I am a 54-year-old woman and I weigh 145 lbs.
I’ve lost 95 lbs over these past 18 months with the help of diet and exercise – taking me down from over 17 stone. I am very proud of myself.
If I didn’t have neighbours, I’d put on a pair of panties, and dance madly in my backyard, twirling a baton to demonstrate how joyful my weight loss makes me feel. I lost weight for me – mainly to regain my energy as I was continually exhausted at my highest weight.
What I didn’t expect though were the side effects of weight loss.
Strange things can happen. For me it was a bladder prolapse.
In November 2021, I was on a power walk with my son when I felt a throbbing pain in my vagina. I stopped abruptly, jammed my heels into the pavement, and slumped over. 20
It took several seconds to regain my breath. I could see my pain, manifesting as stars, in my closed eyelids. It did not ease.
I spent the rest of the slow trek back to my car cupping my groin in a continuous, poorly executed dance routine. My son walked beside me in a sideways stoop, hovering, and very scared.
It was an unusual ache, something I’d never experienced before. There was a heavy pressure around my labia. The entire ride home was uncomfortable. Even before I got home and barricaded myself in my bathroom with a hand-mirror, I sensed that there was a growth of some kind in my privates.
I was in pain, trying to figure out what was happening in my body, and I felt strange looking into a mirror at my vagina. Though I was a woman in her 50s, I seldom looked at it. I was too embarrassed.
My gynaecologist saw me quickly after I called her office, frantic and in tears about the big pink ball growing from my vagina. Once she completed her examination, she told me that my bladder had fallen. This is called bladder prolapse. I’d never heard of it before.
My doctor was stunned. She told me that bladder prolapse (POP) is extremely common in middle-aged women after menopause, especially those who’d had children.
I discovered that POP affects one in four women in their 40s and one in three in their 60s – affecting half of all women in their 80s.
My doctor told me that my uterus was fine, and that, before my weight loss, my pelvic floor was not extremely weakened, the usual cause for any prolapse. My years of Monday night Pilates may have helped.
My bladder had just taken an unexpected nosedive. She referred me to surgery – Anterior Vaginal Prolapse Repair.
I wanted to know why POP happened to me, specifically. Why did my bladder feel the need to put on Speedos and swan dive? And then, she said an interesting thing. She stated that my extreme weight loss most likely contributed to my sudden bladder prolapse.
I was mystified. I reasoned that I’d lost weight to improve my health, as my various doctors all squawked about the positive effects of weight loss.
‘Lose weight, and you’ll be cured of all your ailments! Life will be perfect!’ they may as well have said. ‘There are no ill side effects to losing an enormous amount of weight. Only positives! Your arthritis will diminish. You can become a long-distance marathon runner, after all. You’ll sleep better. Stress less. Your heart will be healthier.’
On this last point, my gynaecologist beamed: ‘You are heart healthy,’ she said. She stated that my heart was now ‘happy’. Actual happiness. But now, my vagina was angry.
I endured five months with a prolapsed bladder, waiting for surgery. I bought three pairs of prolapse support briefs on Amazon. The built-in compression bands kept my prolapse tucked. I was able to go about my days, with minor discomfort.
Finally, on March 28, 2022, I had my POP surgery. At 11am, I had an IV inserted in my arm with general anaesthetic. I greeted my surgeon. By 11:03, I was asleep. I woke up groggy and parched, surgery completed, at 11:35.
I was prescribed antibiotics and the first three days of my recuperation were horrible. My abdomen throbbed, and I couldn’t sleep. The pain gradually eased.
Six weeks and four post-op visits with the surgeon later, I was fully healed, out of pain, vagina intact, and back to my daily routine. I was even able to have normal, fulfilling sex with my husband in May.
My suggestion to anyone considering weight loss is to talk to your doctors beforehand. Ask your gynaecologist about the state of your pelvic floor then have your gyno and GP communicate. I wish I had done this! I would’ve used my groin compression underwear before I started dieting, however un-sexy they may be.
I know it’s hard for women to talk about our vaginas. I was raised to have the attitude of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ about my vagina. With my strict Catholic upbringing, ‘don’t look, don’t touch’ was the subliminal message. This enrages me. I was conditioned to disregard a part of my own body.
My POP experience shows that this conditioning extends into the medical field. Women are not told about common conditions, such as organ prolapse. We are on a need-to-know basis, and we only learn about prolapse when and if it happens to us.
We are not even told a simple fact that extreme weight loss in our abdomens may loosen our pelvic muscles. My advice is – be bold. Look at your vagina in a mirror weekly. Note changes. There should not be shame associated with any parts of our bodies. Ask and tell.
Alas, my weight loss was worth the hardship. I feel indefatigable. I’ve reached ‘heart happy’.
Thankfully, my vagina is happy now too.
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