Updated: Dec 2, 2021
As I sift through conversations that I've had over the years with patients regarding their pelvic floor issues, I'm seeing a common thread emerge: lack of validation for their experiences, which can at times be traumatic, related to their pelvic floor.
It seems that too often women are told by well-meaning health practitioners, magazine articles, movies, and even friends that the problems that occur with our pelvic floor are normal, they will get better with time, they just happen when you have kids, they happen to everyone after menopause, you just have to live with it.
These may just be reassurances to help us avoid panicking, and in these days of high anxiety, that's not a small thing. But the unfortunate side-effects of these reassurances can be to invalidate our experiences, our emotions connected to our changing bodies and our changing relationships, and our altered self-image and self-esteem.
We women are looking for guidance that empowers us, not feeds into our insecurities. If the truth is tough, we can take it; we are strong. But our experiences should not be quickly swept under the rug with pat reassurances—in the words of one of my patients, they can gain too much power if left alone, to fester like a secret; if we can talk about it, examine it in the light, and take steps to address the issues, well then we can actually thrive—even if the problem or challenge is difficult.
And unfortunately, all the google searches in the world will not give us the answers we need and crave, because we are all different individuals, with our own unique bodies, experiences, emotions, resources, relationships, thoughts, and fears. These can be complex problems and issues we face, often with complex answers, which the internet will never be able to yield for us.
What we need is personalized information and guidance on how to address what is happening or has happened, and a concrete plan to move forward; and if we can get some tips on how to bring our partner/spouse/significant other along on that journey, well then all the better.
But how do we get there? I think the first step starts with ourselves—being honest about what we are experiencing and how we feel about it, and being brave enough to face our fears. Talking with a spouse, partner, friend or other loved one can be helpful (though sometimes they can be part of the fear to begin with), as can writing in a journal.
Then, I think we have to bravely speak up for ourselves and not be afraid to make these personal, and often times embarrassing, pelvic floor concerns really heard by the healthcare professionals with whom we have entrusted our care. And if they try to minimize or invalidate our experiences, advocate for ourselves and push to be heard! And if we still don't get the help we need and deserve, be bold enough to search until we find someone who validates our experiences and can help us on our journey.
If your doctor doesn't ask you about your bladder control at your next appointment, find the courage to bring it up yourself.
If you are a new mom and you avoid sex because of pain, talk it over with your doctor, midwife, or therapist—a little pelvic therapy may be all you need.
If you are going through menopause and you're having symptoms that aren't on the "official" list of what is experienced, don't let that invalidate your experience—it just means the list is wrong! Talk it over with your doctor.
We women often are the glue that holds our extended families and friends together, and we can't do that to the best of our ability and desire if we are not feeling strong, self-confident, sexy, powerful, content, enabled. But no one can do this for us--we need to reach out and grab it. It's not enough to just be strong and take what happens to us on our life's path (though I know we all do plenty of this). We have to take the next step. It's time to get validated.
P.S. I don't pretend to hold all the answers, but I've been around the healthcare block a few times—if any of this resonates with you and you could use a little guidance on where to start, I'd be happy to try to help point you in the right direction 😊 Feel free to reach out to me confidentially at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 224-255-7678.
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About the Author:
Angela is the owner of My Pelvic Therapy, PLLC and a licensed physical therapist. Prior to starting her telehealth private practice, she worked as a senior physical therapist for 17 years at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, specializing in helping both women and men overcome their pelvic floor challenges. She received her physical therapy degree from Duke University, biology degree from University of Illinois, and is a lifelong learner of all things PT.