WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT!
Unless you've experienced vaginal prolapse, you probably won't care about this post and I imagine you'll skip right past it. But if you have, I hope this gives you some comfort. It happened to me and - as it turns out - a surprising number of my mum mates, too.
Mine happened three weeks after the birth of my second son. Just as I was starting to feel human again, I went to the loo, wiped and felt the bulge of - brace yourself - my bladder pushing itself out of my vagina. I was horrified. My body was supposed to be healing and instead it was falling apart. I immediately made an appointment to see my GP to get some reassurance that this was normal and fixable.
My GP was brilliant. She checked me out, determined that my uterus was still high and confirmed that it was 'anterior prolapse' - which, of all the types of prolapse you can have, seems like the best one to get...
Type 1. Anterior prolapse (cystocele) - the bladder bulges into the front wall of the vagina
Type 2. Prolapse of the uterus and cervix or top of the vagina - can be the result of a previous hysterectomy
Type 3. Posterior wall prolapse (rectocoele or enterocoele) - the bowel bulges forward into the back wall of the vagina
She explained that the best treatment was self help - essentially pelvic floor exercises, to strengthen the muscles and try to lift everything back up again - and to return in 3 months if things were worse or sooner if I experienced incontinence. Surgery can help, but it's a last resort and will only be done once the patient has decided not to have more children (as pregnancy and childbirth would most likely undo the effects).
Feeling a bit better, I started doing the exercises regularly. If you're unsure about doing them, the best technique is to imagine you're squeezing to stop the flow of pee. And if you need motivation and guidance, try using a pelvic (or Kegel) trainer.
Best Buy! Elvie Pelvic Trainer, £169 at elvie.com. Yes, it's eye-wateringly expensive but it's incredibly clever, really helps to ensure you're doing things correctly and tracks any improvements.
In researching this and trying to understand why it happens to some women and not others, I asked a Consultant Gynaecologist what causes prolapse and she explained that the most common cause is a difficult labour with an intense amount of pushing. That resonated with me as my first labour was pretty drawn out and I did spend a lot of time pushing without making much progress. She added that it's actually incredibly common but - because it's not often talked about - it's easy to feel isolated if it does affect you.
The good news is that (10 months later) things have improved for me. I still have this issue but normal life has resumed and it's now just another part of my post-babies body that I've learnt to live with. The bad news is that the hormonal changes that will occur with ageing and the menopause can cause prolapse to worsen or recur. Ultimately, pelvic floor exercises need to be done daily and forever... or our pensions will be spent on packs of Tena Lady.