I have been very fortunate to bump into a few inspiring people in my travels online, none more so for me recently than the fantastic author of whenyouarethatwoman blog. Her frank honesty, and caustic wit, thinly veneered over a taboo so awful and excruciatingly embarrassing at times has made for uncomfortable, but in my opinion, necessary (should be compulsory) reading for anyone who is pregnant.
If everyone knew about it, then everyone would be at liberty to talk about it. In this case, forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is power. You can prepare, you can know when to shout and holler at your GP and insist on a referral, and you would definitely, certainly do your pelvic floor exercises. Pre-birth and post-birth. If everyone knew, and everyone talked- that would be the end of the taboo, and the end of the silent suffering by people who don’t realise that they don’t have to accept their lot in life as someone who is urinary incontinent. You wouldn’t be singled out as being “that woman” because everyone would be “that woman” in a way.
So, with hope that this will one day be the case, I can proudly open the guest spot on my blog with a post from ThatWoman, on the awful truth of living with this taboo.
I certainly feel, aptly for this blog, like I was useless at being pregnant and giving birth- a kick in the teeth from Mother Nature given my curvy figure. I may never have fitted in fashionable clothes, but always had the air of someone destined to blossom and bloom, and then ‘pop’ out.
There are many things life can throw your way that you aren’t expecting and the entire arena of childbirth, pregnancy and motherhood is riddled with them. And those unexpected things (at a time of great expectation, huge life change and massive pressures social/economic/emotional/physical) are also sometimes the hardest to ‘woman up’ about.
It was the physicality of pregnancy, birth and my post-birth-body that took the cake for me. As I lay in the delivery room, with my lovely lad on me, I texted a friend. The text didn’t say ‘name, weight etc’, I left that to my husband. It said ‘it is a f***ing conspiracy’. What I didn’t realise was that in my tender post-birth state, was that it wasn’t just childbirth that was shrouded in myths and indignities.
Post-birth I no longer worked (functioned may be a better word). My birth left me with a royally knackered flange and two types of incontinence. Urge and Stress. This meant I wet myself if my pelvic floor was strained in any way (coughing, sneezing, laughing are the classic examples, I could add running, walking, lifting up my baby, jumping, pushing a pram, climbing stairs). I also sometimes just wet myself, like a child. Sometimes when I was emotional, sometimes I just started needing a wee and had no way of making it.
I was lucky that the doctor at my 6 week check really listened, rather than blithely putting it down to ‘normal’ levels of post birth incontinence which pretty quickly improve with the regular pelvic floors we are all *supposed* to do. She set me up with a physiotherapist who worked, and gradually got me back to the (usually dry) knickers place I should have been at that six week check, the week before my son’s birthday. In your face, flange Gods. It wasn’t easy at all but she was kind and direct and firm and soft and crucially she taught me how to clench my pelvic floor most usefully and control my bladder again. This gave massive short(ish) term improvement and skills for the rest of my life to try and keep things vaguely normal.
She warned me, and she was right, that additional pregnancies would affect me again as some damage was permanent. So here I am in physiotherapy again (my second is 4 months old). Things aren’t as bad this time though, partly as I exercised my pelvic floor like a loon in the intervening three years, and partly because I was expecting it. But there have been lots of tears on the way. Google incontinence and you’ll see how closely connected incontinence and depression are for lots of women.
The intelligent and logical side of my brain knows I should be able to read those three paragraphs back and know, deep in my heart, that it isn’t a confessional, just a summary, and is no different to, say, if I tell you when I was 7 I fractured my elbow and had to have a manipulation under general anaesthetic, keep it in a cast and have it checked a few months later. That side knows that in a perfect world none of us would mind reading this and I wouldn’t have a nagging feeling that people are annoyed with me for mentioning it, disgusted by the idea of it, embarrassed (on my behalf or theirs because secretly they don’t think we should talk about it).
But it also knows that I fit into some of those brackets too – the most awful thing about incontinence whether it is in pregnancy, afterwards or later in life is it is happening to you, all the time, and it is absolutely bloody rank and boring and embarrassing and awful, whether it should be or not. Worse, when you can joke about waterworks and buying Tena Lady shares, you can’t be too funny or you know what might happen.
Some days I can talk about it with caustic but upbeat wit. Others, actually, not so much. I am horrified and ashamed. I think I should delete my blog, my cheeks burn and I feel sick. Those days I can’t even joke about investing in Tena Lady and I’d give anything to even feel able to rage against the light (and the pharmaceutical giants and ad execs who put smiling laughing ladies of a certain age on those Tena pant ads as if anyone feels anything other than the ghost of their destroyed soul and sex drive dive from their body hand in hand when they have to wear them).
So why did I write this? Even though it makes me feel a bit sick, and more parts sad? Because the host of this blog and a few other women I’ve met in real life and on online journeys have got help after hearing me. I spoke to them propelled by a lack of shame which is most unladylike and comes from never being able to shut up, and I’ll speak to anyone else, even if it makes me feel rank because the only thing worse than people (strangers even) knowing you are incontinent, is no-one knowing as that leaves you peeing yourself alone in the dark (nobody wants to be thatwoman).
Many women occasionally ‘lose control a bit’. All my life I have been aware of the cough/sneeze/pee conundrum, which seems to be generally accepted as a state of later womanhood. But it really shouldn’t be just accepted, not least as there are many cheap and fairly short term fixes which would help lots of women (simply doing pelvic floors right and regularly is a start) along with full on fanny techno gadgetry which can work wonders. And none of it is nearly as bad as being out there alone.