Share MayFlowers to Support Women’s Pelvic and Perinatal Health

mayflowersWhy Share MayFlowers? A few words from Founder Jessica McKinney, PT, MS:

May is a month of new beginnings and blooming flowers. A day and a week are already set aside in May to honor mothers and to promote women’s health, respectively. Good stuff, to be sure. But not enough. We want the whole month. Let’s elevate conversation and action with regard to female pelvic and perinatal health all month long!

I am a woman. And I love being a woman. I love girly things, like miniskirts and painted nails. I love the challenge that childbearing and breastfeeding brought to my body and spirit. I love my “women’s intuition,” well known as a phrase only because it actually does exist. I love being part of a deep sisterhood that is without words; that lets me look in the eyes of a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo, hold hands with her, share a smile and know that we share a connection as women that doesn’t need me to speak Swahili or her to speak English (or ask for help from our male interpreter!).

Women are beautiful and complex and strong, and profoundly amazing. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by many people who share that sentiment and strong enough not to be brought down by those who don’t. Women can be sensual, tough as nails, tender and resilient all at the same time. And yet woman, upon woman, upon woman embodies resiliency to a fault by putting the needs of others before her own—to the detriment of her own health. Despite pelvic pain that renders sex un-enjoyable for her she is “tough as nails” and continues for the sake of her partner “because it’s not fair to him to not have sex, so I just bite my lip, suck it up, and get through it.” Ponder what something like this, or ongoing urine leakage, does to a woman’s connectedness to her inherent sensuality. So what is Share MayFlowers? Hang with me…I promise I’ll bring it around.

I love women that are strong. One example is the recently departed and deeply missed Lyn Lusi, who together with her husband Dr. Jo Lusi, a Congolese orthopedic surgeon, founded Heal Africa in Goma, DR Congo. She committed her adult life to her family and the development of an amazing place that is more than just a hospital. It is hope and help and stability for people in DR Congo, where war and insecurity and violence have been a way of life for far too long. For women in particular, it meets unique and sometimes devastating needs for physical, social, emotional and spiritual healing.

In an entirely different way, strong is also Brittany Howard of the band Alabama Shakes, whose authentic and visceral stage presence positively killed it at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston last month. I don’t have many conventional hobbies, but good music—particularly good live music—is a part of what keeps me in balance (or some semblance of it!) with life as a mother, healthcare provider, wife, etc. Given my love affair with both women and music, seeing Brittany own her rock star status was monumental. Don’t just take my word for it. My 61-year-old mother went as my last minute date to the show and raved about how captivating and empowering it was to see a strong woman bringing everything she has and “rocking out” (Mom’s words!). I can’t sing OR play guitar, but when I grow up I still want to be Brittany—or Susan Tedeschi, another female inspiration, true to her passions of motherhood, marriage and downright BRINGING IT with her soulful vocals and guitar, all while in a fabulous dress!

So Share MayFlowers is for women who are strong and who are looking for strength, for women who are inspirational and looking for inspiration, women who can rock out and those who still want to be rock stars when they grow up! Because despite the advances in women’s health in our country (kudos to pink ribbons!) and TV and radio segments about painful sex on WBUR and pelvic organ prolapse on Dr. Oz (on which I have to completely agree with my colleague, Julie Wiebe, PT) too many people still squirm at the mention of female genitalia and too many women wait too many years before seeking care for pelvic health issues such as urinary incontinence and pelvic pain. There is no reason for us not to move toward open, engaging and meaningful discussions about female pelvic and perinatal health (perinatal = preconception, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum). We may need to first collectively learn how to have these conversations—yes Virginia, you do have muscles down there. And it’s not un-ladylike to talk about them or want to know how they work! Share MayFlowers is here to help us all find our voices and to be a platform for advocacy, education, and connecting the general public, the media, and healthcare providers to each other and to the many organizations that have tirelessly been working in one meaningful way after another to promote issues related to female pelvic and perinatal health.

It takes a lot of self-assurance for a celebrity to admit to having urinary incontinence and be willing to be the face for protective garments. Why should it end there? Can we get a celebrity to talk about perineal trauma during childbirth? Or dealing with painful sex? Or how they had urinary incontinence and sought treatment to eliminate the leakage, not just a palliative measure to keep their clothes dry? Or instead, can we give all the credit and praise afforded to celebrities in our country to the “everyday” women who are pursuing this level of openness and striving for better care for themselves? These are the women who inspired me to add this new adventure to my already teeming aspirations and schedule. The women who come into our clinics wondering where this information was when they had their injury/symptoms/baby—wondering what can be done to change things for their friends, their daughters, for every other woman. Wondering why they spent months or years (decades) thinking it was their fault, that it was a normal consequence of aging or childbirth, or that there was nothing to help them.

Why do we feel so passionately that female pelvic and perinatal health—yes the “down there” kind of health—deserves at least a month of focused attention annually? Consider these statistics:

  • Nearly 80% of women in the US have at least one pregnancy resulting in childbirth in their lifetime.
  • Pregnancy/childbirth is the single greatest factor in lifetime risk of developing urinary incontinence, and developing urinary incontinence for the first time while pregnant is the single greatest predictor in ongoing postpartum urinary incontinence. (For the record, ANY amount of urine leakage counts with any activity—from a trickle to a few drops to a gush!)
  • Urinary incontinence affects 13 million Americans, 85% of whom are women and it is estimated that 50% of women will have urinary incontinence at some point in their lifetime.
  • Chronic pelvic pain disproportionately affects women 4:1 with research indicating that its prevalence is on par with that of chronic lower back pain and asthma.

I’m not just a hammer wearing my nail-goggles. These are real statistics. And real statistics come from real people—women just like you and the people you love. Please consider them as you take in my explanation of why this cause is so significant for all of us.

Lastly, consider why women are expected to travel through the natural, wondrous, but monumentally physical experience of pregnancy and childbirth without really getting guidance on how to get their bodies put back together and on the right track postpartum. And yet someone sprains an ankle and often without question heads straight for physical therapy. I’m just sayin’…

So are you ready to start wearing and sharing some flowers?

sharemayflowerslogoFacts about Share MayFlowers:

  • The Share MayFlowers flowers come to us via Original Women. They are handmade from cornhusks by a collaborative of female artisans in Honduras. Buying/wearing them supports SMF’s efforts to help women, provides steady income to women abroad, and they’re pretty. Win-win-win.
  • This is our launch year. With limited time (a few months), even more limited funding (you don’t want to know!), and a whole lot of enthusiastic help (thanks especially to Marathon PT!) we decided to go for it instead of waiting to have more proverbial ducks in a row for 2013. Please forgive us when our ducks get unruly and please stick around to see them grow up (in 2013, 2014, 2015…)!
  • All funds go to supporting SMF and what it’s all about. Period.
  • Have funds to donate or want to hop aboard our train and help sponsor this ambitious endeavor? Contribute directly via WAI to have your contribution be tax deductible or write to us at info@sharemayflowers.org.
  • What is WAI? Originally founded to advocate for postpartum physical wellness, The Women’s ACTION Initiative (a 501c3 non-profit) is expanding its focus to all of female pelvic and perinatal health and is adopting Share MayFlowers as its flagship project! See bullet #2…we’re still working out some of the details and interfaces and what-not, but this means that any contribution you want to make now can be fully tax deductible by donating to WAI with “Share MayFlowers” in the memo. This is a great thing for us moving ahead!
  • Want to get involved?
    • Buy flowers
    • Tell people about SMF – everyone who you think may be interested (and then a few who you think may not be, b/c you never know…)
    • Stay in touch with us via Twitter, Facebook, or email. We may not be able to assign your position yet, but we want to know you’re on the team! Send us your suggestions for next year – content, events, features, etc. This year is only the start!

About Jessica McKinney, PT MS

Jessica McKinney, PT, MS is a co-founder of Marathon Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, LLC and serves as Director of The Center for Women’s Health at Marathon, which provides multidisciplinary care for pelvic floor dysfunction, perinatal education and rehabilitation, as well as rehabilitation, mental health, education and physical wellness initiatives throughout the female lifespan. In addition to her career in physical therapy, Jessica has long been involved in women’s health promotion through various activities and international service projects. Since 2009 she has been a partner with the hospital HEAL Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo) in the development of skills and resources for providing pelvic floor rehabilitation to women recovering from obstetric and/or traumatic fistula. She regularly speaks to healthcare providers, graduate students, and the community on matters regarding pelvic floor and obstetric physical therapy and women’s health matters and has worked with physical therapy students at Boston University on several women’s health related projects since 2006. Jessica is a candidate in the Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy (DSc) program at Andrews University and is author of the chapter “Physical Therapy and Pelvic Pain” in the textbook, Pain in Women (2012, Springer Publishing). She has been an active board member of the Women’s ACTION Initiative (WAI) since 2010, a non-profit dedicated to perinatal physical wellness, and she became WAI’s Executive Director in January 2012. She is a mother of three children, ages 7, 4, and 1.

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