Thursday, 7 December 2017

Pelvic Health Series: Our journey to regaining strength, alignment, & function Jamie - part 4

Wow! What a journey this has been! Seriously! The conversations that have been started, the support we have received and the knowledge we have gained has been amazing and more than we could have ever imagined.  We have been inspired by those of you who have sought assessment and began your own journey of increased alignment and function. If you’d like to catch up on how our journeys began, check out our previous posts here.  
In Kellie’s last post she discussed “graduating” from physiotherapy.  While I am not at the stage of graduation yet, (I am still working on healing my abdominal separation) I have had some very powerful moments.  Over the course of four months, I have learned so much about myself and my body, through working with Jillian Palmer at Bounce Back Physical Therapy.  This journey to regain strength, function and alignment has been eye opening, powerful, motivating, shocking, humbling, educational and above all empowering. My body awareness, alignment, and core strength have improved immensely.   Yet beyond those self-improvements, there are three takeaways from this journey that stand out in my mind that I’d like to share with you.

1.  Your Breath is a Powerful Tool
Photo Credit Roughley Originals

When I first started seeing Jillian, I knew how to connect my movement to breath.  We cue for it in classes and I understood that you exhale during the exertion phase of whatever exercise you do so you can get better activation of the core and inevitably more strength.  Jillian would check my separation by having me exhale as I was curling my neck up.  Each and every time my separation was wide and she could stick her fingers down in between my rectus abdominus, meaning I couldn’t generate very much tension along my linea alba.  A few visits later, after trying numerous techniques to fix my diastasis, Jillian pulled a trick out of her hat and asked me to exhale and then engage my core by rolling up, instead of exhaling at the same time as I engaged.  Miraculously the depth of my separation changed instantly.  It was the most amazing thing!  Something as simple as changing my breathing pattern allowed my core muscles to function better.  There was still a gap between my abdominals but I could generate tension along my linea alba and you couldn’t stick your fingers into my midsection anymore!
You may have heard of the technique Blow Before You Go or Piston Breathing.  This is exactly the technique I was using to help eliminate some of the pressure in my core capsule before asking my core muscles and pelvic floor to engage.  This little extra release of pressure allowed my pelvic floor and transverse abdominus to engage more effectively.  Once I figured out the timing of coordinating my new breathing pattern to movement, I felt stronger and more stable.  I could feel my core completely and fully engage, along with my other muscles.  It was AMAZING to say the least!
Breath grounds us, refreshes us, revives us, and strengthens us and I now have a new understanding and appreciation for what this means and feels like.    

2.  Listen to your body

No seriously! Listen to your body.  
But what exactly does that mean? We always say and hear, “Listen to your body,” but what if you don’t even know your body?  
What if you just had a baby and your body just spent the past 10 months changing, growing, and shifting?
What if you are getting less sleep than ever before in your life?
What if your hormones are going nuts and your emotions feel like they are on a rollercoaster?  
What if your main concern right now is keeping your new little human or humans alive?
What if you are recovering from a major abdominal surgery?  
What if you just pushed a human being out of your vagina?  
What if your perineum suffered some serious trauma?
What if you can’t even feel your core muscles or your pelvic floor let alone determine if you are activating and contracting them?

You may be hearing your body but are you actually able to listen to what it’s telling you with all of the physical and emotional shifts that are still occuring in your beautiful body?

What if instead of simply listening to your body, someone told you to breathe, take your time, move slow and with intention, learn, embrace the change and the opportunity to retrain your body and mind?  
And what if someone told you that in doing this, the results would be more effective and longer lasting than powering through to get your “body back”?
What if you would potentially suffer fewer injuries in the long term and have a greater understanding of what listen to your body actually means and feels like?

I’d like to give you a little perspective here.  When someone has a knee injury they might be in physiotherapy or rehab for months.  We as women birth babies either vaginally or  abdominal surgery and get exercise clearance after six weeks.  Could you imagine having knee surgery and after six weeks post surgery just bouncing back to your activity level pre-injury?  The doctor gives you clearance to exercise so you go out for a 5km run right after.  You’re probably shaking your head or chuckling a bit now because that sounds crazy, right?
Yet as women, that’s the type of recovery we often expect of ourselves.  Have a baby and six weeks later look and move the same way you did before you were pregnant.  

When I look back at my recovery from both Everly and Camden, I wish I knew then what I know now.  I would do things differently with both of my recoveries.  Moving my body felt good. Sweating and endorphins and pushing my body felt good.  It was what I knew and loved.  It was my happy place.  With Everly I was eager to get back to running, so pretty much the day I got the OK from my obstetrician, I laced up and headed out. (Refer to previous comment about chuckling and shaking your head and thinking that’s crazy.) With Camden I took things slower but was still eager to move like I used to before pregnancy.  Just ask Kellie how often I asked her in the final weeks of my pregnancy, if I could now re-introduce the jump in cardio moves in class and the beaming smile I got as soon as she said yes. The endorphin hungry part of my being was telling me I was doing everything right or at least what I knew before pregnancy to be right.  But my new body after having a baby wasn’t my old body.  It needed different things but I didn’t know what those things were.  Slow wasn’t a word in my exercise vocabulary but in hindsight I wish it was. 
I don’t think that a slower, more intentional recovery would have prevented my prolapse or diastasis but I do know that it would have helped me have greater awareness of my body and given me a greater ability to really listen to it. 
We never return to our pre-pregnancy state and that is okay! Our bodies have grown a human and we should be proud and honoured by what they have done for us. We should respect the stages of change they need to go through post-birth as they shift into their new normal state.

3. Be your own advocate

If your child came to you and told you that they had a pain or weren’t feeling well, you would do everything in your power to make them feel better.  If they continued to express feelings of pain you would take them to the doctor and you would keep taking them or finding doctors that would help them until you had answers and they felt better.  

As moms, it’s ok to do this for ourselves too.  Your body has just been through the ringer and it is totally common to feel pressure, pain, or bulging vaginally or rectally, pain during intercourse, vaginal bleeding, low back pain, leak urine, or have incontinence of any kind.  It is even common for women to be completely symptomless, but have internal organs escaping from their body, a prolapse, and not even know it, unless she had an internal examination done by a pelvic health physiotherapist.  While experiencing any of these symptoms postpartum is common, it is not normal and not something you have to live with.  Fortunately it’s the sole purpose of a women’s health physiotherapist to help women find cures for their symptoms.  

Trust me, I know it’s scary to make that appointment.  I know moms are busy people and it’s so hard to find time to make an appointment for our littles, let alone for ourselves.   But making that appointment to see a pelvic health physiotherapist was one of the most liberating things I’ve done and I am so so glad I finally made my own health a priority and saw Jillian.  

If I could give women one piece of advice after this experience, it would definitely be to please advocate for yourself and fight for yourself and your body.  Fight to feel good and comfortable in your own skin.  Seek help if you are feeling symptoms and find someone who can help you.  Even make an appointment with a women’s health physiotherapist to learn more about your own body.  Whether you are years, months, days, or minutes postpartum, it’s never too early or too late. As Kellie wrote in one of her first posts, if you could be even a little stronger or function a little better, why wouldn’t you?  What do you have to lose?

Although everyone’s journeys and recoveries from birth will be different, every body and mind needs time to heal.  
Give yourself the time and grace that is needed to fully recover from the amazing feat your body just accomplished.  Surround yourself with people who will support and enhance your recovery.  Move slowly and with intention and control.  Learn how your new body moves and feels.  Reestablish the connection between your brain and your pelvic floor.  Learn to breathe and use that breath to move better and be stronger.  Slowly build back up your strength and conditioning and take the time to discover all about this amazing new body you have and what makes it soar.  It may be the same things as before but chances are, if you take the time and navigate your recovery with a sense of wonder and exploration, you will find a new awareness and strength you never knew you had before. 
Photo Credit Roughley Originals

You are an amazing woman and an amazing mom 
and you deserve to take care of yourself 
and feel your best in your body.  

Kellie and I are so excited for what 2018 has in store for us and Fit Your Life. We have enjoyed educating women about the importance of pelvic health and are already brainstorming ways to share even more information with all of you. Our goal is to continue spreading the word and shifting the thoughts that women need to “put up” with leaking, low libido and pain after giving birth.  
You can help too! Share this post, talk to your friends and family or make that appointment with a women's health physiotherapist. The more we normalize women's health by simply starting conversations, the quicker that shift in culture will happen.  

Keep watching here, Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date with Fit Your Life and some fun exciting educational opportunities you can get in on in 2018.

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