A mother denied proper help from the NHS for vaginal pain caused by a difficult birth tried to kill herself after first spending £50,000 desperately trying to get better.
Natalie, now 40, had a pudendal nerve entrapment – a rare complication of labour that damages and traps the main nerve in the pelvis – and after five years without a correct diagnosis and UK doctors LAUGHING at her, went to France for help.
She says, ‘Before I gave birth in January 2016, the last thing I thought about every day was my vagina. It wouldn’t even cross my mind. Since I’ve had Selina, it’s all I think about. It started with a minor irritation and became sheer torturous hell.’
The mum-of-one from Wirral was left in a wheelchair, unable to stand, walk, sit, work, take care of her daughter or have sex, and tried to end her life due to severe pain around her vulva and inside her vagina.
Natalie, 40, (pictured), who lives in Wirral, has been left in a wheelchair after suffering from pudendal neuralgia following the birth of her daughter Selina. Pictured: Flight to Paris
Natalie claims she had no pain before the birth of her daughter and would go cycling, running and had sex with her husband David. Pictured left: Enjoying life before pain, Right: Natalie during pregnancy
Natalie’s symptoms of pudendal neuralgia began three months after Selina was delivered via ventouse. Pictured: Natalie now
She explains, ‘When I was finally referred to a gynaecologist and asked if it could be pudendal neuralgia – nerve pain – he laughed at me and tutted. I left in tears. I couldn’t tolerate nerve pain medication or strong painkillers given to me by an NHS pain clinic and life felt bleak and hopeless.’
Natalie suffered a nervous breakdown and tried to take her own life in 2019 in desperation to end her suffering.
Before having Selina, Natalie regularly went cycling, running, worked out at the gym and had sex with her husband, David – and had no pain. Then her pregnancy ran 10 days over, and Natalie was induced. ‘I was rolling around in horrific pain, which went from zero to horrendous in no time at all.’
During labour, the skincare aesthetician was given an episiotomy, a small cut in the perineum – tissue between the vagina and anus – to help prevent tearing. Daughter Selina was delivered via ventouse, a suction cap attached to her head. Three months later in April 2016, Natalie’s symptoms began.
Natalie was unable to tolerate the pain medication prescribed after being misdiagnosed with vulvodynia. Pictured: Eczema breakout caused by extreme pain
An NHS specialist administered a nerve block after eventually suspecting pudendal neuralgia, however Natalie claims the pain relief was temporary. Pictured: Pain blockers administered
Natalie had a nervous breakdown in 2019, after specialists laughed at queries that her pain could be caused by a trapped nerve. Pictured: After suicide attempt
Wheelchair bound, Natalie decided to take an overdose of prescription painkillers. Pictured: Natalie and her husband
What is Pudendal neuralgia?
Pudendal neuralgia may feel like burning, crushing, shooting or prickling sensation in the pelvic area, develop gradually or suddenly, and is often worse when sitting down. It can continue to get worse if left untreated. Tests include a physical examination, scans, nerve studies or nerve block injections.
Treatment can include avoiding things that make the pain worse, nerve pain medication, physiotherapy, local anaesthetic and steroids, decompression surgery or nerve stimulation. Not all of the possible treatments are widely available on the NHS. It is estimated one per cent of the population suffer pudendal neuralgia, with more women affected than men.
Truncated from NHS.uk
She says, ‘Knickers and jeans irritated me down there, so I lived in linen trousers and skirts year-round.
‘The sensation grew worse around my vulva and into my vagina until it felt like my insides were being dragged out. I saw my GP, who was sympathetic and helpful, but specialists wouldn’t take my symptoms seriously.’
Three years after Selina’s birth, Natalie was misdiagnosed with vulvodynia (long-lasting vulva pain) and referred to an NHS pain clinic. She found it impossible to tolerate the medications prescribed to her, including painkillers, nerve pain tablets pregabalin and gabapentin, and anti-depressants amitriptyline and Cymbalta. She paid privately for physiotherapy and acupuncture, but her symptoms worsened.
Eventually, an NHS specialist suspected pudendal neuralgia and administered a nerve block – an injection of local anaesthetic to diagnose, and temporarily silence the nerve. ‘It was transformational, but sadly didn’t last,’ Natalie says.
Natalie’s pleas for further help fell on deaf ears, and queries about her pain being caused by a trapped nerve were laughed off by specialists. After being told she’d never sit down again, Natalie had a nervous breakdown in spring 2019.
Wheelchair bound but unable to tolerate sitting, suffering indescribable pain and no longer able to work or parent, Natalie took an overdose of prescription painkillers. Her worried husband broke down the door and rushed her to hospital.
Natalie admits that she was angry when she was saved from her attempt to end her life, after her husband rushed her to hospital. Pictured: After suicide attempt
In November 2019, Natalie flew to France where a pelvic pain specialist ran a colour ultrasound scan that revealed her pudendal nerve was trapped. Pictured: Coping with pain on flight
Natalie said it was a relief to know the cause of her pain, while questioning why an NHS doctor hadn’t run the same test. Pictured: In hospital in France
Dr Bautrant installed a Medtronic Pump in Natalie’s abdomen to deliver local anaesthetic 24/7 because the nerve pain came back after a £7,000 surgery. Pictured: With Dr Bautrant in France
‘When I came around, I was so angry that I’d been saved. I couldn’t bear to live that way anymore and wanted it all to be over,’ she says.
Husband David, a former marine, researched specialists abroad and spoke to medics in Texas, before finding gynaecological surgeon Dr Eric Bautrant, of Bastide d’Auxium Aix-en-Provence, France; an expert in pudendal neuralgia and nerve decompression surgery.
That November, Natalie flew to France and the renowned pelvic pain specialist ran a colour ultrasound scan that revealed her pudendal nerve was indeed trapped, likely due to Selina’s traumatic birth, and was the source of her excruciating pain.
Natalie, who no longer feels suicidal, had years of delay in diagnosis which worsened her condition. Pictured: Pump in abdomen
Natalie admits that she didn’t even love her daughter anymore, before having the pump installed. Pictured: Riding a bike before pain
‘He diagnosed the nerve entrapment with a quick scan,’ Natalie says. ‘It was a relief to what was causing my pain, but it was also infuriating. Why hadn’t a single NHS doctor or specialist run that test? It might have saved me from getting so unwell that I’d tried to end my life.’
Dr Bautrant released the trapped nerve in a £7,000 surgery, and when the nerve pain came back – a common trait of prolonged nerve pain – tried radio-frequency ablation, Botox injections and cryo-neurolysis to no effect.
He installed a Medtronic Pump in Natalie’s abdomen to deliver local anaesthetic 24/7 and continually numb the pain, which had been severely aggravated by years of delay in diagnosis and decompression.
Natalie said going to France for diagnoses and treatment has been exhausting and expensive. Pictured: At Manchester airport waiting for flight
Natalie and her husband David have spent £50,000 on her condition and have to pay £1100 every six weeks because the NHS refuse to refill the pump medication. Pictured: On day out before pain
Now, on Natalie’s better days, she’s able to walk short distances and work. She no longer feels suicidal, and though she still has pain, it’s slowly improving.
‘Before the pump, the pain was so torturous that I didn’t even love my daughter anymore,’ Natalie says. ‘I didn’t care about anyone or anything. I couldn’t be a mum or a wife, couldn’t work anymore and just wanted to be dead.
‘Now, I am slowly getting my life back, but I’ve had to go to France to get the proper medical diagnosis, operations to release the trapped nerve, install the pump and now refill it. It’s painful, exhausting and so expensive. Why won’t the NHS help me?’
Natalie and David have so far spent £50,000 including the cost of flying and staying abroad for treatment. The NHS refuses to refill the pump’s medication, leaving her to foot £1100 bills and solo trips to Paris every 4-6 weeks.
Natalie (pictured) said the local CCG, which oversees requests for special NHS funding denied her claim
Natalie once received an email in error from a UK specialist claiming the mental health of doctors are often forgotten. Pictured: Natalie pre-operation in France
Natalie appealed to her local MP, who advised her to request special NHS funding for the refills, but the local CCG, which oversees such requests, denied the claim.
She says, ‘At one point, an email from one of my UK specialists was sent to me in error, and said, ‘the mental health state of doctors is often forgotten in the request by patients for treatment.’
‘What about my mental health? I’m the one suffering daily here. The specialists here have failed me, and it makes me wonder how many other women have suffered birth trauma like mine and are coping alone with agonising symptoms.’
Natalie said she would be six feet under if she didn’t have the money to treat pudendal neuralgia. Pictured: Natalie recovering from suicide attempt
Natalie said she doesn’t expect to fully recover but she wants to be able to stand and walk. Pictured: With husband before the pain
Research shows women are more prone to pudendal neuralgia than men, with an estimated 1 in 100,000 people suffering from the condition. Pictured: Natalie before the pain
The NHS website itself states pudendal neuralgia can continue to get worse if left untreated. Studies estimate 1 in 100,000 people suffer the condition, with women more prone than men, and injuries from labour being a leading cause.
Natalie, who lives with David and daughter Selina, five, in Wirral, adds, ‘If I didn’t have the money from my business, I’d be six feet under.
‘I feel the NHS is burying their head in the sand. They know pudendal neuralgia exists, but don’t seem to want to deal with it or its causes properly.
Natalie said she has to adjust her entire life around her condition and argues the UK needs to catch up with making progress in treating pudendal neuralgia. Pictured: Natalie with husband and daughter
Natalie said she has flares of pain that make traveling even a short distance impossible some weeks. Pictured: Natalie in agony on her way to France for medication
‘I don’t expect to be fully recovered and jumping on trampolines, but I want to be able to stand, walk and sit, maybe even have gentle sex again one day.
‘I am adjusting my whole life to live around this pain. I must kneel on the floor, sit on one leg, or keep my knees up. I want normality.
‘Since having the pump fitted, I’ve been able to drive the short distance to take my daughter to school, wheel myself in the airport and return to work, but I have flares of pain that makes even this much impossible some weeks.
‘Other countries are making progress with this condition and the UK needs to catch up, instead of leaving women like me floundering for years.’
Kim Thomas from the Birth Trauma Association said it’s shocking that Natalie is forced to travel to France regularly because not a single NHS clinic has greed to refill her pain pump every six weeks. Pictured: Natalie with husband
Kim Thomas from the Birth Trauma Association is urging Sajid Javid to look at what has happened to Natalie. Pictured: Natalie with husband
Kim Thomas from the Birth Trauma Association told Femail, ‘In my six years with the Birth Trauma Association, I have heard many distressing stories about women’s experiences during labour and birth.
‘There have been few, however, that have upset and angered me as much as Natalie’s story. She has suffered agonising pain and mental torment for several years, to the extent of attempting suicide. Yet instead of helping her, NHS professionals have dismissed her pain, and some have even laughed at her.
‘Through her own resourcefulness, she has found a French doctor who can alleviate the pain. All she needs is an NHS clinic willing to perform the simple task of refilling her pain pump every six weeks. Shockingly, not a single one has agreed to do so, and Natalie is now forced to travel to France regularly at her own expense.
‘The government is currently developing a women’s health strategy, and I urge Sajid Javid to look at what has happened to Natalie and put in place measures to force the NHS to take women’s pain seriously.’
For birth trauma support, visit birthtraumaassociation.org.uk