Pelvic floor problems are not glamorous. Most people squirm at the mention of bladder or bowel disorders. For new mums, it can often feel like no one wants to know about your intimate postnatal problems, especially in places like the office. It’s the kind of chat that’s guaranteed to make a few people blush.
I’ll confess, I was one of those squirmers too. But after two years of living with a painful pelvic floor prolapse after having my first baby I got fed up with all the secrecy and shame that shrouds pelvic floor health. Which is why I jumped at an opportunity to work with the former BBC producer Helen Ledwick to design a new brand for her kick-ass podcast ‘Why Mum’s Don’t Jump’, with a hope that through the power of storytelling and brand we can help to bust one of society’s most stubborn remaining taboos.
Why aren’t we talking about it more?
Before I had my first baby I was completely unaware of just how many women have pelvic floor problems. But 3 months after giving birth I had an anterior uterine prolapse. “A prolapsed what?!” I hear you say. Well, my uterus slipped out of place, leaving me with a constantly aching, uncomfortable pelvic floor and unable to run, jump or lift anything heavy (an impossible challenge when you have a toddler) without real fear of my organs falling further out!
“Don’t worry, it’s really common” said my physiotherapist, unhelpfully I thought. She was right though. I started opening up to other Mums and it turned out I was definitely not alone. Did you know that 1 in 3 women* have a pelvic floor problem? That’s crazy, right? Why aren’t we talking about it more?!
I stumbled across Helen’s podcast ‘Why Mums Don’t Jump’ in a local parents group. It’s a rich collection of women’s personal stories and conversations with experts covering a range of challenging pelvic floor topics, all told with humor and a refreshing sense of blunt honesty. It’s an incredible resource for support and education in a space that is sorely lacking.
I laughed and I cried while I listened to the pod, and then I got very ANGRY about how much stigma there is around what can happen to your pelvic floor after giving birth. Prolapse, incontinence and pelvic pain are a silent epidemic, affecting not just postnatal Mums, but women and men of all ages and life stage. They are problems that still lurk in the shadows and are often depicted as deeply private, disempowering and just downright unsexy.
Creating a brand to disrupt expectations
When I met Helen her first series was already gathering steam but she needed help to build out the brand. That’s where I came in. As a designer, I’ve always been fascinated by the power that brands have to shift and change perceptions, but this was more than your average brand challenge.
The power and psychology of association is strong. And our associations with pelvic floor problems are especially smelly and stubborn. They tend to evoke our fears of old age and the smell of disinfectant. This was a unique opportunity to disrupt audience expectations and create a brand that could bring something positive and fresh to the space.
Early in the process I ran a brand discovery workshop with Helen where we did some silly warm-up brand association exercises together. We quickly established that the spirit animal of the new brand was a tiger, its favorite tunes were disco and its regular tipple was something bubbly. Soon the brand was on a whole new trajectory and we had a clear shared vision.
After exploring a number of possible directions we settled on a bold and outspoken typeface and an unashamedly girly color palette, but with a touch of rebellion. One quick look at a photo library search told us that for imagery, we were going to need to do something completely different to do these women’s stories justice. Illustration was the obvious route. This was a pro-bono side hustle and time wasn’t on my side, so I adopted a light, stylised line-drawing approach. Illustration let us bring some pretty sensitive stuff to life in a playful way and there was no shortage of great subject matter.
Stop squirming and start a conversation
Thankfully these days, with the help of some excellent physiotherapists, I’m back in good shape and feeling stronger both mentally and physically than I ever have before. I’ve been seriously lucky to have hugely supportive family, friends and colleagues to lean on during the recovery process. Season two of the podcast is well underway, with new stories from women of all walks of life - from Radio 4’s Emma Barnet talking about her hypertonic pelvic floor, to fiesty old crones like Jan telling us about living life to the full and how to embrace the glamour of ballroom dancing with a prolapse.
You can check it out on www.whymumsdontjump.com and help to spread the word by sharing it with anyone you know who might find it helpful.
And if you are the 1 in 3, that person who suffers quietly with a pelvic floor problem… take a leap of trust. Open up and start some grizzly, honest pelvic health conversations with a friend or family member you’ve been holding back on.
No one should have to feel unsupported dealing with any health problem, even the ones that are most difficult to talk about. You will be amazed at the support you’ll find and can give to others when you speak out.