Thank you to the brave Cardiff mum who contacted me to ask if I’d support her in raising awareness of bowel incontinence after giving birth and a share details of a new support group starting in Cardiff later this month. She wants to stay anonymous – but she wants other mums to know they are not suffering alone and that there are people and organisations who can support them. Around one in 10 mothers having a baby through the birth canal develop some form of bowel incontinence. And they often suffer in silence due to embarrassment and social stigma. The mum who contacted me talks more in this post about living with her condition plus there are details of the new patient support group and a charity offering support. I’d love this post to reach as many mums who may be suffering as possible so please give it a like or comment so that it shows up in as many people’s social media feeds as possible. Thank you.
This article is the latest in my What’s it really like…? series which looks at different experiences of parents. You can read all the previous posts here.
From the outside I don’t look any different. You could put me in a line up and no-one would guess that a vaginal birth left me with permanent bowel incontinence. Ten years ago I had a vaginal forceps delivery and suffered an (undiagnosed at the time) third degree tear. I walked into the delivery room a normal continent woman in her early 30s. Never in a million years did I think that woman would disappear that day. It took around five years to finally be diagnosed with an anal sphincter tear. Instead of an O I have a U. And U shaped muscles aren’t as useful!
So what’s it like to live with an anal sphincter defect? My biggest problem is urgency and that I don’t have the time to get to a toilet. Think about yourself. You feel like you need a poo. Maybe you think ‘nah, not in a public toilet, I’ll wait until I get home’. You can ride out that urge feeling. Waiting is not a possibility for me. I have had poo accidents everywhere. The supermarket, in my car and even the Cardiff Story museum.
You try hiding a bowel accident from three children, cleaning up and then carrying on with whatever you are doing because it was important to them. Or realising the wipes packet you’re carrying only has two in it. Or walking out of a disabled toilet after having to bin yet another set of clothes and listening to “lost your wheelchair love?” or similar comments.
But most of my incontinence happens at home; and there’s a reason for that. Some days I’m too scared to leave the house. Every journey, every day out I need to plan where the toilets are just in case. I carry my “emergency kit”, which is basically clean underwear, wipes and a pair of leggings. I use bowel irrigation as a safety net. A way of increasing my chance of an accident-free day out.
My phone has the bladder and bowel app with the Please Help toilet card. I would have had a poo in the street in London on a weekend away without that card. Thank you to that lovely receptionist who let me use their staff toilet in the swanky private club.
It’s not just solid stuff! I can’t stop myself farting either. Now there’s another socially awkward situation. Eat the wrong foods and I fart with every step. My eldest thinks it’s a cool trick. I’ll tell him the truth one day.
I’ve come to terms that actually most of my issues around the incontinence are mental. The fear and anxiety that is always present, cancelling on people again but being too ashamed to give the real reason. Worrying. Did I clean myself up okay? Did the lady on the treadmill next to me realise I was farting with every step?
Thanks to a UK charity MASIC (Mothers with Anal Sphincter Injuries in Childbirth) I have met some of the most inspiring, mentally strong women who are also dealing with the same problems as me. That’s why a patient support group for women who have suffered an obstetric anal sphincter injury in Cardiff is important, and is happening (details below). I know how embarrassing it is. Although I have ditched most of it I am still ashamed of my incontinence; and if I’m honest I probably always will be. It dictates every part of your life; impacts on how you see yourself as a woman and batters your self-esteem.
Life isn’t all bad. I’ve got pretty good at managing day to day life, and better at responding to the signs my body is telling me. Most importantly I have the support of my family and husband. And he has lived through this as much as me – and I wouldn’t be as strong as I am without him.
I am not alone. Neither are you.
The first MASIC patient support group is on Friday 22 February from 11am-2pm in the Heath Suite at the Medicentre at University Hospital Wales. You can find out more and register for the event here.
You can read more on the anonymous blog A Mum From The Diff