Today’s blog has been written by Alexandra Schafer – Alex – another one of my fabulous pelvic health physios and instructors at Studio194. She has shared her story about her post-natal rectus diastasis (abdominal muscle separation). As you know I have tasked all the girls with writing anything they like about exercise for International Women’s Day and sometimes when you give people free rein with a topic, you get plenty of (good) surprises. Over the years, so many of my patients have been surprised and even shocked that I have pelvic floor issues – they don’t realise many, many women’s health physios get into this area because of their own dysfunction! So here is Alex’s story – again a wonderful story of recovery and application of what we do every day to inspire anyone out there who maybe post natal and wondering – “Am I ever going to be ok again to exercise?”
Exercise is an important part of my life. My family and I hike a lot together, the boys play all sorts of sport, we go to the beach to swim and run around and I could keep going on and on about how important exercise is to me/us.
When Sue asked me to write something for International Women’s day, I wanted to write about return to exercise after pregnancy and birth – which was actually a huge struggle for me!
Before I got pregnant with my first son I was quite a gym junkie and did lots of running. I loved my exercise. During my first pregnancy, I was luckily able to continue my exercise regime with only a few changes which is probably why I recovered really well afterwards. During the second pregnancy however, I didn’t get to do much exercise at all, due to a lack of time and energy. After the birth of my second son I was told in hospital that I had an 8 cm large separation of my abdominal muscles. This came as a huge shock to me and got me worried about how I would recover and would I be able to look after my very active toddler and a newborn baby. There was such a lack of support in my abdominal muscles that I could not even laugh without having to hug my belly.
Of course, I was trying to be a good patient and did my pelvic floor and deep abdominal exercises, which did help to decrease the enormous gap in my tummy muscles. But returning to the exercises I had previously loved was a whole different challenge. Every time I did do some weight lifting at the gym or tried to go for a run I felt really weak and I was too scared to continue for fear of risking a prolapse. So I avoided those kinds of exercises. It took me almost 2 years to find the confidence to again go for a run.
Initially it was surely a lack of strength and too much laxity, but the fear to do damage with exercises was a massive problem as time went on. Looking back I wish I could have found a place like Studio 194 where I am teaching classes, where I could have trusted that the exercises were pelvic floor friendly and safely progress me on to the exercises I did do before babies. At work every day we see women (after having babies but also during and after menopause or post-surgical) doing exactly this- struggling with a return to exercise – with the biggest barrier often being this fear factor!
Return to exercise is the goal for almost every woman. I am passionate about helping women as they struggle with any pelvic health problem and being able to offer to them advice and give them the confidence to return in a paced and graded way to exercise is fantastic. Pelvic floor issues can be so debilitating, embarrassing and longstanding. What I love about my job is that it is pretty amazing to see women progress in their exercise programs and feel confident in their bodies again. And it is not only the physical side of increasing strength, stamina and flexibility but also how exercise makes us all feel happy.
In the clinic I am often asked: “Have I ignored the problem for too long? Is it too late to get better?” The answer is NO! It is never too late to get better and to return to exercise. Our bodies are made to move! If I have learnt one thing from my own post-natal experience, it is to never give up and stick to what you can do until you are strong enough to do what you love. For some women this might mean to use vaginal support pessaries or to have their running technique or exercise regime analysed in order to make changes that enhance their recovery.
Happy International Women’s Day everyone!
Thanks Alex- a fabulous story with a happy (exercise) ending. If Alex can put her hiking photo in, then I’m going to also.
Sue looking the part with her hiking sticks Mont Blanc 2017
You can have one-on-ones with Alex or attend her Mums and Bubs class or general Pilates classes at Studio 194.