Her Journey is Not My Journey
Before I became a mom, I had formed ideas of what childbirth would look like. I had watched the documentaries, listened to personal stories, read all the blogs and figured out what it would look like for me: my husband would dote endlessly on me as a pregnant woman, the birth would be a drug-free, natural birth, breastfeeding would be intuitive for both my baby and me, and my body would bounce-back quickly because I would get out and get active the minute after I gave birth. All completely realistic ideas.
My first birth ended in c-section after about 43 hours of labor. Those 43 hours were mostly waiting for my body to do something; my water broke early, but I didn’t naturally go into labor nor did the medical interventions do anything to progress the process. That baby was staying put so after day 2 of waiting, I was exhausted, defeated, and ready to meet the baby.
We left the hospital with our healthy baby girl, struggling to breastfeed and in shock, like most parents. I also brought home a decent amount of shame that my body didn’t do what I believed it could. I was one of four children, my mom was one of ten-- I come from a line of women who were great at bearing children so I felt I had failed in some way. On top of it, my recovery was longer and harder than I had expected.
The reality is, I had NO idea what the recovery was supposed to look like. I had never seen it up close enough to have a realistic picture. What I saw were women who bounced back quickly and didn’t seem to have any pain or struggles. Here’s the secret: THEY WEREN’T SHARING THE STRUGGLES!!! But I didn’t see that; in their “success,” I only saw my own shortcomings.
When I found out I was pregnant with our second child, I was determined to have the birth I had idealized. The “VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) Your Way” class was awkward like all birthing classes, but it proved to be quite useful for my husband and me. Our doula was really great about helping me advocate for the birth I wanted and continually encouraged me through the process.
Our little guy proved early-on he was in no rush to do things. Every hour after his due date passed was counted expectantly. I never would have known that nine days could feel like a hundred. Massages, pineapples, sex, Indian food...if someone said they went into labor after doing something, I tried it. You can guess the outcome: he came when he was good and ready at a solid 9 lbs., 5 oz., but I got to have the birth I wanted. It was an incredible experience for me and everything I would have hoped for in a birth. I felt like a superhero! I was walking on cloud nine for days.
Literally, I was walking around so much, doing so many things I should not have been doing having just had a baby. Prior to having the VBAC, I would see women out who had just had babies and think to myself, “That’ll be me. I’m going to be like her” so I pushed myself in ways that were silly. Slowly, I started to notice that, as I was healing, things didn’t feel right but I told myself that I’d never had a baby come out that way so maybe it was fine? After a few weeks of worry, I finally took an actual look and realized, nope, things were not the way they should be. Filled with worry (thanks, Google), I called my doctor as soon as I could and what I was met with was an apathetic nurse who scheduled my exam for a few days later in the week. My parts were felt like they were falling out and it was not urgent! What??
When he did see me, my doctor told me that what I was experiencing was a pelvic organ prolapse and that this was a very normal experience in childbirth. “Just do some kegels,” he said and offered to refer me to physical therapy if I wanted. My parts were falling out and he (my male doctor) told me to just do some kegels. I had heard of that happening to older women who’ve had a hysterectomy but I was young(ish) and healthy! I didn’t know that could happen after childbirth and I certainly didn’t know what to do about it. Once again, I felt betrayed by my body.
I was overwhelmed with the addition to our family of our second child. I didn’t feel I was measuring up as a wife or mom to our firstborn or as manager of the house. The enemy in my head was powerful during that time and I realized that I had to change the tape in my head if I were to start healing at all. I would say to myself: My body is healing, my body is strong, my body is healthy. It became my prayer to God. Over and over I would say it walking in to the grocery store, washing dishes, nursing our baby; any moment I felt the poison of self doubt and shame creep in, I said it. I needed to believe it.
At one point, I reached out to a Facebook group of moms I knew to ask if anyone in that group had experienced a prolapse but I was only met with crickets. No one in my own family had anything like that (remember all those babies from my grandma and mom) and none of my friends. For something so “normal”, I felt quite alone in what I was experiencing. Once again, I started looking at other women as yardsticks and I felt so inadequate. It only took a few days for me to realize that kegels were not going to be the thing to heal me mentally or physically so I asked to be referred to physical therapy.
My pelvic floor physical therapist was a godsend. She was patient and kind and helped me feel like what I was going through was not a sentencing. If you’re not familiar with pelvic floor physical therapy, it can get quite intimate but that was exactly what I needed to help me learn more about my body and the healing process. I finished therapy after about three months in a much better place, filled with encouragement on how my body had progressed and with some great tools to continue helping my body heal. When I ran into my physical therapist about a year later, I wanted to hug her. It’s crazy how a one-hour, once-a-week session can change your life.
I gave a lot of energy to my pelvic floor, sometimes letting it dictate my whole day. I have always felt that you should be connected to and mindful of your body but thinking about my pelvic floor organs so frequently was not the kind of mindfulness I wanted. When our son was about 18 months old, I realized, with immense gratitude, that my prolapse wasn’t something that took up space in my day-to-day anymore.
Last year, when I became pregnant with our third child, I was in the middle of training for a 5k (running is so hard for me!). I was thrilled to be able to run almost every day and feel like I had a normal body. As the pregnancy progressed, however, my pelvic floor, once again, started taking center stage of my thoughts. At the beginning of the pregnancy, every change I felt caused some worry about what was happening to my pelvic floor. I was often relieved to learn that my cousin, who was only a week ahead of me in her pregnancy and prolapse-free, was also experiencing many of the same symptoms. I approached the subject immediately with my new (female) OB and we made a plan for my postpartum recovery that would include physical therapy.
I was able to have another successful VBAC with our third baby (a girl!). After the birth, many of the same symptoms I had with the second birth began presenting themselves. The difference this time is that I knew what it was and I knew what to do. I rested more than I was comfortable with and I let others help me with tasks that seemed trivial. As soon as I felt able, I started home exercises and kegels (they are really helpful) and as soon as I could get an appointment, I started physical therapy with a pelvic floor specialist. At six months postpartum, I’m feeling about 80% in the pelvic floor department but 100% confident things are going to be okay.
I share my situation freely when I talk with other women because I don’t want anyone else to feel isolated like I did. For some reason, it also gives me permission to take it easy on myself. I am learning to look at other women and say to myself, “Her journey is not my journey.” I want to remember, for myself and for my kids, that our bodies are remarkable and not only in childbirth.
Your body heals. Your body is strong. Your body is amazing. Believe it.
Krissy Zimmer and her husband David have three kids together: Edelyn, 6; Edgerly, 4; Josephine, 1. If they could get a little more sleep, she'd work extra hard to convince David that 4 kids by 40 is the life they truly want.
For now, their family of five lives in Pacifica, CA where Krissy is at home full-time. She spends her days schlepping kids to school, therapy, church and ballet; meal prepping, entertaining and not sleeping. She's living her dream job but hopes this is the year her pay doubles. While it is the toughest job she's ever had, the years already seem to be flying by!