Stephanie Richards has loved sports her whole life: soccer, softball, tennis, even tae kwon do with her kids when they were younger. She has a job she enjoys, and volunteers as a diver to feed the fish at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. But as Richards hit her early 40s, she had slowly begun to peel away the active routines that she had loved for so long. Why?
A diagnosis of stress incontinence — which she thought was a normal part of aging — had become a tremendous barrier to Richards’ love of sports and movement. Urinary incontinence, an uncontrolled leakage of urine, affects as many as half of all women at some point in their lives. There are three common patterns to urinary incontinence:
- Stress-only incontinence is the loss of urine during coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercise
- Urge-only incontinence is an overwhelming urge to pass urine so that sometimes comes on so quickly, a person cannot reach the toilet in time
- Mixed urinary incontinence is a combination of both conditions.
Richards realized that her unconscious, self-imposed system of avoiding “oopsidents”, as she called them, was instead preventing her from living life the way she wanted. She took mindful stock of all the hobbies and habits she now had to do differently:
- Going to the movies- can’t laugh
- Making a presentation at work- can’t sneeze
- Driving home in the car- can’t cough
- Playing tennis- can’t scramble, run or jump for a great shot
- Scuba Diving- can’t dead lift tanks off the side of the aquarium dive platform
- Enjoying family time- can’t run after toddler nephew
- Tae Kwon Do with her kids- can’t do jumping jacks or certain kicks.
Turning Can Not into Can Do
Richards’ concern over her lack of bladder control had slowly distanced her from all the activities she loved most, and she missed being active. Her fear of incontinence was exhausting; even though she used precautions and built protections into her schedule, her condition continued to take a psychological toll on her, a very common effect of urinary incontinence.
In December 2018, Richards decided that nearly 15 years of suffering shame in silence was enough. She would not allow the indignity and annoyance of her condition to define how she lived anymore. She was far too young to accept a life of bladder control pads and hourly bathroom breaks to “empty the tank” before each tennis match, movie with friends or work meeting.
Through her research, Richards found Danielle Patterson, M.D., who has expertise in pelvic floor disorders and incontinence surgery. Immediately, Dr. Patterson and staff made Richards feel comfortable, safe and respected. She finally felt like she was more than just her condition. Dr. Patterson examined Richards in the office and together, they determined that Richards was a candidate for a mesh sling, an outpatient procedure that has a six-week recovery period.
“Improving the quality of life for women is exactly what we do at the Center for Pelvic Health. Although stress incontinence can be a normal part of aging, you don’t have to have it! It’s common, but you’re not required to live with it,” says Dr. Patterson.
Richards’ surgery was in late January 2019, and she headed back to the tennis court in early March to test out her results. What a difference six weeks had made. When she flinched during her first serve, she couldn’t believe it— not a single drop! Now discovering the next phase of her life as an empty-nester, Richards can’t wait to spend her summer traveling, working her way up the tennis ladder with her doubles-partner sister, and enjoying time with her husband and three young adult children. Stress incontinence is a stress of her past.