“Okay, now do a Kegel,” Ally says.
I lie on the table with my heels touching each other, my knees splayed to the side, and naked from my waist down.
I look at Ally. “Like you’re stopping the flow of urine but also trying not to pass gas at the same time,” she explains. I laugh a little, because I always laugh when someone talks about farting or peeing and she just mentioned both. And also because Ally, the physical therapist who I just met, is staring at my lady parts.
I tense my pelvic floor muscles while she watches. I feel like I am winking at a stranger.
With my vagina.
Looking back, pee problems have been sprinkled throughout my life. There was the humiliating time I peed my Bluebird tights in first grade. The teacher, Mr. Opitz, had said it was quiet time. I was very quiet, except for the faint trickle of piss pooling around the legs of my tiny chair and blackening my tights. I’ve been weak-bladdered as long as I can remember. When traveling by car, I stop at every rest stop.
Giving birth to two babies did not help the cause. My son’s birth, in particular, was traumatic. I pushed for four hours to bring him into the world. He was posterior, with the widest part of his generous head pressing on my tailbone. Towards the end of the pushing phase, I was exhausted and pretty sure I was going to die. For a brief, terrible time, the contractions were pushing him in and out of my vagina like a prairie dog, because I was too tired to push with the contractions.
My daughter’s birth was a breeze by comparison, but I still pushed for an hour and a half. Her little grey head, which I watched emerging from my body via a small mirror, was attempting to come out temple-first, so she, too, was stuck for a time. I sometimes speculate that I have a u-turn somewhere in my vagina, explaining my birthing trials.
I complained of my constant peeing to a midwife I saw during my pregnancy with my daughter.
“Since my son was born, I cannot stop peeing,” I told her.
“They do actually have physical therapy for that, you know,” she said.
I imagined a strange, sterile room filled with tiny vagina barbells.
I tucked the piece of information in the back of my pregnancy-addled mind, where it stayed until recently.
I recently weaned my daughter, marking the end of five continuous years of breastfeeding and/or pregnancy. I was tired of needing to pee all the time. Tired of having to plan playground visits around which ones had clean, nearby bathrooms that were big enough to drag my two children in with me. I was tired of sex being so different than it used to be. Not bad, but not as good, either.
Now that I had my body back to myself, I wanted to make the most of it.
And so begins pelvic floor rehab.
image courtesy of morgueFile user jllfitness
After Ally is finished inspecting my ladytown, I get redressed. Grateful for my jeans, I perch in a chair next to her desk while she talks.
She informs me that my muscle tone rates a low 2 on a scale of 1-5. As far as I can tell, my vulva just got a D-.
Ally explains that the weakness is probably due to the trauma of my son’s birth, but that sometimes people just “lose it from not usin’ it.” Ally speaks in a soft, sing-song voice. She has two kids who are just a pinch older than mine.
I learn that the pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles stretching between the pubic bone at the front of the body, and the tailbone at the back. The muscles support the reproductive organs. When this rope of muscles becomes weakened, risks are incontinence, decrease in sexual satisfaction, and in severe cases, organ prolapse.
She sends me home with a “Voiding Log,” so I can track my urinary habits for 48 hours. She tells me to count how many seconds I pee each time and record it the log. Fun fact: the number of seconds you pee corresponds with how many ounces of liquid waste you’re eliminating! Pee for twelve seconds, and you just voided that tall latte.
I groan when Ally explains that I’ll need to come back weekly for at least twelve weeks. Squeezing anything else into my schedule seems unlikely. But the reason I started therapy is because my bladder weakness was starting to interfere with my life. I reluctantly agree to commit to the treatment schedule.
Speaking of squeezing, Ally assigns me two different types of Kegels to practice several times a day. One thing Ally teaches me is that when performing Kegels, you’re not just supposed to tighten your vagina, but also your bum. So if you see me out and about and I look focused or distracted, don’t worry. I am probably just squeezing my junk.
“Did you do your homework?” Ally asks.
“Yep!” I hand her my pee log like a proud student.
She looks over them and nods her head. In the mornings, I often peed every 45 minutes or so. “Yeah, it’s really good that you’re here!” she concludes, analyzing the data.
“So what I’m going to start having you do now is called ‘urge suppression.’ So, the next time you have to pee, and it’s been less than an hour, you’re going to do five quick Kegels, like this.”
She makes five quick fists with her hand, since I guess she doesn’t want to show me her vagina.
“We’re going to do some biofeedback work today,” Ally tells me next.
I freeze. The paperwork I received prior to my appointment included a terrifying warning about ‘biofeedback equipment being hooked up to genitals and/or rectal area.’
“I read about this,” I stutter.
“Yeah, you were probably like, ‘what am I getting myself into?’”
I nod and let out a nervous laugh.
“I’m not going to give you electric shocks or anything,” she says. This is a thought my anxious mind hadn’t even dreamt of.
Ally points to her table, which has a big pad spread out right in the middle of it. The same kind of pad they place under you after you’ve just given birth. I feel a flash of shame; just because I have a bladder issue doesn’t mean I’m going to spray all over Ally’s office like a tomcat.
“So what you’re going to do is lie down on your side and pull your pants and underwear down,” she explains.
She holds up a few wires that look like earbud headphones. “And then I’m going to place one of these on your hip.” I relax a bit. Hips I can deal with.
“And the other two, I’m going to place on either side of your ANUS.”
“Oh, Ally. What are we doing here?” I laugh. “I’m glad I at least get to face the wall, away from you, in quiet shame.” I hold my breath. My butt has, historically, been my least favorite body part.
By nature, having children makes us more vulnerable. We vibrate with the urge to keep them safe, while constantly being reminded that we cannot. With birth, we’re reminded just how animal we are: the howls and moans, the way at a certain point we fall deep inside of ourselves and our own pain, partners and medical staff dropping away. And with babies and small children, who begin so helplessly, always shitting and puking and drooling and screaming, it is hard to not soften into our humanness, our own messy animal bodies.
image courtesy of morgueFile user MGDboston
Modesty also goes out the window with the arrival of young children. Every time my bottom hits the cool toilet seat at home, my kids both come running towards me as if I had fistfuls of candy. When I dare to close the bathroom door, I can hear their hot animal breath just beyond the door.
And yet, even with the humiliation and humbling of parenting, I lie on the table like a victim of an alien abduction, mortified and dripping with vulnerability.
Ally lifts my fleshy cheeks away from each other and places the two sensors right where she promised she would. Thoughts dart through my head: you really should have taken a shower. You have earbuds on your ANUS.
The humiliation is too much and I start laughing. “Sorry, I have the sense of humor of a nine-year-old,” I tell Ally, who smiles in a comforting way. I am so far out of my comfort zone, so exposed, that laughing about it is the only relief.
“Oh, me too,” she says. “And just so you know, all the stuff that I’m doing to you, I’ve had done to me, too.” Enough about your weekend, Ally, I want to quip.
“In school,” she adds.
She pulls the end of the wires and hooks them up to your laptop on a small rolling table table next to the bed.
“So… is my ass really hooked up to your computer?” I ask. Ally nods, smiling.
She leads me through a series of timed Kegels, and yellow peaks and valleys rise and fall across her computer screen. It feels a little bit like I have an Etch-A-Sketch attached to my privates.
“Good,” she says, encouragingly. The numbers by the peaks measure my muscle tone. The highest I go is a ten. At the top of the screen is the number “100.”
“So how high would a really strong pelvic floor go?” I ask Ally.
“Our goal is to get to 20,” she says.
“Then I want to go to 30.”
“Alright! Awesome,” she says.
“I want to be able to lift stuff with my vagina,” I vow. Ally and I both giggle.
After she unhooks my butt from her computer, she sends me to the physical therapy area down the hall. There are a few Pilates machines that look suspiciously like torture devices, a couple of tables, and a bike and treadmill in the area. Two other women are working with clients in corners of the room. Ally introduces me to woman named Rachel, who has me lie on a small table and breathe. She tells me we’re going to do some work with body awareness and posture.
Rachel says something about knitting my rib cages towards each other, and breathing without moving my spine. I try what she is telling me, but it makes no sense to me, and the harder I try to understand, the more lost I am. Rachel looks down at me, her face faintly impatient.
I still have the earbuds on my butt, the ends of wire slinking out of the top of my jeans. Rachel hooks them up to a handheld screen and tries to turn the volume up, an attempt to help me ‘listen to my body.’ She wants me to slide my heels up and down the table while tensing my abdomen and pelvic floor. The machine is silent.
“My pelvic floor is feeling shy,” I say. Rachel says nothing. She apparently does not possess the same sense of humor as Ally.
“I think I got a bum machine,” she says.
“So to speak,” I say. She says nothing.
I lie on the table for a few more minutes, as Rachel instructs me to slide my heels up and down the table using my pelvic floor muscles. My brain hurts. I feel as if I’m trying to sing one song while listening to another at the same time.
Rachel gives up and directs me to a changing room specially designed for people who need to remove biofeedback wires from their rectums. “There are directions right there on the wall,” she points out. She shows me a box where I am to place the used wires. “And there’s hand sanitizer there, and air freshener.” She points to a bottle of Oust. I want to ask her if the air freshener is to keep the small room from smelling like ass, but we’ve already established she wouldn’t be amused.
image courtesy of morgueFile user jdurham
In the waiting room at pelvic floor rehab, I can’t help staring at the other patients. They are mostly women. Some are elderly. Some, like me, hover around middle-age, and a sprinkling of the women are younger. For a moment, I feel award that the other women know why I’m here. The thought makes me Kegel almost involuntarily, as if my vagina had found itself in a competitive environment. The embarrassment settles as I remember everyone else is here for similar reasons as I am.
Those of us who find ourselves in pelvic floor rehab, however, are not alone: the National Institutes for Health report that nearly a quarter of women in the U.S. experience some form of pelvic floor dysfunction. Symptoms include urgency and frequency of peeing, incontinence, sexual dissatisfaction and more rarely, organ prolapse or fecal incontinence.
Ally appears in the waiting room and walks me back to her office. I showered and shaved this morning, as if primping for a hot date. This lady has seen more of me lately than my husband has.
“So how’s it going?” she asks, as we both settle into chairs.
“Okay. I’ve been cutting down on my coffee and drinking more water like you suggested,” I say. Drinking less coffee hasn’t been as miserable as I thought it would be. I’m learning to savor that first cup of coffee in the morning, and I challenge myself to empty my 27 oz. water bottle before noon.
“So how much coffee are you drinking now?” she asks.
“About three to four cups.” Before I started pelvic floor rehab, I’d been drinking four to six cups a day. With a four-year-old and a toddler, it’s still a rare occurence when both kids sleep through the night.
“And you’re drinking more water?” Ally inquires.
She explains that limiting water intake is not an effective way to cut down on peeing. “I’ve seen some older clients who will only drink one little glass of water a day, hoping that they won’t have to go to the bathroom as much. They end up really dehydrated, and it doesn’t help them have to urinate less,” she says. She tells me how dehydration causes urine to become highly concentrated and acidic, which irritates the bladder and makes it spasm. The bladder spasms feel like the urge to pee. I had always thought I just had a small bladder; I had no idea that my bladder could be having a spasm, reproducing the feeling of the urge to pee. You are such a spaz, I tell my bladder mentally.
“So how often are you urinating?”
“Um… maybe every hour or so?” Cutting down on the coffee seemed to immediately space out my trips to the bathroom a smidge.
“And how’s your incontinence been?” The word flashes neon shame in my mind: INCONTINENCE. Since having my children, I’d occasionally noticed a drop or two of moisture in my underwear. I comforted myself by thinking it was just a little ‘lady mist.’ Or at worst, a tiny bit of post-baby dribble. But surely not a full-blown, Defcon five, Depends situation.
Though there was that time a month ago, just before I started pelvic floor therapy. The kids and I were visiting my parents, and we were all plopped on the floor in their living room. With no warning, my four-year-old yanked down his pants and taunted us all with his bare, peach-hued butt. “I’m going to poop all over Papa!” he announced.
I lunged for the bathroom, but I was laughing too hard. My bladder let go, and I shuffled the rest of the way to the bathroom, drenched in my own fluids. I left my parents’ home that day donning my mom’s silky panties, with my own wadded up in a plastic shopping bag: the walk of shame for the middle-aged crowd.
“Um… maybe a drop once or twice?” I say to Ally.
“So, maybe two episodes of incontinence a month?” Ally asks. I reluctantly agree.
“And you’ve been doing your Kegels?” she asks. Ally had assigned me two different patterns of Kegels to do several times a day. The first version was a series two-second Kegels, with short rests in between. The next was for stamina, and was a five-second hold.
“Yep. I’m squeezing my taint all the time,” I promise.
This is not entirely true.
Though Kegels can be done surreptitiously and while multi-tasking, I find it challenging to remember to incorporate them into my day. With two kids under five, I find it’s hard to maintain normal personal hygiene routines, like tooth brushing and showering, let alone this sort of high-level crotch workout. But I do them when I remember, which for some reason seems to be mostly at traffic lights and while I’m hunched over my daughter’s crib at night, waiting for her to sink into sleep.
image courtesy of morgueFile user Alvimann
“So today, I’m going to work on loosening some of your muscles in your abdomen,” Ally says. “Having tight muscles around your bladder can also cause it to spasm.”
I have only one question: “Do I get to keep my clothes on?” I ask.
“You do!” she says in her lilting voice, her voice curving up like a smile. I beam.
I lie down on the table. There’s no big pad on it this time, and I’m grateful for the small slice of dignity. Ally moves her fingertips around my belly. It tickles, and the pressure makes me want to pee, despite the fact that I stopped at the bathroom on my way into my appointment. I close my eyes and try to relax. It feels like a mini-massage, except for the pressure on my bladder.
“Tight muscles in the inner thighs can also contribute to pelvic floor issues,” Ally informs me. She begins massaging my inner thighs. Though her touch is completely professional, I can’t help but imagine this scene as the intro to a low budget porn flick. It strikes me again how intimate this process is, and I feel proud of myself for making the leap to take better care of myself.
“Alright. Let’s head out to the studio.” Ally says. I snap back to the moment. “I’m going to have the therapist work on the Pelvic Brace with you today,” she says.
Pelvic Brace? I panic for a moment. Is this something I’m going to have to wear, like a cod piece? Announcing to the entire world that my junk is all jacked up?
Ally notices my confusion. “The Pelvic Brace is where you tense your pelvic floor and your abdomen at the same time. It’ll help strengthen your core. And you can do it when you lift things or cough, and it’ll help prevent leakage.”
Ally escorts me to the group therapy room and introduces me to Kate, a therapist who looks to be in her 20’s. Each appointment consists of work with Ally or one of her colleagues in her private office, followed by half an hour of Pilates and body awareness work in the group therapy room. Kate wears leggings and a shirt that slips down her shoulder, Flashdance style. She greets me with a warm smile, and leads me to a corner table to school me on the Pelvic Brace. Lying down, it takes a few tries to coordinate my nether muscles with the area just below my belly button. It doesn’t help that every time Kate says Pelvic Brace, the lyrics from Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show blaze through my brain. Do the Pelvic Brace! Uh! Uh! Uh!
Kate leads me through a series of bridge poses. “Exhale and Pelvic Brace as you lift yourself up,” she says calmly as I raise my hips. “Nice. Now take a full breath at the top, and exhale and Pelvic Brace as you return to the table.” Her voice has the soothing rhythm of a yoga teacher. I lower myself. I’ve done the bridge pose in yoga a hundred times; it’s one of my favorites, a heart opener. But with all the tensing and breathing, my brain threatens to explode.
When it’s time to leave, Kate hands me a sheet with instructions on the Pelvic Brace. “You can practice this anytime you’re lifting anything, or whenever you cough. It’ll help strengthen your pelvic floor and abs,” she says, smiling.
“Thanks, Kate.” I head out, the alternate lyrics to the Time Warp still cruising through my head.
My appointment today is with Ally’s colleague, Sam. She is a lithe, adorable little thing with a teensy tiny baby bump at just over four months pregnant. She has a clean, make-up free face and sparkling green eyes.
“So, Ally wants us to do some biofeedback today,” Sam says, wheeling a laptop into her office. I know what this means: ass sensors.
“Oh, man!” I groan.
“I know, I know. It’s no fun,” she says sweetly. Somehow, the fact that Sam is pregnant makes me feel better about having to pull down my pants and underwear so she can stick those sensors on my butt.
“I asked Ally if she was hooking my ass up to her computer. She said, ‘Pretty much.’” Sam giggles, passing my not-so-discreet sense of humor test.
“Yeah, when I tell my kid patients, I say, ‘Guess where this is gonna go!’” For some reason, I had not considered that children would need pelvic floor rehab.
“What age of kids do you usually get?” I inquire, while Sam gently separates my butt cheeks.
“Usually they’re between five and eight. I get a lot of teenagers, too. There!” she says. “You can pull your pants back up.”
“That was quick! So, are most of your kid patients born with pelvic floor issues?” I ask, buttoning up. The thought of small children going through this process helps me suck up the indignity I’m enduring.
“A lot of them dealt with constipation issues early on, and got used to tensing up those muscles. When the pelvic floor muscles get too tight, that can cause problems with incontinence, too.”
Sam has me sit up and do a series of ten-second Kegels while we watch the computer screen. She reminds me to breathe. When I exhale, my body inherently wants to let my vag go lax, but instead I am supposed to keep the muscles tensed. It feels completely counterintuitive, and I worry that either my brain or my vagina is going to combust. I briefly wonder what that would look like on the computer screen.
After several tries and reminders from Sam to breathe, we watch as my pelvic floor paints pretty little yellow mountains and valleys across the computer screen.
“Were you really good at staying inside the lines when you were a kid?” she asks.
image courtesy of morgueFile user Flutterby
I shake my head. “Not at all. But maybe if I’d been drawing with my vagina, I would’ve been,” I say. Sam giggles, and I am both grateful and surprised by how comfortable I feel with her.
“Alright. Great job. Let’s get those stickers off your bum,” she says.
“Those are the sweetest words I’ve heard all day, Sam.”
My husband takes a few days off from work, and we decide spur of the moment to take the kids to Boston to visit the aquarium. We stop at the Kennebunk service area for coffee and a pee break.
As we get closer to Boston, the urge to pee strikes again. My venti vanilla soy latte balloons my bladder. “I think I’m going to need you to pull over,” I tell my husband.
“Where?” he asks. We are almost to Boston, and there are no more rest areas.
“I don’t know. I guess I can try and make it,” I say, Kegeling frantically.
I do the series of five quick Kegels to send my bladder the message to chill out. I repeat this approximately 53 times. We finally make it to the aquarium, but the parking lot next to it is full. We drive around for another ten minutes and find a second parking garage. After descending through a series of sharp turns through a garage with low ceilings where I am fairly sure my little family and I will be murdered, we find a place to park.
I can make it, I can make it, I keep telling myself. Kegel, Kegel, Kegel.
The kids, my husband and I walk through the brick plaza and finally, finally we are at the aquarium.
Where there is a very, very long line. My bladder feels like a heavy cow udder, about to burst. I frantically look around for anything resembling a café or somewhere I could pee. “Look!” my husband says, pointing. Behind me is a circular black “city restroom.” My bladder rejoices until we both spot the “out of order sign.” Eff me.
I squeeze my legs together and do a slow shuffle as we snail our way through. 45 minutes later, and we finally get our tickets. We are then are routed through a tented area where a photographer snaps a photograph of our family to try and sell to us later. I am pissed. Almost literally. I packed extra clothes for the kids, but not for myself. We are almost there, little guy, I tell my bladder.
I squeeze myself to the bathroom where I take the best pee in the history of the world. I can’t wait to tell Ally.
image courtesy of morgueFile user Natureworks
A friend and I take our kids to the beach. Our four-year-olds scoop up hermit crabs, while my twenty-month-old pours the warm water from the tidal pools back and forth between two buckets.
“I have to pee. Again,” my friend whispers. “Are you okay watching the kids? I’ll be right back.”
“Of course,” I tell her. When she gets back, I tell her about the urge suppression techniques Ally taught me. They are finally starting to work—at first, it just felt like those quick squeezes were teasing my bladder. Haha, you have to go, but I’m not going to let you. But after several weeks of practicing them, it’s starting to pay off.
My friend says she’ll try them. I give her a quick lecture about how dehydration can also make you pee more because the concentrated, sludgy pee irritates your bladder and causes spasms, which makes you feel like you need to pee. I stare down at the kids at our feet, then out at the ocean and scattering of islands breaking up the view. I realize I’m talking to my friend like a pelvic floor rehab convert. Then again, she pees four times while we’re there. I pee twice, even with all the water everywhere.
At my appointment, we do a reevaluation. Ally repeats our introductory meeting by giving me a manual exam to compare my pelvic floor strength now to how it was ten weeks ago.
“Your right side is improving. Your left side is about the same,” she says. I imagine the left side of my vagina having had a small stroke, and being left slack and droopy.
Ally sits up in her chair. “I think what I’d like to have you do—“ she pauses for a second, consulting her notes. My mind quickly fills in the end of her sentence. – is see a surgeon who specializes in vaginal strokes. – is come here three times a week for the rest of your life.
“—is start incorporating a vibrator into your exercises.”
I start laughing. I can’t help it.
Ally pulls a swirly blue vibrator from her top drawer. “So you’ll insert this about this far, and then turn on the vibrator.”
My mind is reeling.
“Am I on candid camera?” I ask. I am no prude, but this just sounds sketchy. Ally laughs.
“I know! But using the vibrator will help you really focus on what’s going on while you do your Kegels. You won’t have to use it forever.”
“I might want to, though!”
As she leaves the room so I can put my clothes back on, Ally places the vibrator on top of my socks. When she comes back in, I have my phone, keys and my trusty new vibrator in my hand. “Um, can you—“
“Oh! Let me see if I can find you a bag,” she says.
“I could just tuck it behind my ear,” I joke.
When it’s time to check out, I look on the billing sheet to hand to the receptionist. In Ally’s handwriting: issued short, slim vibrator.
image courtesy of morgueFile user Alvimann
On a whim, my husband and I take our four-year-old son to the driving range. I’m far too much of a perfectionist to take up the sport myself. However, every few years, I’ll acquiesce to a random trip to the driving range where I usually slop the balls a good three feet from the tee—if I hit them at all.
In between cheering for and ducking from my son’s wild swings, I pick up my husband’s seven iron, just for fun.
I look around to see if anybody saw, then I hit another ball.
Straight down the middle, a good 100 yards. “Hey, babe!” I call to my husband. “Check it out!” Our son tosses himself down on the green mat as my husband’s attention drifts from Max to me. Max is four, which means he pendulums from being a polite little, golf-swinging human to a hot mess with little warning.
Over and over again, the ball zooms, far and straight. I do a little victory jig. Max throws himself down on the green mat. “No fair!” he shrieks.
Apparently somehow, in the last six years since I’ve swung a golf club, I’ve been bestowed with a very mild, very un-useful superpower.
Then it hits me, as I lift the golf club over my right shoulder again, twisting my torso. All that core strengthening work I’ve been doing. The Pelvic Brace. The Pilates classes.
It’s bizarre, but it’s the only explanation.
image courtesy of morgueFile user ariadne
“Dang girl, a little extra stress going on?” Charlotte asks. She’s massaging the taut, tender muscles in my abdomen. She is barely pressing on my stomach, but it feels like she’s stabbing me. I look up, past her own rounding belly and nod.
“What’s up?” she asks. I hesitate for a moment, wondering how much to share. Then I realize this woman has seen my rectum – this is no time for facades.
“My grandpa just died.”
“Aww. I’m so sorry,” she says.
“He was 90, so it wasn’t a huge surprise,” I start. “But he was my last grandparent living. And it’s been—harder than I expected.”
I don’t tell her that this week also marks the anniversary of the death of my first love, as well as the birthday of my brother who died several years ago.
She continues to loosen the muscles. I lie there on the table, tears threatening to fill my eyes. Wondering how all this grief can be showing up in my abdomen, of all places. Usually I carry my pain in my chest, near my heart center. In my hunched shoulder blades, or in my head, where I imagine all my anxious thoughts overflow, creating tension.
But my belly?
I guess everything really is connected.
“So, it’s your discharge appointment!” Ally says, smiling.
“Yep,” I say. I harness all my self control in order to refrain from cracking a joke about ‘discharge.’
“We’re going to go over your goals from when you started, and I’m going to do one last manual exam,” she says. “But no biofeedback today. Yay!”
“’Yay’ is right!” I agree.
“So, how often are you voiding?” she asks. I smile, because she said, ‘void.’
“Maybe every hour and a half or so,” I say. “Sometimes less often, sometimes more.” She looks at me. I want to please her—our original goal was for me to only have to pee five to seven times per day.
“On the days when I don’t sleep well, I drink a lot of coffee, and on those days I still pee a lot.” She nods. I don’t add how many of those days there have been lately.
“Well, as long as you’re conscious about it and working towards less coffee and more water, that’s okay,” Ally says.
“And how about leakage? How often are you noticing leakage?” she asks. I still cringe a little when she asks this question.
“Almost never,” I say. This is, mostly, true.
“Great! And how is it going with your homework?”
“You mean… the vibrator?”
I admit that I haven’t been using my vibrator very often.
“It’s hard to fit it in— so to speak—during the day.” She nods.
“You know, the kids and all…” I say. She nods again.
It’s true. My kids still follow me into the bathroom constantly. I can imagine no way to do my ‘Kegels with props’ without having to answer 600 very uncomfortable questions.
And at night? After the kids are in bed, I plop on the couch and watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix. By the time I head to bed, my husband is often asleep. The vibrator beckons to me from my nightstand drawer. I’m sooo tired, I whisper to it. I think I have a headache coming on.
Ally looks at me with her hazel eyes, and her face looks a little disappointed. It kills me.
“Okay. Well, let’s do the manual exam.” She leaves the room while I undress and lie down on her table for the last time. I have mixed feelings about graduating from pelvic floor rehab. I am grateful for the time that will be freed up by not having these weekly appointments, and I’m not constantly peeing anymore. On the other hand, I could’ve put in more effort on my homework.
When Ally reenters the room, she has me do a series of Kegels while she inserts her finger into my squirrel. I squeeze with all my might until it feels like I’m about to either pop a blood vessel or fart.
“So, you’re still at about a 3-,” she says, referencing the 1-5 scale measuring pelvic floor strength, with a 5 being the best. When I started, I was at a 2-. My heart sinks. I had imagined that by the time I finished pelvic floor rehab, I’d be able to crack chestnuts with my perineum. That if I was to become a superhero, they’d call me IronVag. Clearly, that would not be happening.
As a recovering perfectionist, I’m trying to cozy up with the phrase, progress, not perfection. In all areas of my life, from parenting to my pelvic floor. Could I be squeezing in, so to speak, more of my pelvic floor homework? I’m sure I could find a way. But something else would have to give. Like so many of us, I have young children, a career and a marriage to juggle, along with trying to include running, yoga and the other self-care practices that I need to stay reasonably sane.
“So… if I’m better at using the vibrator, that will help strengthen my pelvic floor?”
“Definitely. But you really need to do it daily.”
“Okay, I’m going to try,” I promise her. It sounds like such a nice assignment—use a vibrator! Daily! Forever! But, as with so many things, the reality of it is a challenge.
Ally hands me some paperwork with what she calls, “A lifetime of homework.” It includes the Kegels (with and without vibrator), core strengthening work, and continuing to taper down on my coffee intake while upping the amount of water I drink.
As my appointment winds down, Ally puts her hand on my shoulder and wishes me luck. Her eyes are full of warmth, and I think about what an intimate job she has.
On the car ride home, my mind battles between regret and disappointment. Regret that I didn’t improve more, and acceptance that I did what I could, and I certainly made progress.
I can go out of the house for a few hours with my family without worrying where the nearest bathroom is. I could take up golf, with my newfound ability to hit the ball. And I faced the fear and shame around my pelvic floor issues by getting help for them.
At a stoplight, as I almost unconsciously begin to do a few Kegels, the fable of the tortoise and the hare pops into my mind.
It occurs to me that, if this were a fable, I’d be the vagina tortoise instead of the vagina hare.
So to speak.
image courtesy of morgueFile user pippalou