Why Did No One Tell Me?
Emma Brockwell is one of the UK’s leading women’s health physios. She is on a mission to empower women to take control of and protect their changing bodies through pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. Her new book “Why Did No One Tell Me: How To Protect, Heal and Nurture Your Body Through Motherhood” is out now.
What inspired you to write your book?
The ladies I treat everyday have predominantly inspired me to write my book. Despite the fact that women have been bearing children and birthing for millions of years, as a society we are still not informing, educating and empowering women about the physical changes that occur during pregnancy and childbirth, the conditions that can occur as a result of these changes and how to potentially prevent and if unpreventable treat them. In clinic I see women everyday who are saddened, angry and disappointed that they did not know about the issues addressed in the book. ‘Why did no one tell me’ is a saying I hear too often and this has to change. By the time my daughter has her children, I hope that the narrative and landscape around pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal recovery has changed and women never have to ask this question again and I hope the book contributes towards this change.
Who is your book for?
The book is for anyone considering getting pregnant, pregnant, or who has had a baby. This is not ‘another’ baby book it is a book for women about their body! It is also for anyone that works closely with pregnant or new mums but isn’t as such a specialist in the field.
Why was there such a need for you to write it and why don’t you think women are given the right knowledge during pregnancy?
The need is very real. There is so much poor quality and conflicting information out there for women. What happens to a woman’s body during and after pregnancy can be life changing and affect women’s mental and physical health. Symptoms that can occur during and after pregnancy like urinary leakage are swept aside, considered part of the woman’s new norm. Often these symptoms are also stigmatised, and taboo and women are often embarrassed to talk about them. Women need to be better informed and empowered during this time of their lives and reassured that whilst symptoms are common, they are not normal, they are preventable and treatable.
Why haven’t women been given this sort of information so readily? Is it because of the patriarchal society that we live in, fear of putting women off having a baby or simply just a blatant oversight? Whatever the reason it’s simply not ok. Having a baby is a major life changing event and needs to be honoured and considered like this.
Why is it so important for women to have this knowledge when they are pregnant and post-natal?
During pregnancy and childbirth women’s bodies change very quickly and dramatically. This has to happen for baby to grow, strengthen and arrive safely. These physical changes can be overwhelming. For many women, these changes, along with the unknown elements of childbirth can lead to feeling out of control. Knowledge can therefore be empowering and offer women ownership of their pregnancy and birthing experience. Furthermore, symptoms like urinary leakage, faecal incontinence, pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse, painful sex can occur during and after pregnancy. If women are better informed about them it’s possible that they may be able to prevent these symptoms occurring or at least know how to manage them.
How have your own experience influenced your book and the work you do?
Oh my own experiences have influenced the book and my clinical work considerably. I understand what it’s like to have been faced with a lack of understanding, showered with conflicting and confusing information during my first pregnancy and postnatal journey. I had a difficult first postnatal recovery, I returned to running too soon and as a result had a small prolapse, a diastasis that took a considerable amount of time to recover and significant pelvic pain. I don’t want other women to be where I was because it doesn’t need to be that way which is why I writing the book was so important to me. Having been where so many of my patients have been means that I can relate and I hope makes me a better clinician and a better educator.
Are there any classic mistakes that postnatal women make when it comes to exercise?
I would say the most common mistake that I see is returning to high impact exercise too soon, often in a bid to bounce back. To be clear bounce back is a myth. It takes time to strengthen and rehabilitate postnatally. No matter how you deliver baby, pregnancy and childbirth will lead to muscles weakening and lengthening. It is common to injure when carrying out high impact exercise if your body is not strong inside and out. If you sprain your ankle you wouldn’t return to running until you had healed and strengthened. The same rule should be applied to postnatal women. Listen to your body, strengthen, carry out low impact exercise first and give your body time to heal and recover. Ordinarily for most women returning to high impact exercise at 6 weeks is too soon. If you are leaking urine, suffering faecal incontinence, pelvic or low back pain or heaviness in your vagina, seek the help of a pelvic health physiotherapist.
What’s your advice to anyone who’s had a baby and thinks things aren’t quite right still?
My advice would be to see a pelvic health physiotherapist. I would recommend every woman visits one postnatally regardless of symptoms. We are trained to assess and rehabilitate women during and after pregnancy. You can see a pelvic heath physiotherapist via the NHS or privately.
Why do you think it’s all still such a taboo and what can we do to change that?
Its all such a taboo because we don’t talk about these issues enough. Women (and men) are embarrassed to talk about these issues and if they do, they are often told that these are just a consequence of having a baby and to ‘put up with it’! To be clear they aren’t normal and no one should put up with any form of pelvic floor dysfunction. These issues shouldn’t be and aren’t embarrassing. The more we talk about them and open up the conversation the more they will be de-stigmatised, and women will soon stop accepting them as the norm and realise that treatment is there and effective.
How did you find writing a book?
Writing this book has been a huge privilege and passion project. I’ve been beating this drum for a very long time and writing the book has provided me with a great vehicle to talk to women about something I believe in so strongly. I wrote the book during lockdown, homeschooling and trying to run my clinic which wasn’t ideal, so if ever I get the chance to write another book it would be good to do it with fewer things on my plate and more time. I say that but I’m not sure if as mums we ever have ‘time’ we just manage to find time because let’s face it mums are superhumans.