CLINICAL PAPER A qualitative study exploring the lived experience of having anal incontinence in the early postnatal period
Anal incontinence is a possible consequence of childbirth, and it has been shown to have a significant impact on women’s quality of life. However, little work has been published about the experience of anal incontinence from the perspective of qualitative research. A phenomenological (qualitative) enquiry can provide invaluable insights and a deeper understanding of the lived experience and implications of anal incontinence. Two qualitative studies have previously explored the experience of anal incontinence following a vaginal delivery. Both investigations recruited women in the 26–56-year-old age range, which indicates that, for some of the women involved, the delivery of their baby had been some years prior to the interview. The present phenomenological study focused on the early (< 12 months) postnatal anal incontinence experience. Three participants were purposefully recruited to take part in face-to-face, open-ended interviews, which were recorded and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were then analysed on the basis of the descriptive phenomenological method developed by Amedeo Giorgi. The phenomenological descriptive analysis revealed that the essential structure of the participants’ early postnatal anal incontinence experience consisted of six key elements that all have significant empirical implications: the changed body; the evolving sense of self; a sense of becoming familiar; a sense of hope; emotional engagement; and an overriding sense of putting the baby first. It is hoped that these results will: add to the qualitative, meaningful evidence base in the field; help to understand how the phenomenon is experienced by women; direct further qualitative research; and perhaps, contribute to the development of therapeutic services and empathetic care for these women.
Keywords: anal incontinence, lived experience, phenomenological descriptive analysis, postnatal period, qualitative study