Below your Belt — A Book on Pelvic Health for Girls
Supporting the health of your pelvis can’t start too soon. This book teaches girls how.
When Missy Lavender founded the Women’s Health Foundation (WHF) in 2004, she focused on women at two specific stages of life — the childbearing years and menopause — common times for some women to develop incontinence, pelvic pain, pain during sex and other uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing conditions. Recently, WHF has shifted their focus to girls ages 10–14, who are at the perfect age to develop healthy habits that may prevent pelvic problems later on. Lavender’s new book, Below Your Belt — How To Be The Queen of Your Pelvic Region (Women’s Health Foundation, Oct. 2015), was co-written with Jeni Donatelli Ihm to help girls understand their bodies and how to promote their own pelvic health.
WHF’s mission to improve women’s pelvic health began with Lavender’s own difficult birth experience 16 years ago.
Lavender says, “Babies take souvenirs’ and my son took quite a few. His rough delivery set me up to be the perfect urogynecology patient. That’s a doctor who takes care of women’s pelvic medicine. That doctor told me I looked like half of her patients — older moms, big babies, long second stage of labor, forceps, episiotomy, voila! I didn’t know anything about pelvic health before being diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence and sexual health issues. I was four months post-partum and still wearing those massive pads they send you home from the hospital with. I was a train wreck.”
Lavender’s instant pelvic health education inspired her to create pathways for other women to access appropriate healthcare quickly.
“Too many women live with these problems because they don’t know prevention is possible or that help’s available.”
She gathered a team of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, fitness professionals and researchers and started putting the building blocks in place for women to overhaul their pelvic health.
“Word got around quickly and one day, the executive director of a Denver YMCA called and said, ‘we have a problem. The hallway between the ladies’ locker room and our pool always smells like urine. Would you create a program for us?’ That’s when we created our signature program, which we call Total Control. We also initiated a research study and published its results in the Green Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. We showed that with the right total body and pelvic floor exercises plus education, women see significant improvement in their bladder symptoms. That was new information for the field of pelvic health.”
WHF then created a program for senior women (average age 80) and Lavender says, “These women compelled us to create something for girls. For most women, the last time they were taught anything about what’s going on in the bathroom or below the belt is when they’re three. Then, it’s all about getting out of diapers and into big girl panties. They might get more information about their periods, but when we started doing research, we realized how little girls really knew. So, we created another study and educational program for girls in school settings. The results were fascinating. These were urban girls who, let’s just say, had some experience below the belt. At the same time, they had no idea why they were having periods. Only one of the schools we visited had a health program. Those girls could name their reproductive parts, but none of the girls at the other schools could. They had no idea where the bladder was, where urine was stored or where it came out. They knew nothing about hygiene. They were taking their very limited knowledge and putting it together with their friends’ limited knowledge to create what they thought was the whole truth. Some of these girls already had symptoms we generally associate with older women, like stress incontinence (leaking urine with activity), chronic constipation, and pelvic pain. We knew we had to do something for our girls.”
WHF’s research was published in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology on the value of pelvic health curriculums for adolescent girls. At the same time, they started creating the book, Below Your Belt.” It covers everything from periods, pads and tampons to bladder health, pelvic floor muscles and fitness, hygiene, women’s health history and more.
Lavender shares, “We want girls to own what we see as their center of all centers. It’s where your top meets your bottom. It’s your reproductive center, sexual center, digestive center, elimination center and your creativity center where your first and second chakras are located. That’s five centers in one.”