Not just an “old lady” problem: 1 in 4 women over 18 experience episodes of bladder leakage

“Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously.” ― Og Mandino

In my early teens, two of my best friends gave me the nickname PB2.

It was an inside joke, one we laughed off, but it also carried a lot of shame and embarrassment.

Yes, back before cell phones, home computers and the Internet, we found enjoyment playing in a box in my friend’s garage one weekend. I remember it was a dryer or washer box. Sure, we were around 13, but we had a ball trying to fit three people in it.

So much so I got to laughing and peed my pants. Not just once – but TWICE! Hence the name PB2, short for pee in the box twice.

I remember another incident around the same age. I was playing hide and seek at another friend’s house. Sure enough, once again I started laughing and lost control of my bladder outside in the dark.

I’m not sure why these two incidents stand out in my mind, other than I was at that awkward age of puberty, trying
to fit in and make new friends after experiencing relentless bullying in grade school. Luckily, my friends didn’t make fun of me beyond some innocent teasing.

I don’t remember if I had other “accidents” growing up. Maybe I blocked them from memory. I don’t recall wetting the bed in elementary or at some unusual age. Looking back, I do feel like my bladder has always had control of my life. I’ve always worried about laughing too hard and losing control, about how long I could hold it on a car trip or being stuck without access to a bathroom.

Even on a study abroad trip to London a few years ago, I was the oldest student – in my mid-30s – and the one always asking if we should go to the bathroom, going “just in case” even when I really didn’t need to (a bad habit for your bladder), or worrying I would be caught on a field trip and have to hold it until it hurt.

My mom said the doctor pushed and pushed on her stomach during labor, pretty much forcing me to come out. She doesn’t know if that trauma maybe injured my pelvic organs and bladder. I also had two hernias as a toddler – and two operations. One was repaired with mesh, and I have to wonder if maybe my internal organs didn’t get properly put back into place (and why I believe I’ve never had a flat stomach), which puts pressure on my bladder.

There are a several organs that sit in a tiny space in the pelvis – bladder, uterus and rectum – and the pelvic floor supports them. There also are three openings in the pelvic floor – the urethra, vagina and anus. I’ll discuss the pelvic floor and organs more in-depth in the future.

I’m not writing this to embarrass myself further, but to say that I’ve been there. I understand the worry and insecurity that comes with urge incontinence, that “gotta go, gotta go” feeling, and stress incontinence, leakage when you laugh, cough or sneeze. I’ve experienced both.

And it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one. As a Mercy Health Bladder Clinic Total Control instructor, I now realize this is a major health issue for women.

Much more than an “old lady” problem, loss of bladder control is an embarrassing, depressing and isolating condition that affects women of all ages. Yes, I’m talking to you with teenage daughters who play high-impact sports, new moms, women going through menopause, hardcore athletes and running fanatics.

Many factors can weaken a woman’s pelvic muscles, including childbirth, menopause, pelvic surgery or prolapse, diabetes, obesity, neurological conditions, race, voiding habits and nutrition. Repetitive pounding and pressure on the pelvic floor, say from running or “bearing down” while trying to poo, isn’t good. Gravity isn’t our friend, either.

More than 65 million Americans experience bladder leakage. And nearly half are under 50. And those stats come from a Depend ad.

Here are a few other staggering facts from Women’s Health Foundation (and these are from nearly a decade ago):

• 1 in 4 women over age 18 experience episodes of urinary incontinence
• 1 in 3 new moms experience chronic loss of bladder control sixth months after childbirth
• 30-50% of childbearing women over age 40 develop a chronic, out-of-control bladder
• 1 in 4 childbearing women report symptoms of fecal incontinence by age 40
• 1 in 5 women who participate in recreational sports like running and soccer change or drop their sport
due to urinary incontinence or leaking
• Nearly 20 percent of women over age 75 experience daily incontinence
• 50 percent of nursing home residents have urinary incontinence and/or fecal incontinence
• Urinary incontinence ranks second and fecal incontinence third for nursing home admission
• $26.3 billion in total healthcare costs, greater than uterine, ovarian, cervical and breast cancers combined
• $1.3 billion spent in the US for adult absorbent products

And that’s why I love the Total Control program. It empowers women through exercises and education to improve their bladder health rather than accept a life of wearing pads. It’s a great preventative program for women of all ages and offers a natural alternative to try before medication and surgery, or as a companion program to medical treatments and recovery following vaginal delivery and pelvic surgery.

Loss of bladder control is NOT a natural part of aging. And the good news is 80 percent of women with urinary incontinence can reduce or totally alleviate their symptoms to regain a sense of independence and improve quality of life.

Youth last in line for jobs

“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”
– Booker T. Washington

It’s easy to be woe is me. Until you meet someone like Yesenia Romero, who puts your problems into perspective.

Read more about Yesenia’s story here: Honoring Our Youth

The story focuses on Steepletown Neighborhood Services’ Honoring Our Youth program. Visiting last week for a freelance writing assignment reminded me why I decided to pursue a degree in nonprofit work – and why I miss being a reporter.

Situated a few blocks off Seward among the steeples of Basilica of Saint Adalbert, Steepletown is a faith-based nonprofit formed as an outreach of three neighboring Catholic churches. The agency provides a variety of programs aimed at youth development and employment, family well-being, and community engagement, but its GED program is one of the most popular.

Steepletown operates in the spirit of neighbor helping neighbor, working alongside several nonprofits offering services out of Steepletown Center on Grand Rapids’ west side. Like its Facebook page. Volunteer as a tutor. There are plenty of ways to help. For more information, visit the website: Steepletown Center

The neighborhoods historically have been home to Polish, Irish and German immigrants and blue-collar, factory working folks. Today, the urban center serves Hispanic immigrants, Native Americans and a diverse population of disenfranchised youth seeking to get back on track, turn their lives around and renew their belief in themselves and the pursuit of the American dream.

Perhaps it is because the building formerly served as a convent, but Steepletown Center has a laid-back vibe upon entering. The learning lab is in the basement. Steepletown’s administrative offices are on the second floor. People are in and out and roam about, yet they tend to mind their own business. Participants address the female staffers as Miss and everyone seems kind, genuine and eager to help.

While there, Founding Director Dick Bulkowski handed me a report on the state of young people in this country. It’s not pretty. They are dropping out of high school at alarming rates. They feel disconnected. They stand last in line for jobs.

So why should you care?

There are plenty of headlines in the local news about low-performing schools, low test scores, and high dropout rates. The issue of disconnected youth, those who are either out of work or out of school, is a much larger problem plaguing the country. Youth employment is at its lowest level since World War II. Only about half of young people age 16-24 held jobs in 2011, according to a Kids Count Policy Report by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

This waste of talent and lack of opportunity to gain early work experience has profound implications for youth today, as well as the workforce, the economy and the nation. Data from the report shows that the populations struggling the most to enter the workforce and stay in school are youth who are less educated, come from low-income families and belong to a racial or ethnic minority.

One study estimates that for each 16-year-old out of school and out of work, the future lifetime taxpayer burden is $258,040. The same study calculates that the total taxpayer burden for all out-of-school and out-of-work youth ages 16 to 24 is $1.56 trillion.

Many of these young people also find themselves taking on the role of parent, leading them to need additional public services and perpetuating the intergenerational cycle of poverty in many communities.

Instead of being woe is me, if you are out of work and have time to spare, get involved at one of the many nonprofit organizations trying to give these youth a helping hand and a second chance. Or put down your cell phones and shut off Facebook and help your own kids so they don’t become a statistic.

For more information on The Annie E. Casey Foundation report, visit: Kids Count and search for Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity.

To get the best available data about children and families where you live, visit the site’s other resources: Data Center

Stay tuned for my own job hunting plight, and why I have had it with people who think it’s so easy to just go out and get a job.