If you spend time in mommy groups on social media, you probably know that a lot of moms pee a little when we sneeze, cough, or run. It's become such an acceptable part of new motherhood that we actually joke about it. But those jokes are starting to piss me off (pun intended). I mean, as someone who carried and birthed three babies, and now has urinary incontinence, I find it humiliating... not funny. So, can we please stop joking about urinary incontinence? It impacts so many new moms, so I don't think it's a laughing matter.
Like a lot of moms, I have urinary incontinence. I totally wish I didn't, though. And what people consider laughable is what I consider to be particularly embarrassing. I pee when I cough or laugh. I pee when I run, which as a marathoner really gets in the way of me actually enjoying life. I also pee when I vomit, which made having severe morning sickness with my youngest totally unbearable. And if I try to play on the trampoline with my kids? You guessed it, I pee.
I am an adult woman who frequently has to change my pants more than once a day. I am a woman in my 30s who has purchased incontinence pads, underwear, and pessaries. I'm sorry, but WTAF? This is not what I imagined being an adult women would be like.
Worse, I had no idea that other moms experienced the same. No, it's not just me, my friends... not by a long shot. It turns out that postpartum is less of a punch line and more of a way of life for many, if not most, new moms.
According to one study published in the Journal of the Scandinavian Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, one third of new moms had postpartum incontinence three months after delivery. New moms who had a vaginal birth experience incontinence twice as often as moms who had a C-Section. Another 2015 study of 1,574 new moms showed that 49 percent still had urinary incontinence a year after giving birth. That's half of new moms. A full year after childbirth. OMFG.
I honestly think the fact that most moms have to deal with urinary incontinence, and also have to hear jokes about it, is a symptom of our culture's general devaluation of women and moms.
But before you schedule a C-Section in the hopes of side-stepping the whole incontinence thing, you should know that even C-section moms are not immune. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that women who had C-Section deliveries had a higher risk of urinary incontinence than women who had never been pregnant, so there's really no way to avoid peeing all over yourself as you try to live your postpartum life.
Given how prevalent it is, it's kind of unbelievable that more of us aren't talking about urinary incontinence. Instead, we suffer in silence, wear black pants, and hope no one notices that we vaguely smell like pee once in a while. Or maybe that's just me. And, perhaps even worse, we make jokes about it, essentially making fun of any new mom in the vicinity who is too embarrassed to speak up and say something. You don't have to be in high school to still be negatively impacted by high school-aged humor. Trust me.
I don't actually want to tell other people about my pelvic floor issues, and I definitely don't want to admit that I can't stop from peeing myself randomly and unintentionally.
I honestly think the fact that most moms have to deal with urinary incontinence, and also have to hear jokes about it, is a symptom of our culture's general devaluation of women and moms. I mean, I think if men regularly peed themselves after becoming dads they wouldn't think it was funny, either. Instead of an endless stream (another pun intended) of jokes, there would probably be a cure for postpartum incontinence. What plagues mom and is considered laughable would be taken seriously and addressed head on.
You would think that with the postpartum incontinence prevalence rates being as high they are that women would receive information about these risks and effective treatment for urinary incontinence, especially from their OB-GYNs or midwives, but that wasn't my experience at all.
As Fit Pregnancy reports, treatments are available for postpartum incontinence, including physical therapy and even surgery. But, as I have learned, in the U.S. that means spending money on co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance. If you can't afford to "fix" your pelvic floor or urinary incontinence issues, you just have to deal.
Unfortunately, squeezing the hell out of my pelvic floor muscles didn't seem to make any difference at all when it came to preventing incontinence,
And it's not something that anyone really wants to talk about, either. I mean, it's more than a little bit embarrassing to admit that you pee when you don't want to. Utterly humiliating, actually. And for me, it's actually worse that everyone— especially other new moms — joke about it all the time. I don't actually want to tell other people about my pelvic floor issues, and I definitely don't want to admit that I can't stop from peeing myself randomly and unintentionally.
Part of the problem, I think, is the blame game that occurs when moms have incontinence. My OB-GYN led me to believe that if I did enough Kegels — or pelvic floor squeezes — during pregnancy, I wouldn't have incontinence issues. Unfortunately, squeezing the hell out of my pelvic floor muscles didn't seem to make any difference at all when it came to preventing incontinence.
A few weeks ago I finally saw a physical therapist for my incontinence issues. He — yes, a man, which was awkward AF — told me that postpartum incontinence was really common for moms. He also told me that a few weeks of physical therapy and at-home exercises could potentially make my pelvic floor issues and incontinence issues improve. He also told me that Kegels would not be a part of my treatment plan, which made me regret all of the time I had spent trying to tone my pelvic floor.
This made me wonder why postpartum women aren't regularly offered physical therapy as a part of their regular postpartum care. The American Physical Therapy Association has started offering a certification in Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Therapy for their members, who are trained to treat conditions such as urinary incontinence and pelvic pain, but my midwives and OB-GYN didn't refer me for care.
As HuffPost reports, in France, apparently, new moms pretty much automatically get 20 weeks of pelvic floor physical therapy after childbirth. They also, not surprisingly, report fewer cases of postpartum incontinence than American moms. Go figure.
So yeah, I am done with jokes about moms peeing themselves. It's not funny. It's a medical condition. And instead of laughing, it's time we demanded effective treatment for incontinence and as a part of regular postpartum care. After literally growing human beings inside our bodies, we totally deserve it. No joke.