The journey to being a pelvic floor physiotherapist…
Mentorship. Experience. Passion.
In the last few weeks, I have had a recent increase in clients asking me, and I quote, “how in the WORLD did you get into this sort of profession?”. I always smirk a bit whenever I am asked this question as I absolutely love the opportunity for my clients to understand my road and my path that brought me to the world of Pelvic Physiotherapy.
I remember volunteering in a physical therapy clinic when I was quite young and completely confused at what career I wanted to pursue. I had the great fortune to learn from one of the best physiotherapists I know who happened to also be practicing pelvic physiotherapy. She was and still is a guru….a pioneer, if you will, in the world of pelvic physiotherapy in Canada.
In those early days, when I was just volunteering, pelvic health was what took place in a private room and that was pretty much all I knew (and probably wanted to know) about it. As my passion for physiotherapy grew into an academic pursuit and finally a career, I spent 7 years working in private outpatient orthopaedic clinics. I jumped from one course to the next without much focus or direction but with the sole intention to improve my “hands on skills”, yet, I was always searching for something… just a little bit more. I would scroll through courses upon courses and none of them drove my passion. It all felt like something I “should’ be doing rather than something I was excited about or wanted to do.
All the while, I would see my pelvic physiotherapy colleague, my boss, and my friend come to work every day with a fire of passion that I admired and envied. She would tell me how incredibly rewarding pelvic physiotherapy was and how I should really consider this as a career path. My young and naive mind at the time thought…heck no. Absolutely not. I can’t even IMAGINE. As I write this, I am looking back on myself now 13 years later and think to that young girl, you have no idea what’s coming.
In 2012, everything changed (as it tends to do) when I got pregnant with my daughter. I was quite impressed with myself when I was pregnant. I was able to work all the way up to a few weeks before giving birth in what was quite a physically demanding job. I didn’t have any real aches and pains and I pushed and pulled as hard as I did when I wasn’t pregnant. All the while completely ignoring the toll and excessive pressures I was placing on my pelvic floor (what were those again? Yes. I’m a physiotherapist but I assure you that, at the time, there was no class in school teaching us about pelvic floor muscles). I went into spontaneous labour, got an epidural from a man whom I believed was an angel delivered from the heavens and named him the anesthesiologist, and pushed her out as hard as I could with my legs high up in the air for at least an hour. I was stitched up for what felt like HOURS. The doctor and nurse spent more time down there than anyone had in my life.
Post partum had its challenges, i.e. I felt like I was never going to sit without pain ever again. Three months passed from when I give birth and I got an invitation to join a recreational floor hockey team. Heck yeah! I haven’t done anything for myself in 3 whole months! I LOVED playing floor hockey before I was pregnant and felt completely and totally and utterly ready (side note I hadn’t done a lick of any form of exercise–not one single thing).
I went out for my first floor hockey game and ended it with pants soaked with urine and incredible pain in my knees that stopped me from walking normally for quite a few days.
Ok. Ok. I thought to myself. Don’t panic. You just need a bit more time. I bowed out of floor hockey for the time being and I waited a few weeks and decided to try something different. I went back to my favourite gym that offered a boxing boot camp class that I was obsessed with. I joined in and found myself running out of the class halfway through as urine was soaking my underwear and running down my legs. I was devastated and mortified. Sports and jumping was over for me and I thought “I do not like this new post baby body at all”.
I reeled at home, feeling isolated and frustrated. Then, all of a sudden, it felt like a light bulb going off in my brain. I had heard pelvic physiotherapy was supposed to help with women with urinary incontinence after having babies. I signed up for my first pelvic physiotherapy course right then and there. My initial thought was the information I was going to learn would help me understand how I can help myself back into doing the activities I used to love without pain and leaking. But after that first weekend, I was completely 100% hooked. It felt like a light had been turned on in my heart and in my brain and for the first time in a long time, I felt excited about a new career focus.
I look back at the various stages of pregnancy, labour, and post partum where I could have really benefited from a pelvic physiotherapist supporting and providing education and awareness on how to help support my body through the various changes that were to come. I think about how helpful it would have been to have known about the ways I could have better prepared my body for birth, and about how important it is to start with building a foundation of strength in those early post partum days and progressively building on that foundation in anticipation of higher functional activities. I could really have used the support and education that childbirth, although natural, is not something you just immediately bounce back from.
This is the gift of knowledge that I feel so lucky to pursue every day and be able to impart and provide support for my clients. This is why I am involved in this incredible and fantastically rewarding world of pelvic physiotherapy and plan to continue to learn for the rest of my life.
By Leeanna Maher
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