'I was scared to be out in public.' What it's like living with incontinence after childbirth.

Birth: there's nothing quite like it, and it's clear no two birth stories are the same. Which is why we're asking everyday women and some of our favourite celebrity mums to share theirs, in Mamamia's My Birth Story series. To share your Birth Story, email [email protected] with 'My Birth Story' in the subject line.

As a midwife, Narelle Harris had helped hundreds of women through birth, so when she became pregnant with her first child, she couldn’t wait to birth her own baby.

When her time did arrive, it was an incredible short, three-hour labour. Narelle's daughter was born drug free with no complications.

"The birth was amazing. I’d give my right leg to do it again," Narelle told Mamamia.

While you're here, watch the story of a grandma who gave birth to her grandson, below. Post continues after video.

Video via 60 Minutes Australia.

"When I was actively pushing my midwife said I hadn’t torn, and I was wrapped," she said.

"I sat in the pool doing skin to skin and bonding and then hopped out."

Later on, Narelle's doctor came in and noted she’d need quite a few stitches. 

"He put the anaesthetic in, and I didn’t feel anything. My pudendal nerve attached to the perineum had torn, which meant I had no feeling down there at all," Narelle said.

"It was a bit of a red flag that I didn’t feel anything."

While the doctor first attempted to suture the third-degree tear, she was later sent to the theatre to have it repaired.

But one day later, Narelle's life changed dramatically.

"I started having incontinence issues but being a midwife, I thought it was just a case of needing to heal so I accepted it.

"I’d try to get to the toilet, but I’d have faeces running down my leg.


"I was very apprehensive to be out in public. I’d have to know where a toilet was or make sure if I was travelling in a car, I’d go to the toilet beforehand.

"I had to stick to a plain diet with nothing spicy or too fatty."

The life she’d dreamed of with her new baby became lost as she became trapped in her house, only venturing out for very short periods and making sure she wore incontinence pads, and took several changes of pants and plenty of wipes with her.

"I didn’t get much warning. Sometimes it would only be a few seconds," Narelle said.

"I had a few accidents at work with the pressure of working in a ward when there was no time to go to the toilet."

Narelle also had no control over passing wind, something she found equally as distressing as the lack of control over her bowels.

"I was at a Tupperware party standing with a group of friends. I’d passed gas, and I didn’t know. It was so embarrassing, and I felt so self-conscious. I knew from the smell and people’s comments.

"At work I’d have to apologise to the women in labour when I passed gas. It was just terrible."

Although her husband was incredibly supportive and understanding, Narelle's sex life also "went down the drain".

As the years went on, the incontinence became worse with Narelle having no control or warning.

Then she fell pregnant with her second child and the strain of looking after a toddler and newborn became unbearable.

"It changed my life. I just wanted to crawl up into a ball."

Listen to The Delivery Room and join host Jessie Stephens as she speaks to eight different women about eight very different births. Post continues below.

Before the birth of her second child, Narelle saw a gynaecologist who told her: "I am absolutely heartbroken for you. That is the worst birth trauma I have ever seen."

She also told Narelle she’d never be able to have a vaginal birth again.

"I was absolutely devastated. I’d had such a beautiful birth. I cried all the way home."

The gynaecologist called her late that night. She was so distraught by Narelle’s case that she couldn’t sleep, so she got in touch with a colorectal surgeon who wanted to see her as soon as possible.


"He said the birth trauma resembled what someone would have from a high-speed accident in a car," Narelle recalled.

The surgeon suggested she try a sacral nerve stimulator that was being trialled in old people for incontinence.

"Life was pretty crappy, so I decided to give it a go."

In November 2014, Narelle had the small device implanted just under her skin on her right hip, about where her jeans sit. The wires are attached to her sacral nerve in her back and pulsate, contracting the muscles in her bowel to hold everything in.

"It was like a miracle. It was an absolute game changer," Narelle said.

Image: Sprout Photography. 

Although Narelle was not able to have a vaginal birth with her second and third child, she is proud of the fact that she was able to implement the 'natural' caesarean technique at the hospital she worked at. 

The technique involves implementing a series of measures to mimic the experience of a vaginal birth, which Narelle experienced herself with her second and third births.

Undergoing a 'natural' caesarean meant Narelle was able to watch her babies being born and bring them up to her chest and have uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact while still on the surgery table.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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