Many women who sustain injuries during childbirth choose to suffer in silence because the trauma of the experience “stays with them for life and they’re not listened to”, a leading pelvic specialist says.
Women often feel too much shame to talk about issues with their pelvic floors, Dr Melissa Davidson says – just one in ten will volunteer that information to their GP – which she says is ultimately causing them “huge isolation, huge anxiety and depression”.
The comments, made during an episode of Rova podcast Grey Areas with Petra Bagust released this week, come just days after ACC expanded its policy to cover women who suffer birthing injuries.
Dr Davidson says pelvic floor issues, which for many women can be associated with the onset of menopause, aren’t talked about nearly as much as other menopause symptoms.
“Everybody talks about the hot flushes or the mood swings or the boob tenderness or just that generally, everything goes south – the boobs that used to be up here go down there, the butt drops, the bingo arms start,” she told Grey Areas.
“But they don't talk about what's happening with their pelvic floor, and it can cause huge isolation, huge anxiety and depression because you don't want to be leaking wees and poos and you kind of like to have sex without pain or dysfunction. So they don't talk about it.”
CREDIT: Stephanie Soh
Dr Davidson said it’s important women know the issues they’re experiencing are not the end of the world.
“We can deal with it, we can get you stronger, we can work around it. But a lot of women will go hang on, [because] the trauma of the birth just stays with them for life and they're not listened to."
“I have a box of tissues on my desk … for when people burst into tears with me, because I'm asking these questions and it's often the first time they're asked them and they and then they go, ‘Oh, actually, I can talk about this. It's a safe space.’”
Vaginal muscle damage during childbirth is common, Dr Davidson says, but it doesn’t have to be the new normal and is treatable.
“If you're not confident if you think ‘I’ve got a male doctor, I don't want to talk to them about it’, get hold of a pelvic floor physio. We've got direct access, so you don't have to go through a GP, we can see you straight away.”
CREDIT: Stephanie Soh
Fellow pelvic physiotherapist Tania McLean told Bagust the barrier women put up when it comes to their pelvic floor must be broken down.
“One in three women will leak urine, and one in eight will have some form of faecal incontinence. These are big statistics but we’re not talking about it."
“We don't necessarily need to bring it to the dinner table, but we need to feel comfortable to have these conversations with our sisters and our aunties and our female colleagues.”
McLean said given the prevalence of pelvic floor issues, she would love for every post-natal woman in New Zealand to have a ‘warrant of fitness’ after birth.
CREDIT: Hamish Wilson
“That would be fabulous, but the reality is we don't have the resource in public health, we've got waiting lists that are longer than I care to think about.
“It's often quite prohibitive for women to spend upwards of $150 on a consultation with a pelvic health physio. You don't want it to be prohibitive financially, but the reality is these people have got rents to pay and they're putting food on the table, so it's a real juggle.”
The full episode of Grey Areas is available to listen to now on Rova.