Six months after having her first baby, Nicki James-Eyers ended up with faecal incontinence.

Doctors were unable to help her – until she met Professor Norman Williams.

It was a very natural birth. Three hours after the first contraction, her daughter was born. And Nicki James-Eyers felt she was the happiest mother in the world.

Nicki James-Eyres had a perfect family but complications with childbirth created very unwelcome problems

She’d been married to Jason for two years. They had good jobs, and were fit, healthy and happy.

Six months later, however, at the age of 31, Nicki was faecally incontinent and faced ten years of medical treatment for a condition which still plagues her.

It was only thanks to pioneering surgery, funded through Bowel & Cancer Research, that she got her life back.

As she was my first baby, I didn’t really know what to expect after the birth. But a few weeks later I could hardly walk

I was in the park with some other new mums and couldn’t understand why some of them had had 50 stitches, yet they seemed fine.

I went to the doctor in floods of tears and told him there was something hanging out of my vagina. But he just said  ‘you’ve had a baby’ and sent me home.”

In the next three months, she made repeated visits to different GPs. “Every time I was examined, they told me I was fine or they gave me antibiotics,” said Nicki.

It was a female physiotherapist who finally told her she may have suffered a prolapse.

“She examined me standing up, instead of lying down like the doctors had done. Straight away she said I had a cystocele and a rectocele. Basically the walls of my bladder and my rectum had collapsed after childbirth and were emerging from my vagina.

It was a huge relief to know what was wrong with me – and that something could be done about it.

The operation was the beginning of a long journey

In May 1999, ten months after giving birth, Nicki underwent an operation to correct the cystocele and rectocele. But it didn’t put an end to her discomfort.

“I spent 16 days in a hospital in Surrey. But when I left I was in a horrendous state. I was in excruciating pain, and now I had a new problem – I was faecally incontinent.

“I had to go to the toilet 20 times a day and was constantly having ‘accidents’. I was in a worse state than before the correction operation, but no one seemed to be listening to me, it just seemed to be going on forever.

“There I was: 31 years old, with a baby and a fantastic husband. This was meant to be the best time of my life. But frankly, life sucked.

“They put me on painkillers and valium. At one stage the doctors made me squat on a table with ten people watching. The lights were full on and they performed a proctogram (injecting a type of paste into the rectum, which I was then asked to push out). There was no dignity.

“I wore paper pants. My husband’s grandmother was brilliant – she used to come round with bags full of incontinence pads to save me having to buy them myself.

“I was afraid to go out. I never knew when I was going to have an accident. I started eating a bagel at 7pm every day as a way of stopping me going to the toilet so much.”

She got little joy from some local doctors.

“One doctor told me that in Ethiopia women have babies all the time and become incontinent. I just needed to get on with it.

I didn’t want to accept that this was it – that there was nothing anyone could do.

Meeting Professor Williams meant someone listened and gave Nicki options

Her search for treatment finally led to a referral to Professor Norman Williams, who headed up research funded by Bowel & Cancer Research, and was based at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel.

“I just wanted him to make me ‘normal’. To find out what was wrong. And to fix it,” said Nicki.

With Professor Williams, Nicki finally felt understood

Professor Williams discovered that Nicki had suffered a weakening of the pelvic floor after childbirth which led to a rectocele and a cystocele. Both had been repaired but the rectum was too narrow after the rectocele repair. This, combined with the weak sphincter and nerve damage, led to her urge incontinence.

In March 2000 she was given a rectal augmentation by Professor Williams. The aim was to enlarge the rectum and correct one cause of the incontinence, namely Nicki’s reduced rectal capacity.

The first step was an ileostomy, a temporary measure whilst the rectal augmentation healed.

“I thought I was going to die! Imagine living with an ileostomy – having to poo through your stomach. I was mortified. The bag was like a living thing – it made gurgling noises. I christened it Stanley.”

Five months later, the ileostomy was reversed. And Nicki began a slow road to recovery, punctuated by frequent bowel accidents.

“I kept a diary, which was a good thing because, whilst it felt as if it was taking forever, I did improve hugely over the next two years.

“Now I can cope. I always eat sensibly. I take food with me in my suitcase on long-haul flights so that I can control what my bowels have to deal with.”

When Nicki and Jason decided to have a second child, she was advised to opt for a Caesarean.

Professor Williams was present at the birth of their son in October 2003.

“It was a very special moment. If it hadn’t been for him and the research carried out for Bowel & Cancer Research, we couldn’t have had any more children,” said Nicki.

Her problems weren’t over, however. In 2006 she got a bowel infection.

“I ended up in bed for a week with chronic diarrhoea. I went to see the Professor – the rectal augmentation had collapsed,” said Nicki, now 45.

She has been told that another operation in future is inevitable. For the time being, however, she says she’s as fine as she can be. She travels from her home near Cardiff to London every year for check ups and she’s learned how to control her bowels.

“I take laxatives to go to the toilet. I plan it so that I empty myself before I go on a plane and when I come back. Sometimes I have accidents if I can’t get to the toilet in time. I always carry spare underwear around in my handbag.”

She will not, however, allow it to get in the way of the things she really wants to do.

I go running. I work out in the gym. I look after my family. I have a good life, great kids, and my employers have been brilliant. You do learn to live with it.

“My husband has been fantastic. If I have an accident, he just deals with it.

“It was tough for him when I was going through all the operations. We still sit down now and discuss the past and it is still a very emotional subject. To see someone you love go through that was difficult but it’s brought us together. We are very strong.

“The kids are fine. They know mummy has a bowel problem and that’s the end of it.”

Nicki felt alone because she didn't realise others were going through the same thing

Nicki is keen to raise awareness that rectal and vaginal complications after childbirth are common, and that it’s okay to talk about them.

She urges other women not to suffer in silence.

Many people suffer from faecal incontinence but feel ashamed to discuss it

“What happened to me should never have happened. I didn’t have Crohn’s disease, nor colitis. I simply had a baby, and then I ended up having accidents when I was out as I had no control of my bowels and was unaware I needed to go to the toilet.

Faecal incontinence is a taboo subject. People don’t like to talk about it but they should because many people have to deal with it on a daily basis.

“I’m quite positive now because I’ve learned to get on with it. But sometimes I did sit in a corner and cry and think ‘why me?’

“Then I look at my two beautiful children and my lovely husband and I think: we can’t have everything in life, can we?”