Sarah Oleksak is a PT specializing in pregnant and postpartum pelvic health. Her office is located at the Healing Arts Center in Berlin, MD! I first met Sarah in November 2020 after connecting on Instragram. She was the first to respond to my interview request and I'm so thrilled I get to share that with you now!
As you can see in the photos her little office is absolutely adorable with cute and eclectic furniture. I complimented the bench I was sitting on and she told me the background story and I had to include it here because it was so perfect. Here's what she said,
"It's kind of a funny story because I was looking for something that would fit in this space and I had all my kids with me and it was at Target and it was on sale... I was like 'this works!' I don't have an enormous car but was still in my mind like 'ok, we can make this work.'
I had two of my boys carrying that bench and my other son carrying the chair and the daughter in my carrier and I'm pregnant. I'm checking out and thinking people are looking at me saying 'what is she doing?!'
We get out to the car and I'm like this isn't working, I can't puzzle it. So I call my dad to bring his truck. And in the time I was on the phone with my dad, my oldest son who was like 9 at the time, figured it out! It was a really cool moment. Like you know what, you can do things with kids! You can have 4 kids and be pregnant and still get stuff done. I feel really grateful for that proud mom moment because there are so many moments that aren't "proud mom moments" but that was!"
So, first I had Sarah introduce who she is and a little about bloom...
"I'm Sarah Oleksak, I'm a mom of 5 kids now. That's a really important part of Bloom because it started me on this journey of wanting to be a support person for moms and babies. Because I know what it's like to be in that role. I'm a physical therapist... for almost 13 years. I've worked with people across the lifespan. But I feel my work is done best when I'm with moms and babies. Bloom is kind of like a pairing of my professional abilities with my personal passion. So it lets me enjoy my work every single day. It's needed, which makes me feel like I'm contributing. But it's also a place where I can care for people and take on the role of a helper and a guide."
I replied "I really connect with that, some of my friends resisted my rebranding to birth because they wanted everyone to use me but birth is where I feel called, the marriage of my life and my skills and who I want to serve. I can still take pictures of your family but this is what I want to do."
We talked for a few moments about the importance of both birth photography and physical therapy and how it's not that one is more important than the other but you might need one or the other. Or you might need both.
Sarah: "I think it's really important to look at the whole person. I don't feel like I have to be very specific in how a muscle works but I can really think through what aspect does mental health plays a role and there's an awesome team of people I feel like I can refer out to if it goes beyond my scope."
Me: "When did you start Bloom?"
Sarah: "Bloom started about two years ago and it's a bit of a personal introduction but I am open to sharing. Earlier in that year, I had gone through two miscarriages, I love being pregnant, growing a baby, anticipating meeting a new baby. I felt at that time that it's just not in it for us anymore. So Bloom was a way that I could still put my energy towards that stage of life and not have to give up all those things I learned. This allows me to continue that chapter and help other moms with my personal and professional experience. It helped me get through the really tough time of those miscarriages. And then the day that I signed papers for the lawyer to say I was starting Bloom, I found out I was pregnant! So we had a 5th baby!"
Have you seen Bloom's logo? It's so cute. Here's the backstory...
Me: "Is that what inspired the logo with the little heart in the O?"
Sarah: "Yeah, sure. You know what's funny, I'm very visual. I know how I like things to be arranged. In a logo or creating a brand for Bloom, it was really easy. I just sat down on Canva and said 'this is what I want.' I was really not intentional with a lot of it. I just knew I liked that. But as I look at it there are pieces that I realize why I like it. I love the symbolism."
Me: "Yeah, like it was almost subconscious."
Sarah: "Yes, exactly. I love when you can look at something and as you dig deeper you can see more."
Me: "So, why are pregnancy and postpartum pelvic health important?"
Sarah: "Clearly, I have a biased answer, but when people understand that growing a baby changes all the muscular balances in your body and going through a pregnancy and birth, cesarean or vaginal, requires some amount of reconnection with your body, similar to that of knee surgery or an injury. It's not really any different. If you have a knee replacement you would get 12 weeks of physical therapy. Women are expected to bounce back after pregnancy, but it doesn't have to be that way. I felt this was important because when moms and babies are operating on their most optimal level I truly feel they connect and bond better. And that's important to me"
Me: "So what does working with you here at Bloom look like?"
Sarah: "I hope it looks like a lot of things! Respectful Care, a partnership where we are both bringing expertise to the table, offering lots of options and you choosing because you feel empowered to choose. Open-mindedness, nonjudgemental, acceptance of wherever you are in your journey. On a practical level, it looks like an evaluation where we go over your deepest desires for physical therapy and what you want your function to look like, and how you want to be able to use your body. Coming up with a plan of care that we agree on. This model of care is more integrated with whole-body wellness, which means I can work with you in fewer visits, with the same or better outcomes. I've worked with most models of care and truly I feel the ability to make a change in this setting is significant because I'm meeting people that are open and ready to take on what they need to take one but also I can take the time to spend the time that I need to take with you. I'm not pressured to meet a certain amount of patients a day. Your plan of care stays at the forefront of my mind because I don't have to see a certain amount of patients a day."
Me: "So would you say each patient you meet, you aren't thinking 'this problem equals this solution' you look at each person and tailor treatment to each person, individually?"
Sarah: "Absolutely, It's very custom to what your desires and goals are. That looks different for every single person. Mental aspects can affect physical addresses indirectly because there's a lot of talk and that allows a little bit of release that opens to a more physical realm. I always knew 'cookie cutter' didn't work for me. People gravitate towards that because of the speed of the day. But slowing down allows for creativity and more awareness for what exercises or lifestyle changes may be needed."
Me: "You kind of touched on what brought you to this specific work, but did you always want to be a physical therapist? What brought you here?"
Sarah: "No, I don't think I always wanted to be a physical therapist. I've always been a helper. I started out in teaching and I knew very quickly that wasn't for me. I worked as a PT aid for a couple of weeks and I knew that's what I wanted to do. I already had my undergrad so that means I had to go back to get prerequisites to apply for PT school and then apply to PT school which is a 3-year commitment. When I was in PT school I had to do a research project, our topic was the role of the physical therapist in the improvement of quality of life and sexual function for women with urinary incontinence. That really set the stage for me that this was an area that Physical therapists could work in and it just grew from there. The fact that I could present this topic in a room full of people, including my dad, talking about sexual function, is something that needs to be addressed and I have the tools to do that. The field of pelvic health is really growing but still has a long way to go."
Me: "Yes, like you were saying earlier, it's not standard of care to refer someone to PT after they have a baby that educational piece is missing, someone has to tell them 'did you know you can get that fixed?'
Sarah: "Yes, it's getting there. I'm so happy our rural town has this option. It should be standard of care and it should be mentioned in the prenatal visits. Letting them know what to expect empowers them so much. And they may think they are the only way, and they may start to isolate themselves. So we need to help them be a part of the community that means keeping them well."
Me: "What could someone be experiencing that they would then come to see you?"
Sarah: "Pain in pregnancy. Low back pain, hip pain, round ligament pain. Those are issues we could address in pregnancy. Postpartum would include similar things with pains but also trouble to activate abdominal muscles as they did previously, urinary incontinence, bowel incontinence, sexual dysfunction, pelvic pain. There are also women that come preventively. They have read about it and want to make sure that they don't have a 3rd-degree tear, give baby optimal room in the pelvis to move around, maintain their activity level in pregnancy, set themselves up to have the best postpartum recovery they can have. That involves loading and strengthening the tissue in the state before you have the birth."
Me: "It's awesome that people are being proactive!"
Sarah: "yes, and I do have some first-time moms come in, but more have moms that are saying 'that happened in my first birth but I want to make sure it doesn't happen and these are more goals.' I also have women coming in that want to get back to a certain pre-pregnancy activity level. Like running or Crossfit and they know they need a foundation that sets them up to be able to do these higher-level things that don't cause long-term issues."
Me: "If you could change one thing about maternal standard of care, prenatally or postpartum, what would it be?"
Sarah: "To trust women to know their own bodies and their babies. When we trust the people we are working with, that allows them to feel ownership over their life and their care. It's extremely empowering and confidence-building. This is something that we have a problem with, of moms that don't have this confidence because it's being taken away from them in many systems. When we return that trust to moms, their decision-making ability for themselves and their baby improves and so does their quality of life. That's really important and it's important to just trust what someone tells you."
Me: "This is something that I've been thinking a lot about too, it feels like a lot of women go through a pregnancy and it seems like there is a knowledge piece that is missing, so they don't advocate. They feel like they can just trust their provider and aren't trusting themselves or taking ownership of their care. Providers have their own things they are worried about. Then when they have their second pregnancy that's when they know what they want to do differently."
Sarah: "Yes, that's what happened to me during my first pregnancy. I didn't have friends that were pregnant to bounce ideas off of and, I wasn't really taking ownership of my care. I was very much like I just want to be a good patient. I see how potentially damaging, and then what it could have really been, and I realized that I couldn't take that on, again, I need to be proactive and involved."
Me: "I find it interesting how many mothers become birth workers after they have their first baby, they see something is missing. It can be hard to figure out what that something is but it feels good when you can make a difference for someone."
Sarah: "Yes, I agree. You find people saying they wanted something different when they go into birth work."
Me: "What is one thing you want all women to know?"
Sarah: "Our situations are always very different but we have much more in common than we have different. So when you have struggles in your life, I don't know your struggle, but I know struggle. When you know joy in your life, I don't know that joy but I do know joy in my life. What we are missing is connecting on just this emotional level, we understand the same feelings. But we say things like "you can't understand unless you go through it" and that's isolating. I find so much more value in connection and realizing that everyone has gone through similar experiences and had similar feelings and that should bring us together. And that is really important especially as caregivers for our babies and that's isolating but when we don't feel alone it's much easier to find true friendships."
Me: "I love that! So a fun question, if you were stranded on a deserted island what 5 things would you have to have with you?"
Sarah: "I don't know! I've been thinking about this! I came to the realization that it must be because there's a certain amount of sensory overload in my house with 5 kids, so if you put me on a deserted island it might be nice to just zone out. But probably chapstick, some music, some sort of learning material books or podcasts, maybe a towel!"
Me: "I get it, there are times I have to hide in the bathroom with the lights off and I only have two!"
Sarah: "It is whatever your reality is! I didn't realize my sensory needs until I became a parent, so there are times I might run away to that place in my mind."
Me: "It's interesting how much we learn about ourselves when we become parents. Sometimes scary. How can people connect with you?"
Sarah: "My website is bloomphysicaltherapyandwellness.com or Facebook, Instagram. I'm always available through text message, my phone number is 410-231-2661. Or email which you can get on my website, any of those! I'm happy to connect in any way. I also do free consults, you can sign up for that on the website and come in and chat and we can see if we are a good fit for each other!"
Me: "Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, I think it will help many people."
Sarah: "I think the series you're doing is really exciting for the community to hear about what's out there, and get to know those they may seek care from better."
Me: "I think it's so important and that's why I'm interviewing anyone that wants to, I'm interviewing Chloe from being and born and Monika from Althea Midwifery because everyone needs someone different!"
Sarah: "Yes, it's not a one size fits all."
So I hope you got through this awesome conversation. I so enjoyed chatting with Sarah! She's a beautiful person, inside and out. I know she's helped many and will continue to do so for years to come.
If you are a birth worker or know a birth worker that I should interview and feature on the blog please email me at Oliviasensphotography@gmail.com
"The moment a child is born, a mother is born also"