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No idea: Zoe Gapper never knew pelvic floor physios existed and wishes she accessed them sooner

By CASS MARRETT

A government announcement last month will make it easier for Queenstown women to access ACC support for maternal birth injuries.

But one local mum and a Wānaka-based physio say the government still needs to go further.

During her first birth, Zoe Gapper experienced a second-degree tear and was offered no help.

‘‘I think the attitude was definitely … [tearing’s] just something that we, as women, have to put up with.’’

As a result, Gapper experienced problems with incontinence, and points out that even though many women suffer from it, it’s not largely talked about.

‘‘You end up sneezing and coughing, and you start weeing yourself a little bit.

‘‘I’m quite active and it was more when I started moving a bit faster, you know, chasing my
child around the garden, that I was like, ‘oh, this is actually a bit more than a bit of wee with a sneeze’.’’

Gapper didn’t initially take the problem too seriously.

It wasn’t until she attended a talk with Wānaka pelvic floor physiotherapist Lisa Carnie she
realised treatment in the early stages was crucial.

‘‘It was there that I learned that I possibly could have prevented my issues even by just going and seeing somebody early, but I never even knew it existed,’’ Gapper says.

Birth support for Q’town mums needs to go further

Currently, ACC can only cover birth injuries classified as a ‘‘treatment injury’’, despite 85% of women in New Zealand experiencing varying levels of injury due to the birthing process.

A proposed legislative change will aim to provide enhanced cover for an estimated 17,000 to
18,000 more women per year who suffer maternal birth injuries, including prolapse and tears.

Because Gapper’s injury was caused by a ventouse (vacuum) delivery, she was one of the ‘‘lucky ones’’ covered by ACC.

‘‘I remember being really surprised because I had friends with prolapse, they were much  worse off than me physically, and I don’t think they got anything,’’ she says.

Fast and local: Lisa Carnie says the key to better postnatal care is education and a larger workforce

Carnie hopes a change to legislation will help women access treatment early by subsidising  private physio.

‘‘The ideal solution is for women to be able to access things fast and local,’’ Carnie says.

‘‘I think the move by ACC, from an emotional perspective, not only will it help women to seek help early, it will help everything like bonding with baby, breastfeeding, and postnatal depression.

‘‘I think it’ll save the health system billions in the long run.’’

Standard-care, publicly-funded model needed 

But one of the issues in Queenstown-Lakes is the short age of pelvic floor physiotherapists.

‘‘It’s a three-month waiting list at the moment, which is pretty standard amongst my profession,’’ Carnie says.

But she says that shouldn’t deter postnatal women making an appointment, because they will be prioritised.

Both Carnie and Gapper agree the proposed legislation change is a ‘‘step in the right direction’’, but increasing the workforce and education around the pelvic floor during pregnancy is vital.

‘‘If we had standard care for every postnatal woman that was publicly funded, then it might encourage more people to come into the field to practise.

‘‘I think largely one of the big problems is that people don’t know about pelvic health physio, that there’s lots of referrals or people that we could be helping that are missed.’’

The Accident Compensation (Maternal Birth Injury and Other Matters) Amendment Bill goes to select committee early next year, and Carnie hopes to see support trickle through to
Queenstown-Lakes mothers soon after.

cass.marrett@scene.co.nz