One of my children’s favourite Chuggington stories is Braking Brewster. If you haven’t ever enountered it, don’t worry – I have, approx. 5,078 times (as TV episode, bedtime story, in-car audio CD narrative – not yet as live performance or art installation, but give it time). To cut a not-that-long-but-feels-interminable story short, it starts with trainee chuggers Wilson and Brewster learning how to use hopper cars. These are like normal loading cars but with trap doors at the bottom, and operating these seems to require tensing and releasing whatever the chugger equivalent is of muscles “down below” that you don’t usually exercise. It may not surprise you to know that I cannot watch / read / listen to Braking Brewster without thinking, somewhat shamefully, of my own shabby attempts at toning my pelvic floor.
I do my best. Well, to be honest, I don’t. And I know I will regret it later (it’s like having some strange advance hindsight, yet still doing bugger all). I have my excuses, as we all do. But to be fair, I don’t think it’s all my fault. I mean, I know I would say that (it’s the trainee chugger in me), but I suspect there are a lot of issues at play here which aren’t covered by the “Postnatal exercises” leaflet.
First, the excuses. I know what I should be doing.
Imagine a lift going up first one floor, then another, then clench it right at the top. And hold.
Well, I’m good at the just thinking about lifts bit. Apparently that’s not enough. Then there was:
Imagine you’re trying to stop yourself mid-wee. Only don’t actually do this because it could cause an infection.
Of course, I was mid-cystitis before receiving the second part of that advice. The worst one was probably:
Through the door, pelvic floor.
That’s right, you’re literally meant to clench your pelvic floor muscles every time you go through a door. And I don’t know about you, but I go through doors A LOT. And having had severe OCD as a teenager, I felt rather unwilling to set it off again by developing some weird tic about doors and muscle clenching.
There are other things I’ve tried. I bought an expensive pelvic toning aid, reasoning that if I’d paid a fortune for it I’d bloody well use it. And I did, a bit. It looks like a plastic dildo with springs in the middle. You can move the springs around to increase the resistance, although I never got that far. I could never find the right time and place for a session with it. Mornings were too much of a rush, and besides I’d have to use it curled up in our tiny bathroom to avoid our sons bursting in. Evenings were a possibility, but it was never something I wanted to leave till late, like a black cloud hanging over me for the whole of the day (I mean, using it wasn’t actually that bad. But it wasn’t exactly my idea of post-kids-in-bed-and-kitchen-tidied relaxation). I could have used it at the very end of the day, snuggled up in bed next to my partner. I mean, it looked like it could be a instrument of pleasure rather than one of mild annoyance. Had I rammed it in me and hid behind a copy of Fifty shades of Grey at the same time, I’d have completed the whole “looks like I’m having a great time but actually it’s crap” tableau. But seriously, I couldn’t bring myself to do this. So instead I have allowed myself to descend towards saggy disrepair.
It’s my responsibility, I know. But I can’t help feeling that, well – potential future incontinence and crap sex plus a possible prolapsed uterus – it’s a pretty extreme punishment for not doing these boring, repetitive exercises several times a day, every bloody day, for the rest of your life. It’s a bit harsh, surely? And yet we never really kick up a fuss. Yeah, yeah, just get on with it. Through the door, pelvic floor.
As a permanent effect of pregnancy and childbirth, I think what happens to us is extreme. Certainly enough to count as the kind of “physical injury” that makes a mockery of the need for two doctors’ signatures in order to get an abortion. And I’m just thinking about the usual effects, not the severe birth injury that can truly change women’s lives without warning. And yet, we’re not meant to complain about this. Indeed, post-natal “troubles” such as this are almost a (secret) badge of honour. The merest suggestion that women who have caesareans “get away with” not pissing themselves when they laugh has become yet another reason for resenting those who are “too posh to push” (don’t worry, women-haters. The weight of the baby pressing down during pregnancy itself should do enough damage to keep you satisfied). Furthermore, any form of reparative surgery gets lumped together with the quest for a “designer vagina”. I mean, wanting to enjoy sex and not wet yourself! How frivolous can you get!
All this being so, you’d think we’d all least be more sympathetic towards women who have kept it real and suffered the consequences. But no. We’ve had Mrs Emery in Little Britain and her hilarious “accidents”. We’ve had countless jokes on Mock the Week regarding old mothers and their wizard’s sleeves. The very best we get are the Tena Lady adverts, which at least try to present women with incontinence issues as glamorous, albeit while being complete fuckwits around lift doors. Shouldn’t we be demanding better than this? Shouldn’t we be demanding it a bit louder, regardless of whether or not each of us is being a good girl and clenching like a trouper?
Well, anyhow, back to Chuggington. Brewster is good at using hopper cars, Wilson not so good. BUT at the end of the story, it’s Wilson who saves the day. He doesn’t clench as hard, but he does it in the right place at the right time, ie before Brewster, who’s foolishly taken on a massive load and set off too fast down the mountain, crashes and ends up in some serious shit. And to be honest, I think there’s a message in there. I can’t articulate quite what. But anyhow, don’t worry if you’re a Wilson. So am I, and saggy or not, our time will come.