After the birth of my second child, I thought I would return to running again when pigs fly. My 9 pound 4 ounce bundle of joy left my body unrecognizable to me. The aftermath of delivering that sweet baby became a daily source of frustration and embarrassment. Leaking urine when I sneezed or even sometimes when I simply stood up was not what I imagined motherhood looking like. To complicate things further, I felt pressure in my pelvis and learned that I had a pelvic organ prolapse. How on earth was I going to chase my 3-year-old and my quickly growing new baby without embarrassing myself, let alone lace up my shoes and run? I had almost completely resigned myself to the idea that running would no longer be a part of life until I learned these common after- baby issues are curable. It turns out the pelvic floor muscles are trainable; and just like all other muscles in the body, they will respond to exercise. By regaining my pelvic muscle strength, I was able to chase both my children and my running goals.
The delivery of my second child was nothing out of the ordinary. A minor tear, a few stitches and a healthy baby boy were the grand prize after a few hours of labor. After delivery but before I went home, I noticed that I seemed to have very little bladder control. The nurse told me not to worry. “This is normal after childbirth”, she said. “Do Kegels, and you will be good as new,” were her final words as I wearily departed from the hospital.
A Kegel, Google told me, is a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. I had read about them previously in a magazine as a method of improving activity in the bedroom. My research concluded that I should try to squeeze the muscles as though I was going to stop the flow of urine. After trialing this technique in the bathroom, I learned that while I could slow the stream of urine down, I couldn’t completely stop it. I would attempt to do Kegels- when I remembered to do them, I could feel something very slight happening down there. I had no idea if I was doing them correctly, and as a busy mom I was inconsistent! Let’s be honest - it can be a struggle remembering to wash your hair and feed yourself when there are little ones to tend to.
As the weeks passed, my baby thrived, reaching his milestones - smiling, cooing, and rolling. I was so grateful to have my healthy baby; however, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed and frustrated at my awful bladder control. If I laughed at his funny faces, I had to change a pad. When I lifted him into his car seat, I felt pressure in my pelvis. I tried to have a sense of humor initially- reverse potty training I though. “Maybe I can re-learn while I potty train my three year old,” I told myself. After some time, I stopped seeing the humor in a grown woman changing pads and baby diapers all the time. After all, there are only so many minutes in a day, and who has time for all of this? I tearfully broke down and spoke to my mom, who told me bladder leakage was just part of the equation when you have babies. I told myself that running was just not that important. I could go for walks, or try Pilates.
Deep within me, I was frustrated. I didn’t feel attractive anymore, and I couldn’t do the activities I wanted to do to keep myself healthy. I knew there had to be a way to fix this problem, but I didn’t know what. The last straw for me came when my three year old asked me to jump on a small trampoline with him. I climbed up with my little boy, and two jumps in, had soaked my pants. I finally had enough. I called my gynecologist, and he recommended I see a pelvic floor physical therapist. I had heard this kind of physical therapyexisted but I could not for the life of me imagine what physical therapy for this problem would consist of.
My first visit with the pelvic physical therapist (PT) brought an incredible sense of relief. She explained to me that pregnancy and childbirth stretch and weaken the pelvic floor muscles, and that this results in less support for the bladder. The muscles were not strong enough to provide a seal around the urethra (where urine comes out of the body) and this is why I was leaking. She also said this weakness can allow the organs in the pelvis to sink down slightly, which was the cause of that pesky prolapse. Then she introduced me to Intimate Rose Kegel Weights. She said in order to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, I needed to train my brain to find them, and then to challenge them to get stronger. I must have looked at her as though she had horns growing from her head. “You want my vagina to lift weights?”
I realized if I had injured any other part of my body- my shoulder, knee, or hamstring - that part of the rehabilitation process would be to re-strengthen the injured muscles. This concept is readily accepted for the parts of the body that we can see, and it made sense!
The beauty of the kegel exercise weights is that I didn’t need a prescription from a doctor. I ordered them online and they came straight to my house- my own little secret present to myself. The weights were soft, covered in colorful silicone, and were easy to use; inserted just like a tampon. The six weights in the box were gradually heavier, so that as I became stronger, I could move on to the next one. The easiest part-after the weight was in - I could do easy chores around the house, such as washing dishes, showering, folding laundry, or preparing lunch for my kids - and after the 15 minute chore, my little pelvic floor workout was complete!
Day after day I used my Kegel exercise weights. I put it in first thing in the morning, and kept it in while I showered and blow-dried my hair. Once one weight felt easy to maintain after 15 minutes, I would move on to the next darker shade of purple. Some days felt more challenging than others, and I certainly noticed if I had a particularly active day running errands, working, and chasing children, then the next morning my pelvic floor muscles seemed to be more tired. My pelvic PT assured me this was normal, and sure enough a few days later I felt much better.
I noticed less and less leaking. After three weeks, I felt confident enough to try running. I laced up my running shoes for the first time, wondering if I was truly ready. I hadn’t really exercised since my first trimester of pregnancy, and I felt nervous. I headed out on my run and noticed that my pelvis and low back felt somehow more stable than even before I was pregnant. That first thirty minute run was a turning point in my mentality. I felt like me again. I also felt I was able to be more present as a mother without the mental clutter of worrying about where the closest bathroom was, when I would have to change my pad again, and whether or not I could withstand a funny story from a dear friend without being embarrassed by the smell of urine.
Over the span of about six months I progressed through the Kegel weight set to the heaviest weight. The deep dark purple weight was like a blue ribbon of sorts for me. Once I was able to maintain it during light activity like showering, I started using it while doing a few squats and light exercise.
The pressure in my pelvis gradually went away, and I stopped leaking urine all together. Eighteen months after the birth of baby number two, I booked a marathon. During this race, I qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon. If you asked me three months after the birth of my second child if I would ever run again, let alone run the Boston Marathon, I would have emphatically told you no. But, what seemed impossible became a reality thanks to re-strengthening my pelvic floor muscles.
Now, I feel confident in the bedroom, and I can participate in life’s sweetest moments - laughing and chasing my children without thinking about what my bladder might do. Beyond that, I have running back in my life - the activity that gives me the “ME time” every mother needs in order to stay energized to care for her family.