On a whim, my husband and I take our four-year-old son to the driving range. I’m far too much of a perfectionist to take up the sport myself. However, every few years, I’ll acquiesce to a random trip to the driving range where I usually slop the balls a good three feet from the tee—if I hit them at all.
We situate ourselves on the driving range. The smell of fresh-cut grass hangs in the air as my son picks up a golf club for the first time.
In between cheering for and ducking from my son’s wild swings, I pick up my husband’s seven iron, just for fun.
I look around to see if anybody has seen me, then I hit another ball.
Straight down the middle, a good 100 yards. “Hey, babe!” I call to my husband. “Check it out!” Our son tosses himself down on the green mat as my husband’s attention drifts from Max to me. Max is four, which means he pendulums from being a polite little, golf-swinging human to a hot mess with little warning.
Over and over again, the ball zooms, far and straight.
Apparently somehow, in the last six years since I’ve swung a golf club, I’ve been bestowed with a mild, un-useful superpower.
Then it hits me, as I lift the golf club over my right shoulder again, twisting my torso. All that core strengthening work I’ve been doing. The Pelvic Brace. The Pilates classes.
It’s bizarre, but it’s the only explanation.
“Dang girl, a little extra stress going on?” Charlotte asks. She’s massaging the taut, tender muscles in my abdomen. She is barely pressing on my stomach, but it feels like she’s stabbing me. I look up, past her own rounding belly and nod.
“What’s up?” she asks.
“Aww. I’m so sorry,” she says.
“He was 90, so it wasn’t a huge surprise,” I start. “But he was my last grandparent living. And it’s been—harder than I expected.”
I don’t tell her that this week also marks the anniversary of the death of my first love, as well as the birthday of my brother who died several years ago.
She continues to loosen the muscles. I lie there on the table, tears threatening to fill my eyes, wondering how all this grief can be showing up in my abdomen, of all places. Usually I carry my pain in my chest, near my heart center. In my hunched shoulder blades, or in my head, where I imagine all my anxious thoughts overflow, creating tension.
But my belly?
I think of my muscles, braided throughout my body. How tight muscles in my thighs could make the muscles around my bladder spasm, the way that one leg being a centimeter higher than the other can create ripples of pain that flutter up one’s spine and neck.
I guess everything really is connected.
“So, it’s your discharge appointment!” Ally says, smiling.
“Yep,” I say. I harness all my self control to not make a joke about ‘discharge.’
“We’re going to go over your goals from when you started, and I’m going to do one last manual exam,” she says. “But no biofeedback today. Yay!”
“’Yay’ is right!” I agree.
“So, how often are you voiding?” she asks. I smile, because she said, ‘void.’
“Maybe every hour and a half or so,” I say. “Sometimes less often, sometimes more.” She looks at me. I want to please her—our original goal was for me to only have to pee five to seven times per day.
“On the days when I don’t sleep well, I drink a lot of coffee, and on those days I still pee a lot.” She nods. I don’t add how many of those days there have been lately.
“Well, as long as you’re conscious about it and working towards less coffee and more water, that’s okay,” Ally says.
“And how about leakage? How often are you noticing leakage?” she asks. I still cringe a little when she asks this question.
“Almost never,” I say. This is, mostly, true.
“Great! And how is it going with your homework?”
“You mean… the vibrator?”
I admit that I haven’t been using my vibrator very often.
“It’s hard to fit it in—so to speak—during the day.” She nods.
“You know, the kids and all…” I say. She nods again.
It’s true. My kids still follow me into the bathroom constantly. I can imagine no way to do my ‘Kegels with props’ without having to answer 600 very uncomfortable questions.
And at night? After the kids are in bed, I plop on the couch and watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix. By the time I head to bed, my husband is often asleep. The vibrator beckons to me from my nightstand drawer. I’m sooo tired, I whisper to it. I think I have a headache coming on.
Ally looks at me with her hazel eyes, and her face looks a little disappointed. It kills me.
“Okay. Well, let’s do the manual exam.” She leaves the room while I undress and lie down on her table for the last time. I have mixed feelings about graduating from pelvic floor rehab. I am grateful for the time that will be freed up by not having these weekly appointments, and I’m not constantly peeing anymore. I won’t be missing having my tushy hooked up to a computer. On the other hand, I could’ve put in more effort on my homework.
When Ally reenters the room, she has me do a series of Kegels while she inserts her finger into my squirrel. I squeeze with all my might until it feels like I’m about to either pop a blood vessel or fart.
“So, you’re still at about a 3-,” she says, referencing the 1-5 scale measuring pelvic floor strength, with a 5 being the best. When I started, I was at a 2-. My heart sinks. I had imagined that by the time I finished pelvic floor rehab, I’d be able to crack chestnuts with my perineum. That if I was to suddenly become a superhero, they’d call me IronVag. Clearly, this will not be happening.
As a recovering perfectionist, I’m trying to cozy up with the phrase, progress, not perfection. In all areas of my life, from parenting to my pelvic floor. Could I be squeezing in, so to speak, more of my pelvic floor homework? I’m sure I could find a way. But something else would have to give. Like so many of us, I have young children, a career and a marriage to juggle, along with trying to include running, yoga and the other self-care practices that I need to stay reasonably sane.
“So… if I’m better at using the vibrator, my pelvic floor will continue to get stronger?”
“Definitely. But you really need to do it daily.”
“Okay, I’m going to try,” I promise her. It sounds like such a nice assignment—use a vibrator! Daily! Forever! But, as with so many things, the reality of it is a challenge.
Ally hands me some paperwork with what she calls, “A lifetime of homework.” It includes the Kegels (with and without vibrator), core strengthening work, and continuing to taper down on my coffee intake while upping the amount of water I drink. Ally also tells me to do daily “Super Pubic Rolling,” which sounds like some sort of porn Olympics; it is simply the practice of using a firm ball to roll out the tight muscles in my abdomen and thighs to help relax the tissue around my bladder.
As my appointment winds down, Ally puts her hand on my shoulder and wishes me luck. Her eyes are full of warmth, and I think about what an intimate job she has.
On the car ride home, my mind battles between a sense of defeat and a quiet acceptance. Regret that I didn’t improve more, and acceptance that though I hadn’t given it my all, I did make significant progress.
I can go out of the house for a few hours with my family without worrying where the nearest bathroom is. I could take up golf, with my newfound ability to hit the ball. And I faced the fear and shame around my pelvic floor issues by getting help for them.
At a stoplight, as I almost unconsciously begin to do a few Kegels, the fable of the tortoise and the hare pops into my mind.
It occurs to me that, if pelvic floor rehab was a fable, I’d be the vagina tortoise instead of the vagina hare. So to speak.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman