“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
While life has dealt me my fair share of trials and tribulations the last few years, and I no longer believe everything happens for a reason, I suppose there is a bright side. The last three years involved a series of events that led me down a path of learning more about myself, my body, my femininity, and my own bladder woes.
I’ve become much more knowledgeable about nutrition and a passionate proponent for natural health alternatives and women’s health issues. As a pelvic health educator and holistic health advocate, I believe in the body’s ability to heal itself under the right conditions and the importance of diet and exercise to maintain optimal health, promote total-body balance and honor the mind-body-spirit connection.
This journey of self-discovery has given me so much insight and awareness of my own body, and I truly enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with others. I’ve become a faithful follower of the fertility awareness method, a sponge for knowledge on natural health remedies, and much more conscious of what I eat and drink.
I also believe in the Law of Attraction – that like energy attracts – and the Universe does open the right doors when you are ready.
One bright spot over the last three years has been learning about Total Control and becoming an instructor for Mercy Health’s Bladder Clinic. I never imagined I would be teaching women to do coochie exercises and much more, but it’s turned out to be a perfect fit and something I genuinely enjoy.
I believe in the program as a preventative strategy for lifelong bladder and pelvic health. It’s also been proven in research and clinical studies to reduce incontinence symptoms. It can improve your bladder control, prevent symptoms from getting worse and reduce or totally alleviate leaking and full-blown accidents if you keep the exercises up.
As someone who has personally struggled with an overactive bladder for most of my life, I can testify to the benefits and can tell when I haven’t been teaching – the urge to urinate becomes stronger, trips to the bathroom increase, and I feel that sinking feeling that my bladder is once again taking the driver’s seat.
A lot of the women in class ask me how I became a Total Control instructor. It’s a national program developed by Women’s Health Foundation in Chicago and West Michigan women are lucky to have access to this unique, medically based fitness and education class.
You have to be pretty frank when talking about how to properly do a pelvic floor muscle contraction, or Kegel, and the various issues around incontinence, and I’ve always had a tendency to tell it like it is.
So here goes. Mind you, this is only part of the story; I’ll have to cover what has been a lifelong battle with my bladder in another post. It’s not a pleasant tale, but I do feel grateful my own health problems led me down a path to listen to my body and seek out help.
After more than a decade of being on oral birth control, I decided to go off the pill around age 30 to make sure I had a regular menstrual cycle. A female relative had many reproductive issues and problems – cysts, infertility, endometriosis and a hysterectomy in her 30s – and I wanted to make sure my period was normal, on time, and without pain or irregular bleeding.
I didn’t know about the nasty side effects of birth control pills at that time, which is now why I personally cannot take the pill (more on that in another post as well). Birth control actually proved to be very effective with minimal side effects throughout my late teens and 20s. But I took for granted I never really ovulated or experienced a true period. In essence, the pill puts your female organs on autopilot.
Finally, after several years of being single, I found myself in a relationship at age 35 and decided it was wise to go back on the pill. But this time I experienced a host of side effects. I’m not sure if it was my age, changing hormones or changing formularies for generic versions of the pill. I tried several over the course of a year or more, but let’s focus on the first one and what landed me at Mercy’s Bladder Clinic.
I started back on the pill in October 2011 and I remember going out on Halloween. I also remember laughing and having a minor leak. Thankfully, I was wearing a miniskirt and it wasn’t anything major, but I had an internal momentary freak out. It was enough to make me think, “Oh no, something is up.”
Before long, I started to experience excruciating pain with sex. So much pain it made me want to cry. Needless to say, that wasn’t the best way to start off a relatively new relationship. They always recommend giving a birth control pill a try for three months, so I stuck it out and dealt with the pain.
When I went for my annual exam in early 2012, I told the male gynecologist my issue. He thought I had Interstitial Cystitis, a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder wall with recurring pelvic pain, pressure and discomfort in the bladder and pelvic region, and recommended a special diet and to lay off sex for a while. Great!
I went to a different doctor and asked to try a different birth control pill. Through talking about my health woes, my counselor recommended making an appointment at Mercy’s Bladder Clinic. She said the clinic offered an IC support group and it might help.
So I made an appointment in February 2012 and met with Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Mosher. I have to say, the women who work at the clinic are very understanding, empathetic, thorough and really do all they can to help address your issue. But after an initial appointment, Jen didn’t think I had IC. She thought I had a tight pelvic floor and my muscles were constantly spasming.
That began weekly visits to the Bladder Clinic for biofeedback and eventually E-stim (electrical stimulation) treatments. Biofeedback involves an electric probe in your vagina; it is hooked up to a computer monitor and you do Kegels, or pelvic floor muscle isolation exercises, so you can see how well you are doing them. Sensors relay readings of your muscle contractions to the biofeedback equipment as you watch on the screen. The biofeedback shows you and the clinician if you are exercising correctly, how strong your contraction is and how long the contraction lasts. I highly recommend it if you aren’t sure you’re correctly doing a Kegel.
When we started, my resting level was at a 10. It should have been around a two. Jen also prescribed special Valium suppositories to help ease the internal pain during sex and estrogen cream to help relieve the redness and pain on the outside.
I then had weekly E-stim treatments, which involved the same electric probe, only this time electrical currents signaled the pelvic floor muscles to contract or relax. This device exercises the muscles electronically. The clinician can adjust the level of electrical stimulation based on comfort level. It’s not painful, but you definitely feel it. In my case, I needed to work on relaxing my pelvic floor muscles.
I ended up being a regular, weekly visitor to the Bladder Clinic for nearly sixth months. All this without health insurance and before the Affordable Care Act or Michigan’s Healthy Michigan expansion! I will be eternally grateful for Mercy’s Financial Assistance Program, which was based on your income at the time. I didn’t have any income because I was finishing my master’s degree, so I also carried a lot of guilt about being an uninsured charity case.
My symptoms improved and my pelvic floor did start to relax. As summer approached, I was tired of feeling bloated from the birth control pill and I decided to go off it. I also decided to listen to my body and put two and two together. Sex was a pleasurable experience prior to going on the pill. That was the one thing that changed. Could it be causing my problems?
Sure enough, my delicate vaginal tissue – and sex – returned to normal soon after stopping the pill. It took some investigating and Googling, but I learned the pill can cause a whole host of side effects, including painful intercourse!
About the time I decided I no longer needed treatments, Jen said the Bladder Clinic was seeking new Total Control instructors and recommended I take part in training to become certified. At least it’s good to know I’m a good Kegeler. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to teach other women how to Kegel correctly!
But Total Control is much more than a Kegel class. Stay tuned for more information about the program, or visit Mercy Health Bladder Clinic Total Control.