Hem Spotlight: Bronwyn Ford
A huge part of our mission at Hem Support Wear is to normalize the conversation about pelvic floor health and build a community of support. Many people who experience prolapse or other pelvic floor conditions feel confused, isolated, or hopeless, and we believe it shouldn’t be that way.
Welcome to another installment of our series Hem Spotlight, where we feature real people and their pelvic floor health stories. Our hope is that by providing a platform for people to openly share their journeys, we will all feel less alone, more connected, and more empowered.
The following story comes from Brownwyn Ford.
Tell us about your experience with POP/pelvic health.
My journey with pelvic organ prolapse began nearly 28 years ago, but I didn’t realize it at the time. In my early thirties I gave birth to my two children, my daughter weighing 9lb, and then 2 & 1/2 years later, my 9lb 3oz son. My daughter's birth included a 24 hour labor, an epidural, and a forceps rotation. My son was a 5 hour unassisted delivery where I required a surgical repair of a second degree tear. About 12 months after my son was born, I required extensive surgery for severe abdominal muscle separation and an umbilical hernia. My umbilical hernia was diagnosed when it became painful and bothersome during both pregnancies.
My body felt completely different to what it was prior to my pregnancies and I assumed that everyone felt like this after giving birth, especially to big babies. I carried on doing what every mother does, looked after my family and home and eventually returned to the paid workforce on a part-time basis.
As the years progressed, I started experiencing symptoms with my bladder and bowels. By the time my children had entered high school, these symptoms were becoming severe. I had a heavy dragging sensation and a visible bulge protruding from my vagina. I was experiencing a lot of low back pain and injuries. I was having difficulty starting my urine stream, difficulty fully emptying my bladder, and I was experiencing a stop/start urine stream. My bowels were also causing issues with incomplete emptying and obstructed defecation and constipation.
By this time I was in my late 40’s and was also experiencing perimenopausal symptoms. My GP (general practitioner) sent me to a specialist surgeon and tests were carried out. I was diagnosed with multiple severe prolapses; my bladder, uterus, and rectum had all descended from their normal anatomical positions and were having a competition to see who could poke out of my vagina first. My bladder won.
I was also diagnosed with complete bilateral Levator Ani Avulsion injuries (pelvic floor muscles torn from pubic bone), which most likely occurred during the forceps birth of my daughter. Since my pelvic health and muscular function and strength were never assessed at any time postpartum, it took 17 years to receive this diagnosis.
Even though I ticked all the risk factors for development of Pelvic Organ Prolapse, it was never mentioned or discussed by any medical professional until I was 46 during a routine Pap smear test where my GP happened to mention that I had a prolapse. Another specialist I was seeing during that time for another health condition mentioned after undergoing tests that I had IBS, internal hemorrhoids, and prolapses.
It still took many more months before there was any mention of seeking the help of a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. I commenced seeing a physiotherapist for 7 months who greatly helped me to improve my bowel issues and I started on a strengthening program for my pelvic floor which was very weak, however, at this time we were both unaware of my Avulsion injuries.
After this, life got in the way and I was very busy working and looking after my family. Unfortunately, my job at the time involved a lot of heavy lifting and standing, so by the time I turned 49 my symptoms were severe and debilitating. Surgery was advised, so I had a hysterectomy, my front vaginal wall was repaired with mesh, my back vaginal wall was repaired without mesh, and my vaginal vault was sutured to ligaments with the mesh legs. My enlarged vaginal opening was also reduced.
My Avulsion injuries, however, could not be repaired. Unfortunately there is currently no mainstream successful repair available for this sort of injury. My surgery greatly reduced my symptom severity, and I once again sought support from a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist to assist with my rehabilitation. Even though I had surgery, my pelvic floor strength and function was still severely compromised and it has taken many years of rehabilitation and perseverance to see improvement. I believe the Avulsion injury has impacted this greatly.
It’s now well over 11 years since my surgery, and I am now seeing my 5th physiotherapist. They have all helped me greatly on my journey. I still have minor prolapses and symptoms; however, I have learned how to manage them. My pelvic floor strength and function has greatly improved in comparison to what it was. I continue to exercise my pelvic floor regularly to retain the strength I have gained, especially now that I am postmenopausal. I also incorporate whole body exercise to stay as fit and healthy as I can. Exercise is so important for not just my physical health, but also my mental and emotional health.
Do you have any advice or words of comfort/encouragement/hope you’d like to give someone who may be at the beginning of their POP journey?
My words of advice are firstly that you are not alone. It can be frightening and upsetting when first diagnosed with a condition that is common but most of us have never heard of before. This can then turn into anger and frustration. Don’t be embarrassed to talk about your symptoms when seeking a diagnosis. There are some amazing online support groups run by women going through similar experiences where the emotional support is so beneficial.
Secondly, seek help and support from a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist if at all possible. They can assess your situation and devise a treatment program suited to your own unique situation. Even though we are all experiencing POP, our conditions and circumstances can vary widely.
Try to educate yourself about your condition as much as you can from good quality, evidence-based information and research. Try conservative treatment options including physiotherapy, internal support and/or external support. Exercise is so important, work with a physiotherapist to help you return to or start exercise that you enjoy. If you do require surgery, a physiotherapist can assist with prehab and rehab to help obtain a successful surgical outcome.
What are some of your favorite pelvic floor health resources?
- APOPS - Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support website and Sherrie Palm CEO and founder’s book, “Pelvic Organ Prolapse, The Silent Epidemic” and her private support group
- ABTA - Australasian Birth Trauma Association and private support group
- myPFM, Jeanice Mitchell, Physiotherapist’s eCourses “Power Over Prolapse” & “Pelvic Floor Challenge”
- Umi Health, The Prolapse Series e-guide
- Sue Croft, Physiotherapist, her books “Pelvic Floor Essentials” & “Pelvic Floor Recovery, Physiotherapy for Gynaecological & Colorectal Surgery” (Edition 4)
- Stephanie Thompson, Bravemumma, book “The Day My Vagina Broke - What they don’t tell you about childbirth” and e-book “Tips & Tricks for living with prolapse” as well as her podcast “Lowdown with Bravemumma” and her private support group
- “Why Mum’s Don’t Jump, Ending the Pelvic Floor Taboo” by Helen Ledwick as well as her podcast “Why Mum’s Don’t Jump”
- “Why Did No One Tell Me: How to protect, heal and nurture your body through motherhood” by Emma Brockwell
Interested in sharing your POP/pelvic health story as part of our series? We’d be honored! Get in touch here to learn more or ask any questions you may have.