A sex op saved my marriage
Helen Dominey sobbed into her pillow. She had never felt so useless and frustrated. Her husband Stan cuddled her. "It doesn't matter," he whispered, but Helen shook her head angrily. That was what women were supposed to say to men when they couldn't make love - it wasn't meant to be the other way around. She had no idea what was happening to her - all she knew was she couldn't have sex.
Helen, and Stan, hadn't made love for almost a year. Since the birth of their baby, sex had become impossible. Put simply, it hurt too much. "Stan loved me and sex wasn't all our relationship was based upon, but it was very important," she says. "I was terrified we'd never be able to have sex again."
The chemistry between Helen and Stan was intense from the moment they met in a bar on holiday in Greece in 1998.
"As soon as I stared chatting to Stan, I knew he was the one for me," says Helen. "Our holiday romance continued when we got home. We saw each other as much as we could and, like most couples, sex was an important part of our relationship."
The couple, from Bedford, married in 2004 and immediately started trying for a baby. Within six months Helen was pregnant and the couple couldn't wait to be parents. After a routine pregnancy, Helen's labour was complicated and baby Stanley was eventually delivered using forceps, resulting in Helen suffering severe internal tears.
"I felt pretty awful at first - all swollen and bruised - but the pain faded quite quickly," Helen says.
Back home with her new baby, Helen threw herself into being a mum. After her six-week postnatal check seemed to show she was fit, Helen felt ready to make love again.
"I loved being a mum but wanted to feel like a woman again. Stan and I had always had an active sex life and this was the longest time we'd gone without since we'd met," she says.
The couple tried to reignite their physical relationship, but no matter how tender Stan was, Helen was left in excruciating pain. "At first, I wasn't too worried. We even had a laugh about it," remembers Helen. "I thought I was just going to take a bit longer to get back to normal."
But weeks passed and every time they tried to be intimate, Helen had to stop. She was in too much pain. "Stan was lovely, stroking my cheek and telling me it didn't matter," says Helen quietly. "But I knew it did."
Helen didn't want to visit her GP. "I was embarrassed and hoped it would just get better on its own," she says.
Desperate for reassurance, she mentioned it to some of her friends who'd had babies, in the hope they'd experienced the same thing. "I so wanted them to say they understood, but instead they told me their sex lives had gone back to normal," she says.
After three months, Helen began to make excuses to avoid sex. "Every night we'd either go to sleep in awkward silence or I'd end up in floods of tears," she admits.
Soon her perfect marriage started to crumble. "We started rowing over silly things," she says. "I tried to pretend it wasn't happening, but I knew we weren't as close as we used to be. One night Stan joked he'd have to start looking elsewhere if we didn't have sex soon. I knew he wasn't serious, but it hurt. I didn't feel like a real woman any more."
After 10 months, and with her marriage on the brink, Helen finally asked her GP for help. "It wasn't just our sex life at stake any more, it was our family too," she explains. "We'd always talked about having two children and I knew that could never happen if I stayed this way. But I was terrified doctors would say there was nothing they could do to help."
Helen's GP referred her to a hospital specialist, who explained that her vaginal tears had been badly stitched, leaving her with excessive internal scarring. It was this that was making sex so painful. The good news was a simple op would cure the problem."I didn't cry, I just felt a wave of relief knowing something could be done," she says.
Helen underwent a surgical procedure called a revised episiotomy. During the operation, her surgeon cut away the surplus scarring. "After the op I was told to wait two weeks before we tried to have sex again," says Helen.
Just over a fortnight later, the couple arranged a love-in, and baby Stanley went to stay with Helen's parents. "We felt like teenagers again," remembers Helen. "I was excited, but terrified too. What if the op hadn't worked?"
Thankfully, the night was a success. "Being able to make love meant Stan and I felt connected," Helen says. "I can't begin to describe the happiness I felt."
The couple managed to rekindle their feelings, and their relationship grew strong again. Twelve months later, Helen became pregnant. "I couldn't bear the thought of a second vaginal birth as I had torn so badly the first time, so my doctor suggested a Caesarean," she says.
Their second son James was born by C-section a year ago and Helen and Stan's marriage is better than ever. "There's no doubt what we have been through has made us appreciate each other more," says Helen.
Stan Dominey, 35, a project manager for an engineering firm, says:
"Not being able to make love to my wife was excruciating. I'd end up going for a run round the block to get rid of my frustration! It was awful for Helen too, but I felt rejected and began to wonder if she was just making excuses. "Our sex life is as good, if not better, than before. I still get home, take one look at Helen and want her."