WHAT IN THE HELL IS PELVIC ORGAN PROLAPSE? (more trendily known as POP)
Good question! Don’t Google it juuust yet (TRUST us). We know that the Internet can be a scary rabbit hole of self-diagnosis, so we’re diving in to get the real scoop to save ourselves (and now you, lovely leaker) from the information overload and, well, anxiety. When we realized that we didn’t know much about this seemingly common condition, we decided to consult with experts who deal with POP on the daily.
We chatted with fellow mama, Francie, who’s got it POPin’ and Lindsey, our resident pelvic floor guru. Francie shared the ins and outs of her pelvic instability with us and asked specifically that we use her name. “How many lives would be changed if women knew about all this shit at 20? We gotta put it out there!" We couldn’t agree more. Lindsey tells us that delivering a baby isn’t the only factor that makes you susceptible to POP. “The delivery can sometimes be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But most of the time, it’s an accumulation of lifestyle habits.”
POP is a condition that happens when a pelvic organ, such as your bladder or rectum, drops (aka prolapses) from its normal place in your lower belly and pushes against the walls of your vagina. We know, it sounds super intense. Well, look at it this way, our bodies are designed to GROW AND BIRTH BABIES and that is pretty freaking intense. So you know, give yourself a lot of credit before freaking out or thinking you’re a freak if you have it (you’re not, you’re amazing). Like I mentioned earlier, it’s super common. In fact, research estimates that 3.3 million women in the US alone have it POPin’. See, you're def not on your own w/ this one.
If you do decide to use your vagina as a human waterslide (or even if your spawn takes a kool-aid man approach to the front of your abdomen), doctors make sure to check up on how your vag, uterus, and incisions are healing, but they tend to overlook the pelvic floor. Many OB/GYNs aren’t taught to tend to the muscles that have been bearing the weight of a human infant, placenta, fluid sac, organs, etc for ten months. Your pelvic floor is working when you pee and poop, climb up an insane flight of stairs, lift your gorgeous chunky baby, or make sweet love (or rough...we don’t judge as long as it’s consensual) with your partner. So you can imagine, without much info, we don’t really know how to treat it right. And without knowing, we take for granted the immense POWER OF THE PELVIC FLOOR.
Actually have you noticed that even during the pre-baby era, docs hardly ever schooled us on pelvic floor health? Or in high school health class, we don’t learn about our beautifully intricate internal organ hammocks?
We really gotta address this women’s health gap. So many women aren’t diagnosed until a condition gets extreme. We tolerate it because it doesn’t seem “that bad,” or it’s ingrained in us to feel like it’s uncomfortable while talking about this stuff. So when we’re diagnosed with something like POP and/or incontinence, we feel ashamed, scared, and alone. Maybe even broken. Well, to hell with that. Enough is enough. Or not enough, in this case, I guess? We deserve to have much more support and accessible information that’s not terrifying to look at. We should be taught about prevention not just extreme surgery options. Okay, soliloquy over. Back to POP (both the condition and Madonna music playlist).
YOU SAID SYMPTOMS...TELL ME MORE...
Francie the Fearless (doula, badass milk maven, and mother of two) told us that she first noticed that something was off when her IUD fell out. Twice. She also felt pressure while peeing or pooping and often had to work preeeeetty hard to get those deuces out. It’s also important to note that not all da POPin’ ladies have the same symptoms. The most common one, however, is a heavy, bulging sensation during sexy time, peeing, or doing the doo. Some women have incontinence, a full feeling in the belly, or painful intercourse.
Francie has been coping with digestive probz for most of her life. “I’m sure the straining from constipation caused my pelvic floor to overwork,” she says. When she first Googled her symptoms [bulging pressure (or heavy sensation) while pooping, vag dryness, and IUDs going rogue], she felt quite unnerved from the image overload. Any of you out there who have also regrettably searched for photos know that Google tends to curate the most severe POP images. POP is actually categorized into four grades of severity:
Grade 0 – no prolapse
Grade 1 –halfway to hymen
Grade 2 – to hymen
Grade 3 – halfway past hymen
Grade 4 –maximum descent
For those of you grade 4-ers, if you do happen to see what appears to be organs falling out of your vagina (YOU’RE NOT ALONE!) that’s actually the tissue of the vaginal wall.
WHY DOES POP HAPPEN?
Bringing it back to what Lindsey told us, pregnancy and childbirth can open the floodgates, but it stems from a lifetime of habits or conditions that reduces pelvic floor support. POP can also be a result of constipation, respiratory issues that causes violent coughing, heavy lifting, or having a hysterectomy. Another cause is lower levels of the hormone estrogen, which decrease during and after menopause. Less estrogen = less collagen = less help for pelvic connective tissues to stretch and return to normal positions = POP. Conditions affecting the spinal cord, like muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and injuries, that lead to paralysis of the muscles of the pelvic floor can lead to POP.
BREAKIN’ DOWN TYPES OF POP
Urethrocele (u-ree-throw-seel) develops when the urethra pushes into the front vaginal wall (our parts are pretty damn strong)
Rectocele (REK-toe-seel) part of the rectum protrudes into the back wall of the vagina, making it hard to poop (Francie the Fearless has this one)
Uterine prolapse is when the uterus descends into the vagina
WHAT TO DO IF THIS MIGHT BE YOU?
Thankfully we had Lindsey to keep us from hyperventilating into a brown paper bag upon hearing all of this. She says that it’s possible to control to progression of prolapse by making lifestyle changes which include: relieving the pressure of constipation, pelvic floor exercises tailored for you, and/or cutting out cigs since the chronic cough associated with smoking may cause or speed pelvic organ prolapse.
Please, please, please try not to internalize or go through it alone. Seriously, hit us up if you ever feel on your own (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll send you more resources/recs and maybe even throw in a cute puppy video.
We don’t believe in TMI when it comes to dishing on our health. When Francie was recently diagnosed, she wanted to shout it from the mountaintops to normalize it. “When we believe we have power over our own bodies and our health, we have the power to make the choice to feel better.”
We really encourage you to chat w/ your health provider about pelvic floor health even if you’ve never experienced these symptoms. POP is a condition that worsens over time. While some women may opt for surgery in more severe cases, Lindsey encourages women to work with a pelvic floor therapist beforehand and after. “If you’re going into a surgery, it only serves you and your body better to be prepared by strengthening those muscles.” TRUTH.
Francie declares “I’m going to work on this. I want to feel better and I deserve that. I want to carry more children later.” In fact, she’s already getting help from a pelvic floor therapist. “This isn’t something that’ll prevent me from living a badass life.”