When Brandi Parkhill became pregnant in 2019, she had visions of an amazing birth experience. As a first-time mom-to-be, there wasn’t much reason for her to think otherwise. Her pregnancy had gone along smoothly, and she and her husband were ready to welcome another member to their family.
On delivery day, Brandi gave birth to a 9-pound baby boy. Although happy to be blessed with a healthy son, the Parkhills’ joy soon took a turn. After delivering such a good-sized baby, Brandi required stitches for the fourth-degree tear she sustained during the birth. All was good until she got home from the hospital.
“The stitches came undone almost immediately and I was told by my obstetrician that I needed emergency pregnancy surgery,” Brandi says.
It’s not uncommon for a woman to have perineal, or vaginal, tearing after childbirth. It’s especially common for women who are giving birth for the first time or who deliver large babies.
Because of the severity of Brandi’s tear, surgery was necessary to properly re-stitch the layers of the tear back together. As she began to heal physically from what had happened, Brandi was left with emotional scars from the trauma that made her recovery that much more painful and difficult.
“Not only did my body suffer, but my marriage began to as well,” she explains. “I was intimidated by the prospect of needing pelvic rehabilitation for my lingering side effects so I put it off for a year, longer than I should have.”
When the pelvic muscles stop working properly due to pregnancy, surgery or otherwise, there can be some unwanted symptoms that disrupt daily living. When Brandi finally committed to seeing a physical therapist within the rehabilitation center at Texas Health Allen, she was introduced to pelvic floor therapy to help with her pelvic pain and dysfunction.
Brandi began working with certified pelvic rehabilitation specialist Wendy McLean May, PT, MPT, PRPC, once or twice a week to improve her pelvic function. Through core muscle strengthening, manual therapies for the pelvic floor and muscle training exercises, she was slowly able to get back to her normal living and a better overall quality of life.
“Brandi, like many women after childbirth, experienced tightening of the pelvic floor muscles and tissues due to the pain and scar tissue associated with her perineal tear,” May says. “Pelvic floor therapy for Brandi focused on teaching her how to relax and gently lengthen pelvic floor tissues gradually until they were restored to normal length and muscle tone. We then followed with strength training.”
“Wendy was so encouraging and knowledgeable,” Brandi adds. “She provided great resources to keep me motivated during therapy and home exercises, like websites and book recommendations that connected me with other women who have overcome chronic pelvic pain and dysfunction. She made me feel very comfortable and safe during an awkward and vulnerable time and became more like a friend than a clinician. My marriage was on the line, and I think it was largely saved thanks to the care I received from Wendy.”
Brandi and her husband have chosen not to have any more children because of the trauma she experienced during childbirth, but Brandi says they are enjoying life raising their very active two-year-old son. As for other moms who may need pelvic floor therapy, no matter how minor or major their issue, Brandi recommends it wholeheartedly as being “life changing in such a positive way.”
“I am thankful that one of Brandi’s doctors knew about pelvic floor rehab and directed her to our program. Unfortunately, many women think of incontinence and some degree of sexual dysfunction as a normal part of becoming a mom after a vaginal delivery. Pelvic floor rehab therapists are working to raise awareness with doctors and communities to correct this misconception, get help for these women and restore their confidence, no matter what their age or stage of life,” May notes.
Texas Health aims to normalize care for pelvic floor conditions by providing one-on-one treatment in a caring and compassionate setting to address sensitive issues and restore pelvic health. To learn more, visit TexasHealth.org/RehabilitationServices.