On the spur of the moment, my husband and I decide to take the kids to Boston to visit the aquarium. We stop at the Kennebunk service area, halfway between our home and Boston, for coffee, cookies for the kids and a pee break.
I’ve been doing my Kegels, drinking less coffee and more water, and overall, I’ve been experiencing some freedom from the constant peeing.
But as we get closer to Boston, the urge to pee strikes again. I blame it on the venti iced latte ballooning my bladder. “I think I’m going to need you to pull over,” I tell my husband.
“Where?” he asks. We are almost to Boston, and there are no more rest areas.
“I don’t know. I guess I can try and make it,” I say, Kegeling frantically.
“Are we in Boston now? Are we going to see sharks? Are they going to bite us?” my four-year-old son asks.
“Not yet. We’ll probably see sharks. But they’ll be in tanks and we’ll be safe,” I say.
I do the series of five quick Kegels to send my bladder the message to chill out. I repeat this approximately 53 times. We finally make it to the aquarium, but the parking lot right next to it is full. We drive around for another 10 minutes, navigating one-way streets and cuckoo drivers, until we find another parking garage. We descend through a series of sharp turns in the narrow, low-ceilinged garage that I am fairly sure is leading us to some sort of murder den. I alternate silent prayers, Kegels, and field questions about sharks until finally, we find a place to park.
The kids, my husband and I walk through the brick plaza at the painfully slow pace of a family with two small children. Finally, finally we are at the aquarium.
Where there is a very, very long line. My bladder feels like a heavy cow udder, ready to burst. I frantically look around for anything resembling a café or somewhere I could pee. “Look!” my husband says, pointing. Behind me is a circular black “city restroom” sign. My bladder rejoices until we both spot the ‘Out of Order’ sign. Eff me.
The long, huddled line to the aquarium allows me to squeeze my legs together and do a slow shuffle as we snail our way through.
After another 45 minutes, two snack breaks and 83 Kegels, we have our tickets. But instead of being able to head straight to the gleaming front doors of the aquarium, we’re routed through a tented area where a smiley woman forces us to take a photograph of our family that they will try and sell to us later. I force my mouth into a half-grimace. Almost there, little guy, I tell my bladder.
I waddle to the bathroom, looking like one of the petite penguins we will see momentarily. I take the best pee in the history of the world. I can’t wait to tell Ally.
At Ally’s strong recommendation, I enroll in the Pilates-based core-strengthening class that the rehab center offers. The teacher, Carrie, a tall, stylish blonde who cracks jokes throughout the class, leads five of us through exercises on the Reformer machines. The exercises are deceptively simple, like leg lifts, arm circles and the bridge pose, but coordinating the tightening of the pelvic floor muscles with breathing takes a lot of concentration.
I get to class early one day and chat with Lauren, a physical therapist who’s taking the class in anticipation of later teaching it. We end up talking about male pelvic floor patients, who end up at pelvic floor rehab for pelvic pain, incontinence or problems after prostate surgery. Just like for women, male pelvic floor dysfunction can negatively impact sex.
“By the time a man gets here, he’s generally pretty desperate for help. I always start by telling them how much courage it takes to get here,” Lauren says.
In between sets of leg lifts on the Reformer, Lauren’s comment keeps floating through my mind.
As hard as it was for me to get to the tipping point where the inconvenience of needing to pee all the time outweighed the embarrassment and commitment of showing up to rehab, I imagine it would be even harder for men.
The next day, when I show up for my regular physical therapy appointment, there are not one, but two men in the group exercise room. They are both about my age, and appear healthy. I hear a set of quiet dings in the background, indicating that one of them is hooked up to the biofeedback sensors. For a moment, I feel embarrassed for him. Then it occurs to me that the little ding sounds are not a shameful sound. They are a sound of someone asking for—and receiving—help.
At my appointment, we do a reevaluation. Ally repeats our introductory meeting by giving me a manual exam to compare my pelvic floor strength now to how it was when I first came in.
“Your right side is improving! Your left side is about the same,” she says. I imagine the left side of my vagina having had a small stroke, and being left slack and droopy. Perhaps it would need a tiny walker like my grandmother used after her stroke.
“How’s the core strengthening class going?” Ally asks.
“Pretty good,” I tell her. Ally inputs the data about my strength into her computer. She tells me I’ve moved up from a 2- to a 3-, despite my lazy left side.
She turns to look at me. “I think what I’d like to have you do—“ she pauses for a second, consulting her notes. My mind quickly fills in the end of her sentence: —is see a surgeon who specializes in vaginal strokes. —is come here three times a week for the rest of your life.
“—is start incorporating a vibrator into your exercises.”
I start laughing. I can’t help it.
Ally smiles, then pulls a swirly blue vibrator from her top drawer. “So you’ll insert this about this far, and then turn on the vibrator.”
“How often do I need to do this?” I ask.
“Once a day.”
My mind reels.
“Am I on candid camera?” I ask. I am no prude: so far, I’ve endured sensors on my bum, heaps of question about my bathroom habits, and the aforementioned manual exams. But somehow, this is just too much.
Ally laughs. “I know. But using the vibrator will help you really focus on what’s going on while you do your Kegels. It will give you something to grip onto. And you won’t have to use it forever.”
“I might want to, though!” I joke.
As she leaves the room so I can put my clothes back on, Ally places the vibrator on top of my socks. When she comes back in, I’m dressed with my phone, keys and my shiny new vibrator in my hand. “Um, can you…” I start.
“Oh! Let me see if I can find you a bag,” she says.
“Or I could just tuck it behind my ear,” I joke.
When it’s time to check out, I look on the billing sheet to hand to the receptionist. In Ally’s handwriting: issued short, slim vibrator.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman