Tracey Matthews Physiotherapist: My own experience with childbirth and why I became a Women's Health specialist

17th July 2019

Written by: Tracey Matthews, MSK and Women's Health Physiotherapist

I have always loved sport and competition and the feeling of being strong and fit. Rowing was my early passion and I was lucky enough to row for Great Britain and England. I later discovered the amazing benefits of Crossfit, which took my fitness levels to new heights and lead me to compete in England’s Strongest Woman competition! I won a silver medal for my efforts! So, as you can imagine being strong and fit is a big part of who I am.

I always wanted to be a mum but at 37 it didn’t happen straight away, I found it funny that you spend years trying not to get pregnant then when you want it, it takes what seems like forever.

In November 2017 I finally fell pregnant. It was a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy until the end which saw my blood pressure increase. In my last 6 weeks, I unfortunately was forced to stop work and all fitness related activities. This was when I gained most of my pregnancy weight. I decreased my activity, but my knife and fork kept going!

My due date came and went; and my pregnancy delightfully took me 2 weeks overdue into what was the hottest July on record! I was uncomfortable to say the least. I did feel as though I was prepared for the birth; I was fit, healthy, strong and I had plans to back up my back up plan, so all was good. On the 20th July at 9.45pm my son was finally welcomed into the world. I was induced with a pessary on the 19th at 5pm but nothing really happened until the following morning. My contractions came like a steam train and progressively increased over the course of the day. I now know that the intense pain and constant contractions could have been attributed to his position, he was back to back so spine to spine. He was delivered in theatre with the help of forceps, the vontouse and I later found out when I woke up, an episiotomy.

So here he was this little bundle of joy but, I didn’t really feel as though I had a full chance to embrace him. I immediately attempted breast feeding however, dealing with a crying baby on top of the fact that I was I was incredibly sore, tired and struggling was extremely difficult. I felt as though I was totally winging it. I found this all quite tricky to come to terms with. I had a plan; I thought my body would be able to deal with childbirth and that I would bounce back to training. I never imagined the uncomfortableness of breastfeeding or the soreness of the episiotomy scar when sitting or walking.

Fast forward 6 weeks and I still felt like I had run 10 marathons. I was incredibly sore down below and my episiotomy scar pulled every time I went to sit down. I couldn’t sit up from the bed because my abdominals were incredibly weak and every time I sneezed, coughed, laughed or lifted my son I would leak urine. When my GP nurse said I could begin exercising again, I knew something wasn’t right and that I needed to seek out professional advice and consult a woman’s health physiotherapist.

I found it very difficult not being able to exercise. I couldn’t escape the feeling that somehow this once strong body had failed me and was continuing to fail me. I thought I was falling apart and didn’t know if I was to expect this after childbirth or if I would ever get back to lifting weights.

I was aware of the wonderful reputation that the White Hart Clinic had built for their Women’s Health services, so I booked an appointment. I received a thorough assessment of my stomach and pelvic floor, and it turned out I had a partial prolapse and a 2 cm Diastasis Recti (stomach muscle separation.) I was informed how to start training and strengthening my pelvic floor correctly, how to use that functionally and incorporate into lunges and squats. I really struggled adjusting to not only a new life with a baby that relies on you for everything but the way my body felt. I was not used to feeling weak.

I worked hard at my pelvic floor exercises. I followed a functional pelvic floor programme with the support of my specialist clinician, but it took 8-9 months to be able to confidentially deadlift 40kg. I have returned to running and my park runs are now leak free. I am still a long way off where I used to be and how I used to look however, I have a beautiful cheeky baby boy.

Being a Physiotherapist, this experience ignited my passion for knowledge, but it also made me frustrated and angry at the lack of information that is given to women pre/post pregnancy. I felt cheated out of knowledge and was shocked that when I started researching that the information on instrumental births and the effects on your pelvic floor is out there, it’s been out there for years but more importantly, how it’s not ok to carry on leaking. I think back to how when I was crossfit training and how many women would say ‘oh I leak when I do double under’s or have to quickly make that just in case toilet stop before a running workout.’ Understanding that these are not things that women have to settle with following childbirth is really important and I have now dedicated my time to educating myself and others in the importance of pelvic floor strengthening.

1 year on and my son is about to turn 1! I have completed my training and now include Women’s Health Physiotherapy in my practice. I work with women pre and post pregnancy educating them on pelvic floor dysfunction, incontinence and guiding them back to whatever sport or functional activities they wish to continue with. I also work alongside professional psychological therapists who support women going through any mental health issues associated with childbirth.

The delivery of a baby can be a positive experience for many women but for some it can be very negative. There can be a huge disconnection between a woman’s expectations of what is going to happen against the shock of what can actually happen during labour. I am proud that I can be part of a more positive journey for women going through what is a huge moment in their lives and share as much information and support as possible for a more positive and informed experience.

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