‘The bus seat would be soaked with urine. I wouldn’t have even known’

Anna was 19 when she had her first baby. She has suffered from urinary incontinence ever since. She is now 52

Incontinence: ‘I remember thinking, they can put people on the moon but they can’t fix this.’ Photograph: iStock

Incontinence: ‘I remember thinking, they can put people on the moon but they can’t fix this.’ Photograph: iStock

 

Anna’s story: I played a lot of netball in school and was picked for the Irish squad at one stage. Then, quite young, I found myself pregnant, which wasn’t planned, and I married my boyfriend during the pregnancy. I had a lovely baby girl, she was 8lb and that was the end of my netball career.

I was very thin prior to pregnancy – 7 stone (44.4kg) – and when I went in to give birth I weighed in at 10.5 stone, so it was a heavy weight for me. I had an epidural and forceps delivery. I could see the marks on the baby afterwards so it was quite forceful and I imagine it didn’t do my insides any favours.

I had an added complication in that I got an infection after the birth. The pain and the new baby took up all my time. Only after this did I start to notice that I would leak sometimes.

It completely changed my life, I went from being very active to being restricted in everything I did.

I was fine when I walked relatively slowly. But when I tried to walk fast or run, dance or do any vigorous movement, that’s when I would lose complete control and I couldn’t even feel it.

It had a huge effect on my self-esteem. I thought, will I even be attractive to someone ever again? I worried about sex, about my husband. I’d gone from being this independent, sporty person to someone who had been halved.

I went to the Coombe hospital twice a week for physio and was doing what I thought were pelvic floor exercises, but they didn’t work. I was told when peeing to stop several times but it made absolutely no difference. I was told when I was having intercourse to try to squeeze and get my husband to help me with that. That’s mortifying. I know he is my husband but you are trying to get back to the person you were and you certainly don’t need that from a relationship or a romance point of view.

If I had been older I might have been more confident. I self-consciously did the exercises when we had sex but I wouldn’t ask if he could feel a difference. I thought, I am married, my sex life has been affected, my self-esteem has been affected but I will just muddle through.

I continued at the Coombe for about two years but it made no difference. I was 23 when I asked the consultant if he would operate to fix it. He said he couldn’t because I was too young and the chance of me having another child was too high.

I equated it to being like Oliver, going with the begging bowl, asking for help and being told no.

Then I emigrated to Canada. I had my second daughter at 25 and after that I discovered tennis and huge pads.

I’d bring plastic bags or try to find places to hide them during the game. That was the way I got around it. I had loads of accidents and couldn’t go and have lunch with the girls afterwards, I’d have to go home to change. But at least I was starting to do stuff. I remember thinking, they can put people on the moon but they can’t fix this. I could sit on a bus and get up and the seat would be soaked and I wouldn’t have even known.

I came back to Ireland when I was 30 and started talking to a good physio about it around then. She gave me key points that I hadn’t actually registered before.

I couldn’t understand how I could go for a really long walk one day and the pad would be dry when I got home, then the next time it would be soaked. I couldn’t figure it out and the randomness of it made me so fearful and self-conscious. It’s a bit like when you don’t know when your period is going to come and you don’t wear white. She told me it matters where you are in your cycle and when you’re more prone to it.

I was drinking quite a bit of water while exercising and shedding it the whole way so I won’t drink water before a walk now. Coffee is a diuretic and alcohol would have a huge impact for 48 hours afterwards. I’ll exercise before I have a coffee now. It’s just different ways of coping.

Recently I have started using an Intensity machine and that has made a huge impact. You insert it and the electrodes make the muscles in your vagina contract. You use it twice a week for 10 minutes. It’s incredible because I’ve never felt those muscles in my pelvic floor. When I had my internal examination my muscle reaction was very low, I can’t hold the pelvic floor up and that’s what this machine does. It’s a very unusual experience and there’s a settling period with it. The muscles around it go into spasm, tighten and relax and they have never been activated before.

I have now found an ob-gynae who I’m told can fix this through a simple operation and that’s the next step for me. I feel there is hope now.

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