Reflecting upon our launch year of Share MayFlowers, (the flagship project of nonprofit Women’s ACTION Initiative, dedicated to female pelvic and perinatal health), we’re simultaneously kicking into high gear our planning phase for 2013. As we consider approaching one or a few potential major donors and partners to support Share MayFlowers 2013, we made a list of some of the most obvious players in the world of pelvic and perinatal health, folks who would seem a natural fit for our cause. Unsurprisingly, Poise® and their eponymous line of “feminine hygiene” products was mentioned by someone on our team.
A possibility, to be sure, so we looked a little more closely at their website. We knew they were a sponsor of a premier conference for female bloggers, BlogHer 2012, happening this August in NYC, so it seemed promising that they would have some mutual interest in our female-centric cause. We found this statement on their homepage:
“Light bladder leakage happens to 1 in 3 women….that’s a lot but it’s no big deal–you just get Poise products and get back to doing what you love…”
Cue red lights, screeching brakes and a whole lotta indignation. Now, I get that Poise® makes its money by protecting women and their undergarments from embarrassment and odor associated with “light bladder leakage,” which they affectionately abbreviate as “LBL.” Further, I have no problem with them selling such products to women that need them and making a profit in the process. But to call it “no big deal” smacks a little of someone who hawks oil pans saying all you need is a their special pan to catch the oil leaking from your car…the oil leak itself is “no big deal” because our pan keeps that oil from ever soiling your driveway or being an embarrassment in front of your neighbors. When in fact, the oil leak is indicative of some structural and or functional failing somewhere in the system and the hawk’s pan is only a band-aid.
True enough, their resident LBL expert Marilyn Suttle, an inspirational speaker and life coach with personal LBL experience, maintains a blog where she writes about other dimensions of LBL. Her blog includes causes of LBL related to body alignment and ways to incorporate pelvic floor strengthening to reduce/eliminate LBL – things I’m happy to see being addressed. But I had to go looking for this. Such perspectives are a crucial part of the conversation about LBL and should be part of the message, not buried behind a statement that leakage is “no big deal.”
To be clear, “light bladder leakage,” as well as all your bladder contents—leakage and everything in between is still defined as “incontinence.” Incontinence is the name for when any urine—from a drop to a large amount—comes out of the bladder unintentionally (which is pretty much any time except for when we sit down to pee). Incontinence is a major health and social issue and I am concerned about the ramifications of minimizing it by calling it “no big deal.” I am concerned that this plays to women’s already poor track record of seeking help for this very treatable condition, where only 1 in every 12 women with pelvic floor dysfunction gets care for their condition, and yet among those who seek care, over 80% are pleased with their outcomes.
Again, I am not trying to drive Poise® out of business— to the contrary, their products will always have a market and they fill an important need. But I believe a change in marketing is in order to better reflect what is currently known about the causes and treatments available for female urinary incontinence. Just consider the change in tone on behalf of the country’s cigarette manufacturers. Half a century ago, they sold their product on the promise of copious health benefits derived from cigarette smoking. When science and advocacy efforts became too strong to resist any longer, they changed their tune to acknowledge the dangers of their product all while continuing to sell said product at a substantial profit. Don’t misunderstand me here – #1, I know Poise® products do not bear health risks akin to cigarette smoking and #2, I know that the risks of cigarette smoking—cancer, stroke, and death, to name a few—trump the quality of life and health risks of living with incontinence. Where these concepts overlap is in the perpetuation of a myth associated with the health outcomes of use of a product.
Lastly, and in pursuit of one more real life image to make my point—that urine leakage of any sort, any amount, is part of a failing in the structure and or function of the body, not an inconsequential occurrence to be managed with only with pads and modifications in activity—I called my roofer. Gerald “Jerry” Sprague of GF Sprague Roofing did a bang-up job on our roof a few years ago when we developed a series of leaks shortly after moving into our home. Knowing his level of expertise as well as his sharp, no-nonsense wit, I gave him a call and asked him the following:
“If my roof develops ‘light leakage,’ would you recommend that I just buy the right brand of bucket to catch the water from the leak? With the right style, brand or shape of bucket, will the small leak in my roof be ‘no big deal’?”
His quick and unequivocal answer is as follows:
“That bucket is no fix! When you ignore a leak—whether small or big—there aren’t enough pots and pans (or buckets!) in the house to save the ceiling. Trust me, you’ll also like the price tag a lot better if you call us in on the smaller leaks. They don’t ever get smaller—they only get bigger over time, as does the bill when we have to fix it.”