On my way to write this story, I shoved a piece of paper towel in my underwear because I didn't want to get them wet. And after giving birth to two kids, the simple act of walking is too much for my bladder. I suffer from urinary incontinence, and this is what it's like.
Running and jumping are left in my past along with My Little Ponies, Barbies, snap bracelets, and my New Kids on the Block blanket. OK, I still have my New Kids on the Block blanket, but that's neither here nor there. But urinary incontinence, or the involuntary leaking of urine, is not an affliction relegated to nursing homes. It's not just the subject of cute little jokes having to cross your legs when you pee after birthing babies. For me, urinary incontinence is a devastating problem that has completely changed my life. It's an issue I had to a minor degree before the birth of my first child, but that was made much worse by birthing my 8 lb., 14 oz. son five years ago. The Mayo Clinic defines urinary incontinence as an "common and often embarrassing problem," one that ranges in severity "from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that's so sudden and strong you don't get to a toilet in time."
In the hospital after birthing my baby, I realized as the epidural wore off that I had almost no bladder control. Every time I'd stand up from the bed, I'd empty my bladder completely and involuntarily. I was humiliated and loathed the lack of self control I was feeling, especially at a chaotic time when I was desperate to cling to any shred of control over my life. I told the nurses what was happening, but they brushed it off as "normal after childbirth." Only, it wasn't.
Within a few days, the incontinence lessened by about 80 percent, but not completely. I told my obstetrician about my problem, and she suggested Kegel exercises and cutting back on caffeine.
These solutions were easier said than done for a busy and tired new mom who relies on several cups of coffee to get through the day. Surgery to correct the problem was not a good solution, I was told, until I was done having children, because childbirth could damage surgery.
Everyday, I wear a maxi pad in my underwear. On the rare occasions when I find myself without one, I'm driven to desperate acts.
Then, four years later, the birth of my daughter again worsened my incontinence.
Everyday, I wear a maxi pad in my underwear. On the rare occasions when I find myself without one, I'm driven to desperate acts like reaching for a paper towel to put in my underwear. I slowly leak pee throughout the day. Small amounts when I walk around the office at work, more if I brave going on a brisk walk outside on my lunch break or sometimes when I wrestle with my kids. I try to keep my pads changed, but the dampness has caused discomfort to the point that I've reached for my daughter's diaper rash ointment before. If I don't change my pads enough, they can start to smell.
Even playing with my kids is difficult, because rolling around and lifting my kids can cause me to lose bladder control.
On occasion, exercise walks (the only kind of exercise I dare to do these days) cause me to leak so much urine that I soak through to my pants. I don't always notice when this happens, or have an extra pair of pants to change into, and have left a wet spot on an office chair more than once.
The first time I noticed a wet spot, I was horrified and threw a coat I was lucky enough to have handy over my chair as I headed to the bathroom to clean up. Following the chair incident, I'd try to be sure my bladder was fully emptied before going on walks, which helped a little but didn't eliminate the problem.
Another aspect of my bladder problems is that I have an urgent urge to pee as soon as there's any urine in my bladder. This makes daily activities uncomfortable, and I feel like I'm always tip-toeing around, just trying to retain bladder control. Running or vigorous physical activity are totally out of the question unless I want to borrow my daughter's diapers along with her diaper ointment.
Even playing with my kids is difficult, because rolling around and lifting my kids can cause me to lose bladder control. It's typically not so much that I pee my pants as I dribble. Constantly. Unless I'm just sitting there. But what kind of life is that? Not a practical one.
I've even leaked pee during sex. So much for letting go and getting lost in the moment.
This is the reality of urinary incontinence. It's not pretty. It's actually really gross and all-consuming. Incontinence hinders my ability to live life to the fullest, including my ability to be the mom I want to be. The topic is taboo, but shouldn't be. There are so many of us moms who suffer from this problem in silence. I know how much we'd all benefit from the support of each other and the sharing of resources.
And frankly, I'm tired of keeping quiet. So tired, actually, that I'm going to do something about it. My husband and I are done having kids, so surgery is an option. So is physical therapy for urinary incontinence, which has become a recognized solution and treatment option.
I'm going to devote time to doing Kegels, even though they're a pain and even though I'm busy with my kids and work and life. I'm going to make dietary changes, as recommended. I owe it to my family to get better. But more importantly, I owe it to myself.