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Emma Barnett: 'I have a hypertonic pelvic floor'

Having a hypertonic pelvic floor is 'one of the most upsetting things I’ve ever been through', says Emma Barnett. It’s the first time the award-winning broadcaster and journalist has spoken out about a condition that most of us have never heard of as well as the physiotherapy she ended up having:

I’m getting quite emotional even thinking back to this because I was lying on the table and it was the first time I’d been apart from my son for a long period of time. I don’t know if it was because it was to do with him and his birth but I thought, "am I ever going to be normal again?"
Broadcaster, journalist and author Emma Barnett

A hypertonic pelvic floor is where the muscles are so tight they can’t relax. It can happen after childbirth. It can be incredibly painful. And we can add it to a long list of pelvic floor problems we rarely talk about and really should.

We’re recording episode 1 of the second series of the Why Mums Don’t Jump podcast and it’s clear that discussing gynae issues has never phased Emma. 'I think I’ve been a defiant girl into a woman about that stuff!' Emma regularly speaks openly about living with endometriosis and presents Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. When a politician once asked her which 'period' her new book was about she replied 'the one in my pants!'

But a tight pelvic floor? She’d just never come across it:

It’s like the first thing about your 'Ruined Pelvic Club' is not to talk about your ruined pelvic floor!

It's painful, very painful. And she tells me it came to a head 3 months after her son was born, in the run-up to a big political interview:

I was trying to get my head around some quite complicated things. And all I could think about was my bloody pelvic floor! And I said to myself, if I get through the next 24 hours work-wise, I will make myself a promise that I will see somebody about this!

Pelvic physiotherapy has helped. Again, something most of us have never heard about until we end up there at our wits’ end. Unlike in France, where 10 sessions of postnatal rééducation is readily available to every woman and reimbursed by the state. Why can’t we have that here in the UK? It would avoid a lot of distress and arguably prevent medical intervention down the line. Something to think about perhaps?

Emma is hoping that speaking out in this way about a hypertonic pelvic floor will help others to recognise it in themselves and to seek help.

I hope so too.

You can find Emma's book It's About Bloody Time. Period. here

If you’re in the UK and seeking help, your first port of call would be your GP who can refer you for physio and/or to a urogynaecologist if necessary. Or you could seek out a private physio (look for pelvic health or women’s health). There’s a directory here.

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Links & resources

I've found it hard to find much in the way of support for people with pelvic floor dysfunction. Here are a few links I've pulled together.

The doodles

Cat Pearson is a doodler, designer and mum based in east London. After crying and laughing her way through Series One, Cat hooked up with Helen to help her bring more positive and honest stories to life through illustration.