As I stood there filming a corporate video for a client, confidently presenting to a camera, nobody would have realised that that morning I had woken early to clean my bedsheets, dispose of my wet incontinence pad, and shower. 

When I had my first child in my early twenties, I stocked up on cloth diapers – little did I know that a decade later I’d still be buying nappies, this time for me.

‘You’re one of the youngest patients I’ve treated with such a severe condition,’ said the gynaecologist. 

I am 33, and I wet the bed. I live with urinary incontinence, which massively impacts my daily life. From the odd ‘urge’ and leak to go to the toilet to uncontrolled use of my bladder. 

In many ways, lockdown was a blessing for my bladder as I always had a toilet on hand, but I also became too accustomed to going whenever I felt like it. I am sure this has exasperated my bladder weakness.

When my daughters returned to school, it got to the point where I was scared to walk a short distance without an accessible toilet. When I did venture out all I could think about was getting back to my bathroom. 

I had only ever heard of children wetting the bed or adults after a night out, bar the odd leaking a little after giggling. So dealing with this issue every day felt isolating and embarrassing. I am not some freak anomaly, however, as around 7million people in the UK alone suffer from urinary incontinence.

The statistics could be a lot higher because many do not ‘confess’ to having an issue.

We’re brought up with society-driven shame when speaking about bladders, bowels, penises, and vaginas. Even reading those words may make you cringe, let alone have an open dialogue about it.

When we think of incontinence, whether it be faeces or urine, we think of babies, children, or the elderly in hospitals.

What to do if you’re suffering with a weaker ‘working from home bladder’

It seems our bladders are not as robust as they were pre-lockdown. But why do our bladders get weaker when we go to the toilet more often?

Dr Kandi says: ‘Frequently emptying your bladder means that your bladder gets used to holding less and less urine and like a balloon, it begins to shrink and shrivel. 

Read more here

But when I was hospitalised aged just 19, with bulimia nervosa, I remember experiencing incontinence that I had concealed for months at home; it felt so humiliating.

I often slept in sodden sheets because I was too embarrassed to tell the nurses. Would they laugh? Or tell other people? I would rather hide the sheets and sleep on the plastic mattress cover than declare that I had wet the bed. 

Fortunately, as I began to manage the eating disorder better, the incontinence subsided.

But in spite of regularly exercising my pelvic floor, I started leaking urine again aged 23, after being induced with my firstborn. 

Giving birth to my second baby, aged 25, the daily leaking worsened.

I ignored it for as long as I could until six months after giving birth when I struggled to exercise without fully wetting myself. I had always loved to exercise but now as soon as I jogged, squatted or danced, I would be more focused on my leaking bladder than the movement. 

I would wear dark trousers, sanitary towels all year round, and tried to just focus on not weeing during any exercise class. 

I shrugged off any noticeable leakage as ‘sweat, ‘making a joke of it and I think most people believed me.  

Rather than the normal fulfilling feeling of finishing a class, I just wanted to run home – well walk slowly! Luckily, these days I’ve rediscovered my love of belly dance and yoga and other flow fitness styles, which allow me to move with my body rather than against it.  

The more specialist staff shared their knowledge on all the reasons for incontinence with me, the more empowered I felt

After several months since giving birth, I eventually confided in some mum friends who, to my surprise, experienced it too. Sharing similar stories was comforting for all of us and helped us to connect beyond our babies. 

Mentally, I felt better knowing I wasn’t alone, but nothing changed physically – in fact it got worse. My whole vagina felt like it was being released. 

After many doctors’ visits and male GPs turning me away as it was ‘just because of childbirth,’ I was eventually checked over by a female consultant who referred me to a pelvic floor physiotherapist, who gave me exercises. But after trying these for a number of months it was agreed the damage was irreparable naturally. 

She fitted a pessary but even the largest one kept falling out and I was still leaking. I could either stay as I was or have the surgery. 

However, having more children could undo the surgery or cause a lot of pain and pressure and I still hoped to have more children one day, so I delayed surgery. 

That’s until lockdown happened and it got worse. 

I knew I had to seek help because while I joked about it to close friends, it was taking its toll on my mental health. 

Fortunately, after a GP referral, an understanding physiotherapist referred me to a helpful gynaecologist who carried out full checks on my bladder and pelvic floor as well as sending me to necessary scans. 

The more specialist staff shared their knowledge on all the reasons for incontinence with me, the more empowered I felt, rather than feeling quite as ‘gross’ and ‘disgusting.’ Knowledge really is power.

For me, treatment means open surgery but for most, it may be as simple as seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist and specific exercises.

Incontinence is time-consuming, expensive and it is debilitating for anyone experiencing it. But it can be addressed so that you can live a fulfilling life. 

While I wait for my surgery, I manage it as well as possible through sanitary towels, a pessary ring, nighttime ‘nappies’, washable bed mats, and ensuring I open my bladder fully. 

The biggest relief of all, physically and mentally, has been talking about it – and realising I am not alone.

Read more from Sophie on her website, or join her free women’s health community 

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