Women’s experiences of urinary incontinence
Two mothers speak about the pelvic floor issues they developed because of pregnancy
‘The combination of the physio, the pelvic floor exercises and the special compression sports shorts turned my whole life around’
‘I just dealt with it: I didn’t know what else to do’
Catherine Downes, a radiographer from Co Down, developed urinary incontinence (UI) after the birth of her first child 25 years ago and did not seek help for more than 20 years.
“I had no knowledge of pelvic floor issues and don’t remember being given any information on the exercises during my first pregnancy, but I developed problems after that. Everything I did after that pregnancy was restricted by the awful problems that I had, which just didn’t get any better. I learned to live with it and what to avoid. After my second child it was still there, so I thought that was it, that after having babies your pelvic floor is never the same – so I continued on as I was.”
Downes had always been into sport but that “went by the wayside” after her first child due to embarrassment about her urine issues. When trying tap-dancing she had to wear pads and at weddings declined to dance. “I hated it but just kind of dealt with it as I didn’t know what else to do. It wasn’t something you would have talked to anyone about.” Finally, in 2012 after going through a tough time in her life, Downes sought help. “I don’t know why I left it so long. I was embarrassed about it, I suppose. I eventually went to the doctor and said, ‘I’ve had enough of this and I need to get it sorted’.”
She started to see a specialist physiotherapist and was instructed about how to do pelvic floor exercises correctly. She also tried special compression sports shorts (EVB sports shorts, an Irish product), which offer pelvic support.
“The combination of the physio, the pelvic floor exercises and these shorts turned my whole life around. I have joined a running club and ran the Dublin marathon last year, and I’m now training for the London marathon. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be able to do that all because of the UI issues I had. My whole life has changed.”
‘I thought this was normal and happened to everyone’
Karen Jordan, a primary teacher in Dublin, has two children under the age of 10. She developed pelvic floor issues following pregnancy.
“I never really knew about pelvic floor issues or exercises. When I was reading all the information during my first pregnancy it just seemed like another exercise I should do, like yoga or swimming. No one told me what might happen down the road if I didn’t do them.
“ As a child, though, I had issues in that department – as an 11-year-old I had to cross my legs to sneeze – but I never did anything about it as I thought this was normal and happened to everyone.” Jordan developed urine leakage after the birth of her first child.
“I didn’t think it was a huge issue. I thought panty liners would suffice; it didn’t need surgery or anything. But I was very aware of it. I wouldn’t jump on a trampoline or dream of going to certain exercise classes. I did Pilates, which helped, but I didn’t dream of going to the doctor to explain what was going on. I didn’t think it was severe enough or that anything could be done about it.”
After the birth of her second child, Jordan decided to do something about her urine leakage and after receiving advice from her sister, attended a physiotherapy practice specialising in women’s health.
“I became a lot more aware about what the pelvic floor muscles were and what they did. The exercises were explained a lot more and demonstrated, as opposed to just reading about them in a book.”
Jordan has since noticed a dramatic reduction in her UI and when there is an issue, as can happen around menstruation, she increases her pelvic floor exercises.
“It doesn’t stop me any more. I am aware of what to do, and I can do them anywhere: at the bus stop, in front of the TV, even in bed.”