When I became a bereaved mother, I didn’t know where to turn for information about postpartum recovery. I delivered my 8lb 13oz daughter stillborn at full term. Because of her unexplained death, her birth required a number of interventions that set me up for a difficult postpartum recovery. I wasn’t guided in this apart from allowing my episiotomy stitches to heal. After that, my doctors didn’t have much to recommend.
Stillbirth, Still Postpartum
I had planned to go to mommy & me yoga classes, join a new mom’s group, and scroll the forums on Mothering magazine for all the information I’d need about being a new mom. When my daughter was suddenly stillborn at full term, I still had a postpartum body. But there were no groups, classes or forums for new moms I could go to without making everyone else uncomfortable – or being really, really sad that everyone had their baby but me. No bereaved mom wants to go to/watch/participate in classes geared towards happy new moms with live babies. That sounds like a panic attack waiting to happen.
I went to grief groups, but mainly we talked about grief. We didn’t talk about our postpartum bodies or how we were recovering physically. All that seemed secondary to the emotional trauma we were going through. And for many, our physical health is the last thing we can bring ourselves to be concerned about after loss. But it’s really important. Health issues on top of grief can be even more overwhelming and isolating for a bereaved parent.
Diastasis Recti and Other Terms Postpartum Women Learn
I remember asking the OB at a follow-up visit how I could repair and strengthen my core abdominal muscles. He seemed surprised, confused, and even a little annoyed by the question. “You can do whatever you want,” he said, “just don’t overdo it in the beginning.” Then he shrugged and hustled out of the room.
He didn’t check me for Diastasis Recti – a common separation of the stomach muscles from weak, stretched out connective tissue. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), Diastasis Recti Abdominis (DRA) is prevalent during pregnancy and in the postpartum recovery period. Yet, there’s hardly enough thorough research on its occurrence, risk factors, or treatment.
Diastasis Recti is often associated with herniation of the abdominal organs, abdominal, pelvic and lower back pain, and pelvic floor dysfunction. Many women experience some degree of DRA during and immediately after pregnancy with varying degrees of recovery. This is true regardless of whether your baby is born alive or not.
I didn’t learn I had DRA until later, as I forced myself to do “crunches” and sit-ups attempting to finally get rid of my “pregnancy pooch.” Traditional abdominal exercises like these are some of the worst if you have Diastasis Recti. The intra-abdominal pressure created can exacerbate and even lead to this condition. The advice to just “do whatever you want,” after delivery is the wrong advice to give a postpartum mother – whether or not she gets to take her baby home.
Jumping Rope, Jumping Jacks, and Other Things We Used to Do
Remember how you used to be able to jump rope and sneeze without crossing your legs? Me, too! Pelvic floor dysfunction, stress urinary incontinence (SUI), pelvic organ prolapse (POP)… bereaved mothers experience these, too.
The NIH estimates that two-thirds of mothers experience some degree of pelvic organ prolapse, though many are asymptomatic. After age 45, that percentage jumps to nearly half of all women who have given birth. Research also shows that a quarter to nearly half of all childbearing women experience stress urinary incontinence during or after pregnancy.
Maternal and gestational age, BMI, multiparity, large babies, a prolonged directed pushing phase, forceps and vacuum-assisted deliveries can all contribute to pelvic floor weakness, SUI, and POP. Surgery is not an ideal fix, as post-surgical reoccurrence is quite high.
So what can you do if you have or suspect you have diastasis recti, pelvic floor or pelvic organ problems during or after pregnancy?
Related Post: Body Image and Self-Love after Loss
Postpartum Recovery After Loss
I wish I could tell you that there was a program out there just for bereaved moms. I wish it were easier to access non-surgical treatment through conventional medicine. But in my experience, information and treatment for things like diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction require a lot of self-directed action – something that can be tough after a loss. So here are the programs/therapies I’ve found that address these conditions:
The Tupler Technique – this program is also for men with diastasis, so it isn’t “new mom” specific
MuTu System – highly rated but very much geared towards new moms
The Tummy Team – in-person and online programs; some references to new parenthood and activities involving parenting. Some highly specific videos can be skipped over
Katy Bowman, Nutritious Movement – books and workshops; some references to the demands and movements associated with new motherhood
Visceral Manipulation, The Barral Institute – hands-on therapy; practitioners throughout the country
Our postpartum bodies need love and care after loss. What have you found helpful for postpartum recovery after loss?
Robynne Knight is a writer, educator, and acupuncturist who lost her daughter, Zoë, to stillbirth in 2011. She is passionate about sharing her experience with grief and loss, and helping others find growth and healing through her writing, private practice, and sharing support and resources through The Zoë Project.