Menopause at 40 & Then My Vagina Fell Out: An Uncommon Tale
Brace yourselves! This is the most personal blog post I have ever written. While it may make some say, “Woah! This is a LOT to share, Maria!” I’m sharing it so that other women know they are not alone should they ever find themselves going through something similar.
It’s a Doozy So Hang onto Your Hats. Here Goes…
I’m a short gal (not even 5-feet tall if I’m telling the truth) and I have birthed three babies. However, this is not a tale of motherhood and my usual type of “parenting” post. No, this is a tale of how that process has taken its toll “down there”. And by “toll” I mean, I’ve had to surgically repair my butt, vagina and belly button. Yep. And if you are intrigued, read on. And if this is too much, I get it. Close your browser now and stay tuned for our regularly scheduled monthly uplifting post coming soon!
When You Say, “Surgery On Your Butt” What Do You Mean?
I’m not sure why I started getting hemorrhoids at such a young age… but when I was 18, I can remember being at the doctor’s office with my feet spread eagle in stirrups, and a kind nurse holding my hand while a (good looking) medical intern stared at my exposed self and (loudly) announced, “Hemorrhoid! 3 o’clock!” That was the beginning of my hemorrhoid journey and here I sit, at age 41 years old, and the story isn’t over.
Fast forward about 10 years and there I was, pregnant. Like I said, I’ve had three kids, and with each pregnancy those hemorrhoids would come back larger and angrier. During my second delivery, I labored to an 8, begged for an epidural (didn’t work), then realized all the pain was exacerbated by sweet baby girl coming down “Sunny Side Up.” Due to this flip in her exit, I straight up BROKE my tailbone and there was (almost literally) a ton of extra pressure on my butt. Let’s just say as I held my darling daughter in my arms my hemorrhoids were out in FULL FORCE.
My Insides Looked Like an 80 Year Old Woman.
I started seeing a colon rectal surgeon regularly after this point and he performed a rubber banding procedure that seemed to help for a few months. (They put a rubberband around the hemorrhoid and it essentially dies off. Gross.)
But after my third pregnancy, I had an internal hemorrhoid prolapse. This means a large, grape sized hemorrhoid comes out and hangs around for a solid 4 – 6 weeks (pun intended). It was terrible and uncomfortable and very painful. So I headed back to the doctor and he told me I should consider surgery. They would go in and remove the internal issues, and while it wouldn’t be a 100% cure, it would definitely help with my quality of life.
So when my son was two, I had the surgery. It was around the holidays and the recovery was super painful. And I mean, SUPER painful. Graphic reality check, imagine pooping with stitches IN your butt. There was vomiting involved from the severity of it all. (Yep.) I spent a lot of time in the bathtub doing deep breathing exercises for the pain. It’s important to note that the doctor told my husband he hadn’t seen a case as bad as mine in a long time. And that (I quote): “Her insides looked like an 80 year old woman and I couldn’t believe she made it this far without the surgery.”
(What?! I know. This is nuts! Let’s continue…)
Fast forward four-years to present day. I have had a minor flare up 2 – 3 times and I can relate each time back to a few days of poor nutrition. Once was on a trip to Disneyland and I remember having pain and thinking, “You will not eat like this again, it’s not worth it!” I went back to the doctor when I got home from that trip and had the rubber banding done again (an office procedure) and it helped clear it up.
Bottom Line: Women Don’t Talk About Butt Issues, But We Should.
While it can be embarrassing, there is help if you find yourself struggling with hemorrhoids. And if the condition is chronic for you, go right to your local colon rectal surgeon. Trust me, it’s not that bad and the relief is worth it! If you find yourself feeling really DOWN about this, I get it. It is such a personal thing and being intimate can feel different–get help early on so you can get back in the game of life (I would say saddle because for me I wanted to get back to riding my bike asap!)
Symptoms – itchy pain in your rear, skin that is sometimes swollen and red in your rear, blood in your stool.
Surgery – check out the rubberbanding in-office procedure. I had a hemorrhoidectomy.
Recovery – six weeks of no exercise, a lot of pain and very little activity.
Wait… Did You Think This Blog Post Was Over? I’m Only Getting Started!
After each child was born, I went back to teaching fitness (a side job I started at age 18) and noticed my belly button bulging and getting bigger after each child. I had an umbilical hernia which is basically your intestines popping through the lining of your abdomen. A lot of women get a separation in their abdominal wall after pregnancy and sometimes it doesn’t go back. This separation can be part of the cause of a hernia in this area. From what I’ve been told, this can worsen when doing a lot of physical activity and lifting.
Symptoms – bulging and pulsing of the belly button, especially after exercise.
Surgery – Some people get a mesh for their hernia but after an appointment with a surgeon who told me with as much physical activity I was doing teaching fitness, I may have this surgery more than once if I don’t get the root of the problem (the separation of the abdominal wall) corrected. So instead of a simple mesh, I had an abdominoplasty along with the hernia repair.
Recovery – for four days, I slept in a recliner chair. My kids were 3, 5 and 7. By day five I was walking to and from the bus stop (very slowly) and caring for the kids again. The area near my incision would swell by mid day which meant I was over doing it. I would put my feet up in that chair and read books with the kids or put them down for a nap so I could rest before our oldest needed to be picked up from the bus stop again (it’s seriously about 5 blocks from our house!). I don’t want to sugar coat it. This was a painful recovery. I had numbness for a year in my abdomen. It’s now been three years since the surgery and there is no recurrent hernia and the numbness has gone away!
And Then My Vagina Fell Out.
Nope, that’s not a punchline to a joke. It’s my life. Luckily, I can laugh about it. But check this out:
After my third child was born and my period started again, I noticed I could no longer wear tampons. Correction – I noticed tampons would no longer stay IN my body. It was very strange. They would kind of “pop out” as though something was “in there” repelling them. So I went to my OB-GYN and she sent me to a Uro-gynecologist because, turns out, I had vaginal prolapse. What’s that, you ask? Oh, my vagina was falling out. It gets a little more technical than that, but bla, bla, bla – MY VAGINA WAS FALLING OUT!
There are a few factors that can cause a prolapse, one being my pelvic floor was extremely weak. Having the pressure of carrying babies during pregnancy can affect this and likely did in my situation (remember that whole 4’11” thing). The weight of my organs (uterus, bladder and rectum) all pressed down and started to lose their hold, thus causing the weight to press down and cause the vagina cavity to collapse. So that sense that something was “in there” was accurate and true: the walls of my vagina were caving in. ((I mean… a girl can’t make this stuff up!)
The doctor told me if I wasn’t in pain, I could hold off for a few years on the necessary surgery to fix the prolapse (they would lift the uterus, bladder and rectum). So I waited because the recovery was six weeks (and that doesn’t mesh well with 3 kids). She sent me to physical therapy (“Oh hi, I am here for PT on my VAGINA”) but it didn’t work and it was basically a bunch of kegels and who has time for kegel exercises? So I lived with it and carried on.
Fast Forward Five Years and They Found a Tumor in My Breast.
At this point, you’re probably thinking: “Is this for real?” And if you know me, you’re probably thinking, “Maria! You really know how to hide things well! How has this all been happening and I didn’t know!?” I do pride myself on living in the moment and carrying on but that’s another blog post for another day. Trust me, I know this story is nuts, that’s why I’m telling it!
So my breast thing started when I had some pain in my breast. After what felt like a million appointments (which was actually 14 or 15 visits with multiple ultrasounds, more than one MRI and two biopsies) they found a tumor. They thought it was benign but couldn’t guarantee it until they removed it.
It was a busy time because I was also closing in on the time my Gynecologist said I should consider fixing the prolapse mentioned above.
To top it all off, I decided to have genetic testing because my mom has a gene that can affect breasts, ovaries and the pancreas. And what do you know – I have the gene. As a result, my doctor suggested completely removing my uterus and ovaries instead of having my organs lifted to fix the vaginal prolapse. Actually, she said, “I would suggest we snatch them up”. My husband and I kept laughing about how nonchalant she was about removing my organs!
To recap, now I needed two surgeries: one for my breast and one for my hysterectomy. I was only partly kidding when I asked the doctor if I could kill two birds with one stone and have the surgeries at the same time but she actually said YES! (Remember this part of the story if you’re ever in a similar situation. I thought it was crazy to ask but they more than happy to arrange it!)
So last year, on December 12th, in a seven hour surgery, I had a lumpectomy, then a total hysterectomy with bladder and rectum repair and reconstruction of the vagina. They also fixed my bladder so that I don’t pee my pants constantly (something a lot of women experience after pregnancy).
I was in the hospital for two nights and three days. I was in a lot of pain which, turns out, was due to my tailbone being in a weird position during surgery for 7-hours (upright, on my back, with legs in stirrups!). Good news, the breast tumor was benign with no markers of cancer surrounding it! (Holy phew!)
My friends and family were awesome in setting up meals, taking my kids to the movies, staying with me at the hospital and more. So many emotions took place during this time but I never talked about it. Like the fact that I was closing my “baby making” chapter of my life forever. I loved being pregnant and loved having babies. I was scared to go through menopause, which a few months prior to the surgery I started experiencing already—missed periods, hot flashes and extreme mood swings.
Symptoms – pressure “down there” along with abnormal tissue protruding from “down there”
Surgery – Total Hysterectomy with bladder and rectum repair and vaginal wall reconstruction.
Recovery – 8 weeks of very little activity, soreness, bleeding for a few weeks, pain while urinating for a few weeks, extreme weakness and fatigue. I went in for my six week appointment and the surgeon had to add some stitches “down there” and she added two more weeks to my recovery, saying I was doing too much and not healing as I should. Did I tell you it was right before Christmas? It was hard to slow down!
And Thus Began Menopause at 40.
Knowing my body was going to be thrown into menopause after surgery, I was mindful of my symptoms. After talking to women about it here and there, I knew there was some relief for symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings but that different remedies work for different individuals.
First came the hot flashes. I was able to get those under control with a bioidentical cream that you rub on your leg and insert “down there”. I saw a holistic MD who prescribed this to me from a compounding pharmacy. Having the breast issue, you have to be careful about taking hormone replacements which is why I saw a doctor who would not prescribe synthetic hormones.
The change in my mood didn’t come right away but it presented itself as a feeling of not being myself. I wasn’t depressed by any means, but it felt harder to laugh and enjoy life. I felt on edge and irritated about a lot of things that I normally had so much patience for. I am not against antidepressants but I was hoping to find something else before trying a prescription. I tried a few natural minerals like Beta Blockers but what finally worked was CBD oil. I bought it from Plum Market and put a dropper full of oil under my tongue in the morning and sometimes again in the afternoon. It doesn’t contain thc and there is a ton of research out there that says it can safely improve anxiety and moods!
I started taking melatonin to help with sleeping issues I developed and it seems to help some. Oh, and a major change I’ve experienced is with my metabolism! I have to eat healthy and watch my serving sizes to keep my weight normal. I also take a ton of daily vitamins and a glass of water with benefiber every day to help stay healthy and regular.
Other natural remedies I have been practicing this year to help me feel like myself are:
-Daily gratitude practice
This is a doozy of a post, I know. But these are crazy topics that I wish I could have known before they happened to me. If using my role as a parent influencer in this social media space to tell you my story helps ONE individual, then it’s worth telling you the graphic details of my health journey!
Update November 2021 (almost 3 years post hysterectomy)
It’s been almost three years since and two since I shared this blog post. I have had numerous women reach out to me, thanking me for sharing my story. That by sharing my story, it helped them get the courage to get their first mammogram. Or that they just needed to know that what was happening to them, feelings of irritability, lack of joy, intense emotions when in menopause, could be symptoms of what so many of us go through during this life change.
I wanted to give an update as to how I am doing! After writing the blog post in December of 2018, I continued to exercise, practice gratitude and take CBD oil until April of 2019. I started seeing my Holistic Doctor again and taking new supplements. The CBD oil either stopped working or it wasn’t what I needed.
It took until September of 2020 for me to finally admit I needed to start taking something. Why do we put shame around mental health medications??? We need to STOP. I started taking Effexor XR (venlafaxine) It took a good six weeks for the medicine to start working. I finally started to smile and laugh again like I did before menopause. It felt like a big relief to feel like myself again. Side effects? Sure, dizziness and headaches if I forget to take the medicine. But I feel so much better and the reason for this prescription in particular is that it is known to help with hot flashes. I am here to tell you that it’s true!
For those of you still reading this, if you don’t feel right, BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE. Visit doctor after doctor until you feel better. I honestly waited way too long to get on a prescription to help my mood but I am thankful I did. It will help me live my fullest of days for this seasons of life I am in.