San Francisco Professor: Call Your Mother, Talk About Incontinence

Incontinence is a problem that even younger women can be afflicted with...
Dr. Jeanette Brown says, in all seriousness, she's out to make incontinence "cocktail conversation." Just what you'd offer a toast to at the end of such a discussion is yet to be determined, but Brown is adamant that people should find out.

The head of U.C. San Francisco's Women's Continence Center implored SF Weekly to call our mother or phone up our aunts and talk to them about incontinence. Up to half the nation's women have issues with incontinence, says Brown, but the vast majority are too ashamed to tell anyone about it. "The common thing I hear from patients is, 'You're the first person I've ever told,'" said Brown. "I say, talk to your bridge club, your mother, your aunts -- everybody has it."

The OBGYN is one of the organizers behind a just-announced San Francisco forum on incontinence scheduled for Oct. 3; the goal is to get women talking about the situation so they won't be embarrassed to seek treatment.

Just as comic Sam Levinson quipped that "Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children," you can also blame the kids for women's incontinence problems. This really is a situation that affects women vastly more than men, and you can chalk up the joys of childbirth for that (to quote another comedian, Bob Goldthwait, childbirth is "The Play-Doh fun factory of life.").

Brown compared the pelvis of even a 40-year-old woman to the knees of a retired NFL football player (was this the first time Joe Namath and incontinence were mentioned in the same breath? Probably not, actually).

Like hobbled football players, incontinence is a problem that can strike even relatively young women -- Brown says she's seen many women dealing with the situation in their 40s. Understandably, however, women see the situation as indicative of being old before one's time. One of Brown's none-too-aged patients uncorked the spectacular Freudian Slip of referring to a "Serenity" adult diaper as a "Senility" pad.

Speaking of adult diapers -- the source of much easy humor -- Brown notes that eight women out of 10 can have their incontinence problem dealt with proactively (that is, not putting on a diaper and waiting for the inevitable) and often without surgery.

So, following Dr. Brown's orders, this morning I phoned my own mother to chat about the situation with her.

"Ma, I want to talk about incontinence," I said.

There was a slight pause. "What, are you incontinent?"

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