobbed me off (yes a woman!) with a ‘do some Kegels, you won’t be able run again ever, and stop carrying the baby in the car seat.’ That was the grand sum of the advice on how to deal with this monumentally embarrassing and devastating thing that was happening to me.
I have been a runner for over 15 years. Prior to baby number 3 I’d run 8 marathons, so I wasn’t your average go-for-a-jog-around-the-block kinda girl. I ran. A lot. In fact I ran through all three pregnancies – to 37 weeks with him. So to hear that phrase uttered from her lips with such nonchalance compounded the total devastation and embarrassment I felt about what was happening to me.
How it started
I first noticed something wasn’t quite right within a day or so. To be blunt, it felt like a golf ball was coming out of me. I was totally horrified. I didn’t really know anything about prolapse (can you believe that – three babies in and it had barely warranted a mention in any of my antenatal classes) beyond the fact that some women leak when they laugh, cough, sneeze or run after having babies. So the idea of running with prolapse was something I just didn't think would be possible.
In hindsight this lulled me into a false sense of security. I never had issues with leakage. I even smugly though that this was because I was so fit, that the running meant that wouldn’t happen to me (and yes I was a bit lazy with the Kegels). NEWSFLASH – plenty of women suffer lifechanging prolapses without suffering continence issues. I had had a forceps delivery first time around and a 9lb 8oz baby the second. The damage had probably been done, but because no one ever checked me properly, without leakage or visible symptoms, I couldn’t have known.
So if I wasn’t experiencing leakage, how did it affect me? Pain, discomfort, shame and embarrassment. It took me two weeks to even tell my husband. My eldest started school the week after my youngest was born and the walk to school varied from day to day. Sometimes everything ached ‘down there’. Other times I felt like I was walking with a tampon in the wrong place. Very occasionally it would be OK. Eating a big meal exacerbated the symptoms. As did drinking anything fizzy like Prosecco.
"I didn’t really know anything about prolapse (can you believe that – three babies in and it had barely warranted a mention in any of my antenatal classes) beyond the fact that some women leak when they laugh, cough, sneeze or run after having babies."
After the visit to my gynaecologist, I hit Google for info and the general consensus on running with prolapse (and most exercise) was pretty negative, often leading to advice around repair surgery (which 6 years ago there was already grave concern around – how that has taken so long to come to the public’s attention I’ll never understand).
Where I found help
I set out to learn as much as I could about my condition and ways I could help myself to heal. I discovered that something called a Women’s Health Physio existed and found a lovely woman local to me who came and did a proper assessment of my condition. She was sensitive, gave me some proper information around where my strengths and weaknesses were and a programme of rehab. Most importantly she gave me hope.
At 6 months post-partum I then did a more intense Holistic Core Restore course with a local trainer. This was an intensive 6 week programme of rehab exercises that taught me how to activate and engage my pelvic floor while doing everyday activities, to the point where it became second nature. The key is to exercise the PF while standing and moving – not just when sitting in the car as I always had. To this day this course is something I recommend to anyone with pelvic floor dysfunction.
Rebuilding my fitness
At around the 9 month mark after my baby my physio encouraged me to try running again. I was still having symptoms but nothing like the early months. Her advice was to try – that if it made it worse, hold back again. So I tried. A short couple of miles that felt like the best run I had ever done. And then I cried. A lot.
Slowly I started to rebuild my running fitness, taking every step gently, ready to pull things back if things felt worse. But for some reason they never did and I know that is not the case for everyone. This was the summer and as I’d already deferred a London Marathon ballot place due to the prolapse, my goal was to slowly build up to 10 miles by the new year and then take a view on London.
I ran London that year – and not only did I run it without making my symptoms worse, I got a PB – beating the time I had set pre-kids 13 years before. The following year (3 years post baby) I completed a 53 mile ultra marathon. Again it didn’t impact my symptoms at all.
It was a slow road. Upsetting and frustrating at times. But the reason I share my story now (and its something I really couldn’t easily back then) is because I know that the one thing I craved was some hope. And a feeling that I wasn’t alone in this journey.
Other things that I tried too
There are other things that I did as part of my recovery and while its hard to pinpoint if these worked specifically, I think these are important to share with anyone experiencing the same.
1) I decided to stop breastfeeding at 6 months. I’d never recommend this as a course of action but I’d be lying if I didn’t say my prolapse factored in my decision to stop. My understanding being that breastfeeding lowers oestrogen levels and helps your body to product relaxin, both of which can exacerbate symptoms. I wouldn’t have stopped earlier and had I not had the prolapse I would have breastfed longer but the decision was mine to make and I needed to know if it helped.
2) I then went back on my pill which was a high oestrogen one. (I have since had pill breaks without an increase in symptoms so this may not have made a difference).
3) I always exercised. Initially all low impact. I wasn’t someone that could not exercise so I did what I could and felt comfortable with on any given day. To this day I find if I don’t exercise for a while I notice the heaviness return. Losing the last few baby lbs also meant I was carrying less weight which can help.
4) I gave it TIME! It takes time for your body to heal from an injury such as this. While it took about 6 months to see an improvement, it was about a year before I was 80% symptom free and even then I could still have bad days. Today I’d say I’m more than 99% symptom free. I only now occasionally notice a heaviness before my period but even that isn’t every month.
I hope that my story can help anyone else experiencing prolapse. While I am not qualified to give advice, this is my experience and my inbox is always open to anyone that is going through the same.
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