Once I had my baby girl, I naively believed my struggle with pregnancy-related exercise issues was over. Sure, I knew there was a period of postpartum healing, but I had faced the challenges of getting pregnant, I had survived the hideous sciatica and not being able to run once I hit 6 months, and (best yet) I had a fairly easy delivery when it comes down to it, with only slight tearing and minimal pushing (the whole thing was said and done in 7 hours start to finish) and a seamless healing process. Best yet, i had a beautiful healthy baby girl.
I did my time. I rested for the prescribed 6 weeks. I got “checked” and the green light to move again. And most importantly I felt good doing it. Really good. I took things slow. I gradually built up my mileage and I even started working with a run coach. My times were faster than they have been in almost 2 years. My goal? To get strong, build back my mileage and finally get back to that starting line and race again. The end goal? To finally run a Marathon (in May) that would qualify me to run Boston…ambitious, I knew, but I was up for the challenge.
So you can imagine my surprise when exactly 3 weeks and 4 days ago (yes i’m counting days here) I was stopped dead in my tracks 9.45 miles into a 12 mile long run. My hamstring had felt tight when I started the run but this didn’t feel like a hamstring injury.
My husband came to rescue me, and I climbed gingerly into the passenger seat and cried the whole drive home. I cried because despite trying to stay optimistic a little voice was telling me that this was bigger than rest and relaxation. Bigger than a tight muscle. Something in me told me that this was goodbye to the goal of a May marathon. And the worst part was – I had no clue where the pain was coming from or how to find relief.
I texted my coach and told her I thought it was my groin but I didn’t even know. This felt like pain deep inside me. In a place I couldn’t even pinpoint. It was pain that radiated front to back, down my leg and into the pit of my stomach. It didn’t feel good.
I went to a massage therapist. I stretched. I popped Aleve like candy. I made every anti-inflammatory smoothie in the book. I went to the chiropractor. I stopped exercising. I tried different exercises. I did zero running. And at the end of the day nothing helped.
After some preliminary “Dr. Google” diagnosing I determined that even though I didn’t have classic signs of pelvic dysfunction ever postpartum (no incontinence, no leaking) this was likely something related to my pelvic floor.
So I made a PT appointment and waited, hoping that in the meantime it would magically go away.
Until today it has been 3 weeks and 4 days of me being a sad sack while trying to put on a ‘no big deal’ front. It has been ‘test runs’ and lots of ellipticalling. There have been tears, and anger, and worry. I had my beloved running back — The activity that I specialize in with my clients, and helps me to destress, and allows me to find me time, and do my best thinking, and so on. The activity I have been so patiently waiting to get back at. And then just when it started to feel oh-so-good, BOOM, gone again.
But I’m telling myself that today is the bottom of the bottom. I can only go up from here. Because today I had my first PT appointment where it was confirmed that somewhere between the trauma of pushing out a baby and my level of activity in both sport and my daily life, I have a substantial flare up resulting in a spasm of the left side which made itself present as soon as it was approached. It was take-your-breath-away pain and as soon as my therapist began to massage it and I immediately (to my surprise) burst into tears.
I cried not because it hurt (even though it did), I cried out of relief. Finally — answers.
So what does a pelvic floor diagnosis, and therapy treatment look like? Basically it starts with a vaginal massage. And, what is initially pain begins to feel like relief as they work to manually stretch and release the muscle. Once inflammation and pain subsides I will be able to start working to strengthen.
Tied to your pelvic floor is your core. And your hips. And your glutes. And all need to be strong to stabilize you and support you and prevent further injury.
So what’s the moral of this story? Postpartum recovery takes time. Strength train. Your work doesn’t have to be strenuous but should be methodical. There’s a lot that’s misaligned, strained and pulled in pregnancy. Proactively help your body to get back into place or find someone that can help you. A PT evaluation is worthwhile for all postpartum mamas. Pelvic floor dysfunction can manifest itself in a lot of different ways.
Even if you don’t have the classic symptoms postpartum, be mindful of any slight pain or discomfort you may be having. Do you pee a little when you sneeze? Does intercourse hurt? It’s all related. Know you’re not alone. There are so many women going through similar journeys. You will get stronger. You will feel better. Trust the process. Be grateful for each day. Because even though everything may be feeling OK it can turn at any moment. Rest and snuggle with your baby and savor these moments. Exercise will be there for the rest of your life. Your baby, at this age, will not. Be prepared to set goals and then reset them. As you know, when you’ve got a 5 month old at home anything is fair game in terms of daily plans. The same goes for your more aspiring monthly and yearly goals. At the end of the day all that matters is your ability to carry a healthy baby to term. Remind yourself you have an amazing body and there’s always a small human smiling back at you and ready to love you when you feel your worst.
So, the May marathon obviously isn’t happening. I’m over that. I’ve done my time and learned my lesson. And tomorrow i’m ready for my second chance. Once we get the inflammation managed I will start with the basics. The monotonous, incredibly boring exercises that will strengthen me from the inside out. And then I will take it slow and be grateful for every step i can take pain free. Every mile I can tick off.
That’s the silver lining of injuries. They make us step back. They ground us. And they remind us to listen to our bodies and to never complain about another run again!
It’s the stories from Gina and others that keep me going. That make me feel good knowing that there are others out there going through this too. So, if you’re going through postpartum recovery on any level hang in there. If you’re sidelined from running while pregnant, hang in there. You will get back, even when it feels impossibly hard and far away (like me right now).
In the meantime share your stories. Share your experiences. Lets celebrate our strength and physical weaknesses. And most importantly celebrate your dedication to your health and the arrival of your beautiful baby.