September 2016: This is the face of a woman recently diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse and pelvic floor dysfunction.
This is a woman that had recently created a fitness-based business, was an avid-lover of strength training and kettlebell work and was coaching other women to engage in fitness and exercises and felt like she was suddenly losing it all.
This is a woman that was incredibly strong, carried, birthed and nursed three raucous baby boys, helped her husband build a successful business out of nothing and routine trained with weights in her bedroom, but suddenly couldn't even carry her overnight bag from the elevator to the hotel room without feeling weak, pelvic pressure and complete anxiety that her body was falling apart.
This is a woman that feared telling ANYONE about her diagnosis for fear they would be uncomfortable, assume the worst, conduct a Google image search and then assume that my body looked like the horrifying images they saw.
This is a woman that couldn't tell her husband about her newly diagnosed condition, for fear he would secretly be grossed or weirded out or that he would now consider her broken, damaged, beyond repair, weak, spent...
This is a woman that was full of righteous anger, who thought she should be safe from such a thing. She had no forceps or suction used during her three births. She had done everything "right" by remaining active during pregnancy, eating good nutrition, gaining a doctor-approved amount of weight each pregnancy...she had followed the "just listen to your body" and "a woman can continue to do whatever forms of exercise she did pre-pregnancy, just a little more carefully and with lighter loads, when necessary" rules of pre and postnatal fitness.
This is a woman that thought that having prolapse and a dormant pelvic floor meant that she would have to give it all up, her fitness, coaching business, independence, strength, confidence in her body...that she would never be successful at something she loved because of this injury and condition.
She was sad, angry, without hope, embarrassed, lost, resentful, frustrated, fearful and fed up.
And you can't tell ANY OF THIS, by the photo I posted on Instagram that day. Right??!!!-that should tell you something about social media...
Eventually I moved past the paralyzed feeling that all the emotions listed above were causing me.
Eventually I found hope in an online chatroom where a Crossfitter said that she had prolapse too, but used sea sponges to support her during workouts, which didn't work for me, but gave me hope!
Eventually I read EVERYTHING I could POSSIBLY get my hands on about the pelvis and pelvic floor and I found a way.
I translated my new understanding about the biomechanics of the body, women's physiological response to pregnancy and postpartum into a map for how I was going to not only learn to accomplish the MANY physical tasks of my daily life, BUT also to train again with kettlebells.
IN FACT, I wanted to learn HOW to use kettlebells to restore health and function to my body and rid me of fear.
But even after a year of changing everything about how I breathed, moved, sat, slept, trained, and thought about fitness, i.e. curbed my ego and went back to basics-which was damn difficult, I had dramatically reduced my symptoms and was able to get back into full training, I still felt shame.
I still thought that I could NEVER be open about this condition with anyone.
I murmured a few details to my best friend and my sister, but that was the extent of it.
I couldn't talk about ALL the "behind the scenes" work I had done to come back from this taboo injury, which meant that I couldn't help anyone that was struggling with exactly what I had struggled with.
When I finally became brave enough to start to mention it, I slowly began mentioning my prolapse and pelvic floor issues on Instagram.
I got "likes" on the videos, but there was silence in the comments.
I assumed that most people were just liking the movements they were seeing in the video and not reading my caption, or otherwise they would never have "liked" it!
Who wants to hear me talk about my lady parts?
Who wants to hear the non-sexy/#realife aspects of growing and birthing babies?
But I kept posting nonetheless.
I found other women that were talking about the things I was talking about and I thought, as long as they get me, that's enough for me.
And then it finally happened.
Someone privately reached out to me to say, "Thank you for talking about this!" and the floodgates opened.
More messages and emails came through.
I began hearing from potential clients that wanted me to help them feel strong and confident in their bodies, despite their pelvic floor (or core!) dysfunctions. They wanted me to teach them to do what I had done.
Had I been to scared to face my condition, and then talk about it with other women I would have missed out on this AMAZING opportunity to help so many of my clients reconnect totheir pelvic floors and find strength again!
In fitness there just isn't enough real talk about REAL life health problems that are impacting folks' health inside and outside of the gym.
This is ESPECIALLY true for postpartum women, women 40 and over and also men over the age of 50 or so.
The fitness of "fit culture" is a young man's (and woman's) game and it's largely about performance and perfection.
But if we are honest with ourselves, LOTS of us feel like we can't perform and we don't feel perfect.
There are people smiling on Instagram ALL of the dang time (like I was above) while they are suffering inside, and I'm not even talking about the mental or emotional illness they might be struggling with, I'm exclusively talking about the physical.
So I was afraid to be honest.
I was afraid to be vulnerable and share my struggles.
But now that I see my beautiful clients and hear their success stories, I am POSITIVE that sharing my story was the absolute best thing that I could have done and that I need to keep sharing.
Grab more info on the pelvic floor by clicking one of the images below!
Sarah Smith is a trainer, and postnatal fitness specialist and pelvic floor and gut health advocate based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
She specializes in helping women online and in-person feel strong, confident and capable in their bodies!
Her specialties include kettlebells, gut and pelvic floor health optimization , mobility and movement and making fitness fun!
She's also a mom to three boys and one English Bulldog.
Check her out on social media here or get on her email list!! for more free content!