I Am The TENA Lady: On Discovering The Importance Of The Pelvic Floor

By Cathy Oliver

Readers with a sensitive disposition, look away now. This post will contain explicit content, such as the words ‘piss’ and ‘vagina’. I did give you fair warning in the title.

If you’re thinking, “Christ, I can’t waste ten minutes of my life reading about this woman’s leaky nether regions, I’m off!” Ciao, my friend. I quite understand. Be sure to check back in when I cover the newborn poo rainbow next week…

Or…perhaps you’re one of the third of women who suffer with incontinence after childbirth. And to those women, I’m here to say: you have nothing to be embarrassed about, or ashamed of, and you are certainly not alone.

There is such a stigma attached to this topic. My naive, slightly douchebaggy teenage self would snigger at the TENA lady advert on TV – obviously I wouldn’t have to worry about that for at least another 30 or 40 years. Well, I am 30 years old, and I leak wee. Goodbye smug young me; hello reality, you fuck.

Childbirth and the pelvic door

What the bejesus are these pelvic floor muscles midwives keep banging on about anyway?! Here’s where I try to sound like I know something useful (copy and paste from Google)…

Your pelvic floor muscles are the layers of muscle that support your pelvic organs, i.e. bladder, bowel and uterus in women. They act a bit like a strong, bouncy hammock, but far less relaxing, devoid of sun and cocktails, and complete with holes to allow passages through for said organs. The muscles wrap tightly around these holes to keep the passages shut. When you need the toilet, your brain sends a message to your pelvic floor muscles to relax – out comes Wendy wee wee, or Polly piss, whichever you prefer. When the muscles contract, the flow stops.

During pregnancy, these muscles support your jumbo uterus (I’m sure I saw that episode on ‘Jobs from Hell’). In labour and birth, they stretch to allow your baby’s head to pass through the womb and vagina. Unsurprisingly, this can cause them to weaken and loosen. Hence in the days after childbirth you feel as though you’re going to lose your insides when you stand up. This is a sign by the way – LIE DOWN AND REST!

Your pelvic floor will recover over time, but if, like me, you’re left with a weak, saggy hammock that hasn’t quite recovered enough, it’s harder to squeeze the muscles at the bottom of your bladder, so stress incontinence might make an unwelcome appearance in your life.

Tip: avoid sneezing, coughing, laughing, trampolines, bouncy castles, any kind of jumping movement, running, erm standing up…bollocks.

What’s my deal?

You’re more likely to have postnatal incontinence if you experienced it during pregnancy (tick – I once mistook it for my waters breaking!), had a vaginal birth (tick), pushed for a long time (tick), and had a bad tear or cut (sodding tick).

It was a telling sign of the joys to come when I stood up for the first time after having Alice and pissed all over the hospital floor. The next few days were like a Mexican standoff between me and my pelvic floor, it daring me to unclench during each trip to the bathroom so it could relax after nine long months and let my insides disappear along with my wee, me thinking “stay strong you bastard, I’ve never asked you for anything, just give me the next few metres”.

I immediately started frenziedly squeezing my pelvic floor whilst lying on the hospital bed, realising what a total twonk I was not to have started doing this religiously nine months ago, but my nerves were so stretched from the birth I couldn’t feel anything.

At this point, so much happened, as anyone in the first crazy weeks of meeting their newborn will know, I had no time to worry about weeing myself; I had a small person to keep alive. Plus, I was wearing pads as thick as the Argos catalogue, and bleeding heavily, so a bit of wee was the least of my troubles.

Several weeks/months later, when I had chance to become reacquainted with my body, I realised a few things had changed: I was now a bit leaky, and I had a two-finger gap between my abdominal muscles. Both are extremely common for women to experience after pregnancy and childbirth. We have all the fun, right ladies?

As your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles work together to support your core, mine was about as supported as groceries in a Tesco’s carrier bag. I wasn’t worried though, it can take a woman’s body up to two years to fully recover from childbirth, so I had plenty of time. And sure enough, I stopped leaking for a few months.

Fast forward 13 months on, many of which were spent lugging around a humongous cling-on baby, and the wicked wee witch has returned, bringing with her five weeks of successive infections and four courses of antibiotics. Bleurgh.

See next page for more on fixing the leak…

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