Get ready for some TMI.
I was ready to pee my pants when I was pregnant. I’m serious. I heard women leaked uncontrollably toward the end of their pregnancies. I had wrongly assumed it had something to do with lack of bladder control, or perhaps that the weight (and movement) of the nearly-term fetus wrecked havoc down there. I blindly assumed that’s just what having a kid would do to me. It was inevitable.
Why the hell wasn’t I told about my pelvic floor before becoming pregnant? Why do women and girls not know about their pelvic floor muscles, and how important they are for everyday living, until things have gotten dire? Where’s the conversation about this?
Imagine you have never smiled in your entire life. Then imagine that some magical doctor shows up one day and tells you this muscle exercise called smiling will not only make you feel better, but offers physical health improvements to boot. Sounds good; let’s get smiling! Except, you’ve never done this smiling thing before. You’ve heard about it, seen some demonstrations on YouTube, thought about what it must be like to smile, but you’ve never actually coordinated your body to produce a smile. And this doctor, a fantastically supportive person, encourages you to go ahead and start. You ask what it’s supposed to feel like. You wonder how you know you’re actually smiling. You’ve never tapped into these muscles before. You never even knew you had these muscles. The best you can do is not frown.
That’s kind of like trying to figure out what your pelvic floor muscles are all about. My magical doctor turned out to be a physiotherapist. She’s great at cheering me on, boosting my confidence that I’ve got a pelvic floor (surprise!) and that working on my muscular strength will improve my physical and mental health, prevent me from accidentally urinating on myself, and increase my enjoyment of sex. She’s not so great at helping me find actual improvement in the functioning of my pelvic floor. She keeps telling me the same thing over and over: “Imagine you have to wee and you’re stopping yourself.” While it’s a useful image, all I can think of is myself on the toilet and not what muscles I need to target. The goal is to be able to “lift and hold” a squeeze for ten seconds. I might be able to hold for one second, though I’m not sure it even counts. I have, however, found that the best way to feel your muscles being targeted is to, well, feel them. Insert those fingers and practice. Remind yourself that this isn’t the time to be bashful about your body. You’ve already birthed a baby.
Perhaps this great secret isn’t talked about because most women don’t have a problem… until they have a problem. It’s incredibly embarrassing to sneeze-pee halfway through your weekly shop in a very public grocery store and wonder if everyone can see the wet spot on your jeans between your legs. I thought I was on track toward healing my post-pregnancy body. I’ve been swimming. I’ve been rowing. I’ve been running. I’ve been lifting. I fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes no problem. I’m only three pounds heavier than before. I passed my physical fitness test with a score better than I anticipated. I’ve been trying to do my pelvic floor exercises on a regular basis. Hell, I’ve even used the “incontinence device” the hospital loaned me that looks like a crappy version of an average sex toy that sends an electric shock to the most private area inside of my body. I’m doing all the right things. And then I sneeze-pee two weeks ago, sneeze-pee last week, and then, while lifting at the gym, nearly lose control halfway through a rep. I’m eleven months postpartum. I can deadlift my bodyweight at the gym, but I cannot stop my lower half from wetting itself in the process.
I try not to let it bother me. I’ve been through worse. I’m not usually self-conscious. Why does it look like I peed my pants? Because I did. This is the truth of what women’s bodies go through to make and deliver a baby. (Hashtag, real life.) If needs be, I’ll saddle up and pull on some incontinence pants designed for eighty-year-olds and pump some iron while strangers try not to gawk. I will not let a weakness in one part of my body stop me from strengthening everything else. I won’t shy away from embracing the totality of my new body, even the parts I’d rather not own. One baby step at a time and I’ll heal myself.
In the meantime, feel free to stop me in the street and ask how my pelvic floor is doing.