Sometimes it's hard to open up with others about what's happening with our health. But doing so can help you gain valuable insights into your background and may help you take preventative action to avoid some conditions. Read this story about the importance of sharing your health history and the impact it can make on the entire family.
Growing up in a very conservative family in the 20’s, my Grandmother learned at an early age how to “act properly”. She was a lady, for sure, always looking immaculate, with great manners and a strong sense of pride. She was a private person – never sharing too much and kept any troubles or personal concerns to herself. She passed these traits along to my own mother and then, by default, on to me. What none of us knew, until recently, is that while acting ladylike is well and good in many cases, keeping things inside can sometimes cause rippling effects throughout generations, especially as it relates to health concerns.
You see, we all suffer from bladder leakage. My Grandmother gave birth to three children in her younger years, and as she inched toward middle age, she began experiencing the symptoms of stress urinary incontinence, causing her to leak urine when extra “stress” (coughing, laughing, sneezing) is placed on the bladder.
For her, this was simply something that she had to live with. She would never dream of talking to anyone about it, especially her doctor. It just became a part of who she was and she managed as well as she could on her own, in silence.
My mother suffered a similar fate, dealing with her bladder leakage in much the same way as my Grandmother did for all those years. It wasn’t until I started experiencing symptoms a few years after the birth of my second child that I ever knew it was something that had plagued generations of my family.
I was on the phone with my mom when, after a particularly intense sneezing fit, had to excuse myself to use the restroom. When I got back to the phone, my mother very delicately asked me if everything was ok. And though I had never spoken with her candidly about this before, I suddenly felt a need to know if she had also experienced the problem. I asked her very calmly if she had ever had “issues” holding her bladder, and suddenly it was if the flood gates had opened – she shared her struggles over the years, and also her suspicion that her own mother had experienced the same things. We decided to ask my Grandmother at our next monthly visit and finally, the three of us sat down and spoke frankly about this very common problem.
What I learned shocked me, but also sounded vaguely familiar. My Grandmother had never spoken to anyone about her issue – not even once. She purchased incontinence supplies as discreetly as she could and never even told my Grandfather that she was experiencing problems (although I can’t imagine that he didn’t know). My mother, at least, did tell her doctor, but after a trying, and failing, on one medication, decided to just try to manage it herself and live with the issue.
I had only just been experiencing light leaks for the past few months, but after hearing their stories and learning about the years of living with the condition, I was determined to do something. That very day I made an appointment with my doctor to learn my options. I read everything I could find about incontinence and before my appointment and was armed with a list of questions for my doctor.
At my appointment we talked about my options, and I started out by making several lifestyle changes – including taking a hard look at my diet, and practicing several core and pelvic floor exercises to gain some of the strength back that I lost after having kids.
It’s been about a year since my conversation with my Mom and Grandmother, and I’m so glad that I finally opened up to them and learned their struggle. Too many keep conditions such as incontinence to themselves, instead of speaking up about it – especially to those they love. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one, and in fact, that this problem likely had at least a little bit to do with genetics helped me immensely.
During my research into my own problem, I came across a study that showed incontinence that occurs before you reach middle age is likely determined by your genes. I only wish that I would have had the conversation with my family earlier.
May is Women’s Health Month. And Mother’s Day just happens to be coming up as well. Use this time with your family wisely – make it a point to ask them about their health history. You’ll be able to better arm yourself with information on your background and how to treat your own condition simply by speaking up and starting the conversation. And who knows – you may find that you have someone else who knows exactly what you’re going through who is right under your nose.