Peeing yourself isn't something you typically bring up in an interview, but I'm talking to best-selling author and actress Jenny Mollen, who peed herself on a trampoline and then posted about it, and who generally floats at level 100 "realness," so it's where things naturally head.
We are comparing our birth trauma. "I was on the trampoline with my son recently, jumping jumping jumping, and I was like, 'I think I'm going to pee,' and then I was like, 'Jason, I did!'" Mollen tells me. "I had a c-section so I didn't think it was something that could happen to me."
Mollen is sitting in a room full of stationary bicycles and balloons, there to help us survive a spin class and to normalize the conversation about light bladder leakage (LBL) as an ambassador of sorts for Stayfree, which has a new product, the Stayfree Ultra Thin pad with All-In-One protection, designed specifically for ~pee~ (a brand representative explains that traditional pads aren't designed for the "sudden overflow" of pee). In fact, postpartum periods, too, can behave more like flash floods. I have yelled at a stain on a couch cushion, on more than one occasion, "LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO." There is a Stayfree bar with a Stayfree bartender, and my mood is decidedly: Tell me more.
'I'll be like a side kick,' she replies. 'Or just screaming uncontrollably.'
Periods, and riding bicycles fearlessly, are old news — "I feel like I've talked about periods with every girlfriend I know," Mollen says — but bladder leakage is still somewhat on the QT, even though postpartum incontinence affects around 33 percent of women, per a review published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.
A friend recently mentioned her incontinence issues to Mollen. "I was like 'you never told me!' and she said, 'well you've never asked.'" Mollen wants to bring the issue out into the open where we can laugh about it while we wring our kidneys free of moisture in a spin class. I ask her if she will be leading us. "I'll be like a side kick," she replies. "Or just screaming uncontrollably."
The handful of times I have ever climbed into the saddle of a spin bike, my first thought has always been, "What if someone else peed on this?" and then "What if I pee on this?" Now I know that even if I'm not sitting next to a triathlete, who we all know pee willy-nilly, in all likelihood, LBL has occurred. Ergo: towels.
Two kids is a sh*t show, but I do feel like my second kid is so much easier than my first.
Postpartum, especially, it can be difficult to know what is going on with your body, or to feel good in it. Mollen recently announced a likely diagnosis of Graves, a thyroid condition that caused her to shed weight, and something that she initially waved off.
"After a baby it's hard to diagnose everything because all of the symptoms — especially with a thyroid condition — align so perfectly with postpartum, and so I was like, Oh my hair is falling out, I'm stressed, I feel like I'm on cocaine," but thought it was just normal post-baby stuff, she tells me. I reply that I would have to see my arm drop off before I would make time to see a doctor as a mother of two.
"Totally!" She says. "When you go from one kid to two, it's such a huge jump. I thought all the things that were going on had to do with parenthood and all of a sudden I had a bulge in my neck, and I'm like OK maybe something's wrong, maybe I need to go to the doctor." She shrugs.
I'm trying to put off the spin class for as long as I can (I once threw up and nearly blacked out on a rowing machine during a stationary tryout for crew), so I ask her how she is managing as a mother of two — the spunky Sid, 3, and little Lazlo, 6 months old — herself.
"Well, two kids is a sh*t show, but I do feel like my second kid is so much easier than my first. I look at my first like, this child has been taking us for a run!" In parenting two little boys, Mollen tries to keep things low-key. "I just want to work on listening to [Sid], making sure he feels heard, like when he's upset telling him it's OK to be upset, letting him be mad."
And then in the next breath she reconsiders her answer, "I might be doing it all wrong, I don't know, I need help right now because he's a crazy man!"
It's that mix of "I love this and I'm doing great!" and "Help WTF am I doing?" that people love about Mollen's Instagram account, which has over 300,000 followers.
She says she tries to treat her older son like an adult, but is also, "Don't talk to strangers I don't know! Don't let anyone take you, you're too cute! Don't let anyone touch your private parts, that's just for you!" Sid, she says, has taken the message to heart. "One day Sid was holding his penis, and I go 'What are you doing?' and he goes" — she holds out her hand as if balancing a platter — "'I'm just touching my private parts.'"
I think real motherhood is just trying to do better than your mother, really.
A kindly man comes by to clip my feet into the cleats of the bicycle, and I know, much like childbirth, that there is no getting away. He tightens some knobs.
In front of me, Jenny climbs into her saddle. I see a wave of skepticism pass over her face as a staffer affixes her feet to the cleats. The only way to survive this/motherhood is to just try not to fly out of the pedals.
Soon, we are climbing mountains as a tiny blonde outline of Inspiration Personified leads us on her bike at the front of the class. We run in the saddle and out of it, lost abs are rediscovered, buns bounce above black bike seats. Mollen gets up halfway through and cheers us on as she walks around the room. "Easy for you, Jenny," I think as fat liquifies on my behind and neurons search desperately for a pathway to coordination. It is worth noting that, though I don't have a fear of sweat per se, when I was a ski patroller, I once called in a brain injury and immobilized a man's spine because I thought I saw cerebrospinal fluid dripping from his nose (it was snot).
The spin instructor refers to us as "ladies... and gentleman," for the one man in the front row who is also here to be empowered and to normalize female pelvic floor issues. Boys inevitably creep into the conversation.
"I definitely think just gender roles seep in somewhere, even at school," Mollen tells me while we sit, pre-class. "Sid is like 'No, I don't want dolls, that's a girls thing,' but he has a special pink [toy named] Baba," she says, "So he has toys that are girls, but he doesn't want to paint his nails. I'm like 'But you can be chic, like David Bowie,' but he isn't into it, he doesn't want to get his pedicure with us, even though Jason does."
Even amid health scares and raising two boys and writing bestselling books and starring on TV (even, I must stress, after climbing a fake mountain in the middle of Manhattan for 30 minutes), Mollen has a calmness and sweetness to her. Although I hold it entirely against her that I will be commuting home on the subway in threadbare tights that tell the entire tale of two births, I feel a little bit inspired by her approach to parenthood.
"I think real motherhood is just trying to do better than your mother, really," Mollen tells me of her #philosophy, "trying to give them more than we were given."
With a packet of Stayfree pads in my oversized bag, next to a pair of undies and a granola bar, I'd say she's doing that for all of us.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.