This story is a part of the National Association For Continence’s “Voices Of Incontinence” campaign, which shows, in patient’s own words, what it’s like to live with incontinence. Learn more about this campaign, watch the videos, read other stories, and find resources to manage bladder leaks here.
I’m usually not one to share a story like this, but this has me fired up, so here we go. I’m 33 years old and I have incontinence. Yep – it turns out that it’s entirely possible (common even!) for a woman of my age to have bladder leaks.
It all started after I gave birth to my daughter about a year ago. I did everything right during pregnancy. I kept up with the exercise, ate healthy foods, tried to get good rest all nine months long. But on the day of my delivery, things progressed a little more slowly than I thought they would. First my water broke, and then… nothing. I waited a full 8 hours at the hospital until I finally went into labor, and after that, I pushed for 3 more hours until my doctor finally decided it was time to use a vacuum to get my little bundle out. Needless to say, it was a struggle, and it was exhausting.
After pregnancy, I felt awful. My lower back was in tremendous pain, and I could barely feel the parts of me that went through all the trauma of childbirth. Plus, I was just exhausted dealing with a newborn. I chalked all this up to being normal, since I really didn’t know any different, and set about trying to raise little Emma.
Except that after a while, I didn’t really feel normal. 3 weeks post partum, my back was still hurting badly, and I couldn’t go without wearing absorbent pads because of a leaky bladder. At my six week appointment, I asked my doctor and he said that everything would probably go back to normal with time, and gave me the whole “it took nine months to grow the baby, it will probably take at least that many to get your body back” speech.
But I wasn’t convinced. After finally feeling brave enough to give things down below a feel, I realized that something was very wrong. I had been feeling a bit of pain, and found upon self examination that I had what appeared to be a ball-like bulge sticking out of my insides. Horrified, I called my doctor immediately.
I’ll never forget his response. He said “Sometimes that’s just what happens. But you can always try surgery once you’re done having kids.” So nonchalant. So unsympathetic. It was infuriating.
I did some research and did in fact contact a urogynecologist who told me the same thing: Surgery is always an option if it’s really affecting you, but not before you’re done having kids. “What am I supposed to do until then?” I asked her. Only then did she tell me about a pelvic floor physical therapist that she worked with, and she gave me her information to make an appointment.
I called her immediately and was able to get in the following week. Finally, for the first time since I had had my baby, I felt truly heard. She talked to me about what I went through with childbirth, asked me what kinds of pelvic floor exercises I had done during pregnancy (what??) and had me give a detailed account of the symptoms I was currently experiencing. She confirmed that I had a pelvic organ prolapse, a condition where one of your organs falls to, or even through, the vagina and can cause discomfort, incontinence, back pain – pretty much all the things I had been going through.
A pelvic organ prolapse never really goes completely back to normal – once it’s fallen, it’s fallen. But my PT explained that the pelvic floor is basically a muscle. Because it’s what’s in charge of holding everything up, it can be strengthened, and that can make a huge difference in your symptoms. Not only that, but because the pelvic floor is connected to tons of different muscles (literally, it seems like every one in the core region), knowing how to strengthen your abs, hips, thighs and even butt muscles correctly can help create a good balance to support the pelvic floor. It makes sense if you think about it – if one of those muscles is weak, another is going to have to compensate for that weakness, which can cause that muscle to weaken, and so on and so on.
So we got to work. Twice a week I went to see my PT. It was a little weird at first, having someone examine me in that area, but I immediately got over it when I started seeing the results. My PT helped to relax my pelvic floor muscles that were tense (that can also be a problem) and showed me a slew of moves I could do to help strengthen it. She counseled me on everything from deep breathing exercises, to kegels, to posture and more. And you know what? After a couple of months of regularly following her advice and doing the exercises, I started noticing a difference. I could feel my muscles getting stronger. I noticed I had fewer leaks. My back pain was gone. And, except for occasionally when I was on my feet a lot in a day, my pelvic area felt relatively pain free.
Despite all this, one thing still really bothered me. Why don’t more women talk about this before it’s too late? Once I finally shared my story, many of the other moms I know came out with their horror stories about their childbirth experiences. It really upset me that none of them ever thought to warn me. Before all this, I had never even given a thought to my pelvic floor, let alone trying to strengthen it before or during pregnancy. And while I’m not sure how much it would have helped, considering my 3 hours of pushing, I do know that having a stronger, more toned pelvic floor certainly wouldn’t have hurt – and it might have helped move things along. Who know – it may have even prevented the prolapse in the first place.
Now, I talk about the pelvic floor to just about anyone who will listen to me, and I try to explain why it’s so important to keep healthy. That goes for more than just pregnancy, too. A healthy pelvic floor can help with bladder control (and even bowel control, since it holds up the rectum, as well), and who isn’t interested in avoiding problems like that?
This is the type of thing that deserves to be taught in school to young women. Maybe if we knew the consequences of a weakened pelvic floor we would work harder to make sure we were taking preventive measures. Heck, even a casual mention from my OBGyn would have been a nice heads up.
So ladies, consider this your daily PSA: Keep your pelvic floor healthy. And if you’re not sure what that means, and especially if you’re experiencing any type of problems, do yourself a favor and go see a pelvic floor physical therapist. The work you do to prevent any damage now is worth its weight in gold later. Trust me.