ballet with incontinence
Wonder Women

Ballet, Bonding, & Bursting Bladders

Here at Lily Bird, we feature personal stories written by smarty pants women from our community. That’s because telling your bladder who’s boss is better as a team sport. These women get you. They’re in your corner. And they’re here to remind you that your body isn’t broken. Hey, bodies age, bladders leak, and movie sequels bomb. Right?

This week Chaya’s here to tell us how she learned just how much she and her mom have in common.


When you go for a walk with someone, you can’t help matching their gait. It’s just like our unconscious mirroring of the body language of conversational partners. From a young age, reflecting the posture of people you’re around did more than help me in social situations. Parents complimented my carriage in ballet, which was just a facsimile of my Royal-Ballet-trained teacher’s style. Posture and form were so important that, I remember my grandfather, an uncommonly tall US Army Colonel, kindly badgered six kids and sixteen grandchildren about keeping their shoulders back.

My mom, the exact same species of high-strung, fast-speaking, insomniac as me, always bemoaned dawdling walkers and traipsing strollers. I took on her aggressively efficient stride early. I’d pause in surprise when she’d stop every so often, cross her legs, and sneeze. Once I was old enough to comprehend what a burst sphincter from childbirth was, Mom teased me for causing her bladder leakage, and I’d tell her she should ask for senior discounts on Depends.

She’d stop every so often, cross her legs, and sneeze.

As a child, I thought the leg-crossing routine was just a tick, like my penchant for ballet stretches in unfit contexts. From the moment my mom enrolled me in ballet classes at three, my freakishly open hips meant I hoisted my legs up on every surface I could find–counters, dashboards, brick walls, anything to put my trashed hip flexors at ease. Humans generally trend towards accommodating their body’s peculiar pains, no matter how absurd relief looks.

ballet with a leaky bladder

I haven’t done ballet seriously for about a decade, mostly due to developing Interstitial Cystitis, a painful bladder disorder, at sixteen. Trying a class held in José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s stunning Harvard Square Gothic revival church, I watched my silhouette in the mirror attempting a really cute, spritely changement combo in a class.  Halfway through an entrechat quatre, my bladder leaked, and I scooted off of the main floor to examine some of the gorgeous stained glass that encased the room.

I haven’t done ballet seriously for about a decade, mostly due to developing Interstitial Cystitis.

I’m twenty-five, haven’t given birth, and immediately had one million questions for my mother, owner of a female body for thirty-nine years more than me. As it turns out, the bladder Botox injections I receive twice yearly for my condition are effective not just in reducing excruciating spasms, but tone and muscle strength that would otherwise prevent leaks. So, if there’s too much impact, jumping, coughing, laughing, and of course, sneezing, I’m crossing my legs like my mom and hoping for the best.

When my mom visited me this summer, she took me to receive Botox injections and spent time stumbling around Boston with me in a recovery daze. Walking downtown, she strode ahead mid-sentence, back straight as ever, and looked back to see me crossing my legs, signaling for her to wait. She understood immediately and offered to find the nearest bathroom.

If there’s too much impact, I’m crossing my legs like my mom and hoping for the best.

Luckily women and our miserably short urethras have started to remove the unsexy stigma around the leaky bladder game. It’s not all bulky incontinence aids, and solutions for leak preparedness are becoming more consumer-focused. Urologists and pelvic floor therapists no longer recommend Kegels to patients like myself, for whom they can make pain far worse.

Our mutual bladder shenanigans keep us both connected.

I certify that I would have never reacted calmly to more unbidden bodily nonsense without commiserating with my mom and our feeble pelvic floors. The potential for peak leaks is during the first two weeks after injections; I’m lucky and cursed when my hypertonic pelvic floor rebounds like a rubber band rather swiftly, a great combo of no leakage but increased pain. I am proud of many things I have in common with my mom, and our mutual bladder shenanigans keep us both connected to the concept that the most important aspect of having a physical body is what it enables you to do. In her case, it’s obliterating players half her age on the tennis court. Who cares if she steps to the sideline to sneeze? I hope to have her lifelong inclination to activity in common with her, too.

By Chaya R.

Chaya R. and her Botox-riddled bladder avoid impact exercises in Cambridge, MA, where her partner and she beg their cat to pee anywhere but the carpet.

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