Last month, I had my second abdominal sacral colpopexy, the correction of a prolapse of the vaginal canal. It was basically a repeat of what I went through 14 years ago, but this time without the accompanying hysterectomy.
The procedure basically means restoring everything inside back to its full working position—and keeping it there. My procedure falls into the category of women’s health “below the belt.” It had all the components of a traditional 21st-century surgery: laparoscopy, pain management, and post-op rehabilitation. There was also what I brought to the table, so to speak.
As a patient turned pelvic health evangelist, I have learned a lot over the years. There is nothing mysterious about my pelvic region. I understand it; I’m passionate about my pelvic health; and I do everything I can to educate my daughter to empower her self-worth as a woman who has her own “women’s health future.”
It wasn’t always that way. The birth of my first child brought a whole lot of unknowns: my bladder didn’t work, my insides were falling out, and I was in pain. After much homework and gentle grilling of doctors, I have been able to help craft a new language to help women ask the best questions and articulate the many types and stages of pelvic dysfunction.
Women’s health isn’t relegated to the pelvic region, of course. All health is women’s health, as we support the health and happiness of our spouses, our offspring, and our beloved family members and friends. Most of us have been taught that we can’t do those things when our own health and quality of life are at risk. We were also taught that many negative aspects of women’s health are just a normal and unfortunate part of the aging process. They are not.
To put my own recent surgery into perspective, the number of women in the US with prolapse is certainly underreported. 2010 estimates put it at 3.3 million women, though given our aging demographics, estimates of prevalence and related costs are projected to rise precipitously. One in 10 women with pelvic floor disorders will require surgery, and current costs—an estimated $66 billion a year in 2007—are projected to rise to $83 billion by 2020.
Yet, I often wonder how many millions of women face C-section, hysterectomy, colpopexy—or kidney transplant, open heart surgery, even knee replacement—without knowing anything more than the date of the procedure, its intended outcome, and a rough idea of its location on their body.
That question brings me back to the broader lens of women’s health: Aside from nutrition, exercise, and sleep, good health starts with demystifying the parts of your body you don’t understand and fostering a passionate desire to know what’s going on.
Next time, put yourself squarely in the middle of the statistics above and vow to not be a passive observer. Instead, be a conscious shepherd of your own health. Make it personal. With women’s health especially, gaining the ability to model your understanding and behaviors for the young women and girls in your life is a precious outcome of demystifying the unknown and charging your curiosity with passion.
Know that you can help change the way girls think about women’s health “below the belt” and how they perceive themselves as young women in today’s environment. Lovingly encourage discussion about the things that previously were mysterious to you: bones, muscles, and the beautiful attributes of female pelvic anatomy; bladder and bowel health; digestion; reproduction; and healthy behaviors with an eye toward prevention. Mindfully affirm women’s health as a practice for future generations. This is your opportunity to feed and nurture education, connection, and pride.
By Missy Lavender, the founder and executive director of Women’s Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, dedicated to the pelvic health education of women and girls. // womenshealthfoundation.org
There are many questions you should ask your doctor before any surgery. If you were about to have a pelvic area surgery, for instance, you may also want to ask:
- Will I need to start or stop taking medication prior to your surgery and why?
- What pain management methods will be used?
- What can I expect one-week, two-weeks, and three-weeks post-op?
- Where can I find a pelvic floor physical therapist and how will he or she work with me?
- How will rehab affect my healing and how long could it take?
- What can I do to make my recovery shorter, easier, and less stressful?
- What devices or methods will be involved in the procedure?
- Is there is an alternative solution to my problem other than surgery?