As I watched TV, I felt my eyelids growing heavy. I settled back onto the sofa and closed my eyes.
‘Teresa,’ my partner Bob said gently, rousing me. ‘Go on up to bed.’
‘Have I fallen asleep again?’ I yawned, rubbing my eyes.
Time was, Bob and I loved an early night together. But these days, an early night meant just that. I was asleep before my head touched the pillow.
‘Sorry love,’ I said. ‘I’m not much company,’ I know.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I felt permanently exhausted even though I was sleeping day and night. I’d even seen the doctor about it.
‘I feel like I’ve got M.E.,’ I confided.
But my GP just blamed my chronic anxiety…well that and the f
act that I was mum to an energetic nine-year-old.
She didn’t seem to think sleeping too much was a problem.
But I was out of it for up to 18 hours a day and I couldn’t help thinking that something wasn’t quite right. I just didn’t feel myself. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I hadn’t felt 100% since having that op ‘down there’ two years earlier.
The leaking had started immediately after my daughter Hannah was born in September 2000. At first, it was just a little dribble when I coughed or sneezed or picked Hannah up. Only then it got worse. A little dribble became more. I’d been to the GP already several times since I had forst norticed it when Hannah was one and been diagnosed with stress incontinence.
But after meeting Bob when Hannah was seven after being single since I was three months’ pregnant, I discovered to my shame that I leaked during sex, too.
I was mortified the first time it happened. ‘I’m so sorry I blushed, humiliated.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Bob, a little flustered himself.
Only I couldn’t help it. It made me feel…well a bit embarrassed and dirty.
‘Stress incontinence,’ my GP had said yet again when I went back. I knew that already but it didn’t make it easier to live with. ‘It’s more common than you think,’ she said again.
She’d explained that the increasing weight of a baby in my pelvis, coupled with the hormone relaxin softening the muscles, had put extra stress on my pelvic floor. But the fact was I’d been living with the condition since becoming a mum and I now I was really fed up. Having a partner at last meant I wanted a fix. I didn’t want to leak during sex, I just wanted to be able to have a normal sex life without worrying about it. But again I was handed a sheet of pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in controlling urine leakage to carry out at home. But I’d done pelvic floor exercises since a teenager and seen the physiotherapist multiple times already since being diagnosed with incontinence.
‘Please, there must be something more you can do,’ I begged.
So finally, after years of endless physio appointments who were telling me the problems were all in my head and I was not doing my exercises, I was referred and diagnosed with a bladder prolapse diagnosis when Hannah was seven.
They explained it would be a quick and easy repair with a mesh sling called a TVT ( transvaginal tape) which would literally hold my bladder in place. It sounded great: quick 20 minute surgery with great results and few side effects.
‘Sign me up!’ I said.
I was booked in as a day case at my then local hospital for an operation to lift it using a plastic mesh to cure the incontinence.
Afterwards, I looked forward to being an active mother, and now I’d met Bob after being single since pregnant with Hannah, was looking forward to being able to enjoy sex for the first time in years, too.
And at first, it seemed like all my prayers had been answered. Our sex life was amazing.
Only trouble was, now two and a half years on from the op, I was experiencing other problems. Like this awful tiredness.
Still, I tried to tell myself. At least I had a relationship and and a good sex life…when I could stay awake long enough to make love! I even fell asleep in the middle of sex one night. Bob was offended, but there was nothing I could do.
One night, a few weeks later, Bob and I were enjoying a proper early night. Only afterwards, there was a lot of blood.
‘What the…?’ he said, confused,
At first we assumed it was me who was bleeding, but it quickly became clear that the blood was coming from his penis. It had been badly grazed leaving him wincing – but we couldn’t figure out by who or by what. I knew it had to be something inside me. I asked him to look first and he put his finger in and felt a sharp ridge.
Then I inserted a finger inside me and found the dame hard ridge inside my vagina which had cut him.
It was like my vagina had grown teeth!
I couldn’t understand it. Initially, I though some apparatus or a needle must had been left inside me during my op to have the mesh sling fitted almost two years previously and had worked itself down. But the more I felt it the more I realised by the feel of it, it was the mesh itself.
Worried, I made an appointment to see my GP the next morning. But she assured me that the mesh was working just fine.
‘I can feel something in my vagina,’ I told her. ‘A sharp ridge through the upper wall which hurts if I push on it.’ She shook her head.
Instead they referred me for counseling – convinced it was in my head.
‘She said he couldn’t feel anything,’ I told Bob later. ‘And said it was unlikely it would happen again and we should keep having sex.’
Only Bob did not agree. His enthusiasm soon waned. Now it was him who was ‘too tired’. Who could blame him ? It was like my vagina was a deadly weapon. It was a good job he was now too scared to have sex with me though because I was becoming really sensitive down there.
We split up the following month. The incident partly, but not totally, to blame. I think we’d both just had enough.
When we split I decided to lose weight as I was a size 18 and quickly – using dancing and high protein diet, I lost over 3 ½ stone and went to a size 14. For the first time in ages, I felt positive about my body.
Only then, a few months later, I woke throughout the night feeling awfully puffed up and bloated and sick. In the morning, I was so bloated that my old clothes were the only ones that fit. I had violent abdominal pain too, stabbing in my groin and shooting pain down the middle of my legs. I was vomiting with violent hiccups too.
Doctors were at a loss to what was causing it and kept fobbing me off. Doing my own research online over the next few years, I started to wonder if my weight loss had caused less cushioning around the mesh which had triggered a huge auto-immune response. I certainly felt like my body was shutting down for some reason. But medics still thought it was all in my heard and prescribed anti depressants.
With a noticeable decline in my general health, a foggy head, stomach pains and lethargy, as well as being was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), I become desperate for someone to take my health concerns seriously.
Eventually a doctor said he thought my gallbladder could be to blame and this was removed the following March, along with two big gallstones. I pinned all my hopes on this ending my troubles but not after my pain just as bad as before but now I couldn’t digest fats fully which made my IBS even worse.
Over the next year, I saw some 25 different doctors at four different GP surgeries, just trying to get someone to listen to my concerns about the mesh. I was frustrated and anxious and desperate for someone to really listen to me.
Especially when I noticed a foul smell coming from below followed by green discharge that looked like puss.
But it was only in November 2015 – eight years after I first had the mesh fitted – and months after my vagina began leaking green, pungent pus, that I was properly examined at Eastbourne General.
‘This mesh needs to come out straight away,’ the consultant said gravely.
Turns out it had eroded through the belly button side of my vaginal wall, and was badly infected, hence the pus. My vagina had gone septic. With a history in nursing I knew septic infections could be fatal. ‘ get it out as quick as you can’ I said.
It was a complicated procedure. A 6in incision was made so the skin could be peeled off my pubic bone and rolled back to try and find the ends of the strip of mesh after the central section had been removed. Turns out it had secured itself with cartilage onto the pelvis and had to be chipped off with orthopaedic instruments.
‘No wonder you were in so much pain,’ the consultant said afterwards.
I was told the mesh had been fitted 3-and-an-half inches too low which is why I had injured Bob’s penis and suffered complications.
A year later, I’m still suffering. I’m pleased the mesh is gone but it has left my body and my vagina a total mess. As a result of two internal surgeries – one to insert the mesh and the other to remove it – my vagina is tight and numb yet the skin outside is baggy. I have to wear padding all the time to catch leaks and have no ability to hold my bladder and only some control of my bowels. I still suffer crippling pain and I’m afraid of being single forever because if it – I’m worried nobody will want to have sex with me.
Turns out I’m not alone either. I’ve joined an online support group for men and women who’ve had their lives destroyed by mesh. They are suffering just like me and we are determined to share our stories to help make other woman aware of the risks with this operation because it is still being routinely offered as a quick fix for stress incontinence and hernias.
The group – Sling The Mesh – was started by Kath Sansom and I now speak to my ‘online mesh family’ daily. We are helping each other through this nightmare while campaigning for it to be banned.
TVT mesh is considered a success on the basis that it does stop incontinence, but it can destroy every other area of your life. I was told having the mesh fitted was a simple procedure would cure my incontinence and give me more confidence in the bedroom but actually, it did neither. Instead, it made my vagina ‘grow teeth’ and become a danger to men forcing me into a life of no sex and then later, when it became infected and septic, and could have killed me. In short it made my vagina a deadly weapon.
What doctors don’t tell you about this ‘simple procedure’ is that the mesh attaches to your body at each end and has your body grow through it – then it shrinks with age and takes your body with it. As it shrinks, it hardens and as a result can cut through any part of you in the way. I was lucky mine was only my vagina. Some women have had their urethra cut through or their bladder sliced.
The operation has now been suspended in Scotland due to the amount of women suffering horrendous side effects and I want to see it banned here, too. No woman young or old should have to suffer like this.