5 Women Share Their Story of Miscarriage

KELSEY’S STORY – A “Missed” Miscarriage 

About a year after we were married, we had a candid discussion about when we’d “try” to have a baby. What is good timing for us, are we ready financially and willing to give up our current lifestyle for something different.

A few months after that conversation, I found out I was pregnant. It happened fast and it came with a plethora of emotions from so excited to so terrified.

Since the timing fell on Christmas, we started telling family around the 7-week mark. I even bought cute shirts for my niece and nephew that said: “we’re going to be big cousins”. I would later tell my sister to burn these.

Just after Christmas, we were sent for a dating ultrasound and like fresh new parents, we showed up thinking we could both go in the room and experience a “movie-like” first ultrasound moment. Anyone who has had a maternal ultrasound knows it’s anything but. After the first few parts of the scan, my husband was invited in and we were shown the little blob on the screen and the tech even turned up the volume to hear the heartbeat. I remember thinking it sounded slower than I imaged but didn’t think much more about it.

That next day we headed up North to visit family and spread the good news that way. I’ll never forget that while telling my in-laws, my doctor called me and interrupted that moment of joy for the first-time grandparents-to-be. I could tell in my doc’s voice something wasn’t right but she was trying to remain positive. The baby’s heart rate was low, 76 to be exact, and we’d have to give it another week to see if it sped up. The doctor said that many times 7 weeks is too early to hear a proper heartbeat, but she also warned that I might miscarry if something was actually wrong.

That week felt like one of the longest weeks of my life.

I returned to the ultrasound clinic the following week, husband in tow, feeling so nervous and unsure of what was next. I didn’t miscarry in that week of waiting and I had read every single article on the internet and tried to convince myself that everything was going to be fine.

It was not.

As I was getting the ultrasound (the internal one, at that) I saw the tech’s face drop and tears started rolling down her cheeks. They’re not supposed to show emotion but I guess this one couldn’t help it. The baby had no heartbeat and I was sent home.

It’s almost impossible to explain the sadness, regret, guilt, and confusion that came afterward. We got a call from my doctor, who said it wouldn’t have been a viable pregnancy and that it’s very common so not to worry, we’ll get pregnant again quickly. She said it’s my body’s natural way of knowing that a baby won’t be viable. Not exactly the words of kindness I was looking for, but she booked us in at Mount Sinai’s early pregnancy loss clinic and that was that.

We arrived at the clinic the very next day to discuss our options. This is where we met Fran, a nurse who is an angel from heaven, who made one of the worst situations of our life, just a little bit less shitty.

We found out I was having what is called a missed miscarriage which means the baby has died but my body has yet to catch on, hence why I didn’t start bleeding or cramping or anything and still felt completely pregnant, hormonal and hungry (SO HUNGRY). My options were to wait and naturally pass the embryo, take misoprostol, a drug that induces a miscarriage or have a D&C (dilation & curettage), a surgical procedure where they scrape out your uterus when you’re under general anesthetic.

It felt like I was choosing the best way to die. We went with the pills to bring on a miscarriage since they didn’t have surgical time available until a week later. I couldn’t face another day pregnant and just wanted to get it over with.

That night, I took misoprostol and had a miscarriage at home. I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy. I had contractions similar to labour for about two hours until I passed what I later learned was the embryo.

The experience changed me a lot. All of this was completely new and I didn’t know at the time but we went on to struggle to get pregnant again. I felt some of the lowest lows I’ve ever experienced in my life with moments where I didn’t believe I would ever feel happy or okay again.

I also ironically had a friend who was pregnant a few weeks away who I watched through an entire pregnancy I knew I wanted so bad and didn’t have. I avoided baby showers, social events and while trying to be happy for friends and acquaintances who were getting pregnant, what seemed like every second day, I was so sad for myself that it was really hard. In hindsight, I wish I had handled it better but at the time I was incapable.

I went to therapy to help wrap my head around everything that happened and I also began being really open about the experience. I’ve come to realize that I hate the 12-week announcement rules put on women. It makes no sense that those suffering a miscarriage before 12 weeks should have to suffer silently. I think that stigma should be broken and we should, if we’re comfortable, speak openly about this real thing that happens to SO many women.

If you know someone who has had a miscarriage or is going through it currently, my suggestion would be to just be there to listen but also give them the space they need. It takes a toll on your body and mind, so sending food or a nice gift of self-care is always a thoughtful way to show you’re thinking about them. Also, don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing, it really does sometimes feel like people who haven’t been through it don’t quite get the weight of it and that can be tough, especially with close friends.

If you’re reading this and you’re struggling, be gentle with yourself. It’s so easy to spiral down a path of blaming yourself or searching for a reason for why something like this happened; I exercised too much, I’m not healthy enough, I found out late and had one too many glasses of wine.

It is not your fault. 

The other thing we did is planted a tree in our backyard on what would have been our due date, it was a really nice way to honour the loss.

The last thing I will say is to lean on your community or find a community you can lean on. After my miscarriage when we went on to struggle with infertility, I found an app called Kindara with a community of women who were also struggling. Many of them also experienced loss and it really helped give me a place to be honest and open about how I was feeling and how much I was struggling.

The bottom line is you don’t have to suffer alone because you aren’t alone. The stats are one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. My miscarriage was on January 4, 2017, and I sit here now with hindsight watching my healthy 1-year-old rainbow baby, knowing that my life has happened just as it should.

Time eventually heals. I still think about what might have been, especially when I look out at my beautiful Japanese Maple in my backyard. This experience has given me a new perspective.

Above all, be kind to people because you really never know what they’re going through.

 


FLORENCE’S STORY – An Ectopic Pregnancy 

I experienced pregnancy loss, just a month before my 24th birthday. I had just adjusted back to the city life after living abroad in Costa Rica where I had completed my yoga teacher training. My boyfriend at the time, traveled lots and was often away for work. On the day that I took myself to the hospital, he was in the Arctic and was only available via a satellite phone.

At the age of 23, I was not attempting to conceive, but it happened and I was unaware it had until I was actively experiencing the loss of my pregnancy.

I was 5 weeks pregnant when I discovered I was in fact miscarrying and not just experiencing another unusual menstrual cycle.

After a week of bleeding and waking to persistent cramps, I finally took a pregnancy test, as I suspected I could have been having a miscarriage. The + sign shortly appeared and I took myself to the ER, alone.

I brought myself to the ER around 6am, had multiple interactions with nurses and doctors that were not pleasant by any means. The nurse who drew my blood asked me what type of birth control methods I had used in attempt to prevent this “mistake”, implying that I was young and irresponsible. I will never forget that exchange.

After imaging and horrendous abdominal pain, it was concluded that I had had an ectopic pregnancy and I needed surgery immediately as it was a dangerous situation. I remember the technician telling me to sit down after my internal ultrasound, and I knew exactly what was happening by the expression on her face.

At this point, I called my sister who came to hold my hand as I was taken up the OR, by the same nurse who had previously interrogated me. It wasn’t until I met my surgeon that I felt safe. When I came out of the elevator I was greeted by a compassionate face and the words “I’m so sorry for your loss”

It all felt so shameful, frightening and abrasive.

I choose to remember the warmth of my doctor’s voice and the kindness of the anesthesiologist as I went into the OR. Throughout the hours at the hospital they were the first to recognize and acknowledge my pain and loss. They made me realize that I had not even processed what I really had lost.

This experience changed the entire trajectory of my life and career. I can remember sitting with a friend, weeks afterwards trying to process what had happened. I felt confused about grieving the loss of something I only had moments to connect to. She told me “this is happening for you, not to you”. Experiencing this early pregnancy loss has prompted me to advocate for women’s health. I figured, if I felt lost after my loss, so many other people must be feeling the same or worse. The lack of continuity of care following my loss was disappointing and frustrating. This gap in the healthcare system is what motivated me to specialize in the after care and postnatal care. It was a tough way to learn, but my loss has provided me with a compassionate heart and special understanding of what women enduring miscarriage are feeling. So I guess you could say, I made this traumatic experience something that happened FOR me – rather than TO me.

My advice for people looking to support someone going through a miscarriage is to show up. Just show up and be there. Don’t talk, give unsolicited advice or words of wisdom. All you can do is show up, physically, listen and offer love. Ask them what they need, and follow through with it. They may not know what they need, so in that situation just offer them love and a safe space to cry and process

For women who are struggling with pregnancy loss: You are not alone. As soon as I experienced pregnancy loss and I started to talk about it, I realized this. In fact, 1 in 4 women experience a miscarriage. Take the time you need and know that there is support. PAIL is an amazing organization out of Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto, that offers free counselling for early pregnancy and infant loss. They have expanded beyond Toronto and offer counselling over the phone too! Women are incredibly powerful, when we gather together it can be the most therapeutic gift – don’t be afraid to ask for help.

 


LYDIA’S STORY – Late Pregnancy Loss

I was 20.5 weeks along when we went for my anatomy ultrasound. We were told we were having a baby boy! He was looking totally healthy and growing according to schedule. We were so excited. Of course I went straight to the mall and started shopping!

I had booked a vacation for the following week with a girlfriend of mine… my last vacation before becoming a mom. We decided on a Caribbean cruise. My husband at the time didn’t like to travel, so she and I went alone.

Everything started out perfectly. We ate, we hung out by the bar drinking virgin cocktails – it was a lot of fun. I remember the exact moment things started to turn. I was sitting at a bar and felt like I had to go to the washroom. I tried and I couldn’t. I went to see the doctor on board. He tested my urine and found a high red blood cell count. He listened to the baby’s heartbeat and gave me a prescription for a bladder infection. I was way too nervous to take meds from a random doctor so I avoided it until I could chat with my own in the morning.

The next morning we were in port in Puerto Rico. We decided to get off and go shopping. My gf and I separated for a bit at a mall and I was stocking up on the cutest baby clothes. I remember feeling like I had to sit down. I wanted to curl up because my stomach was bothering me. I again thought I had to go to the washroom but again no luck.  We decided to go back to the ship. I decided to call my doctor.

My doctor told me the chances of it being anything serious this far along were maybe 3%. He told me I could ride it out and see him 3 days later after the cruise, or I could miss the rest of the cruise and go to a hospital. Obviously I thought the odds were in my favour, so I carried on with the cruise.  After numerous attempts to use the washroom and just not feeling right I went to lie down in the room.  My gf went to the gym.

One final attempt to use the washroom was the worst moment I can ever remember. Blood. So much blood. Clots of it. I started screaming. I remember crawling to the phone. Dialing the doctor. Screaming I was in so much pain. I was alone. They sent a wheelchair and rushed me down. The doctor asked for another urine sample and I couldn’t even stand up. I crawled to the toilet and my water broke. I just remember screaming and everyone rushing around. They checked my baby boy’s heartbeat which was still there. They gave me a shot for the baby’s lungs and called my husband. I knew what was happening. I was losing this baby.

The doctors decided I need to be in a hospital. There was no longer a heartbeat. My baby boy was gone.  I made it to the hospital in Puerto Rico on Halloween night – one of the busiest nights of the year.  I eventually saw a doctor and we decided the best thing to do was for me to give birth.

I was induced that night and delivered my beautiful baby boy the next day. I remember how small his perfect little body was. I said my goodbyes though many, many tears. His body was cremated and his tiny ashes are with me.

I have never felt so empty, sad or heartbroken in my life. I still remember every detail from that experience. I remember how I felt and how long it took me to move on.

Talking about it helped a lot.  Surprisingly many people contacted me that they too had experienced similar loss. I was shocked actually. I didn’t feel so alone and it helped me move forward and keep trying.

I remember when we did try again to get pregnant, how every month that went by with a negative test, it sunk me. I was so disappointed, frustrated, hopeless. I didn’t think I was ever going to have a baby. In the big picture it was only about 8 months but that felt like an eternity.  But I DID get pregnant again. Three beautifully, healthy girls as a matter of fact… within the next 4 years.

I know my story is mine, and there are so many different ones out there. I have had other friends who have suffered pregnancy loss multiple times. My heart breaks for them. Any loss is still a loss no matter how far along someone is. Let them mourn. Let them feel what they need to feel and just be supportive. You may not know what someone is going through behind closed doors. Here’s to being kind to each other.


LAUREN’S STORY – IVF Miscarriage 

I went into my first round of IVF, full of hope, and convinced that it would work. After all, I already have a beautiful daughter, so my body knows what to do, right? Wrong! What I didn’t know was the depth of pain I was about to experience, and sadly, I’m not talking about the shots!

You see, I was under the impression that I was somehow in control. That if I took the medication, went to all my appointments, and switched up my diet, that everything would be fine. I read the books, took the vitamins, and purchased pineapple themed everything (pineapples are considered good luck for those going through fertility treatments).

I even repeated a mantra to myself every day, and I’m totally not a mantra person! Anyone who’s ever gone through IVF knows that it’s like playing the lottery, but you hear the success stories, and see the babies in people’s arms, and you never think that it’s not going to happen for you.

When the month finally arrived for our first frozen embryo transfer, I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I foolishly allowed my mind to wander and began to picture life with our new little bundle of joy. In September, we were officially considered PUPO (pregnant until proven otherwise) and began the dreaded two week wait.

I went online to determine the best time to take a home pregnancy test, because I knew there was no way I would make it to the end of the two weeks. I discovered that the majority of women knew by six days post transfer that they were pregnant. So, on the evening of the 6th day, I took my first test. It was negative. I was discouraged, but I reminded myself that it was still early. I waited until nine days and then tested again, still no line. At this point, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty devastated. I figured this was it. It hadn’t worked.

I had a follow up appointment for blood work the following day and was supposed to get a call in the afternoon with the official results. I remember that they called at lunchtime, and much to my surprise, the nurse said, “Congratulations! You’re pregnant!” I was in total shock. What? I was pregnant? How is this possible? My feelings instantly went from sad and depressed to over the moon. I texted my partner that he was finally going to be a Daddy, and he called me in tears. Little did we know what was in store for us.

I returned to the doctor for standard blood work two days later and received a call that afternoon stating that my Beta hCG hormone was not doubling the way it should have. The nurse warned me that this could be a sign of an ectopic or chemical pregnancy, which would ultimately mean either surgery or a miscarriage. I felt as though I’d been punched in the gut. All the excitement drained from my body. She stated that it was still too early to tell, and that I was to return for blood work again, so that they could monitor my levels. So back I went in the morning, terrified that we would lose the baby we had been so desperately hoping for. That afternoon the nurse called to tell me that my hormone had increased but had not doubled, and that I was to return for a third test in a couple of days. I was anxious and scared, and yet still hopeful that things would turn around. Much to my surprise, they did. After my third blood test, the nurse shared that my hCG has started to double. I immediately felt relief. Like I could finally step off the emotional roller coaster I was on, and go back to being happy and excited for the future. I was scheduled for an ultrasound at six weeks where they would check on baby’s progress. Life returned to normal once again.

My partner and I went to the clinic on the day of the ultrasound together. We couldn’t wait to see our developing baby. I was ushered into the room and he was told that he would be able to join us shortly. As I laid down on the table, I remember a swirl of emotions hitting me and happy memories of the first time I saw my daughter on ultrasound came flooding back. But within seconds, I knew something was wrong. The ultrasound tech began hammering me with questions about my blood results and then repeatedly pushed down sharply on my stomach while demanding to know whether I was seeing my doctor later that afternoon. I asked her if my partner was going to be joining us, and she abruptly said, “No!” She told me to get dressed and to go see the doctor. I held back tears as I walked to the waiting. I whispered to my partner, “Something’s wrong,” before beginning to cry. We met with our doctor twenty minutes later and he shared that it looked like the embryo had moved to the opening of my left tube, and that I was likely experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. He gave us strict instructions to monitor for pain, and to go to a hospital if things became unbearable. My head was spinning as we left the office. How could this happen? Was it something I did? Or something I didn’t do? Would I end up needing surgery? Fortunately, I did not have to visit the hospital, but within a week I began to miscarry.

The next few weeks were some of my lowest. I felt alone in my suffering, even though I had people who loved and cared for me. I cried a lot, ate my feelings, and avoided leaving my house for anything other than work. I even missed my 20th high school reunion, because I just couldn’t bear to be around people. But slowly things got better and I felt the heaviness begin to lift. I went back to reading other people’s IVF journeys, and the triumphs they experienced after years of setbacks. I gained inspiration from their resilience and their drive to keep going. I refocused my energy on what I already had in my life, including a loving partner and an amazing daughter, and I reminded myself that I was strong, that I have been through a lot, and that I would get through this too!

My advice to others who are going through this: 

  1. You are not alone, no matter how badly you feel. There are people who love you and want to be there for you. Let them!

 

  1. You will get through this! It may take a while, but eventually you will come out on the other side, and you will be amazed by your own strength.

 

  1. It’s okay to fall apart! Tears are cathartic. Venting is cathartic. Taking time for yourself is cathartic. Put yourself first and do what you need to do for you!

 

  1. This what not your fault. Nothing you did or didn’t do caused your miscarriage.

 

  1. If you know someone who is experiencing a miscarriage,  check in on them. Send them a text or call to let them know that you’re thinking of them. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help? They’ll likely say, “No,” but I can assure you that they will take comfort in knowing that you’re there.

KIM’S STORY – Recurrent Miscarriages

I didn’t particularly want kids but I also did not, not want kids. I was busy pursuing my acting and dancing career. I always figured I would just know if I wanted to be a mom and then I just would be one. Ha! Well what the hell did I know??

I found the “one” and that brought a lot of healing to the wounds in my heart. I began to feel like a big part of the human experience was to be a parent. I was sure I did not want to leave the planet without becoming one.

I started trying to have a baby at 35. By the time I was 39, I had gone through 8 miscarriages.

I got pregnant on our honeymoon when I was 36. By that point we had already had 4 losses. Conceiving on our honeymoon was like a dream come true. I was already considered ‘geriatric’ in the fertility world (that was fun reading on my chart). I knew I was only getting older and less fertile. Everyone kept telling me the quality of my eggs was diminishing.

After our honeymoon we went back to our clinic. It was official – we were pregnant. I had been taking progesterone suppositories to help the baby “stick”. The drugs were terrible. I would get so bloated, gaining up to 7lbs every month on them.

My HCG levels were doubling, so we went for our first ultrasound. There was baby, heartbeat and all. We literally could not believe it! The technician did mention the heartbeat was a little slow but not too bad –  she would like it to go up at the next ultrasound.

I had several other ultrasounds, but one of them showed the heart rate starting to get slower. The baby had grown but the heartbeat not good. I was told the baby would not make it and I just needed to wait for it to pass. So every week I slowly watched the numbers get slower: 93, 84, 67 until finally my baby’s heart stopped beating. I was given misoprostol to start my uterus contracting so I could “birth” the baby. The cramps were indescribable. I remember lying on the couch and feeling what felt like a tennis ball literally fall out of my vagina. I knew what had happened.

I got up to the bathroom and there my baby was. You could see everything. Hands, head, feet, little body – even a placenta. That image will never leave my memory.

I asked my husband to bring the jar. After 4 previous losses, I had opted to bring this fetus in to be tested. Even after all my tests at the clinic, cycle monitoring, endless early morning blood work (I was a bartender so this was brutal), endless vaginal ultrasounds, hysterosalpingogram, small surgery to remove polyps in my uterus, a million progesterone suppositories and baby aspirin –  nothing was actually deemed wrong with me, but yet everything was wrong with me. So in an act of desperation, I took my baby and carried it in my purse to the hospital for testing.

That day was beyond traumatic. I got lost, couldn’t find the lab and felt myself wanting to break down and cry while I trying to explain that I had my baby in my purse for testing and couldn’t find where I was supposed to go. Still, they could find nothing wrong with the baby.

It was really after this loss that I really got depressed. I gained weight and started giving up. I felt such shame, like a failure, like my body had failed me. I started really slacking on my health. I had done everything – seen the naturopath, done all the cleanses, changed my diet, acupuncture etc. I started being quite reckless. Needless to say this was not great for my marriage. After 4 years of sex on command and what felt like endless losses, we were in a dark place. I almost got to the place of accepting that I would probably never be a biological mother. We talked about adoption. We were open to exploring it.

I got pregnant again and lost. But 2 years later at 39, I got pregnant again and gave birth to my beautiful, healthy miracle baby daughter. Our hearts burst with joy!

After our daughter was born, we weren’t sure if we should try to expand our family. There were so many factors: my age, finances, I was a sleep deprived wreck and still had a lot of injuries from my c section.

Then the unimaginable happened – I got pregnant again this year at 44. We were floored. For some naive reason, I let myself believe this was meant to be. My HCG numbers were doubling, pregnancy symptoms strong, I got to see our little bean on ultrasound… then nothing. No more growth, no more heart beat. I just had to wait for my baby to come out again. This one hit me so hard. I was mad at myself for believing it. I had been so worried about all the others, but for some reason I believed this time would work. We had started rearranging the house and making plans for a sibling. This was now my 10th pregnancy.

There were so many high’s and low’s on this journey. I largely felt alone, like I was living a double life – a life where I was secretly trying to have a baby, then secretly pregnant, then secretly miscarrying. I finally feel like I am in a place to share, connect, listen and help others. I really did feel shame. No one should feel that.

My advice to other women is hard to say because every journey is so unique. I wish I could tell you it’s going to work out, but the truth is I really don’t know.  I want nothing more than for everyone on this journey to be blessed with a baby. Just know it’s not your fault. There is no shame in it. Your body is not a failure. You are not a failure. You are not alone. It is so much more common than you know. You are magical and a woman no matter where your journey takes you and you have a tribe of women rooting for you all the way. I’m screaming the loudest. xo 

5 Birthing Tips for Pregnant Women

It has been a big year filled with many firsts – the biggest of all was the birth of my daughter Gabrielle this past April 2018. She is now 8 and a half months old!
As a Prenatal and Postnatal Pilates teacher, it was truly amazing to finally be able to practice what I have been preaching for close to a decade. Pregnancy and birth is such an important topic – especially as it relates to pelvic health. Pelvic health is my passion and something I wish more women discussed.
We have all heard the jokes about sneeze leaks after child birth and the importance of “doing your kegels” for pregnant and postpartum women.  But newsflash, there is SO much more to exercising your pelvic floor than just “doing your kegels.” (Hint, some women shouldn’t be doing kegels at all!)
Child birth is one of the most incredible feats a woman’s body can accomplish. The more a woman is physically and mentally prepared, the stronger and more empowered she will feel during this life changing event.
Here are our top 5 tips for a smooth birth. We teach these in our Bump Method Prenatal Pilates classes. That being said, not everyone is able to have a safe vaginal birth. Circumstances are sometimes beyond our control and we are so grateful to have medical interventions when needed. C-sections save lives everyday. And some people may simply choose to elect a caesarian birth for personal reasons.

There’s absolutely NO birth agenda here, simply tips that I (and many students before me) found helpful in preparing for a vaginal birth.

  1. Open Glottis. Always try to push with an open mouth (called open glottis). This also helps you dilate more quickly when in contractions. Try exhaling and letting your lips flutter – much like a horse. It sounds crazy, but it’s proven to reduce pelvic floor damage. This links to the next point.
  2.  Sphincter Law. Read up on “Sphincter Law”, a term coined by Ina May Gaskin. She has some great books also and a great TED Talk. Ina is a famous midwife with A LOT to say about birth, and her work is very empowering. I read her books during pregnancy and found her stories helped quell any anxiety.
  3. Spontaneous pushing is best for your pelvic floor. This means that pushing is non directed – you push when you feel the urge and not before.
  4.  Find your core and release your pelvic floor. Try to push at the end of your inhale when your pelvic floor is most open. The more open you can make your pelvic floor and the more connected you can stay to your deep core muscles – specifically your transverse abdominis – the stronger you will feel when it comes time to push. I had a pretty hard time figuring out how to push until my doula finally said “use your abs Nikki!”. Baby G arrived 3 pushes later. Stay connected to your deep core muscles during pregnancy by performing “hug the baby” core breaths. We have tons of video examples on instagram under #thebumpmethod and in our online prenatal video programs.
  5. Push side lying. If you have the epidural or are with an OB who won’t deliver you on hands and knees, try lying on your side with your top leg on a squat bar during pushing instead of on your back. This way your pelvic floor is 30% more open and studies show it is actually easier to get baby out with less tearing.
I sincerely hope these tips are helpful to any pregnant women who may be reading this. Here’s to you and your magical bodies! My favourite quote from midwife Ina May Gaskin is: “Your body is not a lemon.” You got this mamas. Your strength will surprise you.
With so much love.xo

How Prenatal Pilates Empowers Women

When I took my doula certification course several years ago, we learned about the pain-fear-tension cycle during child birth. This is hugely powerful concept that illustrates the spiral that can happen when women experience fear surrounding birth.  For most of our lives, we have been bombarded with negative stories of other women’s birth experiences and seen dramatic depictions in movies and on television. We have been conditioned to believe that excruciating pain is associated with labour; and because of this, most women I know fear giving birth. This fear can create a cycle of increased tension and pain. fear-tension-pain-cycle

Here’s how it works: Fear creates muscle tension, and tension increases perceived levels of pain, which of course leads to more fear.  This creates a cycle that inhibits the body from performing a normal physiological function.  The result is exactly what’s feared most – long, painful birthing or unnecessary intervention.

Fear comes from both misinformation and the unknown – from cultural myths and questions never asked.  Knowledge is power, and feeling powerful will reduce feelings of fear. Prenatal Pilates is an opportunity for women to receive the knowledge they need. They’ll learn how to trust in themselves and their bodies so they are prepared no matter what happens during their birth. Here’s a little bit of what we cover in The Bump Method Prenatal Pilates classes, both in person and on video. 

Posture: learning how to position your body during pregnancy to reduce back and hip pain. Tip: ensure your pelvis is stacked under your rib cage instead of thrusted forward (very common as your growing belly can pull you out of good posture).

Breathing: learning how to connect your exhale to the contraction of your pelvic floor and your inhale to the release of your pelvic floor. The inhale is key for the pushing stage of labour. Tip: picture your pelvic floor gently dropping and opening as you inhale into your diaphragm, then initiate the push at the very end of your inhale.

Birth Positions: learning the best body movements and poses for encouraging the baby to descend during labour and delivery. Tip: being on hands and knees and gently rocking OR using 2 pool noodles ( yes, pool noodles) vertically under each of your pelvic bones while seated can be a good for helping baby get “unstuck” and descend into the birth canal.

Diastasis Recti: learning how to avoid separated or “over-stretched” abs from pregnancy. Tip: avoid positions in your pregnancy and postpartum that will increase pressure in your abdomen. So no planks, crunches, or even curling up as you get out of bed. Roll onto your side first. If you see a ridge or dome pop up in your tummy during certain movements, that’s a sign your abs are stretching apart and you should get out of that position asap. Instead, learn to prevent diastasis recti through targeted “belly pumps” that work your pelvic floor and core at the same time, minimizing the pressure on your abdominal wall.

Bump Method Prenatal Pilates

Pregnancy and birth is the ultimate act of surrender. Surrendering to the unknown can be a pretty scary thing for most of us, but arming yourself with knowledge, support and a caring community of women is a sure fire way of making the journey more comfortable. You are never, ever alone!

xoxo

 

What everyone should know about Cesarean Birth

I first met my Obstetrician when I was 15 weeks pregnant. Since I was pregnant with twins it was suggested that my perinatal care be provided by the “high risk” OB in town. In this first (very brief) meeting, I was reassured that so far things looked good, but given I had not yet had children it would be in my babies’ best interest, particularly that of baby B, to be delivered via Caesarean section.

At this time in my life, I was over half way through my PhD, so my inquisitive mind needed to know, “what is the evidence to substantiate a C- section is in the BEST interest of baby B”?

In response, I was given a somewhat detailed answer pertaining to a recent five-year research trial that determined consistently poor outcomes for baby B when delivered vaginally. I accepted this, agreed to the recommendation and as I left my appointment, I was given a card with my scheduled Caesarean section date indicated.  In a way, it was a bit of a relief. My trust in our health care system at the time translated to me not giving much thought to the type of birth I would have.

c-section

However, I am most grateful (especially now!) that my naturopathic doctor did. In addition to helping me conceive, she ensured that “despite my impending Caesarean section”, I would be armed with the best possible health strategies for my future children.

What did she mean? She was talking about the microbiome. Delivery through the vaginal canal is the time when a baby ingests some of the first bacteria that will colonise its guts. But babies born by C-section miss out on this process, and end up with a different set of bugs – including some from the hospital environment.

Tons of studies have found evidence that this C-section microbiome could make the child more vulnerable to problems later in life, such as asthma, food allergies and even obesity. We are finally coming to understand how important the collection of bacteria in our guts is for our health.

microbiomeIt is only now that I understand how important certain aspects of her plan were – probiotics!! My children are now five years old and it’s only in the last two years that I’ve given more thought to how they were brought into the world, and how I was duped by the very care system in which I work. In retrospect, I was not given accurate information on what was in my babies’ best interest. Rather, I was offered a recommendation based on a biased perspective, one that medicalizes birth, disrupting our precious evolutionary fabric in the process.

My increasing knowledge and understanding of the microbiome has stemmed from one of the many hats I wear – a professor of pathophysiology at McMaster University. Simply put, the scientific evidence is now very clear: a well-functioning microbiome is the key to health – it represents the foundation and the evolutionary matrix that allows us to exist. This important new research SHOULD be transforming our health care approach, especially as it relates to perinatal care.  Almost one third of babies born in North America are now delivered by C-section. These babies can still receive the microbes they’re missing — and hopefully some of the health benefits — by being swabbed with their mother’s vaginal fluid shortly after birth.

The microbiome (gut microbiota of humans – formerly known as gut flora) represents a diverse set of bacterial species (approximately 1000-1150). These micro-organisms control our immune system as well as metabolism – they are everything! Here’s a video explaining how the microbiome is the future of medicine. Colonization of the intestine with important bacteria begins at birth, mainly due to transfer of bacteria from the mother, but also from the environment – to which the influences are many. Mode of birth, place of birth, breastfeeding and antibiotic use have been clearly demonstrated to influence the composition of the microbiota.

So, what exactly are the implications regarding Cesarean section? We still don’t have all the answers. What we do know, is that when your baby’s gut is colonized by the micro-organisms in the hospital operating room rather than from you, it doesn’t bode well for the long term health of your child. More disturbing is the fact that this is now understood to have a multi-generational effect.

So, what can we do with all of this information? As I said, our conventional practices that medicalize birth require a major upheaval. It is not to say we never need medicalization – of course there are times when medical intervention saves lives. This is where our current systems approach shines. However, the pattern of routine unnecessary intervention is a big issue and frankly the health of our population is suffering as a result.

Regardless of where you fit in the perinatal care process, you need to be informed. Beyond being informed, you need to be supported and empowered to make the best decisions. Thankfully our bodies are designed to adapt towards a state of wellness. We do however need the correct guidance on how to get there in a world of conventional practices that are hazardous to our health. I am so grateful to now be working with an incredible team in a one of a kind centre called The World of my Baby (the WOMB), who can provide this much needed help.

Exercise Tips From a Pregnant Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist

I was recently a guest health expert on the YouTube talk show Social Common. And oh, did I ever have a blast with the fabulous hosts Cat and Nat. They didn’t hold back on the questions about kegels, coming out of child birth “unscathed” and “vagina rehab” (aka Pelvic Health Physiotherapy). Sexologist Dr. Jess O’Reilly joined in afterwards for some extra tips. It was quite the uncensored show and will hopefully make you laugh while perhaps teaching you some new things 🙂 Check it out here

As many of you know, we work closely with incredible practitioners called Pelvic Health Physiotherapists to help our clients get the best possible results from their fitness training. These practitioners are specially licensed health professionals who offer both external and internal physiotherapy to help women prepare for and recover from childbirth, treat pelvic pain, incontinence, “mummy tummy”, and a host of other conditions that too many often suffer from silently. Well, not any more! Times are changing, and I’m so passionate about spreading the word that there is help.  It’s never too late to restore your core, so if you’re reading this and your kids are in their teens or beyond, keep reading. The following is an article written by Anita Vandenberg, an incredibly compassionate Pelvic Health Physiotherapist here in Toronto, and soon to be mama herself!Anita Vandenberg If you are pregnant, you may have googled – “safe exercises during pregnancy” – and what you likely found is overwhelming AND conflicting. So what are you to do? It’s important to seek out experts in the area of prenatal fitness, BUT also ask questions about their training, credentials and up to date research and education. We are frequently learning new information regarding exercise during pregnancy, so what may have been deemed a good idea a decade or even a few years ago has changed today.

As a pelvic physiotherapist I am constantly looking into the newest opinions, research and clinical recommendations for women to use during pregnancy and beyond. I work with pregnant and postpartum women on a daily basis who are working to prevent or resolve pelvic floor and core issues –  including incontinence and diastasis rectus abdominis (abdominal separation/mummy tummy).

And now I am thrilled to be on this pregnancy journey personally as my husband and I are expecting our first child in 2016. I always assure my clients that I follow the same pregnancy advice I give to them as I have seen so many positive outcomes!

Have you had surgery or known someone who has? If you have, you have likely heard of prehab – a proactive approach to avoiding injuries, pain or muscle imbalances. Prehab for surgery involves physiotherapy ahead of time to increase strength and stability around the surgical area. Prehab also improves the speed and effectiveness of your recovery, and decreases muscle compensations that can happen over time. Prehab is a good idea!

Why isn’t prehab for pregnancy and childbirth recommended to every pregnant woman? A cesarean section is considered surgery, and while a vaginal birth isn’t considered surgery – it still takes a toll on our body.  Health professionals are readily aware of the changes that occur in a woman’s body during pregnancy: a shift in centre of gravity, increased size of uterus and breasts, increased demands on core muscles to provide pelvic/low back support, elevated levels of the hormone relaxin which loosens ligaments and causes joint laxity… and that’s just naming a few.  Why not prepare your body for this life changing event? Prehab style exercise will help your body stay strong through these prenatal changes and support an easier postpartum recovery after your bundle of joy is born.

Tips for successful prehab pregnancy exercise include:

Trimester 3

1) See a pelvic health physiotherapist

Find out if your pelvic floor is working properly. SO MANY women don’t do kegels correctly, and their pelvic floor muscles are weak – either a) too tight/tense (hypertonic) or b) too loose (hypotonic). Find out the status of your muscle function by having a pelvic floor physiotherapy assessment (contrary to popular opinion, having a tight or tense pelvic floor isn’t a good thing!) So many women assume these muscles become loose, stretched out and weak just because you are pregnant.  On the contrary, many women can have tight pelvic floors, just like tension in any other muscle of the body. A tight pelvic floor can cause leaking and contribute to vaginal tearing during childbirth.

Finding out if you’re hyper or hypotonic early in pregnancy will help you choose the best options for exercise during your pregnancy. FYI- just because you aren’t “leaking” when you sneeze, doesn’t mean your pelvic floor is all good. If you have a tight hypertonic pelvic floor, breathing techniques, internal manual release and stretches will be recommended until the muscles have relaxed, and after that pelvic floor strengthening (core breath – aka the ‘new kegel’) will be introduced. If your pelvic floor is loose and hypotonic, the core breath will be introduced right away with other exercises layered on as you become stronger. I also check for diastasis (abdominal separation) on pregnant women. By improving their pelvic floor function, they improve their core activation which can minimize diastasis and make the postpartum recovery process much easier.

2) Learn to do core breath then layer on other exercises

Your core breath is what you may think of as a kegel along with a deep breath. Your diaphragm muscles and pelvic floor muscles work together along with your other two core muscles (transversus abdominis and multifidus). Start by lying or sitting with a small curve in your low back called neutral spine (pretend a grape is in the curve of low back that you don’t want to squish). Inhale wide into the sides of your ribs and belly, exhale and visualize picking up a blueberry with your vaginal and rectal openings. Inhale wide again to release the blueberries back down….yes you may not look at blueberries the same way again, but this is a very efficient way of activating your pelvic floor and the rest of your core muscles! ALTHOUGH to truly know if you are activating your pelvic floor properly, and if strengthening is appropriate for you – see tip #1 (see a pelvic floor physiotherapist). The added bonus of using core breath during pregnancy is that this is exactly the exercise you should begin doing within 24 hours of giving birth (regardless of whether you had a vaginal or cesarean section birth). Gently restoring your core from the inside out along with a lightly compressive abdominal wrap is what will help your abdominals to repair postpartum.

3) Avoid sit ups or crunches

Sit up/crunch type movements increase pressure in your abdomen which puts pressure on your organs, pelvic floor and low back. This pressure can lead to a diastasis, incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, low back and pelvic pain. Using your core breath with numerous other exercises is a more efficient way of engaging your core. Take note if you do this type of curl up movement in/out of bed (many of us do). Instead – fully turn to your side, then push up with your arms as your legs swing off the bed (aka. Log roll). Also do the reverse when getting into bed.

4) Avoid planks/ front loaded exercises

Planks and hands & knees type exercises can be appropriate IF you’re not pregnant, don’t have a diastasis, and know how to engage your deep core properly. If you are pregnant and/or have a diastasis, these positions can increase pressure in your abdomen which can aggravate your diastasis, making your abs stretch apart too much. We have become engrained that we need to do planks, crunches etc in order to ‘work our core’. Using your core breath with every rep of weights, each squat, every wall push up, while stair climbing are other efficient ways of engaging your core during pregnancy.

5) Avoid high impact exercise

Activities such as running or jumping cause your core to work overtime during pregnancy, with all the force going through your pelvic floor during each heel strike or landing from a jump. When you add the fact that your ligaments and joints are looser and more unstable as a result of the pregnancy hormone relaxin, high impact exercise is generally best avoided.

FYI- just because you don’t notice leaking or heaviness symptoms doesn’t mean that unwanted changes are not happening in your body. It is possible to have a diastasis and prolapse without pain or pressure sensations. Options for high intensity exercises that are not high impact include: spin class, stair climbing, pool running, swimming laps, weight circuits and elliptical training. Before engaging in high intensity exercises, be sure to speak with your primary health care provider to be sure they are appropriate for you during pregnancy.

As a pelvic floor physiotherapist, I communicate often with fitness professionals since working together benefits you during your pregnancy and postpartum journey. Nikki Bergen of The Belle Method has created a physiotherapist approved pelvic floor friendly prenatal and postpartum exercise program called The Bump Method.  If you can’t make it to a class in person (currently classes run in Toronto and Milton, Ontario) you can stream The Bump Method video exercise programs here. There’s a full workout for each of the 3 prenatal trimesters, along with the 4th trimester postpartum period. The exercises incorporate core breath with other movements, including upper body exercises, lunges and squats along with weights and stability balls.

When doing any exercise- keep the above tips in mind to help prevent unwanted pelvic floor and core issues during pregnancy and beyond. Knowledge is power!

By: Anita Vandenberg MSc(PT), BKin(Hons) Registered Physiotherapist- Pelvic Floor and Orthopaedic, Certified Pilates Instructor, Certified in Acupuncture/Dry Needling

4 Birth Tips from a Labour Nurse

Originally published by The Belle Method in The Purple Fig

I recently had the privilege of being my best friend’s doula.  I flew out to LA where she lives with her husband and two other daughters and spent the week hoping baby # 3 would arrive during that 7–day window.

She did!

It was a gift: an absolutely life changing experience, especially for someone who has yet to have children herself.  From walking through quickening labor contractions in Santa Monica shoe stores (and terrifying many retail clerks in the process), to watching the veteran anesthesiologist narrate the epidural insertion like Morgan Freeman, to videoing the moment baby # 3 took her first breath – it’s safe to say that my copy of “what to expect when you’re expecting” and those doula birthing videos didn’t do it poetic justice.

Birth in North America has become a more private, medicalized affair than ever before.  Gone are the days that most women – mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and friends – gathered at home to actively support each other’s births.  We’ve obviously made incredible medical progress, however it’s rare that first time moms today have ever witnessed a birth in-person.  We’ve lost the implicit confidence that comes from seeing how our bodies were designed to successfully create.  We spent countless hours and dollars on prenatal classes – from Lamaze to Hypo-birthing – all in the name of preparing for, and reducing anxiety over childbirth.  How much more confident would we be if birth was a normal event we’d been exposed to for years? Anxiety stems mostly from what is unknown. womangivingbirth-750x480

Fear is so powerful. Here’s how it works in labor: anxiety/fear creates tension à tension leads to increased pain à increased pain leads to more FEAR.  The cycle continues.  Speaking personally, I am the sort of person who likes all the information up front. Give it to me straight. The more I know, the less I fear.  That’s why I decided to interview our Labor and Delivery Nurse for her top advice for first time moms. She hesitated at first while thinking about it – then enthusiastically blurted out these tips. I promised her I’d share!

1)   Stay at home for as long as possible. You’ll be more comfortable there. Shower and eat and drink something before coming to the hospital. You don’t get any food or water if/when you opt for the pain meds.

2)   Be “pushy”. Ask questions about what’s happening, what drugs you’re getting, what your concerns are, why things are being done in a particular way. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. And ladies, you want the grease. (For example, I mentioned my friend was afraid of tearing from this big baby, so they brought us warm compresses and mineral oil and coached her when to push more slowly.)

3)   Have Realistic Expectations of your Partner.  Your partner may be the best birthing coach in the world, or not.  Talk to them about your expectations before hand, find out their fears and decide whether you want an additional person in the room for support who may be less emotionally invested (read: calm and objective!)

4)   Stop judging yourself. You may come in with an all-natural drug-free birth plan, but then things get hard. Like, you’re-not-coping-anymore-hard. If you get an epidural, you are not weak. You are not copping out. Women used to die from this all the time. Pain levels are different for each woman depending on the baby’s position, the length and type of labor and individual unique neural pain receptors.  Do what YOU need to do.

Above all, be kind to yourself.  You’re taking a giant leap of faith into the unknown. Do your best and know that your best is good enough. Your body is not a lemon. You can do this! And if you get the chance to support another woman’s birth, recognize the gift.