We sometimes go through things in life that completely change us as a person. Sometimes it changes things for the better, sometimes the worst and sometimes its both!
For me this is certainly true, when I had my first daughter and subsequent birth trauma it changed me, in fact it changed not only me but my whole life. While a lot of those changes were for the worse, my trauma has led me on a path to a place I feel I am meant to be.
The weeks I was in hospital after the birth were hard. One of the main things that kept me sane and anchored after my trauma was breastfeeding. While separated from my daughter in those early days expressing for her while she was in neonatal gave me the fight to survive, to continue living as although I could do nothing else for her, I could provide her my milk, it was my connection to her, my lifeline. I fought to feed her with every bit of strength in my body. When staff said that I would never produce enough milk due to my retained placenta and massive blood loss, I fought to prove them wrong. When doctors said I would never exclusively breastfeed her and she most likely would not latch when they removed her NG tube, I fought to prove them wrong. Prove them wrong I did and for 15 glorious months my traumatised, weak, wrecked body nourished and provided my baby with everything she needed.
The fight I had to feed my baby with no support and then seeing others struggle also with no support, drove me to wonder why families were left struggling. Breastfeeding is hard, but especially so after trauma or if your baby is in neonatal. I searched to find organisations that offered support. It led me to finding The Breastfeeding Network, I training with them and then went on to volunteering with them. I found great solace and healing in offering to others the support that I knew was so important and that i so desperately would have valued.
Eventually this led to working for the NHS as a paid infant feeding support worker, supporting families with feeding their babies. To do my job I had to overcome a lot of my trauma as I worked on the maternity ward and neonatal unit where I had my trauma and where for a long time I couldn’t set foot. I loved my job especially working in neonatal. Being able to give moms and babies the support I never had meant everything. When I saw the moms sat by their little ones incubators I remember those feelings well and how just a friendly face, a kind word and someone to talk to is often just what is needed and how it can make all the difference.
Without my trauma, without my time in neonatal it would be an unknown world to me. Without my struggle, my fight to breastfeed, would I have trained to be an infant feeding support worker? I just don’t know. Yet I know it is where I was meant to be, it gave me so much, I feel so privileged that I got to see the difference it makes to families, to support them and be part of their journey.
My trauma and subsequent struggle to get help for PTSD was very painful and a hard fight for many years. When I reflect on the struggle I have realised with time that it has been a fight that has given to me, as well as taken away. It has given me the determination to try to help others who have also had birth trauma and PTSD, reaching out to offer support. My experience drove me to train as a doula which not only taught me that birth can be a positive experience and helped me in my healing, but also how to support moms to help them understand how they can trust their bodies and work with it to make birth easier but also to support families when things change and birth becomes difficult or complex.
My trauma and struggle to get help also drives me to want to change things. I feel that experiencing the bad has given me something special, a voice!
This voice is able to speak out and sometimes shout loud about the need for things to change, both in the culture of birth and postnatal care but also the need for more support for perinatal mental health. I will always seek to use that voice to speak up for those that as yet are unable to speak up, to raise awareness of what trauma is, and try to make sure things change, and improve, in the care of women in birth.
I will also use that voice to speak out about the importance of support for when things do go wrong. I have been able to do this as part of the grassroots campaign #Matexp, and the National maternity review that are striving to improve the care given to women and families in pregnancy, birth and postnatal. I feel privileged to be a voice for those that need support by speaking at events to help health professionals see how they can improve their practice and support families in times of need . I continue to raise awareness globally of perinatal PTSD/ birth trauma and provide hope, by means of this support website, facebook and twitter page. I also run the perinatal mental health network discussion group bringing together those working hard in perinatal mental health.
I’ve had the privilege of helping my local trust to set up perinatal mental health pathways for the health visiting service and also the community midwives. I helped with acquiring funding and the setting up of a specialist PNMH service. I also set up a birth trauma service that is now my paid role in the NHS to provide a safe space for families to share their birth experiences, arrange a debrief, have support and treatment to help them heal.
Yes I truly believe I am where I am meant to be!
Sometimes bad things happen to us, taking so much from us. We however can turn those experiences into opportunities to help others, change and improve things and give a voice to those that need help and support too. Yes even trauma can lead us to something good, it provides us with a chance to help others, making a difference to those like us may be in pain and grief, the gift it gives in return is it helps heal ourselves.