I was 12 years old when I used to watch my Mother hide her incontinence. We’d be out somewhere and she’d commonly run off toward the bathroom, her spare pants hidden in her purse. Or, we’d be at home, washing dishes together after dinner and she would stop, mid-sentence, to race to the toilet, always returning in a different pair of pants. I knew better not to ask her about it – it was one of those things that she just wouldn’t open up about, and I could tell she didn’t want anyone else to know – especially my father.
Years later, when I became a mother and started experiencing leaks myself I began my own charade of pretending everything was normal. I, like my mother, didn’t want anyone to know I couldn’t control my bladder. “Who would understand?”, I thought. “It’s just a part of becoming older and a result of having children.” After all, that’s what I was always conditioned to believe. And so, I lived most of my years as a mother hiding my problem from my family, my friends, and my doctor.
It wasn’t until I became a Grandmother that the reality hit me. I was staying with my daughter, helping her care for her new baby girl, my first grandchild. I watched as she, a brand new mother still recovering from childbirth struggled with bladder control issues in those first few days. I saw how she tried to hide her accidents from me, and for the first time, I felt truly ashamed – not because I suffered from incontinence, but because my pride had kept me from opening up to others about my problem, and in a way, continued this needless cycle of denial and hiding. I decided at that moment that it would stop – for my daughter, my granddaughter and for myself. I spoke openly with my daughter that day about my struggles with incontinence throughout my life, and how I couldn’t bear to see her waste her precious time with her new little girl worrying about something that now seemed so trivial. I let her know that I knew this was a common problem, but was certain there were things that could be done for her if it didn’t improve in the course of her post-partum recovery. And, I made a commitment, to her and to myself, that I would seek treatment too. I was done hiding, and done being ashamed.
We as women have come so far over the course of my life – rising in ranks in the corporate world, making an immense impact to society, accomplishing amazing things. Why do we continue to let something like incontinence make us feel so ashamed that we don’t ever even seek a solution to the problem?
I wish my mother would have opened up with me about incontinence. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone and isolated all of these years. But, I’m grateful that I’m finally breaking the cycle of shame and doing something positive for the two women that I love most in the world. At least it’s a start. I hope, if you’re reading this, you’ll decide to join me.
Sandy L., Morristown, NJ
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