Welcome to our Specialist Spotlight Series. We launched our Resource Library because we wanted women everywhere to know that urinary incontinence is a treatable condition, and for them to be able to explore what specialists and treatments might be right for them. In this series, we highlight some of the incredible specialists within our Specialist Directory, and shine a light on the ways they’re helping women every day.
Name, occupation, and where you practice.
My name is Anietie Ukpe-Wallace, however, I go by Tia, a nickname I acquired while in college and that has stuck with me. I am an orthopedic and pelvic health physical therapist and practice in Oakland, CA. I am currently working at an outpatient hospital based clinic, but transitioning to a private practice offering concierge (in-home) and telehealth physical therapy services.
If you feel comfortable, feel free to add some context beyond your professional identity.
I feel that a lot of my movement practice today is inspired by my lack of movement or encouragement to move when I was little. I come from an immigrant family, so my parents focus was mostly on education and getting good grades. I remember as a little girl being obsessed with gymnastics and checking out books from the library about the human body and basic gymnastics. I even taught myself how to do a cartwheel! It was not a movement that was done by my sisters or friends. I then found yoga while in college and was in ROTC, so movement and exercise and fitness started to become a norm for me. My movement practice has shifted a lot since then and is mostly a mix of strength based or bodyweight training, mobility type drills, as well as pole dancing and Lyra or aerial hoop. I feel that by continuing to challenge and expose my body to different movements, it allows me to grow and move away from aesthetics and more towards what my body is capable of doing. I am a mother to my 6 year old daughter and have exposed her to lots of different ways to move. She has been able to see at a young age how it can help her grow creatively and find a sense of courage and knowledge about her own body. I know that by laying this foundation for her, she will be so much more attuned and aware of her body and what it can do rather than the traps of body image and aesthetics when she hits her teens.
Your Purpose and POV
What inspires you to do what you do [professionally] every day, and how did you end up focusing on this profession?
My inspiration to do what I do is very much inspired by what happened to me as a young adult. I grew up loving to learn about the human body, but not have much awareness of my pelvis and all of the organs that resided there. Other than having a period every month, I was pretty clueless. I had several bouts of UTIs, yeast infections and bacterial infections in my 20s and saw them all as a nuisance not understanding that something was out of balance. I went 3 years going back and forth between yeast and bacterial infections, had a short period of painful sex, and didn’t know that there was help and so I suffered in silence. In my late 20s, I discovered that I had fibroids and didn’t think it would have any impact on me having children. I ended up miscarrying 20 weeks into my first pregnancy because of those fibroids and subsequently had surgery to have them removed. I have since had 2 other miscarriages but also one beautiful daughter and during it all, have had periods of pelvic pain and again not knowing that there was help for what I was experiencing. My own experiences have shaped me as a therapist and I want to be able to offer the same type of help that would have benefited me as a young adult, pregnant mom or miscarriage sufferer.
What POV do you bring to your profession?
I bring a perspective of self-care being a huge facet to my practice, as well as an integral practice that I want for all women. I believe that self-care is something that is more than just a nicety, but actually a necessity that can be foundational to one’s life. It can consist of a practice that just takes 5 minutes, and can be pleasurable as well as difficult or even intuitive. I am also a huge advocate for education and body literacy. When one is able to learn more about their body, their symptoms, or their body’s needs, then it is so much easier to know what self-care practices they need to do on the regular and thus empower themselves in their healthcare and be a big advocate for themselves. Too often, we turn over the care of our bodies to other professions, but when we can take the time to learn and develop a sense of our inner knowing, we can discover our own medicine.
What do you find resonates best/most with your audience?
I find that being able to give people options and choices resonates with a lot of people. When I work with my patients, they are usually told by their healthcare provider of only two options, medication or surgery. When they come in for a physical therapy appointment with me, they discover that there are so many ways to address their issue. It could be from a purely manual therapy or hands-on perspective. It could include a discussion on their breathing habits and diving deeper into why they are breathing the way they do. It may be a matter of looking at their movement practice and offering a different way of moving that can be novel to their body and provide the strength or flexibility that is needed for their body.
When it comes to women’s health (and your specialty), where is there still “work to do”? Any myths to dispel? Misperceptions about treatments? Attitudes to change?
I think the biggest space where more work is needed is the disparity issue in who has access. I work in a hospital based system and thankful to have that opportunity to work with so many patients from different income backgrounds. I know that this type of treatment was not available before but it is still a challenge for women to access especially if they do not have the type of insurance that will cover it. I also believe that anyone who has a pelvis and has suffered from any type of trauma, illness or issue with their pelvis should be seen by a pelvic health PT, even if it is just once. I have a special interest in working with those who have had a pregnancy loss and are trying to conceive again. In many cases, they will just dive right into the reproductive medicine route or just try again without having had any type of assessment made about scar tissue, mechanical issues with their reproductive organs, or even at least having their body assessed. I think in the same way, we go to the dentist for a regular checkup, the same should be done especially if looking to conceive after a pregnancy loss to get your womb, your pelvis, and your body checked out and make sure it is healthy and able to maintain a pregnancy.
What advice would you give to women reading this when it comes to taking charge of their health/wellness?
Ask questions and don’t take no for an answer. It is very easy for women to be people pleasers, especially in the presence of someone in a white coat. How can you be your own best advocate when you don’t know what questions to ask? If your healthcare provider is not willing to answer your questions, do your research, read some books, get a second opinion, and find a trusted healthcare provider. I go by the adage of if you do not love yourself, then no one else will. I think the same goes with being your own best advocate, if you won’t do it, no one else will.
What’s the biggest “lesson learned” (personally or professionally) to come from living through a pandemic?
There were actually several! Life is too short to not be doing what you love and what truly sets your heart on fire. I have learned how important family is to me and I want the decisions that I make in the future to be guided by how it will affect me and my family. The hardest lesson for me is also living from a growth mindset and to not be limited anymore by a fixed mindset, that has helped shift so many things for me in my life, in how I see myself to how I want to be as a therapist.
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