Tag Archives: Help

My vagina was badly injured after giving birth. Why was getting help so hard? | Christen Clifford

Every time I see a woman walking down the street with a newborn, all I can think is, “Does she have a traumatized vagina?”

My vagina tore when I had my first child. Doctors I’d never met before sewed me up and refused to tell me how many stitches they’d put in. I healed, and when I had another child five years later, I tore in the same place.

My midwives sewed me up and told me everything looked fine, but I noticed certain changes: it was next to impossible to hold in flatulence. Constipation became a painful and humiliating constant. I leaked urine when I sneezed no matter how many kegels I did. And it felt like the physical angle of everything having to do with evacuation and intercourse had somehow shifted after childbirth in new and uncomfortable ways. I felt like my vag was broken. That something was wrong.

Five years later, I started seeing a new gynecologist, who listened, examined me, and said, “Oh, yep, you’ve got a little rectocele in there.”

A what?

She told me that a rectocele occurs when the muscle between the rectum and vagina is so worn and thin that the rectum kind of pops out into the vagina.

I felt angry. Why hadn’t a single health professional, many of whom had examined me thoroughly, bothered to diagnose it? “Well, it’s within the range of normal, so we usually don’t mention it.”

I went home and searched for more information. The National Institutes of Health says, “Rectoceles are common and involve a herniation of the rectum into the posterior vaginal wall that results in a vaginal bulge. Women with rectoceles generally complain of perineal and vaginal pressure, obstructive defecation, constipation, or the need to splint or digitally reduce the vagina to effectuate a bowel movement.”

Splinting? Digital reduction? These are the medical terms for what I knew through anecdotal evidence was common practice: one friend must insert a finger into her vagina to release the stool from her rectum every time she defecates. Another said she always pressed into her perineum when relieving herself. Another friend, with a rectocele and a cystocele, splints and takes vast quantities of psyllium seed husk to stay regular.

Me? Once, I was doubled over in pain, so dehydrated and constipated that I took the plastic gloves out of a box of Nice’N’Easy haircolor because, well, it wasn’t. After I had dug out the feces that had become trapped in the small pocket of my rectum that protruded into my vagina, I was shocked, silent, humiliated.

Even with my excellent health insurance, after giving birth the only medical attention I received was a quick six-week checkup. After learning about my rectocele, I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. She told me that because my rectocele was small and the risks were high, I was not a candidate for surgery.

She explained pelvic floor exercises, recommended I eat a lot of fiber and suggested “double evacuation” when urinating. Pee, then stand up and move from side to side, then urinate again so the bladder is completely emptied.

In France, where the republic wants to increase the population and the culture values sexuality, women may take vaginal rejuvenation classes or “rééducation périnéal”: 10 to 20 sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy, paid for by the government. Here in the US, I learned about my condition 10 years after I first had symptoms.

A few weeks later, I was at my kids’ public school fundraiser, drinking and rage-telling the story of discovering the word rectocele. A woman I barely knew joined us, whisper-crying, “Stage four tearing. I’ll never be the same.” Women are suffering in silence, hurt and embarrassed. Shamed again.

The New York Times has devoted an admirable amount of editorial space to the women in Africa who suffer from fistulas, their dignity and daily routines compromised by bodies that leak urine or feces because of childbirth or assault.

What no one is talking about – not medical professionals, not educators, not mothers, not their partners – are the various states of post-partum prolapse that plague women after childbirth, causing a similar loss of control and dignity to that faced by fistula sufferers. The emotional and sexual ramifications of my situation included secrecy, shame and isolation.

We need to make the words rectocele and cystocele and urethrocele and enterocele, each a type of pelvic organ prolapse resulting most often from childbirth and ageing, part of the common vernacular of women’s health. The words are utterly absent, even to those of us who seek to learn more about these conditions and educate others.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolapse means “to slip or fall out of place”. A rectocele is when the rectum bulges into the vagina. A cystocele is when the bladder bulges into the vagina. A urethrocele is when the urethra bulges into the vagina. An enterocele is when the small intestine bulges into the vagina. So basically, they are vag bulges.

The American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeries estimates that 40% of women have a rectocele, yet most people don’t know the word. This needs to change. Harvard says that anywhere from 80% to 20% of women might have small rectoceles. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies spend and make millions of dollars to keep dicks in the air.

The medical industry is pushing vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and Viagra for women, to keep women “young” and “tight” and looking like porn actors. I know our culture doesn’t make much room for older women, let alone our vaginas, but shouldn’t we be spending some of this time and money to care for the post-maternal vagina?

And I don’t mean surgery with the vaginal mesh that was recently banned in New Zealand. We need sexual education and respect for mother’s vaginas – vaginas that have been through a lot. We need to be talking about prolapse and non-surgical treatments like diet, hydration, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and core strengthening exercises.

To be sure, some vaginas take a licking and keep on ticking. I have many friends who didn’t tear, who gave birth and kegeled their way to safe and healthy sexual lives.

My vagina has changed a lot in my 46 years. I loved exploring it for pleasure as a child. Then my vagina was injured when I was raped at 15 and didn’t tell. Later I had a lot of great sex and a lot of mediocre sex. I birthed two children through this space, a space that still holds potential for experience and love.

There is no equality without reproductive rights, there are no reproductive rights without knowledge of the female body, and there is no knowledge of the female body without acknowledgment of the post-maternal vagina. The lack of education and attention to my – and thousands of mothers’ – pelvic injuries is another sign of our country’s indifference to women’s rights and health.

We are, as a nation, in fits and starts, beginning to do better for women’s lives. I am thrilled, for example, to see longstanding silences broken. I am happy to see menstrual equity with states moving toward tax exemption for tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

So, how about we ask the medical and pharmaceutical communities to do better by mothers’ bodies – by acknowledging and treating the physical injuries caused by giving birth. By acknowledging our bodies as they are. By talking about maternal sexuality. By granting us language and autonomy. We can start conversations and healing.

And, how about we ask the mothers in our lives how their vaginas are doing? Hopefully, with the proper education, their answers won’t surprise us.

My vagina was badly injured after giving birth. Why was getting help so hard? | Christen Clifford

Every time I see a woman walking down the street with a newborn, all I can think is, “Does she have a traumatized vagina?”

My vagina tore when I had my first child. Doctors I’d never met before sewed me up and refused to tell me how many stitches they’d put in. I healed, and when I had another child five years later, I tore in the same place.

My midwives sewed me up and told me everything looked fine, but I noticed certain changes: it was next to impossible to hold in flatulence. Constipation became a painful and humiliating constant. I leaked urine when I sneezed no matter how many kegels I did. And it felt like the physical angle of everything having to do with evacuation and intercourse had somehow shifted after childbirth in new and uncomfortable ways. I felt like my vag was broken. That something was wrong.

Five years later, I started seeing a new gynecologist, who listened, examined me, and said, “Oh, yep, you’ve got a little rectocele in there.”

A what?

She told me that a rectocele occurs when the muscle between the rectum and vagina is so worn and thin that the rectum kind of pops out into the vagina.

I felt angry. Why hadn’t a single health professional, many of whom had examined me thoroughly, bothered to diagnose it? “Well, it’s within the range of normal, so we usually don’t mention it.”

I went home and searched for more information. The National Institutes of Health says, “Rectoceles are common and involve a herniation of the rectum into the posterior vaginal wall that results in a vaginal bulge. Women with rectoceles generally complain of perineal and vaginal pressure, obstructive defecation, constipation, or the need to splint or digitally reduce the vagina to effectuate a bowel movement.”

Splinting? Digital reduction? These are the medical terms for what I knew through anecdotal evidence was common practice: one friend must insert a finger into her vagina to release the stool from her rectum every time she defecates. Another said she always pressed into her perineum when relieving herself. Another friend, with a rectocele and a cystocele, splints and takes vast quantities of psyllium seed husk to stay regular.

Me? Once, I was doubled over in pain, so dehydrated and constipated that I took the plastic gloves out of a box of Nice’N’Easy haircolor because, well, it wasn’t. After I had dug out the feces that had become trapped in the small pocket of my rectum that protruded into my vagina, I was shocked, silent, humiliated.

Even with my excellent health insurance, after giving birth the only medical attention I received was a quick six-week checkup. After learning about my rectocele, I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. She told me that because my rectocele was small and the risks were high, I was not a candidate for surgery.

She explained pelvic floor exercises, recommended I eat a lot of fiber and suggested “double evacuation” when urinating. Pee, then stand up and move from side to side, then urinate again so the bladder is completely emptied.

In France, where the republic wants to increase the population and the culture values sexuality, women may take vaginal rejuvenation classes or “rééducation périnéal”: 10 to 20 sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy, paid for by the government. Here in the US, I learned about my condition 10 years after I first had symptoms.

A few weeks later, I was at my kids’ public school fundraiser, drinking and rage-telling the story of discovering the word rectocele. A woman I barely knew joined us, whisper-crying, “Stage four tearing. I’ll never be the same.” Women are suffering in silence, hurt and embarrassed. Shamed again.

The New York Times has devoted an admirable amount of editorial space to the women in Africa who suffer from fistulas, their dignity and daily routines compromised by bodies that leak urine or feces because of childbirth or assault.

What no one is talking about – not medical professionals, not educators, not mothers, not their partners – are the various states of post-partum prolapse that plague women after childbirth, causing a similar loss of control and dignity to that faced by fistula sufferers. The emotional and sexual ramifications of my situation included secrecy, shame and isolation.

We need to make the words rectocele and cystocele and urethrocele and enterocele, each a type of pelvic organ prolapse resulting most often from childbirth and ageing, part of the common vernacular of women’s health. The words are utterly absent, even to those of us who seek to learn more about these conditions and educate others.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolapse means “to slip or fall out of place”. A rectocele is when the rectum bulges into the vagina. A cystocele is when the bladder bulges into the vagina. A urethrocele is when the urethra bulges into the vagina. An enterocele is when the small intestine bulges into the vagina. So basically, they are vag bulges.

The American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeries estimates that 40% of women have a rectocele, yet most people don’t know the word. This needs to change. Harvard says that anywhere from 80% to 20% of women might have small rectoceles. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies spend and make millions of dollars to keep dicks in the air.

The medical industry is pushing vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and Viagra for women, to keep women “young” and “tight” and looking like porn actors. I know our culture doesn’t make much room for older women, let alone our vaginas, but shouldn’t we be spending some of this time and money to care for the post-maternal vagina?

And I don’t mean surgery with the vaginal mesh that was recently banned in New Zealand. We need sexual education and respect for mother’s vaginas – vaginas that have been through a lot. We need to be talking about prolapse and non-surgical treatments like diet, hydration, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and core strengthening exercises.

To be sure, some vaginas take a licking and keep on ticking. I have many friends who didn’t tear, who gave birth and kegeled their way to safe and healthy sexual lives.

My vagina has changed a lot in my 46 years. I loved exploring it for pleasure as a child. Then my vagina was injured when I was raped at 15 and didn’t tell. Later I had a lot of great sex and a lot of mediocre sex. I birthed two children through this space, a space that still holds potential for experience and love.

There is no equality without reproductive rights, there are no reproductive rights without knowledge of the female body, and there is no knowledge of the female body without acknowledgment of the post-maternal vagina. The lack of education and attention to my – and thousands of mothers’ – pelvic injuries is another sign of our country’s indifference to women’s rights and health.

We are, as a nation, in fits and starts, beginning to do better for women’s lives. I am thrilled, for example, to see longstanding silences broken. I am happy to see menstrual equity with states moving toward tax exemption for tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

So, how about we ask the medical and pharmaceutical communities to do better by mothers’ bodies – by acknowledging and treating the physical injuries caused by giving birth. By acknowledging our bodies as they are. By talking about maternal sexuality. By granting us language and autonomy. We can start conversations and healing.

And, how about we ask the mothers in our lives how their vaginas are doing? Hopefully, with the proper education, their answers won’t surprise us.

My vagina was badly injured after giving birth. Why was getting help so hard? | Christen Clifford

Every time I see a woman walking down the street with a newborn, all I can think is, “Does she have a traumatized vagina?”

My vagina tore when I had my first child. Doctors I’d never met before sewed me up and refused to tell me how many stitches they’d put in. I healed, and when I had another child five years later, I tore in the same place.

My midwives sewed me up and told me everything looked fine, but I noticed certain changes: it was next to impossible to hold in flatulence. Constipation became a painful and humiliating constant. I leaked urine when I sneezed no matter how many kegels I did. And it felt like the physical angle of everything having to do with evacuation and intercourse had somehow shifted after childbirth in new and uncomfortable ways. I felt like my vag was broken. That something was wrong.

Five years later, I started seeing a new gynecologist, who listened, examined me, and said, “Oh, yep, you’ve got a little rectocele in there.”

A what?

She told me that a rectocele occurs when the muscle between the rectum and vagina is so worn and thin that the rectum kind of pops out into the vagina.

I felt angry. Why hadn’t a single health professional, many of whom had examined me thoroughly, bothered to diagnose it? “Well, it’s within the range of normal, so we usually don’t mention it.”

I went home and searched for more information. The National Institutes of Health says, “Rectoceles are common and involve a herniation of the rectum into the posterior vaginal wall that results in a vaginal bulge. Women with rectoceles generally complain of perineal and vaginal pressure, obstructive defecation, constipation, or the need to splint or digitally reduce the vagina to effectuate a bowel movement.”

Splinting? Digital reduction? These are the medical terms for what I knew through anecdotal evidence was common practice: one friend must insert a finger into her vagina to release the stool from her rectum every time she defecates. Another said she always pressed into her perineum when relieving herself. Another friend, with a rectocele and a cystocele, splints and takes vast quantities of psyllium seed husk to stay regular.

Me? Once, I was doubled over in pain, so dehydrated and constipated that I took the plastic gloves out of a box of Nice’N’Easy haircolor because, well, it wasn’t. After I had dug out the feces that had become trapped in the small pocket of my rectum that protruded into my vagina, I was shocked, silent, humiliated.

Even with my excellent health insurance, after giving birth the only medical attention I received was a quick six-week checkup. After learning about my rectocele, I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. She told me that because my rectocele was small and the risks were high, I was not a candidate for surgery.

She explained pelvic floor exercises, recommended I eat a lot of fiber and suggested “double evacuation” when urinating. Pee, then stand up and move from side to side, then urinate again so the bladder is completely emptied.

In France, where the republic wants to increase the population and the culture values sexuality, women may take vaginal rejuvenation classes or “rééducation périnéal”: 10 to 20 sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy, paid for by the government. Here in the US, I learned about my condition 10 years after I first had symptoms.

A few weeks later, I was at my kids’ public school fundraiser, drinking and rage-telling the story of discovering the word rectocele. A woman I barely knew joined us, whisper-crying, “Stage four tearing. I’ll never be the same.” Women are suffering in silence, hurt and embarrassed. Shamed again.

The New York Times has devoted an admirable amount of editorial space to the women in Africa who suffer from fistulas, their dignity and daily routines compromised by bodies that leak urine or feces because of childbirth or assault.

What no one is talking about – not medical professionals, not educators, not mothers, not their partners – are the various states of post-partum prolapse that plague women after childbirth, causing a similar loss of control and dignity to that faced by fistula sufferers. The emotional and sexual ramifications of my situation included secrecy, shame and isolation.

We need to make the words rectocele and cystocele and urethrocele and enterocele, each a type of pelvic organ prolapse resulting most often from childbirth and ageing, part of the common vernacular of women’s health. The words are utterly absent, even to those of us who seek to learn more about these conditions and educate others.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolapse means “to slip or fall out of place”. A rectocele is when the rectum bulges into the vagina. A cystocele is when the bladder bulges into the vagina. A urethrocele is when the urethra bulges into the vagina. An enterocele is when the small intestine bulges into the vagina. So basically, they are vag bulges.

The American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeries estimates that 40% of women have a rectocele, yet most people don’t know the word. This needs to change. Harvard says that anywhere from 80% to 20% of women might have small rectoceles. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies spend and make millions of dollars to keep dicks in the air.

The medical industry is pushing vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and Viagra for women, to keep women “young” and “tight” and looking like porn actors. I know our culture doesn’t make much room for older women, let alone our vaginas, but shouldn’t we be spending some of this time and money to care for the post-maternal vagina?

And I don’t mean surgery with the vaginal mesh that was recently banned in New Zealand. We need sexual education and respect for mother’s vaginas – vaginas that have been through a lot. We need to be talking about prolapse and non-surgical treatments like diet, hydration, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and core strengthening exercises.

To be sure, some vaginas take a licking and keep on ticking. I have many friends who didn’t tear, who gave birth and kegeled their way to safe and healthy sexual lives.

My vagina has changed a lot in my 46 years. I loved exploring it for pleasure as a child. Then my vagina was injured when I was raped at 15 and didn’t tell. Later I had a lot of great sex and a lot of mediocre sex. I birthed two children through this space, a space that still holds potential for experience and love.

There is no equality without reproductive rights, there are no reproductive rights without knowledge of the female body, and there is no knowledge of the female body without acknowledgment of the post-maternal vagina. The lack of education and attention to my – and thousands of mothers’ – pelvic injuries is another sign of our country’s indifference to women’s rights and health.

We are, as a nation, in fits and starts, beginning to do better for women’s lives. I am thrilled, for example, to see longstanding silences broken. I am happy to see menstrual equity with states moving toward tax exemption for tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

So, how about we ask the medical and pharmaceutical communities to do better by mothers’ bodies – by acknowledging and treating the physical injuries caused by giving birth. By acknowledging our bodies as they are. By talking about maternal sexuality. By granting us language and autonomy. We can start conversations and healing.

And, how about we ask the mothers in our lives how their vaginas are doing? Hopefully, with the proper education, their answers won’t surprise us.

My vagina was badly injured after giving birth. Why was getting help so hard? | Christen Clifford

Every time I see a woman walking down the street with a newborn, all I can think is, “Does she have a traumatized vagina?”

My vagina tore when I had my first child. Doctors I’d never met before sewed me up and refused to tell me how many stitches they’d put in. I healed, and when I had another child five years later, I tore in the same place.

My midwives sewed me up and told me everything looked fine, but I noticed certain changes: it was next to impossible to hold in flatulence. Constipation became a painful and humiliating constant. I leaked urine when I sneezed no matter how many kegels I did. And it felt like the physical angle of everything having to do with evacuation and intercourse had somehow shifted after childbirth in new and uncomfortable ways. I felt like my vag was broken. That something was wrong.

Five years later, I started seeing a new gynecologist, who listened, examined me, and said, “Oh, yep, you’ve got a little rectocele in there.”

A what?

She told me that a rectocele occurs when the muscle between the rectum and vagina is so worn and thin that the rectum kind of pops out into the vagina.

I felt angry. Why hadn’t a single health professional, many of whom had examined me thoroughly, bothered to diagnose it? “Well, it’s within the range of normal, so we usually don’t mention it.”

I went home and searched for more information. The National Institutes of Health says, “Rectoceles are common and involve a herniation of the rectum into the posterior vaginal wall that results in a vaginal bulge. Women with rectoceles generally complain of perineal and vaginal pressure, obstructive defecation, constipation, or the need to splint or digitally reduce the vagina to effectuate a bowel movement.”

Splinting? Digital reduction? These are the medical terms for what I knew through anecdotal evidence was common practice: one friend must insert a finger into her vagina to release the stool from her rectum every time she defecates. Another said she always pressed into her perineum when relieving herself. Another friend, with a rectocele and a cystocele, splints and takes vast quantities of psyllium seed husk to stay regular.

Me? Once, I was doubled over in pain, so dehydrated and constipated that I took the plastic gloves out of a box of Nice’N’Easy haircolor because, well, it wasn’t. After I had dug out the feces that had become trapped in the small pocket of my rectum that protruded into my vagina, I was shocked, silent, humiliated.

Even with my excellent health insurance, after giving birth the only medical attention I received was a quick six-week checkup. After learning about my rectocele, I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. She told me that because my rectocele was small and the risks were high, I was not a candidate for surgery.

She explained pelvic floor exercises, recommended I eat a lot of fiber and suggested “double evacuation” when urinating. Pee, then stand up and move from side to side, then urinate again so the bladder is completely emptied.

In France, where the republic wants to increase the population and the culture values sexuality, women may take vaginal rejuvenation classes or “rééducation périnéal”: 10 to 20 sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy, paid for by the government. Here in the US, I learned about my condition 10 years after I first had symptoms.

A few weeks later, I was at my kids’ public school fundraiser, drinking and rage-telling the story of discovering the word rectocele. A woman I barely knew joined us, whisper-crying, “Stage four tearing. I’ll never be the same.” Women are suffering in silence, hurt and embarrassed. Shamed again.

The New York Times has devoted an admirable amount of editorial space to the women in Africa who suffer from fistulas, their dignity and daily routines compromised by bodies that leak urine or feces because of childbirth or assault.

What no one is talking about – not medical professionals, not educators, not mothers, not their partners – are the various states of post-partum prolapse that plague women after childbirth, causing a similar loss of control and dignity to that faced by fistula sufferers. The emotional and sexual ramifications of my situation included secrecy, shame and isolation.

We need to make the words rectocele and cystocele and urethrocele and enterocele, each a type of pelvic organ prolapse resulting most often from childbirth and ageing, part of the common vernacular of women’s health. The words are utterly absent, even to those of us who seek to learn more about these conditions and educate others.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolapse means “to slip or fall out of place”. A rectocele is when the rectum bulges into the vagina. A cystocele is when the bladder bulges into the vagina. A urethrocele is when the urethra bulges into the vagina. An enterocele is when the small intestine bulges into the vagina. So basically, they are vag bulges.

The American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeries estimates that 40% of women have a rectocele, yet most people don’t know the word. This needs to change. Harvard says that anywhere from 80% to 20% of women might have small rectoceles. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies spend and make millions of dollars to keep dicks in the air.

The medical industry is pushing vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and Viagra for women, to keep women “young” and “tight” and looking like porn actors. I know our culture doesn’t make much room for older women, let alone our vaginas, but shouldn’t we be spending some of this time and money to care for the post-maternal vagina?

And I don’t mean surgery with the vaginal mesh that was recently banned in New Zealand. We need sexual education and respect for mother’s vaginas – vaginas that have been through a lot. We need to be talking about prolapse and non-surgical treatments like diet, hydration, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and core strengthening exercises.

To be sure, some vaginas take a licking and keep on ticking. I have many friends who didn’t tear, who gave birth and kegeled their way to safe and healthy sexual lives.

My vagina has changed a lot in my 46 years. I loved exploring it for pleasure as a child. Then my vagina was injured when I was raped at 15 and didn’t tell. Later I had a lot of great sex and a lot of mediocre sex. I birthed two children through this space, a space that still holds potential for experience and love.

There is no equality without reproductive rights, there are no reproductive rights without knowledge of the female body, and there is no knowledge of the female body without acknowledgment of the post-maternal vagina. The lack of education and attention to my – and thousands of mothers’ – pelvic injuries is another sign of our country’s indifference to women’s rights and health.

We are, as a nation, in fits and starts, beginning to do better for women’s lives. I am thrilled, for example, to see longstanding silences broken. I am happy to see menstrual equity with states moving toward tax exemption for tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

So, how about we ask the medical and pharmaceutical communities to do better by mothers’ bodies – by acknowledging and treating the physical injuries caused by giving birth. By acknowledging our bodies as they are. By talking about maternal sexuality. By granting us language and autonomy. We can start conversations and healing.

And, how about we ask the mothers in our lives how their vaginas are doing? Hopefully, with the proper education, their answers won’t surprise us.

My vagina was badly injured after giving birth. Why was getting help so hard? | Christen Clifford

Every time I see a woman walking down the street with a newborn, all I can think is, “Does she have a traumatized vagina?”

My vagina tore when I had my first child. Doctors I’d never met before sewed me up and refused to tell me how many stitches they’d put in. I healed, and when I had another child five years later, I tore in the same place.

My midwives sewed me up and told me everything looked fine, but I noticed certain changes: it was next to impossible to hold in flatulence. Constipation became a painful and humiliating constant. I leaked urine when I sneezed no matter how many kegels I did. And it felt like the physical angle of everything having to do with evacuation and intercourse had somehow shifted after childbirth in new and uncomfortable ways. I felt like my vag was broken. That something was wrong.

Five years later, I started seeing a new gynecologist, who listened, examined me, and said, “Oh, yep, you’ve got a little rectocele in there.”

A what?

She told me that a rectocele occurs when the muscle between the rectum and vagina is so worn and thin that the rectum kind of pops out into the vagina.

I felt angry. Why hadn’t a single health professional, many of whom had examined me thoroughly, bothered to diagnose it? “Well, it’s within the range of normal, so we usually don’t mention it.”

I went home and searched for more information. The National Institutes of Health says, “Rectoceles are common and involve a herniation of the rectum into the posterior vaginal wall that results in a vaginal bulge. Women with rectoceles generally complain of perineal and vaginal pressure, obstructive defecation, constipation, or the need to splint or digitally reduce the vagina to effectuate a bowel movement.”

Splinting? Digital reduction? These are the medical terms for what I knew through anecdotal evidence was common practice: one friend must insert a finger into her vagina to release the stool from her rectum every time she defecates. Another said she always pressed into her perineum when relieving herself. Another friend, with a rectocele and a cystocele, splints and takes vast quantities of psyllium seed husk to stay regular.

Me? Once, I was doubled over in pain, so dehydrated and constipated that I took the plastic gloves out of a box of Nice’N’Easy haircolor because, well, it wasn’t. After I had dug out the feces that had become trapped in the small pocket of my rectum that protruded into my vagina, I was shocked, silent, humiliated.

Even with my excellent health insurance, after giving birth the only medical attention I received was a quick six-week checkup. After learning about my rectocele, I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. She told me that because my rectocele was small and the risks were high, I was not a candidate for surgery.

She explained pelvic floor exercises, recommended I eat a lot of fiber and suggested “double evacuation” when urinating. Pee, then stand up and move from side to side, then urinate again so the bladder is completely emptied.

In France, where the republic wants to increase the population and the culture values sexuality, women may take vaginal rejuvenation classes or “rééducation périnéal”: 10 to 20 sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy, paid for by the government. Here in the US, I learned about my condition 10 years after I first had symptoms.

A few weeks later, I was at my kids’ public school fundraiser, drinking and rage-telling the story of discovering the word rectocele. A woman I barely knew joined us, whisper-crying, “Stage four tearing. I’ll never be the same.” Women are suffering in silence, hurt and embarrassed. Shamed again.

The New York Times has devoted an admirable amount of editorial space to the women in Africa who suffer from fistulas, their dignity and daily routines compromised by bodies that leak urine or feces because of childbirth or assault.

What no one is talking about – not medical professionals, not educators, not mothers, not their partners – are the various states of post-partum prolapse that plague women after childbirth, causing a similar loss of control and dignity to that faced by fistula sufferers. The emotional and sexual ramifications of my situation included secrecy, shame and isolation.

We need to make the words rectocele and cystocele and urethrocele and enterocele, each a type of pelvic organ prolapse resulting most often from childbirth and ageing, part of the common vernacular of women’s health. The words are utterly absent, even to those of us who seek to learn more about these conditions and educate others.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolapse means “to slip or fall out of place”. A rectocele is when the rectum bulges into the vagina. A cystocele is when the bladder bulges into the vagina. A urethrocele is when the urethra bulges into the vagina. An enterocele is when the small intestine bulges into the vagina. So basically, they are vag bulges.

The American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeries estimates that 40% of women have a rectocele, yet most people don’t know the word. This needs to change. Harvard says that anywhere from 80% to 20% of women might have small rectoceles. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies spend and make millions of dollars to keep dicks in the air.

The medical industry is pushing vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and Viagra for women, to keep women “young” and “tight” and looking like porn actors. I know our culture doesn’t make much room for older women, let alone our vaginas, but shouldn’t we be spending some of this time and money to care for the post-maternal vagina?

And I don’t mean surgery with the vaginal mesh that was recently banned in New Zealand. We need sexual education and respect for mother’s vaginas – vaginas that have been through a lot. We need to be talking about prolapse and non-surgical treatments like diet, hydration, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and core strengthening exercises.

To be sure, some vaginas take a licking and keep on ticking. I have many friends who didn’t tear, who gave birth and kegeled their way to safe and healthy sexual lives.

My vagina has changed a lot in my 46 years. I loved exploring it for pleasure as a child. Then my vagina was injured when I was raped at 15 and didn’t tell. Later I had a lot of great sex and a lot of mediocre sex. I birthed two children through this space, a space that still holds potential for experience and love.

There is no equality without reproductive rights, there are no reproductive rights without knowledge of the female body, and there is no knowledge of the female body without acknowledgment of the post-maternal vagina. The lack of education and attention to my – and thousands of mothers’ – pelvic injuries is another sign of our country’s indifference to women’s rights and health.

We are, as a nation, in fits and starts, beginning to do better for women’s lives. I am thrilled, for example, to see longstanding silences broken. I am happy to see menstrual equity with states moving toward tax exemption for tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

So, how about we ask the medical and pharmaceutical communities to do better by mothers’ bodies – by acknowledging and treating the physical injuries caused by giving birth. By acknowledging our bodies as they are. By talking about maternal sexuality. By granting us language and autonomy. We can start conversations and healing.

And, how about we ask the mothers in our lives how their vaginas are doing? Hopefully, with the proper education, their answers won’t surprise us.

My vagina was badly injured after giving birth. Why was getting help so hard? | Christen Clifford

Every time I see a woman walking down the street with a newborn, all I can think is, “Does she have a traumatized vagina?”

My vagina tore when I had my first child. Doctors I’d never met before sewed me up and refused to tell me how many stitches they’d put in. I healed, and when I had another child five years later, I tore in the same place.

My midwives sewed me up and told me everything looked fine, but I noticed certain changes: it was next to impossible to hold in flatulence. Constipation became a painful and humiliating constant. I leaked urine when I sneezed no matter how many kegels I did. And it felt like the physical angle of everything having to do with evacuation and intercourse had somehow shifted after childbirth in new and uncomfortable ways. I felt like my vag was broken. That something was wrong.

Five years later, I started seeing a new gynecologist, who listened, examined me, and said, “Oh, yep, you’ve got a little rectocele in there.”

A what?

She told me that a rectocele occurs when the muscle between the rectum and vagina is so worn and thin that the rectum kind of pops out into the vagina.

I felt angry. Why hadn’t a single health professional, many of whom had examined me thoroughly, bothered to diagnose it? “Well, it’s within the range of normal, so we usually don’t mention it.”

I went home and searched for more information. The National Institutes of Health says, “Rectoceles are common and involve a herniation of the rectum into the posterior vaginal wall that results in a vaginal bulge. Women with rectoceles generally complain of perineal and vaginal pressure, obstructive defecation, constipation, or the need to splint or digitally reduce the vagina to effectuate a bowel movement.”

Splinting? Digital reduction? These are the medical terms for what I knew through anecdotal evidence was common practice: one friend must insert a finger into her vagina to release the stool from her rectum every time she defecates. Another said she always pressed into her perineum when relieving herself. Another friend, with a rectocele and a cystocele, splints and takes vast quantities of psyllium seed husk to stay regular.

Me? Once, I was doubled over in pain, so dehydrated and constipated that I took the plastic gloves out of a box of Nice’N’Easy haircolor because, well, it wasn’t. After I had dug out the feces that had become trapped in the small pocket of my rectum that protruded into my vagina, I was shocked, silent, humiliated.

Even with my excellent health insurance, after giving birth the only medical attention I received was a quick six-week checkup. After learning about my rectocele, I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. She told me that because my rectocele was small and the risks were high, I was not a candidate for surgery.

She explained pelvic floor exercises, recommended I eat a lot of fiber and suggested “double evacuation” when urinating. Pee, then stand up and move from side to side, then urinate again so the bladder is completely emptied.

In France, where the republic wants to increase the population and the culture values sexuality, women may take vaginal rejuvenation classes or “rééducation périnéal”: 10 to 20 sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy, paid for by the government. Here in the US, I learned about my condition 10 years after I first had symptoms.

A few weeks later, I was at my kids’ public school fundraiser, drinking and rage-telling the story of discovering the word rectocele. A woman I barely knew joined us, whisper-crying, “Stage four tearing. I’ll never be the same.” Women are suffering in silence, hurt and embarrassed. Shamed again.

The New York Times has devoted an admirable amount of editorial space to the women in Africa who suffer from fistulas, their dignity and daily routines compromised by bodies that leak urine or feces because of childbirth or assault.

What no one is talking about – not medical professionals, not educators, not mothers, not their partners – are the various states of post-partum prolapse that plague women after childbirth, causing a similar loss of control and dignity to that faced by fistula sufferers. The emotional and sexual ramifications of my situation included secrecy, shame and isolation.

We need to make the words rectocele and cystocele and urethrocele and enterocele, each a type of pelvic organ prolapse resulting most often from childbirth and ageing, part of the common vernacular of women’s health. The words are utterly absent, even to those of us who seek to learn more about these conditions and educate others.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolapse means “to slip or fall out of place”. A rectocele is when the rectum bulges into the vagina. A cystocele is when the bladder bulges into the vagina. A urethrocele is when the urethra bulges into the vagina. An enterocele is when the small intestine bulges into the vagina. So basically, they are vag bulges.

The American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeries estimates that 40% of women have a rectocele, yet most people don’t know the word. This needs to change. Harvard says that anywhere from 80% to 20% of women might have small rectoceles. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies spend and make millions of dollars to keep dicks in the air.

The medical industry is pushing vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and Viagra for women, to keep women “young” and “tight” and looking like porn actors. I know our culture doesn’t make much room for older women, let alone our vaginas, but shouldn’t we be spending some of this time and money to care for the post-maternal vagina?

And I don’t mean surgery with the vaginal mesh that was recently banned in New Zealand. We need sexual education and respect for mother’s vaginas – vaginas that have been through a lot. We need to be talking about prolapse and non-surgical treatments like diet, hydration, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and core strengthening exercises.

To be sure, some vaginas take a licking and keep on ticking. I have many friends who didn’t tear, who gave birth and kegeled their way to safe and healthy sexual lives.

My vagina has changed a lot in my 46 years. I loved exploring it for pleasure as a child. Then my vagina was injured when I was raped at 15 and didn’t tell. Later I had a lot of great sex and a lot of mediocre sex. I birthed two children through this space, a space that still holds potential for experience and love.

There is no equality without reproductive rights, there are no reproductive rights without knowledge of the female body, and there is no knowledge of the female body without acknowledgment of the post-maternal vagina. The lack of education and attention to my – and thousands of mothers’ – pelvic injuries is another sign of our country’s indifference to women’s rights and health.

We are, as a nation, in fits and starts, beginning to do better for women’s lives. I am thrilled, for example, to see longstanding silences broken. I am happy to see menstrual equity with states moving toward tax exemption for tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

So, how about we ask the medical and pharmaceutical communities to do better by mothers’ bodies – by acknowledging and treating the physical injuries caused by giving birth. By acknowledging our bodies as they are. By talking about maternal sexuality. By granting us language and autonomy. We can start conversations and healing.

And, how about we ask the mothers in our lives how their vaginas are doing? Hopefully, with the proper education, their answers won’t surprise us.

My vagina was badly injured after giving birth. Why was getting help so hard? | Christen Clifford

Every time I see a woman walking down the street with a newborn, all I can think is, “Does she have a traumatized vagina?”

My vagina tore when I had my first child. Doctors I’d never met before sewed me up and refused to tell me how many stitches they’d put in. I healed, and when I had another child five years later, I tore in the same place.

My midwives sewed me up and told me everything looked fine, but I noticed certain changes: it was next to impossible to hold in flatulence. Constipation became a painful and humiliating constant. I leaked urine when I sneezed no matter how many kegels I did. And it felt like the physical angle of everything having to do with evacuation and intercourse had somehow shifted after childbirth in new and uncomfortable ways. I felt like my vag was broken. That something was wrong.

Five years later, I started seeing a new gynecologist, who listened, examined me, and said, “Oh, yep, you’ve got a little rectocele in there.”

A what?

She told me that a rectocele occurs when the muscle between the rectum and vagina is so worn and thin that the rectum kind of pops out into the vagina.

I felt angry. Why hadn’t a single health professional, many of whom had examined me thoroughly, bothered to diagnose it? “Well, it’s within the range of normal, so we usually don’t mention it.”

I went home and searched for more information. The National Institutes of Health says, “Rectoceles are common and involve a herniation of the rectum into the posterior vaginal wall that results in a vaginal bulge. Women with rectoceles generally complain of perineal and vaginal pressure, obstructive defecation, constipation, or the need to splint or digitally reduce the vagina to effectuate a bowel movement.”

Splinting? Digital reduction? These are the medical terms for what I knew through anecdotal evidence was common practice: one friend must insert a finger into her vagina to release the stool from her rectum every time she defecates. Another said she always pressed into her perineum when relieving herself. Another friend, with a rectocele and a cystocele, splints and takes vast quantities of psyllium seed husk to stay regular.

Me? Once, I was doubled over in pain, so dehydrated and constipated that I took the plastic gloves out of a box of Nice’N’Easy haircolor because, well, it wasn’t. After I had dug out the feces that had become trapped in the small pocket of my rectum that protruded into my vagina, I was shocked, silent, humiliated.

Even with my excellent health insurance, after giving birth the only medical attention I received was a quick six-week checkup. After learning about my rectocele, I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. She told me that because my rectocele was small and the risks were high, I was not a candidate for surgery.

She explained pelvic floor exercises, recommended I eat a lot of fiber and suggested “double evacuation” when urinating. Pee, then stand up and move from side to side, then urinate again so the bladder is completely emptied.

In France, where the republic wants to increase the population and the culture values sexuality, women may take vaginal rejuvenation classes or “rééducation périnéal”: 10 to 20 sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy, paid for by the government. Here in the US, I learned about my condition 10 years after I first had symptoms.

A few weeks later, I was at my kids’ public school fundraiser, drinking and rage-telling the story of discovering the word rectocele. A woman I barely knew joined us, whisper-crying, “Stage four tearing. I’ll never be the same.” Women are suffering in silence, hurt and embarrassed. Shamed again.

The New York Times has devoted an admirable amount of editorial space to the women in Africa who suffer from fistulas, their dignity and daily routines compromised by bodies that leak urine or feces because of childbirth or assault.

What no one is talking about – not medical professionals, not educators, not mothers, not their partners – are the various states of post-partum prolapse that plague women after childbirth, causing a similar loss of control and dignity to that faced by fistula sufferers. The emotional and sexual ramifications of my situation included secrecy, shame and isolation.

We need to make the words rectocele and cystocele and urethrocele and enterocele, each a type of pelvic organ prolapse resulting most often from childbirth and ageing, part of the common vernacular of women’s health. The words are utterly absent, even to those of us who seek to learn more about these conditions and educate others.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolapse means “to slip or fall out of place”. A rectocele is when the rectum bulges into the vagina. A cystocele is when the bladder bulges into the vagina. A urethrocele is when the urethra bulges into the vagina. An enterocele is when the small intestine bulges into the vagina. So basically, they are vag bulges.

The American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeries estimates that 40% of women have a rectocele, yet most people don’t know the word. This needs to change. Harvard says that anywhere from 80% to 20% of women might have small rectoceles. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies spend and make millions of dollars to keep dicks in the air.

The medical industry is pushing vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and Viagra for women, to keep women “young” and “tight” and looking like porn actors. I know our culture doesn’t make much room for older women, let alone our vaginas, but shouldn’t we be spending some of this time and money to care for the post-maternal vagina?

And I don’t mean surgery with the vaginal mesh that was recently banned in New Zealand. We need sexual education and respect for mother’s vaginas – vaginas that have been through a lot. We need to be talking about prolapse and non-surgical treatments like diet, hydration, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and core strengthening exercises.

To be sure, some vaginas take a licking and keep on ticking. I have many friends who didn’t tear, who gave birth and kegeled their way to safe and healthy sexual lives.

My vagina has changed a lot in my 46 years. I loved exploring it for pleasure as a child. Then my vagina was injured when I was raped at 15 and didn’t tell. Later I had a lot of great sex and a lot of mediocre sex. I birthed two children through this space, a space that still holds potential for experience and love.

There is no equality without reproductive rights, there are no reproductive rights without knowledge of the female body, and there is no knowledge of the female body without acknowledgment of the post-maternal vagina. The lack of education and attention to my – and thousands of mothers’ – pelvic injuries is another sign of our country’s indifference to women’s rights and health.

We are, as a nation, in fits and starts, beginning to do better for women’s lives. I am thrilled, for example, to see longstanding silences broken. I am happy to see menstrual equity with states moving toward tax exemption for tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

So, how about we ask the medical and pharmaceutical communities to do better by mothers’ bodies – by acknowledging and treating the physical injuries caused by giving birth. By acknowledging our bodies as they are. By talking about maternal sexuality. By granting us language and autonomy. We can start conversations and healing.

And, how about we ask the mothers in our lives how their vaginas are doing? Hopefully, with the proper education, their answers won’t surprise us.

My vagina was badly injured after giving birth. Why was getting help so hard? | Christen Clifford

Every time I see a woman walking down the street with a newborn, all I can think is, “Does she have a traumatized vagina?”

My vagina tore when I had my first child. Doctors I’d never met before sewed me up and refused to tell me how many stitches they’d put in. I healed, and when I had another child five years later, I tore in the same place.

My midwives sewed me up and told me everything looked fine, but I noticed certain changes: it was next to impossible to hold in flatulence. Constipation became a painful and humiliating constant. I leaked urine when I sneezed no matter how many kegels I did. And it felt like the physical angle of everything having to do with evacuation and intercourse had somehow shifted after childbirth in new and uncomfortable ways. I felt like my vag was broken. That something was wrong.

Five years later, I started seeing a new gynecologist, who listened, examined me, and said, “Oh, yep, you’ve got a little rectocele in there.”

A what?

She told me that a rectocele occurs when the muscle between the rectum and vagina is so worn and thin that the rectum kind of pops out into the vagina.

I felt angry. Why hadn’t a single health professional, many of whom had examined me thoroughly, bothered to diagnose it? “Well, it’s within the range of normal, so we usually don’t mention it.”

I went home and searched for more information. The National Institute for Health says, “Rectoceles are common and involve a herniation of the rectum into the posterior vaginal wall that results in a vaginal bulge. Women with rectoceles generally complain of perineal and vaginal pressure, obstructive defecation, constipation, or the need to splint or digitally reduce the vagina to effectuate a bowel movement.”

Splinting? Digital reduction? These are the medical terms for what I knew through anecdotal evidence was common practice: one friend must insert a finger into her vagina to release the stool from her rectum every time she defecates. Another said she always pressed into her perineum when relieving herself. Another friend, with a rectocele and a cystocele, splints and takes vast quantities of psyllium seed husk to stay regular.

Me? Once, I was doubled over in pain, so dehydrated and constipated that I took the plastic gloves out of a box of Nice’N’Easy haircolor because, well, it wasn’t. After I had dug out the feces that had become trapped in the small pocket of my rectum that protruded into my vagina, I was shocked, silent, humiliated.

Even with my excellent health insurance, after giving birth the only medical attention I received was a quick six-week checkup. After learning about my rectocele, I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. She told me that because my rectocele was small and the risks were high, I was not a candidate for surgery.

She explained pelvic floor exercises, recommended I eat a lot of fiber and suggested “double evacuation” when urinating. Pee, then stand up and move from side to side, then urinate again so the bladder is completely emptied.

In France, where the republic wants to increase the population and the culture values sexuality, women may take vaginal rejuvination classes or “rééducation périnéal”: 10 to 20 sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy, paid for by the government. Here in the US, I learned about my condition 10 years after I first had symptoms.

A few weeks later, I was at my kids’ public school fundraiser, drinking and rage-telling the story of discovering the word rectocele. A woman I barely knew joined us, whisper-crying, “Stage four tearing. I’ll never be the same.” Women are suffering in silence, hurt and embarrassed. Shamed again.

The New York Times has devoted an admirable amount of editorial space to the women in Africa who suffer from fistulas, their dignity and daily routines compromised by bodies that leak urine or feces because of childbirth or assault.

What no one is talking about—not medical professionals, not educators, not mothers, not their partners—are the various states of post-partum prolapse that plague women after childbirth, causing a similar loss of control and dignity to that faced by fistula sufferers. The emotional and sexual ramifications of my situation included secrecy, shame and isolation.

We need to make the words rectocele and cystocele and urethrocele and enterocele, each a type of pelvic organ prolapse resulting most often from childbirth and aging, part of the common vernacular of women’s health. The words are utterly absent, even to those of us who seek to learn more about these conditions and educate others.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolapse means “to slip or fall out of place.” A rectocele is when the rectum bulges into the vagina. A cystocele is when the bladder bulges into the vagina. A urethrocele is when the urethra bulges into the vagina. An enterocele is when the small intestine bulges into the vagina. So basically, they are vag bulges.

The American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeries estimates that 40% of women have a rectocele, yet most people don’t know the word. This needs to change. Harvard says that anywhere from 80% to 20% of women might have small rectoceles. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies spend and make millions of dollars to keep dicks in the air.

The medical industry is pushing vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and Viagra for women, to keep women “young” and “tight” and looking like porn actors. I know our culture doesn’t make much room for older women, let alone our vaginas, but shouldn’t we be spending some of this time and money to care for the post-maternal vagina?

And I don’t mean surgery with the vaginal mesh that was recently banned in New Zealand. We need sexual education and respect for mother’s vaginas—vaginas that have been through a lot. We need to be talking about prolapse and non-surgical treatments like diet, hydration, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and core strengthening exercises.

To be sure, some vaginas take a licking and keep on ticking. I have many friends who didn’t tear, who gave birth and kegeled their way to safe and healthy sexual lives.

My vagina has changed a lot in my 46 years. I loved exploring it for pleasure as a child. Then my vagina was injured when I was raped at 15 and didn’t tell. Later I had a lot of great sex and a lot of mediocre sex. I birthed two children through this space, a space that still holds potential for experience and love.

There is no equality without reproductive rights, there are no reproductive rights without knowledge of the female body, and there is no knowledge of the female body without acknowledgment of the post-maternal vagina. The lack of education and attention to my—and thousands of mothers’—pelvic injuries is another sign of our country’s indifference to women’s rights and health.

We are, as a nation, in fits and starts, beginning to do better for women’s lives. I am thrilled, for example, to see longstanding silences broken. I am happy to see menstrual equity with states moving toward tax exemption for tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

So, how about we ask the medical and pharmaceutical communities to do better by mothers’ bodies—by acknowledging and treating the physical injuries caused by giving birth. By acknowledging our bodies as they are. By talking about maternal sexuality. By granting us language and autonomy. We can start conversations and healing.

And, how about we ask the mothers in our lives how their vaginas are doing? Hopefully, with the proper education, their answers won’t surprise us.

My vagina was badly injured after giving birth. Why was getting help so hard? | Christen Clifford

Every time I see a woman walking down the street with a newborn, all I can think is, “Does she have a traumatized vagina?”

My vagina tore when I had my first child. Doctors I’d never met before sewed me up and refused to tell me how many stitches they’d put in. I healed, and when I had another child five years later, I tore in the same place.

My midwives sewed me up and told me everything looked fine, but I noticed certain changes: it was next to impossible to hold in flatulence. Constipation became a painful and humiliating constant. I leaked urine when I sneezed no matter how many kegels I did. And it felt like the physical angle of everything having to do with evacuation and intercourse had somehow shifted after childbirth in new and uncomfortable ways. I felt like my vag was broken. That something was wrong.

Five years later, I started seeing a new gynecologist, who listened, examined me, and said, “Oh, yep, you’ve got a little rectocele in there.”

A what?

She told me that a rectocele occurs when the muscle between the rectum and vagina is so worn and thin that the rectum kind of pops out into the vagina.

I felt angry. Why hadn’t a single health professional, many of whom had examined me thoroughly, bothered to diagnose it? “Well, it’s within the range of normal, so we usually don’t mention it.”

I went home and searched for more information. The National Institute for Health says, “Rectoceles are common and involve a herniation of the rectum into the posterior vaginal wall that results in a vaginal bulge. Women with rectoceles generally complain of perineal and vaginal pressure, obstructive defecation, constipation, or the need to splint or digitally reduce the vagina to effectuate a bowel movement.”

Splinting? Digital reduction? These are the medical terms for what I knew through anecdotal evidence was common practice: one friend must insert a finger into her vagina to release the stool from her rectum every time she defecates. Another said she always pressed into her perineum when relieving herself. Another friend, with a rectocele and a cystocele, splints and takes vast quantities of psyllium seed husk to stay regular.

Me? Once, I was doubled over in pain, so dehydrated and constipated that I took the plastic gloves out of a box of Nice’N’Easy haircolor because, well, it wasn’t. After I had dug out the feces that had become trapped in the small pocket of my rectum that protruded into my vagina, I was shocked, silent, humiliated.

Even with my excellent health insurance, after giving birth the only medical attention I received was a quick six-week checkup. After learning about my rectocele, I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. She told me that because my rectocele was small and the risks were high, I was not a candidate for surgery.

She explained pelvic floor exercises, recommended I eat a lot of fiber and suggested “double evacuation” when urinating. Pee, then stand up and move from side to side, then urinate again so the bladder is completely emptied.

In France, where the republic wants to increase the population and the culture values sexuality, women may take vaginal rejuvination classes or “rééducation périnéal”: 10 to 20 sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy, paid for by the government. Here in the US, I learned about my condition 10 years after I first had symptoms.

A few weeks later, I was at my kids’ public school fundraiser, drinking and rage-telling the story of discovering the word rectocele. A woman I barely knew joined us, whisper-crying, “Stage four tearing. I’ll never be the same.” Women are suffering in silence, hurt and embarrassed. Shamed again.

The New York Times has devoted an admirable amount of editorial space to the women in Africa who suffer from fistulas, their dignity and daily routines compromised by bodies that leak urine or feces because of childbirth or assault.

What no one is talking about—not medical professionals, not educators, not mothers, not their partners—are the various states of post-partum prolapse that plague women after childbirth, causing a similar loss of control and dignity to that faced by fistula sufferers. The emotional and sexual ramifications of my situation included secrecy, shame and isolation.

We need to make the words rectocele and cystocele and urethrocele and enterocele, each a type of pelvic organ prolapse resulting most often from childbirth and aging, part of the common vernacular of women’s health. The words are utterly absent, even to those of us who seek to learn more about these conditions and educate others.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prolapse means “to slip or fall out of place.” A rectocele is when the rectum bulges into the vagina. A cystocele is when the bladder bulges into the vagina. A urethrocele is when the urethra bulges into the vagina. An enterocele is when the small intestine bulges into the vagina. So basically, they are vag bulges.

The American Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeries estimates that 40% of women have a rectocele, yet most people don’t know the word. This needs to change. Harvard says that anywhere from 80% to 20% of women might have small rectoceles. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies spend and make millions of dollars to keep dicks in the air.

The medical industry is pushing vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and Viagra for women, to keep women “young” and “tight” and looking like porn actors. I know our culture doesn’t make much room for older women, let alone our vaginas, but shouldn’t we be spending some of this time and money to care for the post-maternal vagina?

And I don’t mean surgery with the vaginal mesh that was recently banned in New Zealand. We need sexual education and respect for mother’s vaginas—vaginas that have been through a lot. We need to be talking about prolapse and non-surgical treatments like diet, hydration, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and core strengthening exercises.

To be sure, some vaginas take a licking and keep on ticking. I have many friends who didn’t tear, who gave birth and kegeled their way to safe and healthy sexual lives.

My vagina has changed a lot in my 46 years. I loved exploring it for pleasure as a child. Then my vagina was injured when I was raped at 15 and didn’t tell. Later I had a lot of great sex and a lot of mediocre sex. I birthed two children through this space, a space that still holds potential for experience and love.

There is no equality without reproductive rights, there are no reproductive rights without knowledge of the female body, and there is no knowledge of the female body without acknowledgment of the post-maternal vagina. The lack of education and attention to my—and thousands of mothers’—pelvic injuries is another sign of our country’s indifference to women’s rights and health.

We are, as a nation, in fits and starts, beginning to do better for women’s lives. I am thrilled, for example, to see longstanding silences broken. I am happy to see menstrual equity with states moving toward tax exemption for tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

So, how about we ask the medical and pharmaceutical communities to do better by mothers’ bodies—by acknowledging and treating the physical injuries caused by giving birth. By acknowledging our bodies as they are. By talking about maternal sexuality. By granting us language and autonomy. We can start conversations and healing.

And, how about we ask the mothers in our lives how their vaginas are doing? Hopefully, with the proper education, their answers won’t surprise us.

How an army of volunteers could help win the fight for the NHS | David Brindle

Geoff Mann is about to mark 10 years as a volunteer at North Tyneside general hospital. The retired chartered quantity surveyor does a day a week, sometimes more, driving patients and visitors with mobility needs around the hospital in North Shields in an electric buggy.

“It’s what everybody says – the enormous sense of satisfaction,” says Mann, 77, when asked what he gets out of it. “You meet a lot of people, you help them get around, you put them at ease if they’re worried – and you feel you’re part of one big family.”

For Michael Hume, another driver, volunteering for almost four years now has helped him regain confidence after a serious accident. “I wasn’t good in big groups,” says the 52-year-old former forklift operator. “This has picked me up more than anything.”

North Tyneside is run by Northumbria Healthcare NHS foundation trust, one of five trusts in a pilot programme endorsed and funded by NHS England (NHSE) aiming to make volunteering an integral part of healthcare. Although volunteers have been a feature of the NHS since its inception, their roles have typically been limited to running the hospital shop or pushing a trolley around the wards.

This is different. “Generally there’s a lot of ‘nice’ stuff. But is it high impact? No – it’s at the margins,” says Sir Tom Hughes-Hallett, the philanthropist behind the programme. “I thought we could really shift the dial on this, recast volunteering for the 21st century and help the NHS more effectively tackle the ever-mounting health challenges it faces.”

The plan, which has the backing of NHS leaders and an impressive line-up of charity and corporate supporters, is to use volunteers to ease “pinch points” in the patient’s progress through the healthcare system – from the queue at a hospital reception or delays in discharge caused by lack of transport to making someone available to collect prescriptions from the hospital pharmacy. They could also be part of wards, meeting patient needs that paid staff have no time to address.


Even three years ago, staff at my trust didn’t know what to do with volunteers. But now they are bursting with ideas

Hughes-Hallett has set up a non-profit community interest company, Helpforce, to develop the pilot programme and to coordinate and grow volunteering initiatives across the NHS in England. In all, 12 trusts – including the five in the pilot – have joined an initial network supporting the broader ambition to double the number of volunteers in hospitals from an estimated 78,000 to more than 150,000 by 2021.

“That will give the NHS one volunteer for every 10 staff,” says Hughes-Hallett, who chairs the Chelsea and Westminster hospital foundation trust in west London, another of the pilot sites. “I think that will make a huge difference to the stress and exhaustion of the workforce.”

It is precisely that exhaustion, after seven years of austerity and growing pressure on the NHS to meet the needs of the ageing population, that makes him optimistic about his plan. Health workers, and especially their trade unions, have traditionally been suspicious of volunteers encroaching on professional roles.

But now the prospect of having extra pairs of hands is revealing a very different attitude, he reports. At his own trust, staff are “biting our hands off” to add volunteers to their teams. “Even three years ago they would have said, ‘What are we going do with them?’ Now they are bursting with ideas. It’s totally changed.”

Key to this new attitude is likely to be Helpforce’s guarantee that volunteers will never replace staff – “I have made that absolute commitment to the unions,” says Hughes-Hallett – and its ambition that they will always be safe and reliable. It is working with Health Education England, the health sector training body, on the idea of certified courses for volunteers. The pilot sites, moreover, are required to involve local staff representatives in creating volunteer roles. “Unless this is something that the unions think is going to benefit their members, it isn’t going to work,” Hughes-Hallett declares.

Hughes-Hallett describes the Royal College of Nursing as “very supportive” and has invited it to join the Helpforce advisory council. At public services union Unison, head of health, Sara Gorton, expresses support for the principle of volunteering, but adds: “Unison is keen to work with Helpforce to ensure that the role of volunteers is limited to tasks that don’t compromise patient safety or take paid staff away from their core work.”

Hughes-Hallett, 63, was a successful investment banker who sold his business in 2000 and became chief executive of cancer care charity Marie Curie. It was during his 12 years there that he came to appreciate the value and potential of volunteers. In summer last year, he pitched the Helpforce blueprint to health service leaders including NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, who endorsed it.

The pilot programme, which also includes Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals trust, University Hospital Southampton foundation trust and West Suffolk foundation trust, is being funded by £250,000 from NHS England. Hughes-Hallett says he has put in a sum “in the low six figures” and a bid has been made for lottery funding, an undisclosed sum, for the four-strong central team working alongside him.

Among Helpforce’s supporting organisations is the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), which already provides some 5,000 volunteers for hospitals across Britain. Catherine Johnstone, RVS chief executive, says: “We’ve been there a long time, we have a big footprint – but the complexity of the challenges now facing hospitals means we have to pull together and have more focus. Without a national initiative like this, that’s very difficult.”

Helpforce is also looking to recruit a more diverse volunteer base than groups like RVS have been able to do. Georgia Hutton, 28, has been volunteering as a “meeter and greeter” at North Tyneside for more than five years, but admits she is unusual in having decided to try it after graduating from university without firm career plans.

“I don’t know why more young people don’t do it: I think it’s great,” says Hutton, who is also training to be a counsellor and working part-time as a receptionist. “A lot of the people who come in are elderly, and maybe have no one else at home, so sometimes I just sit and have a little chat with them.”

Hutton chooses to volunteer one afternoon a fortnight. At Chelsea and Westminster, Katie Lillie, 38, helps out on the busy main reception between 10am and 2pm on Wednesdays, which fits in with her children’s school hours. Offering such flexibility will be crucial to attracting younger volunteers and those from more diverse ethnic backgrounds, the Helpforce team recognises, but can you match people’s preferences with those “pinch points” in the system?

Rachael Allsop, Chelsea and Westminster’s director of volunteering, thinks you can. Helping patients eat and drink at lunchtime is critical to their speedy recovery, she points out, while weekends in hospital “can be desperate” if there are no activities. “Bridging the gap between late afternoon and usual visiting time is another great opportunity for younger volunteers, including students looking to have it on their CV,” she says.

Allsop has a target of increasing the number of volunteers at Chelsea and Westminster from 350 to 900 by 2020. That looks daunting, but Hughes-Hallett is convinced the tide is running strongly in Helpforce’s favour. “It’s already been the most extraordinary journey,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more exciting in my life.”