I admit it, I was snipped and tore like a potato chip bag during childbirth.
My vagina had no idea what it had coming. No one told me this might happen. I'm a physical therapist, I KNOW about the body, it's my profession. How come I didn't know how to lower my risk of this happening to me? I was embarrassed to tell anyone about my snip and tear, so I just dealt with the pain and figured it out...eventually. But years later, I dropped my ego and realized that moms need to hear my story because it may just help them avoid what I went through. I was being selfish hiding my story from the world. It's not about me, its about spreading awareness. Here's my story, I hope yours will be different.
I'm embarrassed to say this, but I didn't train my pelvic floor for my first birth.
Maybe you're asking me what I mean by "train my pelvic floor". If you've ever ran a marathon, played a soccer game, or been in a dance competition, you understand the importance of training your muscles and body. You understand it takes practice to make progress and create patterns so when game day comes, you're ready physically and mentally.
So why not train our body for something as important as childbirth? I took prenatal classes, I even did prenatal yoga. I thought I was ready to birth. Taking yoga classes and learning the stages of labor was NOT the same as training my body and mind. But you don't know until you know.
I'd never heard about the pelvic floor's role in birth. Not once did anyone teach me how to coordinate breathing with birthing. And not until I began learning about birth and the pelvic floor did I fully understand the impact our hormones hold during labor.
Preparing the pelvic floor for birth is similar to warming up before the super bowl! As a first time mom to be (and before I became a pelvic floor physical therapist), I was naive, so I didn't prepare. There, I said it.
Ladies, childbirth is it's own sport. It's not a competition, but it takes stamina, determination and trust in your capabilities. We're "momletes" getting ready for the big game and when we're ready, we perform to the best of our potential.
Listen, I took a few birth prep classes and they were amazing, don't get me wrong!
I learned all about the stages of labor, creating a birth plan, breathing (kind of), positions of comfort and some other important stuff. I felt ready for the whole childbirth event.
BUT, we don't know what we don't know until we know it. (You may need to read that twice)
I guess you can say I was lucky. I had a relatively quick labor and delivery. I stayed home for most of my laboring as I was more fearful of being sent home from the hospital for false labor. I'd done a lot of yoga and believe it helped when it came time to "push"! And man did I push! I pushed even when there weren't contractions. I was ready to get my baby out!! It took about 20 minutes of active pushing, a little episiotomy (followed by a little more tearing, just like the potato chip bags) and my baby girl entered the world with a healthy cry.
To say I hurt down below after tearing is an understatement. I sat on ice, soaked in a SITZ bath and sprayed my undercarriage with numbing spray for at least 8 weeks! Walking was a challenge for about 5 months after my first childbirth. I wasn't prepared for that. And not one class even hinted that my vagina would feel like a swollen eye that's been hit by a baseball for a few weeks postpartum followed by the feeling of an empty hole between my legs once the swelling resolved. My pelvic floor was injured, my vagina muscles were swollen yet weak. I didn't prepare them at all prior to birth and I had NO CLUE how to care for them after. Oh, and then 7 months later, I was pregnant with baby 2.
Needless to say the second pregnancy was a challenge. I felt as if my baby was going to slide out by about 5 months pregnant! My lack of vagina strength had me worried I'd birth with every step. Thankfully, I was wrong, she stayed tucked inside my cozy uterus until full term. I actually had an easier second delivery. No tearing, no episiotomy. I could roll over in bed comfortably AND chase my toddler around without pain! Praise the birthing Gods.
After having children, my perspective changed. I started to inquire about the pelvic floor and began my journey of pelvic health education. The light bulb went on and I realized there was so much missing from my prenatal preparation (or lack thereof). I probably could've had an easier first childbirth and avoided an episiotomy if only someone taught me about my vagina prior to childbirth. And now I'm on a mission to share with the world what I wish I knew my first go around!
Going into childbirth naively may be blissful for some
For me, I wanted to know it all. I wanted to be ready and feel like I was in control of my body (as much as I could be, let's face it, things happen and may not go as "planned" and I was mostly OK with that). Part of my birth plan was actually to be flexible and adapt along the way. My birth motto was, know that you're not a failure even if you take a different path...you completed the journey and did what you could to get there safely.
The thing is, there was NO PELVIC FLOOR CHILDBIRTH prep offered. No one told me that where the baby travels through must open to 3x it's size during a vaginal birth. No one told me that area can be prepped for delivery. Oh, and it's not just perineal stretching that preps the vagina. It's understanding how your lady parts work! Making sure your pelvis and hips can open so your baby can move down the canal easier. Finding your innate ability to birth by cultivating a connection between your mind, hormones, pelvic floor and breath to naturally manage pain and help labor progress smoothly.
I believe that part of why my labor actually progressed quickly (now that I know what I know), was that I had a history of horribly painful menstrual cramps. The sensation of contractions wasn't new to me and my brain...it felt like my old friend, period pains. Therefore, I accepted the pains without fear. I felt the burn and went with it!
If you're anything like me and want to know all you can, then do yourself a favor the first time (or if its your second, the second time) and add to your list of classes a specific pelvic floor birth prep program.
If you're curious about how to prep YOUR pelvic floor for birth...check out the roadmap I've created to help you have an easier birth and how to lower your risk of perineal tears.
In a prenatal pelvic floor birth program (well, at least in the one I teach), you'll learn simple anatomy of your pelvis (muscles, bones, etc), you'll understand the concept of what happens down below during childbirth (from a neuromuscular perspective...this means what the muscles do to allow the baby to come out and how the nervous system affects the muscles during this time). You'll have a clear set of exercises to get your hips and pelvis moving easier so your baby is in the right position and you can open for birth. You'll learn strategies to get your mind, pelvic floor and vagina ready for the sensation of stretch and techniques to ease your fears for an easier childbirth.
I remember when I was pregnant, every woman shared their birth stories with me (whether they were good or bad). Most of these stories weren't helpful for my journey through labor and delivery, but one piece of advise stuck with me. I was told, "the pain I was going to feel is a good pain. It's the sensation of the baby coming down the canal into the world." I shifted my belief on pain. Ingrained in my brain was the concept that pain can be safe and doesn't always mean warning, danger ahead. Yes, pain is there to protect us, but during childbirth, it's inevitable and I learned to accept it. It helped me on a mental, physical and hormonal level more than I understood at the time.
Many women that'd gone through my birth prep program were second time moms. They had a "not so glamorous" first childbirth and were seeking an easier experience the second time around. The common thread between each mom that goes through the program is this...
They wonder why they didn't learn this stuff before.
But like I said, we don't know what we don't know until we know it!
I hope your birth experience is different. I hope you don't fear or worry about tearing, because that may be the one thing that holds you back from progressing. I hope you're one of the moms that say, "I'm glad someone told me this." I hope you believe in yourself.
P.S. If you skipped down here to bottom because you like to read the ending first, you missed a little inside story and inspiration behind my birth prep program.
P.P.S. If you're curious about how to prep YOUR pelvic floor for birth...check out the roadmap I've created to help you have an easier birth and how to lower your risk of perineal tears.