#momfithero Just do the Work!
Since Alma McKinley joined our community we have loved her straight talk and sense of humor. Loved it!!! Famous now for reminding us that you actually have to DO the exercises to see them work, we appreciate how she confronts the challenges of life head on and moves past the excuses we make for ourselves every day. After working on her feet for most of her life, and giving birth to her now 12 and 5-year-old, her pelvic floor stopped functioning as it was designed to and this has led to so many physical problems for her over the years. She had trouble finding any health professionals that could help her. Let’s hear some more of her story!
Have you always been into physical fitness?
I had seasons of eating healthy and working out off and on throughout my life, but nothing consistent. It takes a lot for me to get into exercise. Like most of us, I enjoy having a healthy lifestyle, both for how I feel and look and for modeling good habits for my family. In the past, I was under the impression that in order to be strong I had to do one of those cardio-intense ninety-day fitness programs. I thought that fitness and health were indicative of how many squats you could do in 60 seconds – and, of course, burpees! If that’s what it took, I was not interested.
When my first child was about 5 years old, and midway through my last season of being healthy, trouble struck. I was in my BodyPump class when I realized I couldn’t lift any longer because my back was killing me. I put my stuff away and that was my last group class for a very long time. I had chronic back pain for the next 3 years of my life. The pain was all over the place – low and upper back pain and glute spasms – and for the record glute spasms were just about the worst thing I ever experienced, they literally knock you off your feet – sciatica (which was no walk in the park either), in addition to constant tension and soreness. I had absolutely no idea what was going on with me and neither did any physician or physical therapist. I went to PTs for sciatica pain and they offered very little information as to possible root causes. I was prescribed the bare minimum of core strengthening exercises and told to combine them with a kegel.
I still had this back pain, off and on, while I was pregnant with my second child. One week after she was born, my house was being cleaned so I decided that would be a good day to go and run some light errands. It is also the day my cervix prolapsed. People describe it as feeling like they have a tampon in, mine felt like I was wearing a pad, I’m not sure if that was indicative of severity. My gynecologist diagnosed me and offered no treatment. She said I could get a hysterectomy since I was done having kids. She also half-joked that once I was cleared for intercourse after six weeks that maybe my husband could poke it back in – I can’t make this stuff up!
Ultimately, she said we would have to wait and see what kind of tone I got back in my musculature after I was done breastfeeding. I breastfed for about seven months.
How did your prolapse feel after you stopped breastfeeding?
It stopped feeling like pad wearing after the first month, but it was always there. Honestly, I stopped noticing it all together. I never gave it any more thought except that my uterus always sat really low and on the first day of my period it felt like it could just about drop right out of me. This was extremely uncomfortable for a day or so, but I just thought it was my new normal. Those last few aches, I just accepted as part of my ordinary life.
Peeing when I sneezed, I accepted as part of life. Being able to jump at a kid’s birthday party on the inflatables was just something I would miss out on. There was a particular message I internalized outside of the usual “that’s just normal now,” and it was that I had somehow missed my opportunity to heal from having a baby because I did not do something right away. Like the window is small and only open just immediately postpartum. If you miss it, that’s it, you missed it.
On the other hand, it was not lost on me that my prolapse was in my pelvis. I started describing the crux of all my physical problems as all somehow being related to the boney structure known as my pelvis. I would tell whoever I thought could help that if something attached to, ran through, or sat in my pelvis, it was not working properly. Still, no one made the connection to the health of my pelvic floor muscles, not even myself. When I think back on all the time I wasted, I cringe. It really is about finding the right person at the right time and being able to hear something they say in just the right way, that sets you off on a healing trajectory.
So when did you find that right person to listen to?
Several years later, I got a stress-fracture in my left hip and spent eight weeks being non-weight bearing on that side. As a result, I was weak on my left side and was in physical therapy, yet again, to help me rehabilitate – essentially to learn how to walk again and then build strength. One day, I was in a business group and one of the yoga teachers in there was doing a webinar on the pelvic floor. Someone mentioned that the pelvic floor is directly connected to weakness in the pelvis. So I asked, “You mean if my pelvic floor was weak it could have caused this injury?” The answer I got was yes, that was possible. When being treated for my broken hip, the doctor had only looked at my bones, not my musculature, and my own online research also only indicated some inherent bone weakness as the possible cause for this training injury. I knew I didn’t have an inherent bone weakness so a light bulb went off. I needed to pursue this further, that’s when I found one of Sarah’s webinars.
That is a lot to go through! How were you feeling at this point?
Physically, I was 40 pounds overweight, I was still achy in my hips, and I had stress incontinence. Emotionally, I was kind of blah. I wasn’t happy about how I looked and I was intimidated by my pelvic floor. But armed with some new information I was suddenly eager to fix things. I was tired of peeing when I sneezed, and I was ready to do the work. I let go of the message I had come to believe that it was too late to fix me.
I was happy to learn that it actually was not true, it is never too late. I did have control over my body. I saw all the people in the Facebook group that had success through Sarah’s programs, and I knew I should just trust it and do the work. I wasn’t expecting at the time that Sarah and her programs would play such a major role in my life!
Once you started with the Pelvic Floor Perfect program, what did you experience?
Honestly, the beginning was frustrating. In the beginning of her PFP program, Sarah has to focus on reconnecting our brains with our breathing and our movement. With all the little cues, it can be hard for anyone who just wants a quick fix. But I needed to slow down and address the details. I had the program for about five weeks before I buckled down and made it a part of my routine. My goal was to heal, and I was ready to commit and pay attention to all of the things in my body I was not connecting to. In addition to this, being able to ask the Facebook group for support was – and continues to be – phenomenal. The group keeps your head in the game.
I also began in-person pelvic floor physical therapy at about the same time I started the PFP program. My pelvic floor PT assessed me at that first appointment and diagnosed me with a grade two cystocele and rectocele. My uterus continued to sit low which kept me from wearing a tampon for more than a few hours. I was not physically symptomatic of prolapse, meaning I did not have that feeling like something was dropping out or like I was wearing a tampon when I was not. Prolapse did not impact my ability to walk or do other forms of exercise like it may for other women. Strength-wise, my pelvic floor was a two or three out of five. I realized at this point that I had some confusion, in that I could not tell the difference between bearing down on and lifting up my pelvic floor. Also, my pelvic floor contraction was lopsided, I was weaker on the left side than on the right, no surprise there as I broke my hip on that side. And I could barely hold what little contraction I was able to manage in my pelvic floor for longer than three seconds.
What was the benefit of seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist in person along with the PFP program?
I would not have understood the degree of my prolapse or the weakness and imbalance of my pelvic floor without someone to assess me hands-on. To go along with her programs, Sarah is a huge proponent of finding in-person help. Prolapse is very unsettling and nothing can replace someone seeing and feeling what is going on and giving you feedback in the moment. That is my experience. When I finally committed to a full three weeks straight of doing the PFP exercises, I could already report back to my in-person PT that I was not peeing when I sneezed anymore! That was a big, early functional win that kept me motivated. I told my PF PT about Sarah on day one, she looked her up and agreed with everything she saw. I described the exercises I was doing and she was fully supportive.
Essentially, I used my in-person PT from then on to measure me. We did biofeedback so that I could see the strength of my pelvic floor contractions – Kegels – on screen, and I could measure my improvement over time – again another big motivator! True results came when I committed to the program and was consistent.
That must have been such great motivation! What did you do next?
While I was doing PFP, I discovered my glaring left glute weakness, after years of standing the wrong way at work, I caused my glute muscles to give up doing their job. I learned that it is not about standing up straight, which seemed crazy to me. The mechanics of the pelvic floor trace back to everything above and below it. After learning so much from Sarah, I was again validated that all of my physical symptoms, down to the year I had plantar fasciitis, were all related to the imbalances and weaknesses in my pelvis. WHY HAD NO ONE TOLD ME THAT A LONG TIME AGO!! Anyway, I began the Happy Hips program to get my lower body on board with the rest of my healing. The beautiful thing is you can do more than one program at the same time, once you have a solid base. Working PFP and HH at the same time catapulted my progress. Noticing myself getting stronger, falling in love with the camaraderie and support on the FB group, and Sarah always dropping new knowledge on us, made me hungry for more.
At my last PF PT appointment, six months after I started, I graduated. My pelvic floor was a four out of five, she said she rarely gives out fives, if ever, and overall she was really pleased with the progress I had made. The connection and awareness I have now with my pelvic floor is phenomenal. We are in sync and it just makes everything in my life that much better!
That is so encouraging! Where are you at now? What are your current goals?
I’m very happy with where I’m at now – physically and strength-wise. And I got here without intense cardio or a single burpee. I love that more than anything, exercise that doesn’t scare or annoy me is very important if I’m going to actually do it. Sarah loves to keep us motivated and engaged, her enthusiasm really rubs off on you. She runs wholistic challenges to help keep everyone motivated, healthy and connected. At the tail-end of the summer challenge, I began MomFit, Sarah’s progressive exercise program. I love it and continue to get stronger. This group has been with me as I’ve lost 35 of those 40 pounds, only 5 to go! Because of the challenge we’re doing now, I’ll probably lose those pounds over the holidays!!! I got a group of ladies together during our off-challenge period, set up a mini-accountability group and made the goal of being at Momfit level 3 by Thanksgiving. Here we are, and I reached that goal! Rumor has it there are handstands in one of the upcoming levels. My new goal is to stick with Sarah and do my first handstand in well over 30 years. But that’s where I’m at, my health and fitness are at the forefront, and I’m loving the results.
It sounds like Sarah and her programs have had an incredible influence over your overall well-being and hope for the future – would you agree?
I would! With my pelvic floor healed and the left side of my body making progress, I’m thrilled and filled with tons of hope of how much, further along, I can get with her programs. There is nothing that can replace being able to rely on your body and to know you are doing the best for it. When I was stricken with pain, I gave up on myself. Now I know how it feels to feel good, and I am also proof that you can get here from your lowest of lows. Never give up. Never throw in the towel. Never let someone tell you you cannot or will not get better – or worse – that whatever you are dealing with is your new normal.
I love having all this knowledge to help myself and to empower my daughter about her body. Knowledge is power, four years ago I felt totally disempowered and had no hope from the medical community about what was going on with me. Sarah does not leave me with that feeling at all. I love that her passion is to educate women to learn about their bodies and to teach us how to be the strongest we can be in a smart, safe way. I can’t say enough about it!