When author Molly Caro May's first daughter was born, her world widened – as it does for all new parents – but it also deepened emotionally and physically. She experienced pelvic floor prolapse (a condition in which a weakened pelvic floor cannot support internal organs), incontinence, and postpartum rage.
Like almost all women, she didn't expect any of these. And she fought to heal herself and her body through medical treatment, exercise – and writing. Body Full of Stars: Female Rage and My Passage Into Motherhood is the story of her healing, a story of mothers and daughters, a story of how couples navigate the postpartum period (or don't), and a story of the power and wise engineering of the female body. She wrote the book not only for herself, but also for other parents, so they don't feel alone in what can be such an isolating time. We talked with May about her journey to health.
KR: What is your book about?
MCM: It's a story of healing and shock. I had a very empowering birth that was followed by all sorts of complications – thyroid disease, incontinence, and pelvic floor prolapse. I was in shock and grief about all of that. I didn't know these things could happen to my body. And with that came a lot of anger and rage – often misdirected at my husband – and this general feeling of being out of control. So it was a story of trying to figure out where all that came from and how to heal it.
KR: Why did you write it?
MCM: I wrote it because I had to. I'm a writer and a storyteller, and I try to make meaning of what is happening in my life. It was my healing process. But as I began to write it, I had a very keen awareness of a chorus of women out there in the world who need this story because it's a story about postpartum anger. I think there's a lot of stigma around it. We don't talk about the angry woman. We don't talk about the angry mother. Those two words don't go together. I knew I was writing this for other women.
KR: What did postpartum rage feel like for you?
I realized it was a problem at exactly three months postpartum. I got my period and the days before that I had this overwhelming desire to destroy everything. I wanted to destroy the food on my plate. I wanted to destroy my marriage. I wanted to rip the grass out of the earth and throw it. It was this primal urge in my body.
There was also a lot of grief – a sense that my body had betrayed me, a constant worry that my mood was affecting my daughter, a loss of connection in my marriage. The way I express grief is to get irritated. What I experienced didn't look like being curled up on the couch and crying all the time. Sometimes it did. But most of the time it looked like being mad.
KR: What was the connection between your pelvic floor problems and your postpartum rage?
MCM: I came out of that birth experience, and I looked around and thought I cannot believe that women shoulder all of this and men don't. Many times, I would go on a hike and return to my car covered in urine. I was enraged that this happens, and that it happens to women and not to men. For moms that have given birth [vaginally], I think around 1 in 3 women have some sort of prolapse or pelvic dysfunction. That's pretty high, and it's not discussed. Modern society is really disconnected from the pelvic floor. Very few women know anything about it, and that's not their fault. It's the fault of the system. And I hope one of the big messages that the book gets out there is the importance of talking about pelvic floor health.
KR: What did you do to treat your prolapse and postpartum rage?
MCM: I did a lot of internal pelvic floor work with a physical therapist, who gave me some exercises to do. In the beginning, I was so upset and felt so betrayed by my body that I would go in fits and starts. I would do [the exercises] for two weeks and then stop because I was so exhausted. As a new mom, often what gets left behind is the self-care piece. When I weaned my daughter, I had more energy and started doing my exercises more regularly and learned about posture and the importance of moving and not sitting all day. It was (and still is) this whole education on how to be in my body.
Healing my pelvic floor made me feel capable again. Suddenly I could go shopping for groceries and lug my daughter along, and it seemed so much easier. I didn't have to worry about urine overflowing my pad and didn't have that heavy debilitating feeling of prolapse. I recently had a second baby, so I'm back in a healing process, but at least I know what's possible. The body does move toward health. I also had my thyroid tested, which helped with fatigue and mood, and I changed my diet pretty dramatically, replacing sugar with healthy animal protein.
KR: When did you start feeling better?
MCM: When my daughter was 2. I weaned her at 18 months, and that changed everything. I know a lot of women have mood trouble with weaning, and I had a dip in my mood for a week. But then I felt like myself for the first time since my pregnancy.
I think the pelvic floor is a power center – the source of a lot of creativity for women. It may sound way out there, but if the pelvic floor is damaged or ignored, we are not in our full selves. Not that long ago I was running next to my daughter, and she said to me, "You're running! I didn't know you could run!" My daughter had never seen me run because I hadn't been able to.
KR: What are you hoping readers will get from your book?
MCM: I want to normalize anger in the perinatal mood disorder landscape and have the shame removed from that. And I want to invite all women back to the instrument of their body and the tending of their body. Part of what I have taken away from it is that it's not just a quick therapeutic recovery. It's like, "Hello, welcome to your pelvic floor! You're going to be an 80-year-old woman one day, so you have to take care of this!" That is exciting to me.