Chorley mum tells of horrific birth where she nearly died and suffered life-changing incontinence

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Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise a baby with wife Emma Downes, 34.

A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'.

Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise a baby with wife Emma Downes, 34.

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But when she fell ill with sepsis during labour and her unborn baby’s heart rate increased, doctors had to deliver baby George via forceps.

The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – which is a tear which extends to the muscle that controls the anus.

Leonnie now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency, meaning she can’t be away from a toilet for long and has to plan anything involving her leaving the house.

Partner Emma has had to give up her job to care for Leonnie and George, now six, which put a strain on their marriage, they said.

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A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'.
Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34.
The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency.A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'.
Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34.
The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency.
A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'. Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34. The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency. | Leonnie Downes / SWNS

Leonnie has suffered both physically and mentally - even attempting to take her own life.

And she now needs further treatment and surgery to try and help ease her symptoms.

A debate was held in Parliament last week to discuss birth trauma and announced a national NHS plan to tackle birth injuries.

But Leonnie wants to speak out to stop women feeling “embarrassed” after their birth trauma.

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The mum-of-one, who runs a personalised clothing business, from Chorley, said: “I’m always around a toilet. I have the urgency all the time.

“I have accidents twice a week. My whole life has changed. It’s been incredibly embarrassing because it’s not talked about.”

Leonnie fell poorly during labour and developed sepsis while giving birth to George on February 2, 2017 weighing 7lbs 1oz.

Baby George in 2017Baby George in 2017
Baby George in 2017 | Leonnie Downes / SWNS

She said: “His heart rate was going up. I was very incoherent and had a loss of control.

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“It ended in a forceps delivery. My wife was holding George and I said ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it'. I thought I was going to die.”

Leonnie was put on antibiotics to clear the infection and both her and George stayed in hospital before she could come home.

But straight after she started to struggle with incontinence and bowel urgency – but dismissed it as “normal”.

Leonnie’s symptoms continued to worsen and she would find herself having regular accidents and was unable to cope without the help of Emma - who had gone back to work as a bookings manager.

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A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'.
Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34.
The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency.A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'.
Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34.
The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency.
A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'. Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34. The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency. | Leonnie Downes / SWNS

She said: “I’d wait outside her work with George for eight hours. I found life quite overwhelming. I thought every mum dealt with this. I thought it was normal.”

Leonnie found herself always near a toilet and scared to leave the house for fear of an accident happening.

She eventually went to see a doctor, 18 months after the birth, but was told there was nothing wrong.

After going again she was diagnosed with a third-degree tear in June 2020 but had to wait until January 2023 for a surgery to help repair the tear - because of delays due to Covid.

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Unfortunately the doctors were unable to repair the tear and are looking into further treatment for Leonnie – such as rectal nerve stem stimulation or a stoma bag.

She said: “I need further surgeries in my life. I irrigate my bowels every day."

Emma gave up her job November 2017 to care for Leonnie and George – and the family have to plan every outing.

A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'.
Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34.
The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency.A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'.
Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34.
The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency.
A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'. Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34. The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency. | Leonnie Downes / SWNS

Leonnie said: “I know everywhere in the local area where there is a toilet. I have got a bag of my clothes with me when I go out. Everything is planned.”

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The couple had wanted to expand their family but after the trauma of the first birth – and danger to Leonnie if she were to deliver again – neither feel they can have another child.

She said: “We were both really excited. We wanted more children.”

Leonnie even attempted to take her life in 2019 and has now been left with PTSD from the birth.

A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'.
Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34.
The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency.A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'.
Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34.
The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency.
A mum left with life-changing incontinence after suffering injuries during labour wants to speak out - to raise awareness around 'birth trauma'. Leonnie Downes, 31, was excited to raise baby George with wife Emma Downes, 34. The difficult birth left Leonnie with a third degree tear – and she now struggles with severe bowel incontinence and urgency. | Leonnie Downes / SWNS

She said: “I don’t leave the house a lot. I have severe anxiety about leaving the house.

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“I have PTSD – I have nightmares about bowel incontinence or the birth.

“I’ve lost myself. It’s never going to go away. It’s life-changing.”

Leonnie said the birth injury has also impacted her marriage.

She said: “It nearly ruined my marriage. My wife has gone from my wife to carer.

“She’s been incredible – I couldn’t ask for a better wife."

MP Theo Clarke spoke out about her birth trauma as part of a parliamentary debate and called for the government to add it to the women's health strategy.

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