How it Feels: Incontinence after Childbirth

This post is from a Mother Sider who would like to remain anonymous. We’re sure that when you read it, you’ll understand why. It is a shocking indictment of the sorry state of funding for postnatal health in the UK and another example of why ‘a healthy baby is all that matters’ isn’t a helpful phrase. 1/3 of women experience incontinence after childbirth. We hope that, if this you, this post might help you realise just how normal it is…

‘From the moment I announced my pregnancy, a close and very trusted friend showed me the NHS ‘Squeezy’ app. It reminds you to do pelvic floor exercises three (or more) times a day. I duly bought the app and did my squeezes religiously, both quick and slow repetitions, three times a day for the duration of my pregnancy.

I had an easy pregnancy and fast labour, requiring only a few stitches and was in hospital only a matter of hours while they monitored the baby. I diligently practised hypnobirthing and, without much fuss, very quickly had my baby in my arms.

We took our new bundle home. All was blissful.

A day or so later we set off for a walk by the beach (minutes from our house). I should point out at that time I had been highly active in pregnancy and even walked 10k whilst having early contractions (although my husband says I should probably have told him and we might not have walked so far) but I felt fine and wasn’t doing anything I hadn’t done all throughout pregnancy.

Anyhow, we set off. My husband pushing our baby in our shiny new pram. I knew I needed to take things a little easier so we planned to go around the block along the seafront and home, possibly half a mile, if that.

We got to the end of the road and I said I needed the toilet so we popped to the public toilets.

We continued on, stopping for a few photos to mark the occasion of our baby’s first outing. We turned for home. I used the toilet again and, just steps from having finished our walk, I felt a very strange sensation and realised I was wetting myself. Uncontrollably. I was mortified. My cheeks were burning with shame.  I looked down to see a puddle forming at my feet. I was wearing a maternity pad but it proved woefully inadequate. I was sure everyone could see what was happening. The only saving grace was the fact I had dark maternity jeans on. I told my husband “I’m having a problem,” which has become a defining phrase of our relationship, sadly.

He tied his jacket around my waist and helped me home. I got through the front door and went in the shower. By the time I came down he had washed all my clothes.

I was embarrassed and put it down to doing too much too soon.

Some friends then called, not realising we had had the baby. We decided to pop in on them and show off our new bundle. They lived a matter of minutes away. We walked there (I congratulated myself on the fact I had made it!) and stayed maybe half an hour. On the way home the crossing barrier gates for the railway came down.

Without warning I felt that same sensation as urine gushed down my legs turning my pale blue jeans dark and splashed on my sandals and the floor. Tears of shame and humiliation flowed down my cheeks. Again my husband put his jacket around my waist but I was certain this time everybody waiting at those gates saw exactly what had happened.

The health visitor came the next day. I mentioned it to her and she said she would refer me for physiotherapy but that I should start doing my pelvic floor exercises again as that would help. Religiously, I started the daily routine of squeezes again. Nothing ever came of the appointment.

I started trying to get a self referral for physio. It was a nightmare. No one seemed to know who I should speak to or how I went about it. But everyone thought it should be possible!

Things seemed to improve a bit, although my hilarious NCT group quite often had me running to the loo in dreaded fear of laughing too much. I returned to running, this time with my baby in our running pram. I think the first time I was OK but the second or third time the outcome was very, very far from OK. Thankfully, once again, I had dark running leggings on.

Again and again, I found myself uttering the phrase,“I’m having a problem!” to my husband. Sometimes I was on my own and couldn’t fit the pram into the toilet and was not prepared to leave the pram unattended outside a public toilet. There is nothing so disturbing as realising the inevitability of a situation like this.

My breaking point came just after my baby was a year old. I was back at work and had been in meetings right up to the time I had to leave the office for a long commute home and a nursery pick up. I didn’t have time to go to the toilet before I left. I didn’t have time to put in a pad. I was desperately worried all the way back and to make matters worse, the train toilet was not working.

I got off the train and started the few minutes walk home. I was uncomfortable but desperately hoping I would make it if I went slowly enough. I didn’t make it. I took my jacket off and tried to tie it around my waste to disguise the dark patches on my dress, I could feel it and they were evident to everyone. With every step my legs became wetter.

My husband had managed to get my daughter from nursery but hadn’t seen my text asking him to leave the front door open. The seconds trying to get my key in the lock felt like hours. I rushed in and straight to the bathroom.

My work clothes were all dry cleaning only. I took them into the dry cleaners with a lie about my daughter getting away from me whilst I was changing her nappy and weeing on my dry cleaning pile. It was awful. I am sure they knew I was lying but they were professional enough not to show it! My poor innocent baby girl took the blame!!

Having had as much humiliation as I could take and realising that, a year down the line, having done my pelvic floor exercises properly and religiously day in, day out, this shouldn’t still be happening and probably wasn’t normal, I started trying to get some help. Again. I tried my private health insurance. They wouldn’t provide physio because it was related to pregnancy which is excluded. I hit the internet and thought I had cracked it only for a nice, though apologetic, lady to tell me they didn’t currently have anyone on their staff who specialised in women’s physio despite advertised it.

The same friend who had originally recommended the Squeezy app spoke to her Mum about it. She was a physio herself and had suffered exactly the same thing when she had my friend and her brother. She sent me a really lengthy email detailing local providers of physio who specialised in women’s health.

I managed to get a referral to my local hospital who have some specialists on the team. They phoned me and asked me to describe the problem, I took a deep breath and said “stress incontinence following birth”. I rambled, trying to make myself feel better,“I know it is completely normal,” at which point the very nice physio cut across me and said, “Let me stop you there, it isn’t normal.” I instantly felt both better and worse!

Unfortunately, I am still in the system and haven’t yet received an appointment. She did say there would be a little wait but I guess I thought ten weeks down the line I might have heard something.

Having had a couple of further terribly embarrassing, ‘want the ground to open up and swallow me’ incidents since then I am reverting to contacting one of the private specialists I was given. They are not local and will take some effort to get there but I have to do something.

So I guess as yet there isn’t a happy ending to this tale but I am ever hopeful it won’t always be this way!

My advice is not to leave it as long and to try and get help much sooner. Unfortunately it isn’t something that will get better on its own. It is a regret of mine that I have left it so long and allowed myself to be so debilitated by it. Also, talk to other Mum friends as many of them may be suffering the same thing.

I have become a little bit evangelical about the Squeezy app, telling anyone who will listen about it. I also have developed an alarming knowledge about the available pads (not too mention an annual spend that might single handedly be keeping various high street chemists afloat).  There are, apparently, lots of things that can be done and we needn’t suffer in silence, although of course there are no miracle cures.

UPDATE: Since writing this, I have discovered that I am pregnant again. The first trimester increased need to wee, along with a hacking cough which has been hanging around far longer than it should, is making a bad situation truly dire. This is now very firmly at the top of my questions for my midwife and I am determined that, “I’m having a problem!” won’t be the defining phrase of the next year of my life!’

written for The Mother Side x

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Photo by JUDY ANN DAYOT on Unsplash

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