Incontinence is a centuries old health issue that we haven’t been talking about for just as long.
Since we’re not really talking about it, it’s no wonder that few women are aware of this health condition until it happens to them. For women who find themselves leaking periodically due to childbirth, age, intense athletics, or any number of other factors, there is a sense of isolation and embarrassment, like somehow it’s their fault. This feeling might intensify if the individual is managing other health issues such as post-partum depression or obesity. Incontinence of any kind takes an emotional toll.
Incontinence can happen to anyone but those who suffer it feel at risk for harsh judgements if they talk about it. Though stress incontinence is so common that friends are likely to commiserate, discussing such a personal issue takes a lot of nerve. We are expected to be in control of our bodies as soon as we are toilet-trained as toddlers, and we’re expected to maintain this control through all of the physical changes we encounter in life. Anything less than that can lead to criticism by ourselves and others.
Even Catherine the Great, the progressive Queen of Russia (reigning 1762 – 1796), who championed women’s education, inoculation from diseases such as smallpox, public hospitals and orphanages, was harsh to judge. From the Robert Massie’s biography Catherine the Great (p558):
“Catherine also stood back from the countess because of a discovery she made after the palace fire of November 1753 in Moscow. Some of Countess Shuvalov’s belongings, saved from the fire, had been mistakenly delivered to the grand duchess. Examining them, Catherine discovered that “Countess Shuvalova’s petticoats were lined with leather because she was incontinent. As a result, the odor of urine permeated all her under-clothing. I sent them back to her as quickly as possible.”
How can we change thinking that dates back centuries? A few ways we can change things:
We Need to Teach Young Women about their Bodies. They need to understand it’s complexities and become familiar with the importance of pelvic health
We need to share our stories. If medical professionals don’t identify the problem, they can’t help find a solution. Similarly, if we aren’t willing to chat with friends about this difficult subject, we can’t act as a community and find support
We need to talk about cause and solution. This includes understanding pelvic health and how important it is for core body control. One physio suggests that a daily pelvic-floor health ‘check-in’ should really be as important as other daily self-care tasks, such as brushing your teeth or washing your hands.