27 August 2012

The Real (Slightly Awkward) Reason I'll Never Be a Runner

A few weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and join a gym for the first time in 2.5 years. It's nearby, affordable, and includes childcare. Wins all around, right? I became determined to finally start running. Oh, I've started a running program at least a half a dozen times in my adult life. Each time, Something Big Happens That Causes Me To Stop: I get pregnant, I twist an ankle, I move out of the country. 

But now I have no excuses. I start slow, just a few minutes at a time.  It's not long before I begin to feel all over-achiever. I'm going to do it this time. I'm not going to hit a roadblock. I'm not going to wimp out. And then it happens.

(Warning: TMI potential abounding from here on out.)

I'm about a minute into my run, and I start to feel a little heavy, um, down there. That familiar pressure, intensified by each pounding of each foot on the treadmill. I slow down. It doesn't help. I stop completely. The feeling is (mostly) gone.

Three words enter my mind: Pelvic. Organ. Prolapse.

Now, I don't see much about this in the blogging world. Oh, we writers in the Mommy Blogosphere don't shy away from delicate and embarrassing topics. How many of you have told your own birth stories in excruciating detail? Discussed all the gory moments of postpartum recovery? Commented on other blogs or pages with meticulous snippets of how motherhood has changed your body inside and out? Commiserated over leaky, saggy breasts? Shared personal information about your post-Mommy sex life?

This, however, is just something I haven't noticed being talked about. I doubt it's self-consciousness or modesty, given the array of topics I do see shared about extensively (see previous paragraph). So it makes me wonder: does it really not affect as many women as is claimed? Or do women perhaps dismiss it as something else?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pelvic organ prolapse (POP) affects nearly 50% of women who have given birth. What is it exactly? The simple answer is that pregnancy and childbirth, aging, being overweight, the onset of menopause, and other factors can cause pelvic floor muscles and connective tissues weaken. This can lead to one or more of the pelvic organs (i.e., vaginal vault [top of the vagina], cervix, uterus, bladder, urethra, small intestines, rectum) "dropping" a bit into the vagina. The resulting pressure can range from relatively mild (or not even noticeable) to drastic enough to require corrective surgery. Most women will fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

The Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support (APOPS) lists multiple symptoms of POP, including pressure in the vagina or rectum, feeling like something inside is "falling out," or abdominal pain. (In my case, it's primarily pressure, and it gets worse as the day progresses, especially if I'm standing a lot.)

I was diagnosed shortly before my youngest child turned one. The type I have is a cystocele (i.e., prolapsed bladder). Interestingly, the most common symptom of this type of POP (as well as others) is urinary incontinence, but I never seemed to be affected by that. Instead, I experienced a feeling of heaviness, a sensation of something pushing down from the top of the vagina. (Kind of like at the end of pregnancy when your uterus is very heavy and you can feel pressure, except you're not pregnant.) 

So, what's a gal to do? Well, for a mild case, this is where those ever-popular Kegels come into play. (Click here for a detailed how-to.) Unfortunately, while doing them regularly may help prevent the prolapse from getting worse, they alone will not "fix" a prolapse that has already occurred. (However, suggested preventative measures include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding heavy lifting, treating/preventing constipation, and not smoking.)

More serious instances may require surgery, but there are other options between simple Kegels and surgical repair, including the use of a pessary. For more information on diagnosis, home remedies, and treatment plans, check out the following:

Have you experienced this? What remedies have you found useful?


  1. This is fascinating. I have to admit that when I read the first paragraph that I subconciously started doing kegals. ;)

    I hadn't heard of symptoms to be on the watch for now. I had a family friend who had a uterine prolapse and her doctor told her another contributing factor was the fact that American women pride themselves so much on getting back on their feet and into the swing of full life immediately after having a baby.

    I remember feeling that I deserved a badge of honor when I went shopping at Costco two days after I had my third baby. With my fourth, my sister insisted on coming over and making sure that I stayed in bed for at least the first couple of days and then didn't try to take on any extra duties aside from cuddling/nursing the new baby and reading books to the siblings. It was so hard to do this. It took her insistance and what we knew about this family friend to keep me there.

    1. I think I actually rested the most after having my THIRD baby. Maybe I finally figured out that I needed to?
      I'm pretty sure what "caused" this for me was the way I carried that third pregnancy. He was SO low and so heavy the last few months, way different than my pregnancies with the girls. I was a walking example of the myth (is it really a myth?) that women tend to carry girls high and boys low.

  2. I recently read an article on this and how kegels really don't help.


    1. Someone had mentioned person/website this blog interviews when I originally published the post. However, it just doesn't seem credible to me. Here's just this one person, with a vague bio, saying buy my dvd/book because my way is better. ("The only human physics scientist that has focused her expertise to address our country’s epidemic-level health crisis and the mechanical causes of disease" . . . what the what?) Yet, APOPS, ACOG, and the Mayo Clinic are giving the opposite advice (that they do in fact work).