Guest post by Chantelle. [Trigger warning: birth injury]

When you walk through hospital doors, you expect to leave feeling better in some way. If you enter with fully working organs and body parts, you expect to leave in the same way. Was I naive to expect to go in to have a baby and leave with my bodily functions as they were?

I’d had two babies before my beautiful “wrecking ball”. One not so good labour (forceps) and one lovely straightforward birth. I expected another straightforward birth, albeit being aware that this baby was expected to be larger than the other two. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs, but baby was big and was back to back. He moved his head into a unfavourable position and they became concerned about some slight decelerations in his heart rate. The doctor used vontuse suction and then forceps to deliver him, with no episiotomy: he popped out in one big pop – head and body at once.

The minute he came, the haze of the gas and air drifted, and I felt something was really wrong. “He just come out of my arse,” I exclaimed. Everyone laughed. It wasn’t a joke. I was told it was just a 2nd degree tear. I was repaired in the delivery room and sent on my merry way, with the doctor stating that she had repaired me “the best she could” – whatever that meant.

I requested an overnight stay, I just didn’t feel right. They reluctantly agreed. I complained of pain continuously and was told: “what do you expect, you’ve just had a baby.” I left the hospital to get on with my life, with my 8lb 11oz bundle of joy.

As the days and weeks went on, I was in increasing pain. I had bruising from my bum to the back of my knees. I had hard stitches in my rectum and couldn’t sit. I was moving slowly and (I thought) as a consequence having bowel accidents occasionally.

I visited the GP who found all sorts of drama down below. I had extra scar tissue, bits missing, stitches still. She referred me to a gynaecologist in November 2017 and I’ve since been to urogynea and physio before finally a colorectal surgeon decided to operate on me. I have a damaged anal sphincter, rectocele, cystocele and suspected rectovaginal fistula. I’ve been on an urgent waiting list for surgery since July 2020, when I started passing stool through my vagina and having multiple infections.

More than 10% of mothers having a baby through the birth canal can develop some form of anal incontinence (AI). That is a huge amount of women dealing with this. Why do we not hear about it? Yes it’s embarrassing, it’s a taboo. But why? We all poo and we haven’t done anything wrong.

Some women have damage to the anal sphincter but are asymptomatic, some are able to improve their symptoms with physio. Symptoms can be managed with irrigation, anal plugs, medications, lifestyle changes. But these do not work for everyone.

My life was and is pretty grim. I put my child into childcare from 4 months old so I could lay in bed all day to muster enough energy to make dinner. I’m holding on to my career by the skin of my teeth. I’m a child protection practitioner for a large charity, but I can’t spend a day in the office. I’ve had to beg to work from home, and luckily this was finally agreed during the pandemic. I’d literally soil myself on the way to work or in the office and have to go back home. My mood was low and sitting was impossible.

My relationship is difficult; intimacy is difficult and my mood is difficult to live with. I’m not the parent I want to be. I have to take my three year old to the bathroom with me in a rush. I can’t sit on the floor and play, and there are no spontaneous days out. I’m a shell of a person. I’m crippled with depression, and I’m so desperate for the surgery (which has been majorly delayed due to Covid) that I’d drop everything right now to go. I’m jealous of others who have positive experiences. I’m even jealous of my own previous positive birth experience. I’m heart broken. I’m moving home soon; to one that is more accessible. I’m disabled.

Everyone at some point has had an episode of crippling diarrhoea. People with these injuries have this every day, but with solid stool, and have to get about their normal lives dodging bullets. Who knew you could walk into hospital to have a baby with a functioning anal sphincter, and walk away having to come to terms with this? Having to pay privately for physio when the NHS isn’t functioning, paying for counselling to try and get my head around it.

I’ve learnt that in pelvic health, your best form of support is other people with the same issues. Online groups and social networking are a lifeline while I’m having to navigate my own care. I’m lucky that I am capable of this; there are thousands of vulnerable individuals who couldn’t navigate their care themselves. I’m constantly fed pain relief and antidepressants.

I’m lost in this system. Would a man wait three years to be fixed with full bowel incontinence? Why have I been told, “sometimes these things happen”, “hang in there”, and “you just need to find joy.”

So here I am, searching for Joy, to ask her for a new bum hole. Let me know if you find her, point her my way.

You can find Chantelle on Instagram @tears_from_tearing

For support with birth injuries, contact MASIC (Mothers with Anal Sphincter Injuries in Childbirth) or the Birth Trauma Association