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‘It’s like a ticking time bomb in your vagina’: Australian Woman Reveals How Pelvic Mesh Surgery Drove Her to Attempt Suicide

Justine Watson, Co-Founder of Mesh Injured Australia, one of thousands of women affected

In an attempt to raise awareness and help reduce suicide rates, an Australian survivor of transvaginal mesh surgery has opened up about her experience with the procedure and the many ways it destroyed her life. 

Justine Watson, who is the President and Co-Founder of Mesh Injured Australia, was just 40 years’ old when she decided to make an appointment with a specialist about her ‘embarrassing’ secret: stress urinary incontinence. 

“After the birth of two very large baby boys, I experienced the all too common symptoms of stress urinary incontinence,” she shared. 

“To be honest, it had never bothered me too much — especially as I was so busy caring for a special needs child, along with my clients — however, my girlfriends all got together and encouraged me to look into transvaginal mesh surgery, as it was supposedly a very quick and simple ‘fix.’” 

Ms Watson says it was her hope that the surgery would allow her to get back into an active lifestyle, however, she instead found herself plagued by mysterious, agonising, and debilitating symptoms, all of which began to increase as the months progressed. 

“Immediately after the surgery, I remember vomiting in the car park. I had to stumble home with the help of a friend, and then crawl up the stairs to my bedroom” she revealed. 

“As the months rolled on, I just didn’t feel myself. I developed chronic back and pelvic pain, my hair was falling out, I had brain fog and acid reflux, was sensitive or allergic to almost every food I tried to eat, and was constantly fatigued. 

“On top of all of this, my incontinence was so severe and urgent that my bladder would sometimes empty itself without any notice!” 

Ms Watson is just one of thousands of women worldwide who have been negatively impacted through transvaginal mesh surgery — a ‘mesh-like netting’ device which is often inserted into the pelvis or bladder to ‘fix’ incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse post-childbirth. 

To date, it is estimated that up to 18,000 women have been harmed by the insertion of transvaginal mesh devices (Sydney Morning Herald, 2019). 

Like many survivors, Ms Watson says she struggled to find a specialist or medical professional who could diagnose her symptoms, and during those seven years was instead made to feel as though she was ‘crazy.’ 

"My doctor told me I simply needed to ‘see a psychiatrist.’ Can you imagine how this felt, as someone who had worked in mental health for over 20 years?" she shared. "Here I was, a health-conscious, educated woman from a medical family, with a list of symptoms that no doctor could give any answers for. I felt as though they thought I was crazy." 

In 2017, desperate for relief from the physical and mental pain, she attempted suicide. Thankfully, she was saved by a close friend. 

Several months later, Ms Watson returned to her implanting surgeon and demanded answers to her worsened incontinence. It was during this appointment that the then 47-year-old discovered the truth. 

“The doctor had numbed my vagina and inserted a probe into my urethra, and I remember seeing his entire face just drop. I looked up at the ultrasound screen and that’s when I saw it — the entire screen was awash with blue and white.

“My urethra was being skewered by the mesh. I wanted to vomit.”

“I was told my best-case scenario was multiple surgeries — that’s if he could remove it — and a high chance of life with a permanent catheter.” 

Determined to find an alternative solution, Ms Watson reached out to an American surgeon who was highly experienced with mesh-removals, and after liquidating her possessions, spent around $50K to travel to the United States for removal surgery.

Today, Ms Watson says she has regained around ‘80%’ quality of life, but recognises that most mesh survivors are not this fortunate. Based in Sydney, she now works alongside professionals at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital to provide consumer co-design to a multi-disciplinary clinic for pelvic mesh implants victims. 

“Knowing what I know now, I understand why so many women disengage from medical help,” says Ms Watson.

“So little is still known about mesh injury, so doctors often turn us away with the message that ‘it’s all in your head.” All of this needs to be kept in mind when treating someone with mesh injury. 

“We are damaged. We react negatively. We are very scared, sick, and in a lot of pain. And that can cause bad behaviour in any human being. 

Ms Watson’s story of surviving suicide and pelvic mesh surgery has also been selected for inclusion in the upcoming second volume of the internationally-renowned series, ‘Reasons to Live: One More Day, Every Day.’ 

Written and edited by Brisbane author Jas Rawlinson, and endorsed by names such as Kevin Hines (Globally-renowned suicide prevention speaker), Professor Patrick McGorry (Founding Director of Headspace and Orygen), and Lifeline Hunter Valley, the book follows the lives of 10 individuals from around the globe who have found a way to triumph over their past traumas.

For more information about Ms Watson’s work, contact: 

Justine Watson

E. justine@meshinjuredaustralia.org.au 

To contact Jas Rawlinson regarding ‘Reasons to Live: One More Day, Every Day’, email: