I’m delighted to introduce our next everyday champion, Carla Nicol: friend, teacher, mother, wife, and empowered woman recovering from incontinence, back pain, and postpartum depression.
Everyday champion: a term I would not use to describe myself. Someday champion, sure. I’m almost 27 months postpartum and still trying to find my fitness groove and return to my pre-baby weight.
Giving birth was easy. Seriously. But the return from it hasn’t been. My son decided to come a month early. My water broke Sunday night and our first prenatal class was to start on Tuesday night. Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared. We went to the hospital and within 3 and a half hours of being induced I had a baby (ummmm, what?). The oxytocin, which generally takes 6-12 hours to fully dilate a woman on her first birth, worked wonders on me. Yay, right?!
Unfortunately as a result of this rapid fire birth, my pelvic floor muscles were stretched and weakened. At the time I didn’t notice. I had a baby. I walked outside as much as possible (shockingly, it was nice outside in January/February in 2016). Then my 6-week checkup arrived. My doctor noticed some scar tissue and recommended I see a pelvic floor physiotherapist (a physiotherapist with special training to check out your vagina…yes, vagina).
Turns out it’s hard to get in to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist. The first office I called wasn’t able to see me until June (remember, this was February). JUNE?!?!? My son would be 6 months by then. I wondered, would it still be beneficial? I called around and found a place that could see me at the beginning of March. I wanted my body back. I wanted to regain control of something in my life so I decided to keep walking and occasionally run on the treadmill.
Bad idea. During a jog one day I experienced a serious episode of incontinence. Seriously? How could this be happening? This was more than I could bear. It sent me into postpartum depression.
I felt like the one thing I had control of had been taken away from me and I could no longer enjoy the activity that allowed me to think, to breathe, to enjoy “me”.
Returning to exercise became a necessity for me. I returned to my physiotherapist and committed to my homework. As per my physiotherapist’s instructions, I had to:
- Stop running for a period of time;
- Learn how to breathe (correctly) to strengthen my pelvic floor muscles;
- Have sex! Yes, my homework included sex.
To determine if strength was returning, my husband took on the role of my in-house pelvic floor physiotherapist. He had to check the strength of my kegels (and you know what that means…) and participate in my sex homework. This wasn’t a problem for him, but, it was a challenge for me. When you are depressed, exhausted from dealing with a newborn all day, and making time for exercise, sex is the last thing you want to do; but I did it. We even made a “sex jar” to keep track of how many times we did it!
My pelvic floor was strengthening.The depression started to go away. I was allowed to jog. My life was turning around and I felt good! I was healthy. I was focusing on me.
My transition back to work was fairly seamless, minus one co-worker who called me “bad mom” for putting my son in daycare (ummmm, excuse me?). Oh, and missing the first week due to the stomach flu. But as soon as I was back, I was back. I immersed myself completely (as teaching requires) in my role: marking, prepping, professional development. I thrived on creating new resources, assessments, and songs (yes, math songs). Finding a balance between teaching and being mom was and still is challenging. Yet, I didn’t mind; I had returned to “me”.
My exercise fell by the wayside.
In May (after returning to work end of January 2017), I hurt my back lifting my son and couldn’t move. I had to miss work, which I never do. I cancelled a full night of Parent-Student-Teacher Conferences because I couldn’t sit.
I felt defeated. After doing so much work to get me to a place of strength, I had lost so much of it. I went to a different physiotherapist with better hours. Yet, after three months of physiotherapy, countless hours of homework, and a ridiculous amount of money, I could still barely move. It was my doctor who asked about my pelvic floor. I told her I wasn’t working on it. My new physiotherapist hadn’t asked about this – not once. I stopped seeing him.
So what did I do (and continue to do)?
- I refocused on my pelvic floor and my breathing exercises – no sweating, no running, no heavy breathing. Breathing and I are now friends and I have new-found respect for walking;
- I wake-up at 4:30 AM to walk. You know you’re committed when you wake up before the magpies (these are birds, people);
- I’m managing my expectations about returning to pre-baby weight. I’m no longer pre-baby; I’m not where I started and my body isn’t what it was. And maybe it doesn’t need to be to be okay.
As I wake this morning (at 4:32 AM; I like to be sequential), I remind myself why I do this: to gain control of my life, to strengthen my core and pelvic floor, to maintain sanity, to be physically capable of carrying a second child, and to feel like myself again.
I am proud of who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve done to get here and most importantly, where I am going. Every day may not be a win, but some days are. I will take those wins and keep pushing to be an everyday champion.
Thank you, Carla, for sharing your postpartum recovery journey; you are truly an everyday champion. Incontinence affects many women following labour and delivery (between 6 to 29 per cent apparently) and can have a range of psychological and physiological consequences, many of which aren’t talked about. We need more brave women, like Carla, sharing and empowering other women to take action and seek help when things go wrong or don’t feel right.
Interested in learning more unique and useful parenting strategies? Check out Live It Active’s upcoming Speaker Series, Discovering the Inner (and Awesome) Parent in You.
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