Part 1: Birth and Beyond
If you’re like most women you probably didn’t give your pelvic floor a second thought until you were pregnant. Even then, if you neither leaked nor did specific pelvic floor work to prepare for birth you may have remained blissfully unaware until after the birth – perhaps even well after the birth of your first, second or third child. Then one day you noticed that sex wasn’t quite what it used to be, and sometimes you wet your pants when you coughed. Now your pelvic floor has your attention!
Pelvic floor is the common term describing a group of muscles that form a bowl-like shape within the base of your pelvis. In a woman three openings penetrate this band of muscles – the urethra, the vagina and the anus. The pelvic floor provides support for vital organs and spine, assists bladder and bowel control, helps during birth to turn and guide your baby down the birth canal, and influences the sensation that women, and their men, feel during intercourse. All of these factors together make for quite a strong argument that it is worth taking notice of the humble pelvic floor!
Pelvic floor and the Feldenkrais Method
The Feldenkrais Method is a unique system of somatic learning that addresses the pelvic floor as part of a whole coordinated system. Dr Moshe Feldenkrais said that in order to change our way of operating in the world we must change the image of ourselves that we carry within. In order to empower our pelvic floor therefore, along with our whole selves, a change in self-image is required. I believe that the unclear self-image of women in our culture contributes not only to pelvic floor dysfunction but also to the epidemic of fear of birth that we see in the modern age. Birth issues and the pelvic floor
Many women in our culture do not prepare for birth. Women hand their power over to doctors and hope that the doctors will take care of things for them. Inevitably for the unprepared woman the doctors do take care of things, and these women end up experiencing the ‘delivery’ rather than the natural birth of their child. My concern is that many of these deliveries (births with intervention) and the growing number of Caesarean sections that we are seeing are connected to a woman’s unclear self-image – i.e. a woman not knowing nor trusting her body.
A woman who knows her body, has educated herself and has had the benefit of a midwife and/or other birth workers helping to guide her learning throughout her pregnancy will have a great advantage over her unprepared friend or sister who turns up to the hospital on the day hoping for the best. A woman who has practiced listening to her body, “being” with herself, and possesses a readiness to surrender to the flow of her body’s process (without impeding it through fear and tension) will face the mystery of birth with grace.
Some knowledge of basic anatomy can help a woman to better understand her body. Practice of quiet self-reflection and meditation can help to still the mind. Movement awareness will further help a woman to prepare for birth by showing her what she does during times of stress or pain, and how to do something different. During labour fear can inhibit the opening of the sphincters (cervix and vagina) or start to close them. If a woman has learnt to recognize and feel what she’s doing with her body, she will benefit from this knowledge at this time. She can use breath, movements of her pelvis, mouth, jaw etc, position changes and many, many other strategies to reverse the pattern of tension that may be restricting the natural flow of her labour. This is the power of awareness. Practices that heighten awareness can give a woman true confidence in her ability to birth.
Once baby has arrived these same practices will allow her to become gently reacquainted with her post-birth body. A woman may learn to notice her breath and its relationship to her pelvic floor, and whether a smile or a frown makes it easier for her to contract her pelvic floor. Suddenly she can feel sensations again, and strength can begin to return to her pelvic floor. Where there is some sensation, even if it has been lost for a long time previously, there is hope.
A full length article entitled “Empowering your Pelvic Floor” (of which this article is an excerpt) is freely available upon request.