From Part 1 you will have learned that I used to be quite fit in my youth and enjoyed walking, hiking and a bit of jogging. I became pregnant when I was 40 and suffered nausea and sickness for 7 months and some unusual food cravings. My muscles and ligaments relaxed so much in preparation for birth that my pelvis became unstable, swollen and painful in every step. During labour I was mostly unattended except for my partner who was setting up the birthing pool and only had a midwife with me for the last 10 minutes or so of labour. I had got stuck in one position and my baby was trying to come out through the folded cervical lip. I experienced 2nd degree tear to the skin and muscles of my perineum and needed stitches. I gave birth a month before my 41st birthday.
I was diagnosed with a Pelvic Organ Prolapse which meant the ligaments and muscles in the pelvis were damaged and not sufficiently supporting the suspension of the bladder, womb and rectum which were falling into the vagina. This was uncomfortable most of the time and I tried various ways to approach these symptoms to support my full health and recovery.
I was somewhat traumatised by the birth and how differently it went from my ideal, and the lack of female support with me, which I had taken great efforts to put in place beforehand. I had lost a lot of blood but was saved from going to hospital by the midwives.
I loved being a mum to this darling boy. And I found it hard being in a new city with so few people I knew and a partner who worked all day.
It is relevant to my story that my partner and I separated before our son’s third birthday and I was forced to move out into temporary accommodation for a year. This separation has been unduly challenging and we’ve been to Court twice to sort out child custody issues. There are still big financial issues to be resolved, nearly 5 years later. I say all this, not for sympathy, or in any way to blame, but to show that my journey to fuller health has been more problematic and challenging than I could have imagined. Take heart, if you have a prolapse or birthing which went wildly differently than you had imagined, know that you did the best you could do, with the information you had at the time. Recovery takes as long as it takes, needs lots of support, compassionate listening to yourself, lots of empathy and mourning. I needed time and support to recover from the trauma, shame, depression, and ongoing shock of all this. And these aspects all contribute to the body’s ability to heal.
I must just frame all this by saying that my understanding of being a human being includes all physical, mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of ourselves. We are one united, whole self, indivisible and whole. So although the symptoms of pregnancy and birth can be shown in ways which appear physical and of the body, they are of course interwoven with how I felt about this, my emotional weather, my beliefs about what this meant and the stories I told myself around them (i.e. not good enough, a failure, etc) my mental state and spiritual ideas and beliefs. And the disappointment, sadness and regret over the loss of my little family and the future I thought we’d have together.
I longed to have enough energy to walk in the hills, climb mountains and run again, to move freely and gracefully.
Every year I would get out my barefoot-style shoes and try and run again. The first time was one dark February evening and I came home tired, wet, cold and in pain. Elvis The Pelvis was not happy to be moving over bumpy terrain with no cushioning and cold feet. I tried again in the summer and again the pain in my pelvis flared up again.
Two years ago I got the NHS Couch to 5k podcast and went for a walk, then a jog, then a walk according to the timings set for me on the recording, but after the first week was in serious trouble again with my pelvic pain flaring up again.
I decided to stop listening to anyone else and just do what made me happy. I like to walk in the woods near where I live and would try and organise my first client after I had walked my son to school and come back the long way through the woods. I tried to do this most days, and if I couldn’t do it first thing, I took the longer route to pick him up from school. Gradually I noticed that I could walk further, more easily and without pain.
Here is a photo of the Porter Valley near my house. I decided to follow my happiness and would run a few paces coming downhill and onto the flat path when I wanted to and stop when I wanted to. I didn’t wear any special gear, except Vivobarefoot trail shoes.
I love to drive out into the Peak District and walk and jog a little on the path up to Higger Tor from time to time (every month or so). I am not being at all ambitious about this. Its really a matter of staying present as I walk, move and enjoy the awareness I have. I use my awareness ability to think my thoughts consciously, to think about how I coordinate myself and move along the rugged terrain.
This year I have been camping 5 times so far this summer and sleeping and resting on a thin thermarest camping mat. Although it took a while for my bones to adjust from a soft squidgy bed-mattress to this firm camping mat, I can feel a new degree of flexibility and elasticity along my spine, in my back, up my torso which supports my legs to move better too.
A couple of Saturdays ago I decided I’d have a go at the local 5km Park Run. I singed up online, walked down to the start in 20 mins and off we went, 2 and a half times around Endcliffe Park. I hadn’t planned this. I literally got up that morning and decided quite spontaneously to have a go. I had energy, interest and set off with curiosity. I wanted to see what I was able for.
I had no idea if I would walk most of it, go home part way (its tempting as the far end of the loop is only 200m from my house) or what. I was in an exploratory mode and definitely decided not to try and compete with anyone else, not compete with myself and only take care of myself and see what I could do.
I got my thinking lined up and kept returning to thoughts which would to allow my head and neck joint to be free, so that my spine could follow it up, my pelvis could point up with the spine and I let my legs move freely from the hip sockets. Whenever my brain went into thinking about anyone else and how fast or how well they or I were running, I brought myself back to me. I chose to notice ease in my legs, ease in my feet, ease in my lungs.
When I needed to stop and walk, I stopped and walked. I kept my arms swinging and moving as briskly as I could without forcing myself. When I felt like it, I would jog again, thinking about my legs extending behind me, my foot landing under me and enjoy listening to my feet and trying to see what made them land more softly with more spring in my step.
I was hot and really challenged by so much effort, but also very pleased that there was no pain in Elvis The Pelvis. I could feel it was working and being used a lot, but not like ever before, no pain as such. This seemed like a useful rearrangement of bones, joints, muscles. When I got to the end a woman who has had a few lessons with me asked if it was my first Park Run and if I’ll do it again “Yes, Do” she said. This was encouraging and yet too soon for me to agree to as I was exhausted.
I slightly hobbled home with an interesting sensation in my right hip joint and noticed my achilles tendons singing rather high notes as I moved about over the next couple of days. I’m delighted to report that there was no damage, no regressing to the old ways. And as it happens the Park Run was one day before my period, so one of the hardest days to have done the run according to my cycle. Hormones can still affect the tensile strength of my pelvis, so it happens that it was a great testament to the much-improved health of my whole self.
That was two weeks ago. I went for a half hour walk/jog yesterday and did a 3.5 km loop near my house and feel inclined to do the Park Run again this weekend. Who knew that I’d be back at this again, and after 9 years. I”m glad to be back.
This was my journey, not a recommended route to recovery. Except to say that the Alexander Technique and my decision to follow my body’s own wisdom and happiness was a huge part of my recent rehabilitation.
Lucy Ascham is an Alexander Technique teacher who lives near the Porter Valley in Sheffield and has many beautiful paths and trails to walk and run on her doorstep. The Peak District is just 4 miles away.