Urinary incontinence is the involuntary release of urine. There are different types of incontinence, including stress incontinence, urge incontinence and overactive bladder syndrome.
Unfortunately, incontinence can be quite traumatic and embarrassing. But according to Dr Prenevin Govender, a Cape Town-based urologist and Health24’s incontinence Expert, previously told Health24, “Incontinence is never ‘normal’ and if you experience it, you should always go to your doctor. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a urologist.”
Here are three real-life stories about women suffering from incontinence.
‘A horse riding accident left me incontinent’
Davida Simons* remembers the day she injured herself and became incontinent. “It was a beautiful day,” she recalls. “It was my birthday and I was riding Adoro, my thoroughbred four-year-old gelding, sweet and wise beyond his years. We were making circles in the corral when he stumbled. He never fell (and neither did I), but he tripped on something and stumbled."
Davida fell forward onto the saddle's high pommel. "As Adoro righted himself, I did too, but the damage had already been done. My impact with the saddle had destroyed my urethra and seriously injured my bladder. There was blood everywhere and, suddenly, I was incontinent."
Although she has had surgery since her accident, she is still incontinent. “After the accident, without a urethra, I was completely incontinent. Now I have good days and bad, good nights and bad. I am still, years later, adjusting. Each year I become more comfortable with the new me. I plan my activities. I locate restrooms before they are needed. I wear absorbent padding so I am always ready for the unexpected. I would rather not be incontinent. But I know that there are much worse situations than my very manageable one.”
Unfortunately, she had to give up horse riding and chose to retire from teaching in order to heal and begin reconstructive surgery. “What I learnt was that I had a lot of resilience, that I could start over and find fun even with a less-than-perfect hand.”
‘I tried to catch a train but wet myself’
Evie Smith* was 40 years old when she had the embarrassing misfortune of wetting herself. She was running along the platform at Paddington to catch the train home when it happened.
“It was summer, and I was wearing a Nicole Farhi pale silk skirt, with bare legs and sandals. How could I forget," she told In Balance Magazine. "I had had, on occasion over the previous couple of years, drips up until then – drips and sometimes trickles. But this time, as I ran, it was as if a bucket had upended inside me. It trickled down my legs and splashed onto my feet.
“My skirt was stuck to my thighs. I kept running – it was all I could do. I had to catch the train – if I didn’t, I would be late picking my son up from school. I just hoped that if I ran fast enough, no-one would notice – I would be an indistinct blur, not a middle-aged woman who had wet herself … And anyway, I told myself, there’s no-one on this platform I’m ever likely to see again.”
Once on the train she rushed to the bathroom. “Not to go – no, I’d done that already. I pulled off the sodden and completely ruined skirt and equally sodden knickers. I tied my cardigan round my waist, and holding my bag (into which I had stuffed skirt and knickers) awkwardly in front of me, made my way to a seat. And at the other end, I just hoped for the best.”
'I wet myself at my son's school'
Emma Ibbetson was holding her four-year-old son’s hand, sitting in the classroom as they met his teachers for the first time, when she accidentally wet herself.
“I started coughing and it just happened,” she told the Mirror. “All the parents were sitting on plastic chairs and I’d left a mark. I was so embarrassed, I quickly stood up and kicked the chair under the table so that nobody could see. I didn’t dare sit down again.”
This wasn’t the first time the mother of four had suffered from a leaky bladder. “I suffered from a sensitive bladder during pregnancy, which you come to expect, but it always went away afterwards,” she says. But since she gave birth to her fourth child, Rose, in 2012, Emma has continued to suffer from accidental leaks.
She says the worst part is how easily it can happen. “It can be something as little as a cold because you’re coughing and sneezing,” she says. “You learn to know what your triggers are but sometimes it’s impossible to avoid an incident.
"The worst one was when I was pregnant with Rose and I was on the way to school. I had to stop to be sick in a bush with morning sickness and if that wasn’t bad enough, I also wet myself in public. The retching had caused my bladder to leak.
“I had to rush home and change because there was no way I could have gone to school. Luckily, no one was around but it was awful,” she says.
Her husband, Paul, encouraged her to get medical help but Emma was too embarrassed to speak to her male GP. "It's not something you want to talk to a man about."
Emma’s incontinence affected on her confidence and self-esteem.“You worry you smell and people will be able to notice it,” she says. “You worry that you’ll leak, that you’ll sit on something and people will be able to spot the mark you’ve left behind.” But still she didn't seek help.
It was only after she was rushed to the hospital because she couldn’t get out of bed that was she was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, which was the cause for her incontinence. “Two discs were damaged and they were pressing on my nerves, which can cause weakness,” Emma says. “I’d suffered sciatica when I was pregnant but had not connected my back pain to my bladder weakness. It was scary but it made me feel a bit better knowing what was causing it.”
*Names changed to protect their identity.
Image credit: iStock