After birth recovery – Episode 1 with Megan Vickers

My first conversation with leading expert on postpartum and pelvic floor recovery, Megan Vickers is here and I am so excited for you to see it! Megan is a leading female physiotherapist and the author of female bible, Stronger, an unapologetically truthful and empathetic account of transitioning into motherhood and all the highs and lows that come with it, from hormones to body trauma and how to heal your mind, body and soul in order to become the best version of your new self. I invite you to watch our conversation that uncovers the hidden truths of what our body and mind go through in order to bring a child to this world.

Episode 2
Episode 3

MARTINA: Hi ladies. Today I’m at Koia spa, which is a beautiful spa centre in heart of Notting Hill in London. It is a place where I come to relax. It’s a place where I send my friends wanting their massage and today we will be meeting Megan Vickers who is a physiotherapist specialised in all things women, in particular, how to to recover after birth.
Hello, Megan, thank you so much for being here. I know that you’re so busy, and you’re such a multitasking mom and woman and physiotherapist. Thank you, thank you, thank you, because on the behalf of every single woman that will be watching this, we are here to discuss truly such important topics. How do you as a physiotherapist engage with every single case? Because in the medical system, because it is a system, what happens is, that we are just a number, we are just a one off, and it’s all natural, all the women have been there, you know, “Get it together, don’t be so weak.”
And so women come to you for this specific reason. Because, most of the times, yes, even though it might be a natural process, they’re not given the space, they’re not exposed to the resources that they need, in order to heal properly, and for their emotions and their body and emotional trauma to come to light. This is why you’re here. And we are so grateful that you wrote the book “Stronger”, because it really is a female Bible.This book consists of absolutely, all of the information that women need in order to heal themselves, both emotionally and physically. So how did this come about? How do you decide “I want to take care of women, this is what is needed?” Was it through your own journey? Was it through your friends? 

MEGAN: All of those things, really: my own journey, my work experience, my personal experiences, talking to friends, treating friends, people not knowing where else to go, where to get the help and support. And I think that in providing this, there’s that feeling of weakness, like you mentioned, that vulnerability, but there’s such strength in that vulnerability. So women who come to see me are so strong, because they’ve made that step, they’ve made the appointment, and they are showing up and being vulnerable. And the first thing I ask them is “What’s brought you here to see me?” and it’s all about them. And obviously I can’t do that in a book. I’m talking about women as a whole, but I take it down different avenues of maybe this is you maybe this is the experience you’ve had. But it’s totally time when we stopped saying, you know, women have been doing this for years because this woman has never done this before. 

MARTINA: “But my grandma did it in the field and you can’t do it at the best hospital in London? What’s wrong with you, you weak woman?”

MEGAN: But you didn’t work in the field and you haven’t been squatting in that way and stretching your body in that way. And that’s not your safe environment. And whether this is your first, your second baby, you’ve never done that journey before. So every birth is unique. Every person is unique, no two are the same. And so in those relationships that I have with women, when we talk about their complaints, it’s such an emotional thing. Often we’re both a bit weepy interiors, we talk about what they’ve been through, and then what they need to heal. And then for sure, I’ve changed as a physiotherapist since I became a mum. And I know both my births were completely different, like my pregnancies were different. Both my kids are different. And what I needed at the time of birthing now me being pregnant with them is different to what they need now individually. And so it’s just that uniqueness that we get when someone really listens to you and hears your story and tailors it to you really are what you’re what you need both emotionally and physically. 

MARTINA: In your book you did mention how different your pregnancies were and what came after. Can you tell us if you feel comfortable with just sharing with us because I think women perceive you as the strongest. I mean, this is a confident, beautiful body that you’re carrying. And so can you tell us a little bit about your own personal experience? 

MEGAN: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s probably the hardest thing isn’t going in there thinking well, I went in there definitely thinking I’m a physiotherapist, my pelvic floor physiotherapist and nothing bad is gonna happen to me. I’m going to breeze through this and it’ll all be absolutely fine. And I didn’t have enough compassion for myself, enough kind of patience with my body to trust that what it needed really, in hindsight, obviously such a wonderful thing and I’m grateful to have the chance again to have another birth. But I was definitely impatient in my first birth I feel now when I look back, and I was very restricting how long it was going to take to minimise my injury. But my baby and my body needed more time. And so it was a bit of a rush at the end where I had a cut and ventouse to birth my baby and I was on my back and all those kinds of things that we don’t really dream of, or I definitely haven’t thought about going into. But I was straight up and I was feeling strong. I was sharing what I thought was strength at the time was that I can do all of this on my own. But now I can see that that wasn’t actually what I needed. And to be vulnerable at that point and to say what I needed to ask for how it was really what I needed to do. So yeah, immediately after birth, I felt okay, I was empowered by this great feeling that I was, after first I was a couple of weeks from turning 30. So she was gonna be my big birthday present. And I was obviously feeling all the feelings like super in love with her and wanting to show what I felt was that strength. But before long, I could see that my body wasn’t recovering as I had anticipated it. And that made me think about the bigger injuries that I had sustained. And it was almost like a shock that I needed to go “Okay. Yes, women have been doing natural birth for years, but you haven’t had a natural birth, Megan, you’ve had a surgical incision, and you’ve had ventouse, cut, which has pulled your baby on the birth canal. And that’s not a natural delivery, you’ve had a significant injury and need to kind of rehab it as you would your patients and as you’re doing in the clinic.” So it was a wake up call for me really. And then I spent maybe the next nine months rehabbing myself and treating myself but it went on for a good few years to really feel like I rebuilt my physical strength. So then going into my second birth, I’d like to say that I was super prepared and knew what to do. But I was scared, I was really scared. I didn’t want to have another birth injury. I felt like I had all that pressure on my own shoulders to go in and do it well and have this natural birth. So I was really scared. And I’d say that was the predominant feeling through my whole labour was just this. “How will it be?” Yeah, fear as a patient. And we don’t really talk about that a lot. When we talk about birth prep, we talk about pain and managing pain. But I think when I talk to women about preparing for the birth, and when I do perineal massage to stretch and prepare their tissues, for the birth experience, we talk about fear a lot. Because that’s what that panic is that kind of baby in the birth canal that “Whoa, I’ve never felt this before feeling. I’m in danger.” You know, I’m “Oh”, is that panic and that fear that comes up when you’re really in pain. And that’s controlling that fear and understanding that fear. And I guess I hadn’t really acknowledged going into that birth, how afraid I was going to feel there’s something the same was going to happen. 

But her birth was much smoother. She was almost born in the water, but it just took a bit too long. And again, I trained and strengthened all the way through. So my body had built this stiff muscular wall that she had to come down past. And that takes longer. And so we’d have to get out of the pool. So she was born with one leg in the pool and one leg out. And that was absolutely my favourite part. Because the fear went away in my body didn’t actually know what to do at that point. I could feel everything, I could feel her head pushing against the birth canal and the entrance and then going back in. And I was like “There’s something wrong here. There’s something… she can’t, she can’t come out.” I could feel everything. And so when I reached down myself, I could feel that her chin was getting stuck. So I just put some pressure on with one hand and I scooped her chin out with the other hand. And then she came really quick and I was able to pick her up. Because I was aware of everything I was given that space to do that no one said, “You can’t feel it.” It’s my body and my baby, my birth and I felt really empowered to be able to do that. And it was a huge contrast to the kind of several hours before I felt that this thing was happening to me and I had no control over it. But at that moment, I really knew what was going on. But yeah, it’s in both. My two births are totally incomparable in so many ways, you know how I felt about it?
How I then managed my postnatal recoveries, how they came into the world. It’s had a huge impact on all four of us, I’d say my girls and me and my husband.

MARTINA: Thank you so much for sharing this story. I think any woman who has given birth or is about to give birth, this kind of conversation really means a lot. Because you realise “Hmm, it’s not really what I wanted.” I wanted to give birth in London. I had my preferred doctor, I had my setup. I never had an issue. I really did not feel pregnant at all. Did all my workouts just the most beautiful pregnancy, the only physical, discomfort that I felt was there was all of a sudden so much weight around my hip area. And so I had a hard time sleeping because I was just feeling so much pain. So I am hyper mobile or very flexible. In pregnancy, there’s only intensified. So this was the only discomfort up until the point where we were at a restaurant, I was eight months pregnant. And then terrible pain started to occur here. And at one point, I just realised that my muscles are just not there anymore. They divorced. And that was very painful for me. So those are the two physical aspects of where I was really feeling that. And I was tired, but I just couldn’t sleep because of the pain. Yeah, and I had a hard time really eating anything, because I was in so much pain, there was no more space. So I ended up having to give birth in Berlin due to COVID restrictions and my husband was not able to be there, up until the point where I was taken to the delivery room, and they wanted to induce me because I was one week over but I tried so hard to get my baby to, she just didn’t even give me a sign that she wants to come. So that was really scary, because I was so alone in this process, but then they decided to induce me, but not with the gel. In fact, they gave me pills that are not FDA approved, those pills ended up the doctors realise that they actually work to stimulate the contraction. So it was not your regular prostaglandin gel. And I didn’t feel comfortable with taking these drugs. So I said if I could speak to somebody, but they just said, “No, the doctors are busy, you need to take this now.” So then I took one filter, which was 25 milligrams and in 30 minutes I, on my Pilates ball, I’m doing my beautiful movements, I am in sync with my baby, I go and take showers, and I’m feeling “Okay, this is happening.” I have a hard time talking, I need to be focused on my breathing. But then, four hours into this, this young girl comes again, and she says “You now need to take two pills.” And I say, “But please, can you get somebody to check me? I really don’t feel comfortable with taking them” I’m already in the process. I feel like I will probably labour the following day. So I said, “I don’t want to take these pills, please, please”. I’m trying, she doesn’t speak English. My German is “Nicht so gut.” Then I took these additional two pills, and then intervention started, then my blood pressure went down, then the baby’s heartbeat. There was all these intervention after intervention, I managed to give birth through my vagina, which, to this day, I’m very grateful for because clearly the physical trauma is much less severe. But I know that I was very close to having a C section. And this process and this time of not knowing what’s happening to you and nobody really keeping you in the loop or checking on you… I think some four months in or five months, just terrible anxiety about everything. “Oh my God, what if I took over the carpet while I’m holding my baby and the baby for a night and we die?” “Oh my God, what if I bathed the baby in too cold or too hot?” Just the craziest things. And then this need for control “Are the doors locked? I need you to tell me”. “I don’t want any loud music.” And you know that it’s not really how you are as a person but all of the control of your life is in the moment of birth, that is supposed to be your birth story taken away from you. And then you’re trying so hard to regain this control. But everybody around you is like “What is happening” like, you know, “Who are you turning into?” And this is when I seeked therapy. And then, it was very much explained to me in the first session. “This is what’s happening and it’s totally normal and you are not crazy, congratulations.”
But just that space is nice where we are able to speak to somebody who is specialised, and who is empathetic, and who is a woman, to tell you, “Oh, my goodness, mostly every woman goes through this,” we just categorically deny this entire universe, that only women who give birth go through. And even though people cannot fully relate to people outside of this experience, they are supposed to be educated enough to support women and to acknowledge this. So my question to you is, why is there so much shame about the birth process itself? And all that comes after it? Why are we still as a society in full denial of this truth? 

MEGAN: I think everything comes down to all those things you mentioned about that, “I can’t be embarrassed in the process, “I have to do it all smile,” that pressure mostly will come from ourselves. And we don’t need it from anybody else. So when we get it from anyone else, it just enhances what we feel. Because they’re kind of natural feelings, aren’t they, but the team around us should be supporting us. So we don’t feel embarrassed. So we know we don’t need to smile so that all those anxieties that we have on ourselves are diminished, rather than put on us, which tends to happen. I’m a massive fan of, do you know, the programme called “The midwife”?

MARTINA: Of course.

MEGAN: …and I was watching it this week, and the husband was allowed with the mom, right up until the point of pushing when the baby’s actually going to be born. And then they’re like, “Okay, time for you to leave now.” And so we’ve hidden it so much that people kind of don’t want us. And we’re taught that actually, you shouldn’t show that. And you shouldn’t want your husband in that room at that time. And you’re like, “Why?” Because of course, that’s how I need him this time. I’m gonna feel most vulnerable, most afraid, I need the person who has gone through this whole journey with me, that’s when I need them to show up and be there. And so I think we normalise it, we talk about it. And we build a team around it, who understand our anxieties and can help us resolve them and overcome them. And I have such empathy with you about the kind of feeling of I’m going to hurt my baby. And there was a step at work, I still remember it. Now when he told that story, it had like a metal edge to it, I used to go into work to do some Pilates. And over that step, I’d kind of go sideways, because I just had this vision and real graphic image of what would happen if I fell. And I can still imagine it now I had all this anxiety and fear. And it’s really, so my children are seven and four. It’s only really last year that I found the therapy that I needed. Because all the therapy that I had, before that point, I have made that about my relationships, this is happening. And now my husband doesn’t understand me or I feel like I can’t be in that group environment. Because I have nothing to say, I’m not funny, or I’m the wrong type of person. And I was buying books, like “how to be a better person”, and trying to better myself. What was wrong with me was that I was causing anguish for other people because they couldn’t understand what I was going through. And it was only recently, in this last year that I found a therapist that I understood that I was showing up for me.
And a friend said to me, “It’s important that you feel better for yourself”, right? And up until that point, I was like, “Well, I need to feel better for my kids and my husband and my partner” and all those things. And I was like, “No, no, it’s for you. You actually need to feel better. And then you can show up for your relationships and they will just happen because you are you and you feel better.” And 100% just having someone say that to me or to talk about it and to go into therapy to help myself feel better. It’s taken me seven years to do that. It’s a hard thing to show up that vulnerability again.
But instantly, I felt better.

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