A few years ago, I started going to the gym — and something uncomfortable happened when I jumped — I peed a little.
I have never considered myself athletic. Yes, I’d walk and push a quad-stroller around town when I ran my child care business, but I never saw myself as strong or active. But, after four children, enjoying good beer, and entering my late-30s, I felt it was time to take better care of my body.
I joined a class for strength and kickboxing, and really enjoyed it. I kept hearing, “Engage your core,” and thought, “Yeah, I know how to do that.” [Insert my disagreeing look and head shake here.] Things were going well. I got the form down. I was able to move from the tiny weights to the somewhat bigger weights.
However, I began to notice that when I would do jumping exercises or really need to engage my core, I would let out a little pee.
I started going to the bathroom right before class started, trying not to drink as much water, and sometimes even needing to go to the bathroom during the one hour class. Running back and forth to the bathroom was not the kind of workout I paid for! Other women from the class joked about this happening to them, too, so I figured it was just a part of life. Deal with it.
Thanks to the algorithms of social media knowing my every thought, I started to see ads for “pelvic floor therapy.” They claimed that while peeing when you sneeze or exercise does naturally occur (more often for women than men, and most frequently for women who have given birth,) it wasn’t something one had to accept as their “new normal.”
Then, someone shared in the private gym group about how she was a pelvic floor therapist; she said the same thing! I decided to take action for myself.
I contacted my primary doctor, explained what was happening, and requested a referral to a pelvic floor therapist (PFT). The one I saw works in the physical therapy department at the hospital. I felt a little strange going in, because I had convinced myself I was strong and could figure this out on my own. I’d done Kegels during my four pregnancies (kind of). Thankfully, this PFT was not surprised by my experience. She showed me a model of the pelvis and all the muscles and bones in there. There are so many muscles inside our bodies!
She explained that pelvic floor muscles can either be weak or overworked. Some of us relax the muscles too much, and others of us clench our muscles too long. When one or the other happens, we can experience incontinence.
In my case, it was considered stress incontinence because I tended to only experience during exercise.
After this explanation with the model, she explained that she would need to do an exam.
The pelvic floor exam was not the same as a pap smear. No tools were involved other than her own gloved hand. She explained what she was doing as it happened so there were no surprises. She inserted her finger into my vagina and felt all around, gently pressing on all areas of the muscles. She then asked me to do some Kegels to test both the strength and the relaxation of my muscles.
It turns out, my muscles were not relaxing all the way.
They were tired, which was causing them to not work as well when they needed to work during my exercising. She explained an exercise to practice for a certain number of times throughout every day until we met again. The great thing about Kegels is that you can do them at any time! She suggested I practice them on the toilet or while lying down at home, though, because I needed to learn what it felt like to fully relax my muscles. This way I didn’t need to worry about relaxing too much and releasing anything.
I took my instructions and determination with me.
I still struggled during the actual exercises, but I felt I was getting better at noticing and engaging my pelvic floor muscles when I did the Kegels. I returned for a followup appointment a few weeks later, and she repeated the internal exam. My muscles had responded! She gave me a new set of exercises to practice, and sent me on my way.
I have been able to fully engage my core, and my stress incontinence has stopped.
I feel more attuned to my body, even if I had felt strange about the whole idea before going. We need to know our bodies!
It isn’t shameful or embarrassing to understand how our bodies work, and to do what helps them strengthen and mature. We deserve to be confident and to keep our pants dry.
There are enough stressful things in life to not have to worry about that!