This post has been several weeks in the making, or 31 weeks in the making, depending on how you look at it. It's a hard one to write, there are a lot of emotional aspects, but I'll try my best to not over-dramatize. About a month ago, I invited a Physical Therapist (that specializes in pelvic floor and Diastasis Recti) to my Our Village playgroup that happens after Stroller Strides. These are both areas not spoken enough about in the postpartum arena, and my clients had expressed a lot of interest. The PT offered to check all my clients for Diastasis, there was certainly a range of levels and depths, but I almost didn't bother to have her check me. I have been experiencing back and joint pain, particularly when trying to run beyond 4-5 miles, but I thought "surely I'm fine".
I was the last one to get checked, and apparently had the deepest and widest gap of anyone. If you don't know what that means, here is a visual representation to show how your ab muscles should be, to properly support you and keep your organs in place. And next to it is what happens during pregnancy and childbirth. I've read a lot of articles, researched a lot of treatments since then. I decided to get a second Physical Therapist's opinion and she actually expressed surprise that I wasn't having more issues for how weak and deep my separation and muscles are. As a prenatal / postnatal Fitness Instructor, that was probably the lowest point for me.
My immediate reaction were feelings of shame, regret, anxiety, and mostly guilt. I felt irresponsible, like I had steered my early postnatal clients in the wrong direction. If I didn't know how to prevent and properly heal Diastasis, then who was I to be talking to them about pelvic floor, engaging their cores, belly breaths, proper form, etc during fitness classes?
When I went to my first physical therapy appointment, the Physical Therapist talked about their program, the Tupler Technique, took my measurements, before photos for comparison, taught me how to put on the splint and explained that it had to be worn 24/7 for 6 weeks (except to shower). Then she told me no exercise outside of the PT ones. My heart fell. No exercise for 6 weeks?!? I started to tear up. Not only do I love to exercise, but it also helps me naturally manage my depression that flares up from time to time, helps me sleep better, and keeps my energy high and mood swings low. I pushed those emotional responses down, reminded myself how important self-care is and of my end goal to be able to run another Half Marathon eventually with no back pain. Then I asked the hard question.
Was this my fault?
Did I push myself too hard? Too soon? Too fast? Did I do too much? Not enough? Did I gain too much weight? Had I not lost it quickly enough? Had I done this to myself?
She gently assured me that I didn't do anything wrong. Of course there are always things we could do differently. I could have gone to a Physical Therapist during pregnancy. I could have worn the splint with extenders and learned how to properly breathe and gently pull my belly button up and in, my ribs gently toward one another. I could have done this throughout pregnancy and continued immediately after giving birth. I shouldn't have been doing burpees, front planks, push-ups, crunches. I could have learned to get up and down from a bed, the floor, a chair correctly. But I didn't know any of this during or right after my pregnancy. My obgyn never mentioned a thing during, immediately after or at my 6-week postpartum check-up. Most obgyn's don't even know how to check for Diastasis and don't specialize in Pelvic Floor recovery. I learned about these things during my Fit4Mom training, and at that point, I assumed I had properly healed and those concerns no longer applied directly to me.
I have gradually started sharing with my clients of my diagnosis, as it does make teaching certain moves more challenging. I've been showing less intense options, explaining how to increase intensity, and then helping correct form and technique. I've asked more advanced and experienced clients, or even my instructors sometimes, to demonstrate core moves for the rest of the class. The last clients I've started sharing this with take Stroller Strides, my earlier postnatal mamas. I still feel shame. I still worry they will look at me differently, question my postnatal knowledge. This sits with me daily and some days weighs me down more than even this awful, uncomfortable splint.
The splint makes a lot of my daily life more challenging. It makes it hard to bend side to side and bend down to pick up things. It makes sitting for stretches of time very uncomfortable. It digs into my ribs, cuts into my hips, presses on my bladder, catches on my clothing. The velcro comes apart throughout the day and rubs together when I walk. Dogs can probably hear me coming from a mile away. I'm on week three of the treatment and even called the PT the other day to check if I should be having so many issues. She said unfortunately that bringing your ab muscles gradually back together is an uncomfortable process, and wearing a tank top both beneath and over the splint may help with some of rubbing issues. Thank goodness it's cold here so layering isn't a problem. I just feel like a stuffed bird now with two tanks, a splint, and at least one additional layer on top of those three.
Okay, so maybe this post is starting to go off the deep end a bit. Week three has been hard. I'm worried it won't work. I'm worried I might need surgery. I'm worried I'll go through all this and never run past 5 miles. And I miss working out with a deep, dull, constant ache. I miss running the most.
If you're wondering at this point why I'm doing this at all if it's so dang miserable, this is why. I want to believe I can improve this. I want so badly for my entire body to not ache regularly. I want to set a good example for my clients. I want to set a good example for my daughter that it's important to take care of yourself. I want to prioritize self-care. I want to start off the New Year feeling stronger than ever. I can't wait to put on my running shoes again, go for a light 3-mile run, and my lower back to not slowly tense as I push myself up that large hill on the eastern portion of Prospect Park.