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.

Educate yourself: Download, read and share “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink”

“She is one missed paycheck, one sick child, one broken down car away from losing it all.”Maria Shriver

We are 42 million strong. The number of women living on the brink – on the edge of a financial meltdown. I am one of them. I am the face of poverty. I always have been, and at this rate, I may always be.

I am not ashamed to admit it, because it has shaped who I am. I hesitate to say being raised by a single mother and understanding what it means – what it feels like – to live paycheck to paycheck, even into adulthood as a single, child-free woman with a college degree, clouded my world view in a negative way. I like to think it has impacted who I am in a good way, giving me the capacity to be empathetic, to relate to the plight of the poor and struggling single mothers, and the ability to see that there are many factors that lead to, and perpetuate, the cycle of poverty.

It is what has made me a good journalist and a relatable, compassionate human being. It’s why I consider myself a social activist and social change agent, a passionate advocate for social justice and women’s equality issues.

Maybe it’s also why this video makes me cry every time I watch it: Click here

Maria Shriver’s groundbreaking report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, is available free until Wednesday. Time is running out! Download your copy today by clicking here.

The 400-page report takes an honest look at the millions of women who are doing it all – trying to go to school, hold down a job and put food on the table – and barely scraping by, struggling to provide and parent in a political climate that shames them, an economy that discriminates as far as equal pay and family-friendly workplace policies, and a competitive culture that continues to pit women against each other.

As the report highlights, one in three people in the U.S. endures the stress, struggle, and anxiety of financial insecurity every day. More than 100 million Americans either live near the brink of poverty or churn in and out of it, and nearly 70 percent of them are women and children. The brink refers to the economic line separating the middle class from the working poor and those people living in absolute poverty.

For the millions of American women who live this way, I would have to agree with Shriver: the dream of “having it all” has morphed into “just hanging on.” And it’s a scary place to be. I can attest it takes a special kind of resiliency, determination and grit to want to keep going – and I don’t even have a child to worry about.

Yes, even with a master’s degree, even graduating third in my high school class, even earning scholarships for academic accomplishments for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I am today’s face of poverty. Perhaps, because of many of my early childhood experiences, I chose a different route than most of the women I know – the route of earning an education, pursuing a career, taking pride in supporting myself, and being very pragmatic about the pros and cons of marriage and childrearing.

I’ve never bought into marriage, much less having a baby, as an easy out for solving my economic troubles. Quite the contrary. I’m not ashamed to say it: The thought of being trapped in a bad marriage, or constantly stressed out and tied down with a child whom I cannot support, petrifies me. People seem to forget that children don’t feed and clothe themselves. Not to mention, they are a lifetime commitment.

In a baby-crazed culture that makes you feel like something is wrong if you don’t feel the mother bug, I’ve stood strong in my convictions and made the conscious choice to delay having children, with growing certainty that I will likely remain child free. Still, that doesn’t mean I have contempt for the women who long to be married and have kids, or love the role of homemaker and mother, or that I cannot relate to the women Shriver highlights in “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.”

We all get to choose our path in life. And our life experiences shape the path we take.

I wrote about being raised by a single mother in scholarship applications and my application to graduate school. Yes, my dad was in the picture, but he always fought her on paying his fair share of child support, and we lived on the brink. We didn’t have designer clothes, we drove a junky car and our house was pretty average. Yes, my mom owned it, but she also owned rentals, and those seemed to cut into our standard of living due to something always needing repaired or someone not paying rent. But those people were living on the brink, too, so my mom tried to work with them.

All in all, I am grateful we didn’t move around a lot and attended the same school and always had a place to call home. We had a good meal every night. And our utilities didn’t regularly get shut off, but it was a childhood fraught with financial uncertainty and even secret embarrassment when it came to measuring up materialistically at school and among friends. I never had braces, a class ring, senior pictures or other things that are common for most kids who grew up with married parents and two incomes.

I give my mom a lot of credit for working hard to raise two daughters, not taking government assistance for food or school lunches. She even had a decent job as a housing inspector for people who received subsidized housing, but she never made more than $10 an hour back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When I cleaned the house, I would come across unopened utility bills. I always thought it was odd, but I guess it was her way of not dealing with the reality there wasn’t money to pay them. And I believe it is why I have always been hypervigilant about paying mine as an adult.

I’m not writing this to embarrass either of my parents. They did the best they could. These are the reasons poverty and women’s equality issues are deeply personal to me.

Watching my mom struggle to make ends meet pushed me to pursue higher education. I always thought if you worked hard, earned good grades and had the self-determination to see a goal through to completion that you would be rewarded. I believed that degree would be my golden ticket to the good life – with or without a husband. And while my bachelor’s degree did open the doors to a rewarding and successful career as a newspaper reporter for more than a decade, it never opened the doors to the economic opportunity to both own a house and have a car payment at the same time as a single woman.

Now, as a 37-year-old woman with an advanced degree who cannot find a job and currently lives in “poverty,” this issue hits even closer to home. I have had to make some very personal and very tough decisions in the last two years due to my financial situation. I am confident I would be back living with one of my parents without the support of my boyfriend. It’s been humbling, depressing and eye opening to say the least. I tried to do everything right in hopes of being a contributing member of society. In the last few weeks, I’ve even found myself trying to pacify a female business owner who wanted to haggle over $10 an hour and give me unnecessary grief.

Beyond that, I am tired of this Conservative/Republican political agenda that tries to convince people that welfare moms are lazy, people who don’t want to work and just want to suck off the system. The truth is, most working moms make minimum wage or work other low-wage service sector jobs in health care, retail or food service. They will qualify for food stamps, Medicaid and government housing assistance. It doesn’t take a genius to do the math. Even at $10 an hour working a full-time job, that translates into an average $300 paycheck after taxes and not counting premiums for health insurance or child-care costs.

Sure, there will always be free riders in society. There will always be people who cannot work due to physical and mental disabilities, but it is simply a myth and a lie that most welfare moms – or most people living in poverty – do not want to work. Just read The Shriver Report.

Here are some other statistics from the report:

• 1 and 3 women are financially living on the brink. Many of these women feel they are just a single incident – one broken bone, one broken-down car, one missed paycheck – away from a serious financial crisis.
• Women are nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in the country.
• More than 70 percent of low-wage workers get no paid sick days at all.
• 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income.
• The median earnings of full-time female workers are still just 77 percent of the median earnings of their male counterparts.
• Women with only a high school diploma are three to four times more likely to live on the financial brink than those with a college degree.
• America is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee mothers paid leave to care for a new child, and one of only a few countries that doesn’t guarantee workers a right to earn paid sick days.
• This is the first post-recession recovery since 1970 in which women have continued to lose jobs while men have gained more than 1.1 million jobs.

Stop passing judgment, speaking with an air of superiority, and spouting off half truths. Start educating yourself. Learn a little empathy. This is your mother, your sister, your neighbor, your employee, your colleague, your friend. This issue of women and children living in poverty and living on the brink is everyone’s problem. And based on the current economy, it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

And ladies, it’s time to stand up, push back, own our power, and, above all, support each other.

Dark Days Do Lead To Brighter Ones

“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”Jordan Belfort

This time of year always puts me in a reflective mood. I’m not sure if it’s the change of the seasons, leafless trees, cloudy skies and, every time I look out my window, mentally preparing for at least four months of snow, cold and days hunkered indoors. Perhaps it’s the lack of daylight, and even sparser sunlight – the joys of the lake effect in winter. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact my late ex-husband died right before Christmas at far too young of an age, and every year when the anniversary of his death rolls around, I have a twinge of regret. We hadn’t been together for years, or in touch, but one always wonders if reaching out to a person in emotional distress might have made a difference. It also doesn’t help that the day of his funeral, which I couldn’t attend due to living out of state and no vacation time, I found out the dog we had together and I took care of for 10 years was dying and had two weeks to live.

Make no mistake: The Universe connects us in mysterious ways. It also sends us signals about what is working and not working in our life.

Four years ago at this time, the only career I had ever known – one that many would perceive as prestigious, one that had landed me in West Michigan, one that provided a steady paycheck doing something I loved – also was coming to an end. I never entered or stayed in the newspaper profession to feed my ego. It was more out of a sense of passion and purpose and the opportunity to make a difference. But, after 11 years, it had taken its emotional toll.

Super unhappy at the time, I indulged in self-destructive behaviors as a way to cope for several months leading up to being laid off. Due to a series of circumstances that had been building for a few years, work had started to suck the life out of me. Literally. I was sick, stressed, negative, and generally not myself. I struggled to drag myself out of bed in the mornings to go to work. I started doing things that weren’t in my character because I felt hopeless and helpless to change my circumstances. When you are a single woman who has to support yourself, when you live four hours away from your family, when you feel like you don’t have many options, life can become very overwhelming and exhausting.

It got so bad I took leave for two weeks so I could regroup and figure out my next move. I knew layoffs were coming, and I willingly volunteered to be the first in the newsroom to get pink slipped. People thought I was crazy at the time. Luckily, I didn’t have kids, a mortgage or other big bills to worry about. I also knew it was that or quit, swallow my pride and move back with one of my parents before I lost my mind.

I also remember praying. Really praying. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve gotten down on my knees and pleaded, asking God or some Higher Power to deliver me from my job and change the course of my life. I remember crying and hibernating and trying my damnedst to trust that the Universe had a plan – that it would all work in due time. And I did have a plan post-layoff. Take some time to rest and heal. Qualify for unemployment and the No Worker Left Behind program and go to graduate school. It worked out for the most part, in many regards better than I could have expected – other than I have yet to land that amazing full-time job I thought would be so easy with a master’s degree. I never expected the economy would be this slow to recover; it would come down to who you know, not what you know; that there would be age discrimination at age 37; or so many people afraid to hire someone because they perceive them as a threat to their job.

But, just like I did four years ago, I have to trust that it all unfolds in divine order. I am grateful I have learned to make hard decisions, listen to my inner wisdom and stay true to myself. Maybe another corporate, high-stress job is not in the cards for me – at least not right now. I talked to a woman recently who retold a similar experience. She was a successful divorce attorney, but she was miserable and found herself $50,000 in debt even with a good income. She started taking trips to Sedona, Arizona, to work with spiritual guides and practitioners.

During those sessions, the answer kept coming back that she needed to quit her law practice or she was going to die of cancer like her mother. She didn’t know how her life was going to unfold, but she trusted the Universe to make it happen. Now, a decade later, she runs a successful business in Sedona that plans customized spiritual retreats for people. She told me that we will never be shown everything, just bits and pieces. But if you honor what you are being shown and pay attention to what the Universe is trying to tell you – and act on it – the right path will continue to be revealed.

Although that period four years ago – I was off work this very week if we go by calendar date – was dark and painful, I consider it one of the defining times of my life. It’s not been a cake walk in the four years since. My life is definitely not perfect and not entirely what I thought it would be. Now $20,000 in debt with student loans, currently being deferred, I also qualify for financial assistance through the local hospital because my income is so low and I have no health insurance. I am still living in West Michigan – a place I planned to escape as soon as I graduated.

But I am so grateful I am facing my fear of failure and fear of the unknown. Maybe they were life lessons I needed to learn. Sure, there is some comfort in a steady paycheck and health insurance, even when the job is making you sick. Yet, I can attest there is a sense of calm and peace that comes from carving out your own career path, too. I cherish having freedom and flexibility, along with feeling passion and purpose. I am improving my organizational and time-management skills by planning ahead and meeting deadlines of my own accord. I can sleep late, work when I want, say yes or no to assignments. Even better, I don’t have a boss or office politics to deal with, no commute on snowy winter days, and am back to meeting interesting people, telling their stories and learning something new every day.

I also have a renewed sense of self-confidence because, yes, I am doing what I feel is my true calling. I don’t live in a big house or have a new car in the driveway, but I don’t live on credit, either. And I finally feel happy. Along with writing, another job I didn’t get led to becoming a certified Total Control Wellness instructor. Teaching women how to improve bladder control with exercise and lifestyle changes energizes and excites me every time I teach a new session. I have become passionate about researching and writing about women’s health issues around hormones, birth control and other taboo topics.

Simple abundance means you realize your blessings don’t come from material things and you learn to be content with what you have – knowing it is more than enough. Whether you want to call it God, the Law of Attraction in action or connecting with your higher self, life is pretty good when you operate from a place of authenticity and honesty and trust the voice within.