It’s a constant joke among women who have had children:
“I can’t do jumping jacks anymore.”
“If I sneeze, I’ll pee my pants.”
“Don’t make me laugh or I’ll have to change my underwear.”
Since having my son almost two years ago, I have been lucky enough to be able to sneeze, laugh, and cough without peeing my pants. Wonderful, right? But I’m an athletic girl. And every single time I sprint, burpee, box jump, or jumping jack, I get that OHMYGODIHAVETOPEERIGHTNOW sensation. I end up leaping off of the treadmill (trying not to jar myself in the process) and trying to make it to the bathroom so that I can unleash the minute amount of pee that my body thinks is an emergency into not my pants. It sucks. It’s embarrassing. It’s been cramping my style for almost 2 years. And I’ve kept it a secret from all but my female friends for that whole time, for fear that the shame would literally stop my heart if I had to admit it to a dude. Any dude, including my husband, personal trainer, and family physician, who have been kept completely out of the picture on this.
Stress incontinence happens for a number of reasons, but the most common for women is stress on the pelvic floor from pregnancy and childbirth. The bladder is supported by muscles in your pelvis, and it turns out that carrying 15 lbs of fetus and fluids on those muscles for nine months, followed by squeezing out a baby, can cause some bladder issues with women. Up to 85% of cases of stress incontinence happens in women, and 1 in 3 women will experience stress incontinence after childbirth.
So if you’re sitting in a restaurant with six women, at least two of you are peeing your pants. Kidding. But seriously, those numbers are incredibly depressing.
The go-to advice that you’ll hear time and time again is that you should “do kegels!” Kegels are a type of exercise to strengthen the pelvic floor, and are relatively simple to do once you’ve got the hang of it. They can improve sexual experience, improve bladder control, and make you feel…normal in the junkal vicinity.
Sometimes they don’t work, though. When a woman has been very good about doing her kegels, but still has a hard time with stress incontinence, there are other options available. Great news, right? You aren’t doomed to a lifetime of adult diapers and rubber sheets! Both surgery and physical therapy can help a woman to regain control over her personal parts.
Because surgery is invasive, can involve complications, and isn’t for women who intend to have additional children, I went with physical therapy. I was, however, skeptical.
Physical therapy? Meaning the same thing that you have to do when you have a gimp knee or are recovering from a stroke? As it turns out, yes. In many physical therapy facilities, there’s a secret back room where you have to put your panties in your purse and spread your legs on a paper-lined table so a person who is not your gynecologist can stick her finger inside your lady envelope and rate your pelvic floor on a scale of 1-5. It’s like vagina olympics! Only no gold medals, and no access to McDonalds!
I have a very nice female physical therapist, and on my first visit she explained that for her rating system, 1 is the very best, virgin, weightlifter vagina. 5 is like a gaping, flaccid cave full of zombies. Those may not have been the words she used, but that was the gist. She said I was a 2, which was “quite good” for someone who had a baby relatively recently. She also said that I could try to get more endurance, but the muscles were already strong.
Whatever, lady. Let’s do this.
My therapy involves two different strategies during each session. First, I have to squeeze my pelvic floor muscles around a hard rubber tampon thing. The rubber tampon is connected to a machine that measures the strength of the muscle contractions. I aim to keep the meter above a certain number for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing between squeezes, for 15 minutes. In between my weekly sessions, I am to continue the exercises at home (by doing more kegels).
The second strategy is to stick accupuncture-like needles in my spine and butt to try and activate some nerve activity. That’s what she said, though I’m suspicious she’s making it up. It’s called “dry needling,” is covered by my insurance as a “soft tissue manipulation” and does not tickle in the slightest. I am not a fan of dry needling, but she really seems to like doing it, so I let her go ahead and witch doctor away at my back in hopes that maybe I will eventually sprint somewhere other than the restroom. The needles hurt going into my tight back muscles, and I’m always sore the next day, but it isn’t unbearable. Except the time my toddler chucked a ball at my back while the needles were still in place. That made me rage out a little.
So far, I have had two treatments. I have done my exercises in between sessions. I have seen no improvement. I’m going to keep going, because word on the street is that it takes 12 weeks to start seeing results. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just continue my mad dashes to the bathroom and hope for the best. Failing that, I’ll give up on future children and get the surgery.
Childbirth is such a pain in the urethra.
image via WikiCommons