Belinda Fox is the mother of two university students, a successful executive and a philanthropist. However, she is also among the one in three women afflicted with a pelvic floor disorder after the birth of her children.
Belinda read everything she could get her hands on when she was pregnant with her first child, as she wanted to prepare herself for what lay ahead. But nothing she read mentioned pelvic floor disorders, and nothing could have prepared her for it. As a result, Belinda was surprised when she started experiencing urinary incontinence post-birth. She started sharing her experience with her mom and her friends.
“It was really interesting because what I found was that my mom’s generation accepted urinary incontinence as a natural fact of getting older and having children,” Belinda noted.
Belinda felt encouraged after speaking with a friend of her age who had already had children and was being treated for the condition. She realized there were treatment options and consulted with her family doctor.
“My family doctor right away referred me to the Pelvic Floor Clinic at Foothills Medical Centre for a consultation, and that’s where I learned that I certainly wasn’t alone in this issue – it’s quite common,” Belinda said.
Belinda tried different treatments, like physiotherapy, but admits she didn’t do all the strengthening exercises she could have. It got to the point where she couldn’t do many basic activities without triggering her stress urinary incontinence. Any sudden movements like running or jumping would affect her.
At the time, Belinda worked for a company with multiple office buildings in downtown Calgary, and she would wet her pants walking down Stephen Avenue between buildings.
“On more than one occasion, I stopped at The Bay and bought new pants halfway through the day because my clothes were soaked. It was out of the question for me to do most activities,” she noted. “I wasn’t hiking and I certainly wasn’t jumping on any trampolines.”
Belinda was a candidate for surgery and felt lucky to be referred to Dr. Colin Birch, one of the leaders in pelvic floor reconstruction. However, she deliberated and didn’t pursue the surgery for 10 years. She doesn’t quite know why she didn’t follow through earlier as she was a candidate.
As with all surgeries, medical procedures contain an element of risk. And no matter how safe or how little risk there is, there is still that nerve-racking thought hanging in the back of your mind.
“The truth is, the risks are minimal and the greatest risk I faced in pursuing that surgery was driving down Highway 1 to get it,” Belinda said.
She received what is called a tension-free vaginal tape for stress incontinence in women. The procedure props up the urethra so that when you move or cough, the urine is contained within the bladder and does not leak. In Belinda’s case, it was very successful.
Belinda reflects about how transformational the surgery was for her:
“It made such a huge impact in my quality of life and I don’t shy away from any activities anymore. I do it all without fear of embarrassment.”
Now, the remaining uncertainty Belinda has today is how long this tape will be effective. It’s not known, so her incontinence could reoccur. However, based on her positive experiences and what she knows today, she would not hesitate to seek medical advice on treating a recurring incident of urinary incontinence. And she certainly won’t wait another 10 years for surgery.
Belinda pondered why she had never heard about pelvic floor disorders until she experienced it herself. One in three women seek care for a pelvic floor disorder, meaning many more suffer in silence. She believes it’s due to how underfunded women’s health research is in many parts of the world. In fact, in Canada, only two percent of our medical research investments go towards women’s health.
She also believes it’s due to our culture. We are culturally uncomfortable talking about our reproductive organs or anything related to gynecology.
“We as women, in many cases, don’t educate the next generation on childbirth, pelvic floor disorders or menopause. We don’t talk about it. So let’s start there.” Belinda said.
Belinda now tries to talk to her daughter as transparently and factually as possible when it comes to women’s health issues. She hopes that by being vocal about pelvic floor disorders, she could encourage more women to confront these issues sooner.
“I encourage all of us to start these conversations with women in our lives.”
Watch our webinar on pelvic floor health with Dr. Shunaha Kim-Fine and Belinda Fox here.