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The Postnatal New ‘Normal Debate’ – Part 2 – Cath

I want to thank Cath for sharing her story – it is when women like Cath step up and share, that we all come together, raise awareness, and help to change the way that women experience motherhood on both a physical and emotional level.

Cath’s Story

I turned up to Jen’s session thinking I knew my fitness goals and had my postnatal body back on track. Basically all I needed was the nanny service so I could exercise more often. In hindsight I now know the nanny service was far from the most important thing; I needed help to repair my poor body which was teetering on the edge of having a full blown hernia and potentially in need of extensive surgery.

Before kids I exercised four or five times a week: running, spinning, hot yoga/yin yoga, boxercise, weights. I stayed active throughout my pregnancies, albeit at a lower intensity, and my weight gain was average. I have two beautiful girls (now 4 and 2), both delivered vaginally and with epidurals; my first was assisted.

After my first born, my body pinged back in to shape with no issues, so it was definitely my mind that needed the exercise more at that point. When I was pregnant with baby number two, I was confident my body was going to ping back in to shape again, just as it had done with my first.

So my second baby came, easier birth, smaller baby, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation – all normal. I was sure I had everything covered! My Obgyn did the usual postnatal checkups and everything was ticking along, though he did say that I had abdominal separation this time around and recommended I wear a belly wrap. I did this religiously for about two months and checked my width of separation every few days. By three months postpartum, it was reducing significantly. I knew I wasn’t physically as strong as after the first birth but I was heading in the right direction.

By four ½ months postpartum, I WANTED to exercise. I craved getting into my exercise gear and escaping my crazy, toddler-tantrum, nappy-filled life for an hour each day. It was my sanity; it was MY time. So I went back to training four times a week with some friends who were also mums. It was great. I loved that hour of exercise, chatting with other adults, the endorphin hit afterwards. It made me a better, calmer mum, although in hindsight I may have pushed myself too hard, too early and not paid the attention to my pelvic floor that I needed to.

At seven months after baby number two, I had never felt better fitness and body wise. I was at my all-important body barometer: ‘wedding dress size’. The separation was still there: the lower half had joined but from my belly button up, there was still a gap of about two fingers width and my tummy was still a bit rounded.

Meeting Jen

When my second child was 11 months old, I moved back to Sydney, and by her first birthday I had started training with Jen in group exercise sessions. I signed up for Tough Mums. I was firmly into my exercise routine and ready to keep pushing myself so felt confident in this higher intensity group. I was feeling great!

Jen did her usual abdominal separation checks as for all her new mums. I still had my separation but I explained it had reduced significantly and this was probably just the way I was going to be. Jen checked my separation at EVERY session and adapted my level of intensity accordingly. I often felt like things were too easy and in all honesty, I didn’t feel like I was progressing or getting that much physically out of the sessions.

Every session Jen would also ask me if I’d been to see the Women’s Health Physiotherapist, which of course I hadn’t gotten around to yet. We all have our excuses and I had every excuse in the book, but she kept asking, telling me to go. Thank goodness she did.

The Reality of My Body

With my separation, and a ‘heavy’ feeling in my pelvic floor, I was finally motivated to see a women’s health physio. I went expecting to get sent on my way with a few do’s and dont’s and a list of uninspiring exercises that I’d most likely never do.

I was quite shocked to be told I had to stop running completely and basically go back to the lowest level of exercise. My pelvic floor stability and inner core muscles just weren’t there. This house of fitness I had built was on sandy foundations and if I kept going, I was going to do damage. Unless I went back to basics and rebuilt the foundations of my core, my body was going to get worse.

I accepted the need to take action and followed instructions. I started putting on weight and my fitness level dropped significantly within three weeks. Emotionally I was hating it, even though the physio appointments were confirming progress in the right direction for my inner core and pelvic floor. Three months later my progress plateaued.

I was doing a postnatal specialist Pilates class, one of Jen’s group sessions each week, as well as walking. I felt disenchanted; there was no post exercise endorphin rush, just the feeling of a wasted opportunity and hating this body that was falling apart.

I couldn’t see an end to my body failing me and I had become scared of damaging my body further, so doubted how, when or if I could push my body. I felt I had lost that control to push through any barrier. My newfound limitations in exercise would never get me to the fitness level I wanted.

Two Paths

This was mentally a very low point for me. I thought I had two choices: forget exercise and embrace having more time to go out, eat cakes and drink coffee, or investigate surgery, have this stomach sewn back together and then resume my limitless exercise regime.

I told Jen I was interested in looking into the surgery. With the possibility of a hernia looming, I was referred to a leading plastic surgeon. Jen was keen to come along to my appointment both to learn more and to support me with any additional questions, from her experience working with other mums, that I might not have considered. Jen wanted to know exactly what was going on for me for her own education and so she could help me make the right decision moving forward.

After seeing some very real surgery photos, and speaking to a very honest plastic surgeon about what would be involved, I was no longer so sure about surgery. Chatting to Jen about my feelings in the waiting room, a third path emerged..

The Third Path

What if I could work with a different specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapist, using hard data from ultra sound scans, to work on a physiotherapy rehabilitation program, concurrently with a specifically tailored exercise program? Jen would focus on loading my muscles in the right way, without creating further damage to my pelvic floor and abdominal separation, so that I could strengthen my core from the inside out and finally start progressing my fitness level again. I would attend regular physio sessions to make sure I wasn’t creating any further damage and also to measure any reductions in my ab separation.

There was no evidence that this would work. It was going to be trial and error and a long road to travel, unlike the quick fix of surgery…. but I like a challenge…and so does Jen!

The results so far

So here we are 12 months since that first physio check where I was told to stop running, and six months since I started my individual PT sessions with Jen, alongside the physio rehab program. I can most definitely say that I am on the road to recovery, enjoying my exercise again and getting the endorphin kicks I was after. I have changed my style of exercise (very little running but more spin classes) and I still can’t do a full plank or a sit up, but I can do A LOT of other exercises that challenge me just the same, if not more.

My separation in the last six months has gone from a width of 3.3cm to 0.5cm and the depth has reduced from being moderate to shallow. These changes may seem small to some but for me, especially given I was two years postpartum and getting progressively worse, they mean everything. I am motivated to continue down this path and can’t thank enough all those who have helped me.

But the biggest thank you has to go to Jen for keeping me motivated and safe whilst getting my body back on track. And to Jo at The Physiotherapy Clinic for working with me to build this new foundation. Hopefully I can inspire other mums to keep working at their fitness goals and not give up or fear the different body they have after having babies. Sometimes what can seem like the impossible is made relatively easy with the right, qualified, experienced trainer and support by your side – as I said, can’t thank you enough Jen Dugard!

If you are ‘stuck’ with your ‘new normal’ and would like help or have a story you would like to share – please don’t hesitate to be in touch – you can email me here  – Jen x

The Postnatal ‘New Normal’ Debate – Part one

With over a decade in the fitness industry and close to nine years now working with mums alone, I have had the pleasure of working with many women who have put their trust in me to help them finally get to the bottom of where their bodies are right now and what their options for the future may be. Many of these women have spent months, sometimes years, not really knowing what is happening with their bodies, running from person to person trying to work it out or simply accepting that their ‘new post baby normal’ was what they had to live with for the rest of their lives

A lot of the time women are not fully informed about their post-natal body and don’t really know where to go for help, or they have been told so many conflicting things that they are confused and often emotionally upset by their bodies not being able to do what they once did. They feel let down, out of control, disheartened, or have just resigned themselves to the fact that they are not the same. Often they feel unattractive and lack the confidence they once had to interact in the world.

I absolutely love working with women who think that this is the way it is for them from now on, then challenging their beliefs and helping them to uncover new possibilities, or at least a new understanding of what’s going on inside and leaving them feeling more empowered and in control of their bodies. I know that when a woman regains this control it impacts on every area of her life and she will often begin to re-discover her inner spark.

I see my role as an interpreter, a communicator and an adviser of new ways. I am a connector to the right person who might be able to help and a resource to fill in the gaps of ‘not knowing’ – because you don’t know what you don’t know.

In my next few blogs, I’ll be introducing you to some brave women who I have worked with who are currently on their own journeys to rebuilding their bodies, broadening their understanding, re-finding their strength and rediscovering their futures.

It’s not always easy explaining to someone who has been pushing themselves (and loves it!) that they might need to step back and re-evaluate their exercise routine, and introduce an assessment and rehab element. I’m also very aware that mum’s exercise for head space and emotional wellbeing, so asking someone to reduce the intensity of their exercise can be met, understandably, with some resistance.

Despite this initial resistance I stand strong in what I am here to do. It is my priority that women who have chosen the path of motherhood have the ability to exercise and push themselves in many aspects of their lives, for years to come. That they feel strong, confident and are equipped with the tools they need to properly re-build from the inside out to become stronger and fitter than they have ever been is my mission. While it can seem like you are back on track and a ‘super-fit-mum’, when you skip the re-building phase this can, in some cases, be short lived when injuries and contraindications, specifically related to the inner unit, arise.

I encourage you to read these posts, especially if you are a woman who is pushing through any postnatal ‘stuff’ that deep down you know ‘isn’t quite right’. Read and understand these journeys and think about how they might relate to your own journey or that of another mother close to you.

We’ll start with Cath. I began working with Cath some time ago now and immediately picked up on her abdominal separation. It was quite deep and although she had already been exercising to quite a high level in a ‘boot camp style’ situation, she lacked a lot of control and I wanted to help.

Stay tuned for Cath’s story in my next blog and have a think about your postnatal journey so far.

Education is Power

I believe that education is gold. I believe that no one should ever make your mind up for you, or force you to do something. But I do believe that when someone has education and experience in a particular area, they have a responsibility to share their knowledge with others, so that they may choose what is right for them.

I have long stood by the belief that every woman that ever has a baby has the right to all of the information and education she needs to make the best decisions for herself and her baby. It is with this conviction that I share these words with you today, that I know could make a difference in your life, and prevent pain down the track.

We have had many conversations about postnatal mums visiting a Women’s Health Physio (and we’ll surely have those again) but for today I want to talk about the pregnant women amongst us. I believe that every woman, both pregnant and postnatal, should visit a Women’s Health Physiotherapist so that they are properly informed about what is happening on the inside – around the things that we cannot see.

Let’s explore a real life example.

Meet Anna –

“I’m pregnant with my second baby and started training with Jen before Christmas. Her first piece of advice (and something I’ve heard her repeat many times to all her new members) was to see a Women’s Health Physio for a pelvic floor check.

After having a caesarean with my first baby, having no real pelvic floor issues, and life being generally busy with a toddler and work, I added it to my never ending “to do” list. It took me until February to finally follow Jen’s advice. By then I was 25 weeks pregnant and generally feeling great but starting to get a bit of pain in my lower back and one of my glutes.

I was really surprised when the physio discovered that one side of my pelvic floor was overactive. I couldn’t effectively release it on the left hand side, and the constant tension in the muscle was what was causing my back and glute pain.

After three weeks of physio and a whole lot of pelvic floor exercises, all the pain has gone and I am feeling great again. We still aren’t quite sure why it started in the first place and whether the pain will come back but now I know what to do and where to go for help if it does.

More significantly, it’s also given me something else to think about in making the decision as to whether to have another caesarean, or to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarian). I now know that an overactive pelvic floor can make a vaginal birth a whole lot harder. I’m still on the fence about what to do on that front but fortunately I have a bit more time to make that decision.”

So you see that through Anna visiting a Women’s Health Physiotherapist and having multiple conversations with myself, her physio and obstetric care giver, she now has more information – crucial knowledge – to make important decisions that could affect her birth and postnatal recovery outcomes. With this education, Anna knows this decision is so much more than just what she thinks she might like to do: try for a VBAC or opt for a second C-section.

Knowing she might run the risk of increased pelvic floor trauma in the process, and because she has already had a C –section, she might decide to go down that road again. With the great physio work Anna is now doing, the overactive side of her pelvic floor that needs to be able to release to help push her baby out may be released and then she can make an educated decision about the birth of her second baby.

Who knows?

There is no right or wrong in pregnancy, childbirth or life but I know that making sure you are well informed, educated, can make a really big difference in your experience.

As Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize laureate said, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating.”

When we Collaborate and Celebrate!

Often we focus so much attention on the stuff we need to do better, that we forget to celebrate the stuff that we do right. So today we celebrate. We celebrate those women who are under the pre and postnatal care of great Women’s Health Physiotherapists. We celebrate the obstetricians, midwives and GPs who ensure the women in their care are well informed about what may have happened to them during childbirth and help them to work out the most effective course of ongoing care and provide the best referrals.

And we celebrate the Fitness Professionals working in supporting roles to ensure women are well looked after and exercise is appropriately modified in their training environment, so that they have the opportunity to become stronger and fitter than they have ever been before.

What better way to celebrate than with the positive journey of a mum who currently exercises with us at Body Beyond Baby. I’m always excited when a woman comes to us well informed and has chosen to work with us because she knows that we can help to continue her care, working hand-in-hand with her other carers.

“I had a long, traumatic delivery with my son. After a very long labour, he became distressed so was delivered via forceps. Despite being given an episiotomy, I still suffered 3rd degree tearing and haemorrhaged, I felt pretty bloody awful after the whole thing. I had no idea whether my experience was normal or not, or that I was at risk of suffering so many injuries from childbirth!

Yet despite this, and a very painful first few weeks at home where I could not stand or walk for more than a few minutes without feeling like my insides were falling out, I eagerly looked forward to my ‘six-week all clear’ from my GP to get back to the gym. Now I know how crazy that early enthusiasm might have been.

At my 6-week check-up I was told by my GP that he suspected I had a mild prolapse and should get a check-up from a Women’s Health Physiotherapist before returning to exercise.

I had never heard of a Women’s Health Physio, prolapse or anything about pelvic floor health, other than doing my kegels as instructed during pregnancy. I am very lucky that my GP referred me at such an early stage as with the benefit of the knowledge I now have, I am horrified at what further damage I would have done to myself by launching straight back into my pre-baby exercise regime unchecked. My physio journey has been long and emotionally difficult but it has benefited me a lot. I have improved my prolapse from a Stage 2 to a Stage 1. Over the two years since I was diagnosed, I have gradually increased my exercise from simply walking to being able to run again. I train weekly with Body Beyond Baby and also have a modified weight lifting regime. I have completely fixed my abdominal separation through rehab and clinical pilates which I continue to do as ongoing rehab.

Sometimes what my body has been through still frustrates me but I know I would be in a much worse place now, both mentally and physically, without the help of my physio and trainers. I know I hated getting unsolicited advice when I was pregnant, but here it is ladies – stay informed and get a great Women’s Health Physio on your team.”

Lynne, mum of 1

In a further update Lynne had a check up with her Physio yesterday and is happy to report that her prolapse has stayed where it is and her pelvic floor strength has improved even though she has been doing more running and training the last couple of months – Woohoo!

So if you are already a mum and you are reading this and feel like something just isn’t right for you and you are not being looked after, please get in touch and I will help to put you in contact with one of our network of amazing Women’s Health Physios who can support you on your journey. And if you are pregnant then all power to you! You are now armed with information that you can use both during pregnancy and postnatally to ensure you are on track to recover quickly and effectively and with as much education as possible.

I really do believe that collaboration is key and through working together to support and educate, we can improve the experience of every single woman returning to exercise after she becomes a mother.

I thought I was Okay

When a woman first comes to see me, we talk through her medical questionnaire to find out a little about where she is at right now. Questions like: What kind of pregnancy did you experience? What was your birth like? Did you deliver vaginally or via c-section? Were you pushing for a long time? Was it an emergency or planned c-section? are really important to get to know what her body has been through and how to best work with her, moving forward.

For many women, being pregnant and giving birth is the bit they learn the most about. Most women keep themselves safe during pregnancy because they want to keep their baby safe. Most women don’t push their training too hard. They slow down when they feel they need to. They read books and search the internet, seek advice and ask questions.

But often once their baby is born, much of the research stops. They may have been told somewhere about their pelvic floor and maybe they do their exercises – or what they think the right exercises are (more on that later). They feel okay. They feel kinda back to normal. So they figure it’s okay to go back to what they were doing before they fell pregnant in a bid to re-discover their pre-baby body.***

But the truth is they may not actually be okay. I am going to talk specifically about pelvic floor.

Your pelvic floor is an internal muscle. As a personal trainer I can’t feel it. I can’t see it. I’m not qualified to do so. And I can’t tell you if it is working or not. No PT or pilates instructor, or yoga teacher, or ANY Fitness Professional can tell you that you are properly and effectively activating your pelvic floor – and that’s before we get into strength and endurance.

Did you know that 50% of women, when taught from a brochure or verbal instruction, do not do a ‘correct’ pelvic floor activation?

If a correct activation is a lift, then an incorrect one is a bearing down. And for some women this is exactly what they do. They mix up the movement pattern and push out through their pelvic floor. Imagine doing this 20, 30, 50 times a day. Not good. It has the potential to make a weak pelvic floor even weaker.

So when a woman comes to me, I recommend she sees a Women’s Health Physiotherapist for a proper examination. I let her know that I need to work with the physio to ensure she is properly looked after; that I need an eye on the inside so that I know the exercises I am giving her are not doing further damage, inside or out.

And if that doesn’t work, I let her know that symptoms may not show up now and I’d rather she wasn’t suffering incontinence in her mid 50’s or struggling when her insides become her outsides. Not the most subtle approach, but sometimes you just have to tell it like it is.

I have worked with many women who ‘thought’ they were okay; who having not gone to see a women’s physio might have pushed through into harder, more strenuous exercise without properly re-building from the inside out. Not because they were careless, but just because they didn’t know. You don’t know, what you don’t know and given pelvic floor weakness isn’t generally indicated by pain, and can often be non-symptomatic, then why would they think otherwise? Education is key.

I had a quick chat with one of the women that trains us at Body Beyond Baby and she offered to share her post baby story with you:

“I’d always been confident that I had a strong pelvic floor and before I fell pregnant with my first child, a women’s physiotherapist, who I’d seen for an unrelated pelvic issue, happily confirmed my assumption.

I started training with Jen when I was pregnant with my second child. I’d gained a huge amount of weight so after my daughter was born, I couldn’t wait to get back into running and strength training and rediscover my old body. Even though I’d had two vaginal deliveries, both labours had been relatively short and my pelvic floor had been stronger than average before I started having kids, so I was confident that all was well ‘down there’. I continued to brush off Jen’s encouragement to see a women’s physio until her encouragement became less gentle and more pointed.

I was shocked and dismayed to discover that things downstairs were no longer so great. I was activating my pelvic floor properly but strength-wise, it was just ‘ok’. My fascia were stretched, I had movement in the front and back wall of my uterus and I was at risk of bladder prolapse.

I felt frustrated having to return to walking, dropping the weights and so on but two years later I’m so pleased I did. Working slowly from the inside out has made me stronger than I was before. There’s still some minor movement through the front wall of my uterus but my pelvic floor is now a 5/5 and more than strong enough to counteract any risk from the stretched fascia. I’m running and back in the gym again and completely confident that my insides are going to stay where they belong!”

Emma Anderson, mum of two

I’ve worked with thousands of women over the years and not one of them has seen a physio, come back and said, “I wish I didn’t go.” If my words have peaked your interest even just a little then do yourself a favour, no matter how ‘old’ your baby is, go and get a check up and put your mind at rest.

***You will never, ever, have your pre-baby body again but what you do have is the potential for an even better and more awesome POST-baby body. And that’s cool! My post-baby body is so much more awesome and I give it so much more respect than I did before children. And if you commit to learning exactly what is going on, form the inside out, you have even more potential and are even less likely to be slowed down by injury or weakness down the track.

Getting to the ‘core’ of the Problem: Why the Language of Personal Training Needs to Change

A number of years ago, the fitness industry became obsessed with training the ‘core’, and to do this, apparently, you had to make the abs BURN! A traditional PT session wasn’t over until you’d given your clients a good ‘ab blast’ at the end, consisting of sit-ups and crunches, oblique crunches and a good, long plank hold. This new, trained ‘core’ would enable clients to ‘brace’, ‘tense’, turn their ‘abs on’ and lift heavier weights, not to mention giving them that flat stomach they always wanted….. or would it?

There should be, and is, another way – and here is why….

When you are told to ‘brace’, what do you do? If you think to yourself ‘Abs on’, what happens to your body? When you ‘tense’, what happens?

Try it.

The majority of us will move into some kind of breath holding, ab tightening, pushing out, bearing down, tensing, bracing, ‘hardening of the outer abdominal muscles’ pattern. For the most part, unless you have been educated otherwise, a bracing pattern such as this does not put you in a stronger position; it just puts you into a more rigid position. And as we know, over time, rigid things break.

When most people ‘brace’ and ‘tense’ and ‘tighten’ they are working only with the top layers of abdominal muscles, the rectus and obliques, (those muscles worked in the ‘ab blast’) and for the postnatal population, along with those in office jobs spent with tilted pelvis, rounded backs and hunched shoulders, this is ineffective in building true ‘core’ strength, or, strength from the inside out.

I believe we need to change the phrases we use from ‘brace’, ‘tense’, ‘abs on’, to ‘activate’, ‘engage’ and ‘have an awareness’ in conjunction with learning how to properly work our inner core: the pelvic floor and transversus abdominis (to keep it simple.) This is particularly relevant when working with pre and postnatal women. We need to ensure pre and postnatal women are working properly and efficiently from the inside out. We need to re-train muscles away from ineffective bracing and tensing patterns to ensure there is no bearing down through pelvic floor or pushing out through a weak abdominal wall.

We might also address what Antony Lo, The Physio Detective, describes as ‘tension to task’. Do you need to prepare your body to pick up a 3kg bag of shopping in the way you might prepare it for a 40kg deadlift?’ When asked in perspective like this, we might say ‘of course not’ but by using bracing cues in the gym, are we getting it all wrong out of the gym?

Many of the early pre and postnatal women I work with will need to use a pre-activation before lifting in or out of the gym. A well taught and cued pre-activation can enable the body to ‘remember’ that it needs to engage through pelvic floor and transversus abdominis as it moves into a specific movement pattern, thus helping to prevent bearing down, leaking and other pelvic floor symptoms. Some women will potentially need to work with their own pre-activation techniques for the rest of their lives, depending on what their body has been through pre-children, in pregnancy, birth and postnatally.

Every woman’s experience is different and through working with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist, we can ensure each woman is looked after to the best of our combined ability.

But what about the BURN?

Beginning with the basics, when most people do a sit-up or a crunch they are lying on their back, with hands clamped tightly behind their neck while they go hell for leather up and down, up and down. The rectus abdominis is working overtime, the neck is being wrenched, the lumbar spine is doing who knows what and if they are postnatal or have a weak pelvic floor, the intra-abdominal pressure created in their abdomen isn’t doing them any favours. Also, the BURN doesn’t target those crucial inner core muscles. To top it off, from an aesthetic perspective, this movement is doing nothing for the flat stomach they hope they will get.

Specifically, from a postnatal perspective, I know more and more that sit-ups are not THE most detrimental activity a woman could be doing however it’s certainly not the most effective, is rarely done well and could be doing her harm, so for this reason I stand behind my decision to never prescribe a sit-up to any of my clients again.

What do you consider to be your core? What cues do you use? Do you feel like you could use better training and terminology around this topic? How can we train the inner core more effectively and banish the BURN for good?

I’d love to hear your perspective and I’ll be weighing in with my ideas around more effective cueing and ‘core activations’ in the coming weeks.

Help bring Sarah’s children home

There is saying “respond to every call that excites your soul”. I’ve re-phrased that in life to “respond to every call that touches your soul”, it’s a personal philosophy that I live by. I can feel in my whole body when I have to respond to something, my heart aches, my stomach flips, my body tingles and there’s something inside me that just doesn’t let it rest. To do nothing would be to betray my own intuition.

This is one of those times; and as you read on I know you will understand. For those of you that are mothers with children of your own, fathers that know how much your babies need their mum and for each and everyone of you that has felt the love of your own mother this is a moment that will be hard fetched to not touch you and make you want to act.

family 3I’d like to introduce you to Sarah, an ordinary woman and mother just like you and I. But for whom life has delivered a distressing turn. I first met Sarah in 2012 when she became part of our Body Beyond Baby community. Living mostly on her own due to her husband being away in the army she always wowed and inspired me to her dedication to both looking after herself and her babies. Many a Saturday morning she would amaze everyone else by turning up single-handedly with three children that would sit, play, so well behaved and contented for the hour that we trained.

Sadly, war took its toll on her husband’s mind and body. Despite huge effort, support and forgiveness on her part she was finally faced with the end of their marriage when he notified her via email in 2015.

The babies love their father and as such she endeavored to keep their relationship with him strong despite him returning to the UK to be with his family.

She took the children to visit and allowed them to be unsupervised by her in order to participate in their father’s family events, trusting he would bring them back as planned before the Australian school year started in January 2016. They are gorgeous little Aussies who, until now, only knew life with their mum. They love the beach, their friends and their school and were looking forward to spending time with their Dad and then coming home to the life they knew.

Sadly and terrifyingly he did the unthinkable. He has retained them without her consent. She now faces a long and frightening fight via The Hague International Criminal Court pressing charges of illegal retention of her children.

As you can imagine Sarah is devastated by what is happening to her and needs our help. I’ve spent time with her over the last couple of weeks talking about how best we can help. Sarah has a good job within the Army and is extremely grateful for their ongoing support. She has worked hard over the past few years to complete her masters and build a secure future for her children as a single mum. She is not on the breadline which in many ways makes this situation harder, but, as many of us know, raising a family is expensive and although she can support her family there are no reserves. The little savings she had are gone, funds raised through the sale of her car are low and there are many more costs yet to come to help to bring her babies back to Australia.

We spoke in depth and one of the main things that is apparent, aside from being heart-broken is her uneasiness with asking for financial help. But, there are some times in life where pride has to take a back seat and we have to accept whatever we can. This is one of those times and as a community I believe we can pull together to offer support at this time with the upmost love and respect for Sarah and her family.

Here are some words from Sarah about each of her children and what this is like for her:

Sarah and Wlbur

Wilbur, nine….. is my little man with heart the size of a planet. He is kind, generous, a wonderful big brother, super clever and such a goofball. He loves Science and Art in equal measure and doesn’t discriminate, seeing the beauty in biology and the structure of creativity. He once declared he was going to be marine biologist who face paints on his lunch breaks and teaches clowning on weekends. I miss his exuberance every day. He’s my whirlwind of love always bouncing around and beaming with happiness. You can’t help but smile when Wilbs is in the room.


Archer, five… my quiet, sensitive little soul who likes to give ‘whole body hugs’ and holds you so long you actually remember what a hug should be – a connection. He lives for his Lego! He calls his figures ‘my guys’ and falls asleep with them clenched in his little fists. Of all my children, Archer is the one who sits still and can just be. He’s my little Buddha of contentment and requires only a tub of Lego, a carrot and happy mummy cuddling him and his life is complete. He sighs with satisfaction and giggles out loud with love.

Sarah and TabithaTabitha, four……is my cheeky little miss, determined to take the world by storm (and paint it pink with sparkles in the process!) A force of nature her energy is like her ringlets – springing out of her at all angles and uncontrollable! She makes my heart ache every time she calls me mama and I can’t bear that I don’t get to tuck her in at night and sing our song about butterflies. When she is sleeping is the only time she is still and her lashes rest on her checks like butterfly wings.

Me…….I live for my babies. Everything I do and every moment since they were born has been about them. They are my heart and my soul. Being without them these past few months has felt like I’ve had my heart removed. For 9 years I’ve been a mummy. I can’t really remember what I did with myself before my babies. They are the reason I smile, the reason my heart is full of love, the reason our house is a home and the inspiration for me to get up and do what I do every day.

When I found out their Dad wasn’t going to return them to me as we had always agreed, I collapsed. My body couldn’t hold me up anymore.  It felt like my heart stopped and I couldn’t breathe. I have been living every day in a state of disbelief and shock. Whenever the reality of my current situation strikes it feels like I’ve been punched in the gut and i have to stop and catch my breath. Everything is wrong in my life without my babies skipping and cartwheeling along beside me sticky and grinning with love.

I am fighting with everything I have and every ounce of my being to get them back. They don’t understand what is happening and ask me ‘how many days till we have you mummy?’ whenever I speak to them. I have no answer for them. I have no way to ease their confusion or pain because I feel the same way and there are no words to make this better. To make it ok. No way to make this make sense.

I have always promised that I would be there for them no matter what. That mummy will always tell them the truth and that they can ask me everything and anything without fear or judgment. Now I have the horrendous and heart-wrenching task of having to tell them what no one wants to hear ‘I don’t know sweetheart’.

Family 2Their emotional well-being and stability has always been my priority. Through an extremely turbulent three years dealing with the impact of their fathers mental illness in our lives I have sheltered them from the worst. Even now, when I loathe the actions of their father I continue to shelter them. I continue to put them first. They love their daddy. He loves them. I don’t condone what he has done but I won’t ruin my relationship with my children by putting them in the middle of this distressing and bewildering battle. For now I have to settle with telling them I love them with my whole heart. That I love them to the moon and back. To Australia and back. That they are the stars in my sky and sun in my day and when I see them in June I will hug them until my heart stops hurting.

If you are reading this and like me, had tears streaming down your face and an ache in your heart please do what you can to help. We would love for you to share this post on whatever social media channels you use, to email to a friend or share a comment below to offer Sarah your love and support.

One of Sarah’s beautiful friends set up a go-fund me page that we have recently updated to give a big picture outline of what she is facing from a financial sense. The number is big, but the main thing we would love for you to know is that ANY amount you can spare is hugely appreciated – if it’s $3 instead of your morning coffee or and extra $15 thinking of Sarah’s kids when you take your own to the movies that you feel you are able to give it means the world.’

You can find the go-fund-me page here

Sarah will also be in need of family law help once she is fighting the custody case (hopefully) here in Australia – if this is something you can help with on a professional level please contact me and I can put you in touch.

If you have any other ways in which you would like to offer support please also feel free to be in touch.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for taking the time to read. There are many messages that we could put out into the world around this situation but what we choose is a banding together to help someone other than ourselves. To show that when we all come together we can really make a difference and to do this with respect for everyone involved.

Do you have Abdominal Separation? How-to-check

We talked in our last article about what abdominal separation is. Now we go a little further and take a look at how you can do a little check for yourself to see if you have any separation or not. Do keep in mind not to ‘diagnose’ anything for yourself, however, this will give you a good guide as to what you might be experiencing post-baby. The very best way for you to know where you are at would be to make an appointment with an experienced Women’s Health Physio for assessment and guidance.

Here is a step-by-step guide to checking yourself for abdominal separation:

  • Lie down on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulders relaxed
  • Place two fingers just below your belly button
  • Slowly roll your shoulders off the floor into a mini sit-up (avoid over tensing your tummy muscles)
  • Using your two fingers feel the gap between your two rectus abdominus
  • Measure the gap below your belly button then repeat above and up to your rib cage
  • You should also feel for the floor in your separation, as depth is as important as width.
  • If there is no floor or it is very spongy and deep (sometimes you can feel right down to your organs), it may be more severe than if you can feel separation but there is no depth at all i.e. your abdominal wall is right there, strong despite any gap.

You can also visit my YouTube channel for my how-to guide to check your own abdominal separation.

When you decide to embark upon a fitness routine yourself it is important that you know if you have any separation, although having said that I believe that whether you have any or not you should begin by re-building from the inside out.

We check all of our new mums for separation in all of our classes and also monitor your progress. If you would like to find out more about how you might work with us or if you have any questions or feedback please send us an email and mention this article.


What is Abdominal Separation?

You may or may not have heard of abdominal separation and you may or may not have been assessed for separation before you left the hospital or at your six week check-up after you had your baby. You may be told your separation is normal and will heal automatically. However, anecdotal evidence shows us that is often not the case. Addressing your separation with an individualised exercise program, with or without some compression binding, as soon as possible is crucial to the healing of the separation.

Abdominal separation occurs when the connective tissue, the linea alba, running down the middle of your abdominal wall, that joins all of the abdominal wall muscles starts to tear. The two sides of your rectus abdominus are forced apart due to their inability to stretch anymore and provide any more space for your growing baby. When this happens, the area of connective tissue will then start to give and separate, allowing your baby more room to grow.

Some women have very little or no abdominal separation at all. It is very normal to have around two fingers of separation, and in more severe cases I have seen four fingers and more. We also now know that it is important to assess both the depth as well as the width of separation – when the separation is deep and you can feel no floor to your abdominals you are at a higher risk of a herniation of your organs through your abdominal wall.

Whether you have abdominal separation or not you are ‘normal’, the problem being that normal in the postnatal stage is not the same as ‘normal pre-pregnancy’ and many women can do themselves damage by simply returning to their previous exercise routine because they don’t know any different. This is not wrong as you don’t know what you don’t know but taking the time to learn about what things you need to do differently for a while will, in my opinion set you on track to do all of those ‘normal’ things you used to do prior to becoming a mum.

Our Body Beyond Baby training sessions teach about abdominal separation and also check to see if you have any. Click here to find out more about our current sessions or here to register your interest in us coming to Sydney’s North Shore.

We are Supporting The Beauty Bank

Spring time = Spring clean out!

Body Beyond Baby are supporting The Beauty Bank and they need your help!

The Beauty Bank are a group that provides women (and men) in need with the little luxuries in life that most of us take for granted. They are looking for donations of lotions and potions such as shampoo, conditioner, body washes, razors, tooth paste, tooth brushes, facial care products, pocket tissues, sanitary items, deodorants, candles, anything that would help someone feel a little special about themselves when in a position of need or distress.

If you are anything like us at Body Beyond Baby, our bathroom cabinets are full of unused gift packs, body lotions, hair conditioners and everything inbetween. We would love to help Jen at Beauty Bank out on her mission to help those in their time of need.

Where: Please bring anything you have of the above list to one of our classes. Alternativively, PM us and we will send you a mailing address.

Jen Armstrong the founder of The Beauty Bank’s Story:

“The whole idea of The Beauty Bank came from me receiving an anonymous gift of ‘fancy’ body wash three Christmas’s ago. I had just left my violent husband with nothing but my ten month old daughter, very few possessions and I was six months pregnant.

I was scared, broke and didn’t know where I was going to live or how I was going to cope. It may sound silly but that body wash made me feel appreciated and luxurious and gave me strength when I felt like giving up.

Three and a half years later I have two beautiful children, have two TAFE diplomas and one year from completing my University degree with great marks and am part of the Advanced Business Leadership program at UWS.

It’s still a tough road ahead but my children and I are safe and it had a lot to do with random people donating something that to most of us would seem inconsequential.”

Jen has been on an incredible journey and we would love to help replenish her ‘stock’ as the need for her wonderful gift bags is ever increasing in Sydney and Australia.

To find out more visit

Have a read of just how inspiring Jen Armstrong is: Project Healthy Happy Me