Ashley James: 'Birth trauma left me unable to physically function'

<span class="caption">How Ashley James overcame months of birth trauma</span>
How Ashley James overcame months of birth trauma

If you have a browse through Ashley James’ Instagram feed yes, you’ll find gorgeous pictures of her, but you’ll also find her honest accounts of childbirth, postnatal depression and pictures that celebrate body positivity.

Ashley, who works as a TV presenter and DJ after originally finding fame on Made In Chelsea, became a mum to Alfie in Jan 2021 and is also now pregnant with her second child, but this summer she took to Instagram to tell her honest childbirth story for the first time – a traumatic experience that she felt could have been avoided.

Talking about the day she gave birth Ashley, 34, says: ‘I was in a positive mindset- and because I've run a few London marathons, I know that I can kind of push my body past pain. But it was when I got there that things started to feel wrong – as I was in constant pain, 18 hours of pretty severe pain.’

Ashley says she constantly told the midwives about her pain and asked for something to help ease it – but she was ignored. This was just the start of her trauma though.

‘After I had given birth, unfortunately, they stitched me up incorrectly; so I suffered from faecal incontinence.’ Faecal, or bowel incontinence is when you cannot control your bowel movements.

‘That was quite debilitating, even from a confidence point of view. I went from being this really healthy, athletic person to suddenly not knowing if I could trust my body to function,’ admits Ashley.

Hoping for some answers she spoke to nurses to get a debrief on why things went so wrong with her birth. ‘I think I was almost expecting to be told like there is no pain relief available because it was a pandemic or because of staff shortages, but my birth notes said that I was coping fine.

‘I couldn't have made it more clear that I wasn't coping and that I wasn't in pain - and I feel what makes me sad is that pain is subjective. So even though I've always prided myself on having a high pain threshold, actually, it shouldn't matter – pain is pain.’

Ashley also believes that because a lot of the issues that women face after childbirth are taboo, many of us don’t talk openly about them.

‘New mums don't want to admit that they've got piles or incontinence. It's almost a running joke, isn't it? If you laugh too hard or if you sneeze, then you’ll leak - it's kind of just accepted that you're broken after childbirth.’

Touching on postnatal depression the TV presenter says that we associate ‘baby blues’ with those first few months after giving birth, but it’s different for every new mum - like it was for her.

‘I think everyone's timelines are so unique - and for me, it was definitely toughest from about six months to a year - it kind of came so unexpectedly because I went from feeling wow, this is amazing - and the sleepless nights are worth it, to feeling a little disconnected.’

From this came her podcast, called Mum’s the Word, which she launched in August 2021, interviewing other celebrities, including Kara Tointin and Radio 1’s Charlie Hedges, plus experts about parenting.

Explaining why she started it Ashley says: ‘I think from speaking to a range of mums, both on my podcast on social media, it's that people just want to feel a bit heard. And people want to have the space to not be judged by their choices.’

‘I have so much more respect for mums and the important role that they play in society that I think for whatever reason, society doesn't value until you actually are one.’

Another aspect of motherhood the media personality feels strongly about is body positivity, and regularly posts realistic pictures of herself on her Instagram feed. ‘I think it's important in the postnatal space because there's this incorrect assumption that you go back to normal after six weeks. I had that expectation as well, like, you get the green light to go back to exercise, but there's also all that external pressure, like people commenting on your weight or praising you.’

‘I respect that my body has changed a lot. I used to see exercise as something you did to punish yourself after overindulging and was critical of exercises like yoga and Pilates; as I didn’t see it as ‘proper exercise’.

‘But now I really just love things like stretching and Pilates - and I've seen how important Pilates is in terms of like pelvic floor rebuilding and tummy gap rebuilding.’

Ashley’s second child is due next year, but she has this advice to new mums or mums-to-be: ‘Trust your instinct, we're constantly told what we should be doing and what our babies should be doing, but ultimately, no one knows your baby or circumstances like you do.’

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