Hem Spotlight: Lauren Fleming - Part 1
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 the first installment of our new 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.
Our first story comes from our founder, Lauren Fleming.
Tell us about your experience with POP/pelvic floor health.
This is part 1 of my POP story -
I learned about pelvic organ prolapse (POP) for the first time after having my first baby. She was born in May 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic started, and a few weeks later I started having a feeling in my vagina that I had not felt before. (I did not know how to explain it at the time, but I later learned to use terms like “heaviness” and “pressure” to describe what I was feeling.)
After a few weeks postpartum, I used a handheld mirror to look and see what was going on. I saw what I would later learn was vaginal tissue bulging out of my vagina. It looked like my insides were falling out. It was alarming to say the least. I felt concerned and unsure of what was going on. Like with so many things that I do not know the answer to, I turned to Google to try to see if I could figure out what was going on. I know searching the internet can be a slippery slope, especially for health concerns, but I needed information on what might be causing the symptoms I was experiencing. Based on my research, I was pretty sure that I had pelvic organ prolapse.
I took a few pictures so I could show the midwife at my six week postpartum visit. I showed her the pictures and told her I thought I had a prolapse. She examined me in a few different positions and ultimately said that I did not have a prolapse. This was disheartening because I thought that I had prolapse and I felt dismissed by my provider.
Thankfully, I had learned about pelvic floor physical therapy (PFPT) from my doula community and already had purchased a postpartum care package with my PFPT. She confirmed that I had prolapse and helped answer my questions, which calmed my nerves. She reassured me that everything was in fact not going to fall out and reminded me that I was still very early postpartum. This was reassuring because I finally felt seen and heard.
My PFPT was a wealth of information and made me a personalized recovery plan. At every visit, she answered my questions, assessed my progress, and adjusted my plan as needed. She recommended I purchase a pelvic floor support garment to help mitigate my symptoms while I worked on giving my body time to recover and progress through my strength program.
I tried many different garments and wore them at various times to help find relief. However, I was never able to find a garment that I liked enough to consistently wear even though they provided relief that I desperately needed.
Working with a PFPT was an important part of my journey and I am so thankful I had one early in the process. She gave me hope and the tools to take control of my recovery and feel confident moving forward.
Lauren and her daughter
That is not to say it was an easy journey. There were so many days when I felt beat down and discouraged. I felt like I had a problem and like my body had failed me. I distinctly remember feeling exhausted and crying while I was holding my screaming newborn who I was having a hard time soothing because holding her and making a soothing motion was hard on my body and made my prolapse feel heavy. I remember walking short distances and having the pressure in my pelvic floor be at the top of my mind the whole time. I wondered whether this feeling would ever go away. I struggled with questions like whether a subsequent pregnancy was an option - was it even possible, and if so, would it make things worse? I struggled with the decision of when I should wean my baby from breastfeeding. Based on my research, I learned the shift in hormone levels that occurs while breastfeeding can contribute to feeling more prolapse symptoms, and many people experience relief from POP symptoms after they wean their babies from breastfeeding or stop pumping. There were so many heavy things that were on my mind in addition to having our first baby during a global pandemic.
I often wondered if there were things I could have done differently to prevent this from happening. My pregnancy and labor experience were what most would define as fairly routine and uneventful. Neither were particularly hard or traumatic. However, I was questioning things like whether I should have exercised more during pregnancy or whether I should have made it to the birth center more quickly because maybe I held her in too long. POP has a way of making you question things that you would not normally question. Of course I did not hold her in too long and I exercised in pregnancy the amount that felt right for my body. Looking back and wondering ‘what if’ was not healthy for me. It took time, but I got to the point where I accepted my prolapse and that I would work through it to the best of my ability.
My recovery was a slow process. I had varying levels of POP symptoms until about 15 months postpartum. Around that time I finally felt like my POP symptoms were mostly going away. It is hard to say why my symptoms mostly went away at that time, but some contributing factors are that I was in a good groove on consistently strength training, my daughter had weaned from breastfeeding at about 13 months and I was 15 months postpartum (i.e. I gave my body time). One of the things I learned during all of this is how unrealistic many expectations are regarding how quickly your body recovers after giving birth. Postpartum should be talked about in terms of months, not weeks.
I will wrap up my story by saying that I decided to try for another pregnancy and accept whatever outcome may come from that experience. Stay tuned for how all of that went.
Part 2 of my POP story covers my experience trying to get a pessary along with my experience with POP during my second pregnancy and after the birth of my second daughter.
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?
I would tell them that everyone’s journey is very different and to be careful not to compare yourself to others. I would also say to feel brave to talk about what is going on because there are so many people going through something similar. And, ask for help even if that means going to a different healthcare provider. There are a number of resources available to help mitigate symptoms and not have POP be on your mind all of the time.
What encourages me is that there are a growing number of resources available to learn about POP and all that it entails. They highlight many ways to help manage and mitigate your symptoms. There is also a community of people who are ready and willing to share their stories and support you so that you do not feel alone on this journey.
What are your favorite pelvic health resources (online or in person)?
Check out the list of our favorite websites and accounts for more information about POP/pelvic floor health, treatment options, and resources for partners and loved ones.
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.