“Let your scars become wings that carry you out of the darkness and into the glorious light” Emma Jane Cushnan
The birth of my first daughter changed my life, it changed me. As the lights passed above me as I was wheeled down the hospital corridor, I didn’t think I would ever see my baby again, and I couldn’t even remember what she looked like.
I was only just 34 weeks when after nearly losing her twice in my pregnancy, my body could no longer keep her safe. Pre-eclampsia was causing my organs to fail and if they didn’t deliver my baby we would both die. My relief when I finally pushed her into this world was fleeting, they held her above me for a few brief seconds before whisking her away to neonatal. But my battle wasn’t over yet. A retained placenta again threatened to take me from her again. As they wheeled me down for life saving surgery I tried to picture her, hold on to anything I could of her. The last words I heard were, ‘quick put her under or we will have a baby without a mother’.
I survived, just, pre-eclampsia, a haemorrhage in surgery left me fighting for my life. But in the days and weeks that followed I received appalling care that left me in my hospital room on the brink of death and with trauma deeply etched in my mind.
When I finally went home, black and blue, weak and scared, I believed the problem was me. I believed that I was weak, unable to cope with birth like everyone else and ashamed. I made my ravaged body carry on and my broken mind be silent. I covered over my anxiety and hid the flashbacks that took me back to my hospital room most nights.
After 12 months of physically healing, my mind stayed in torment, yet I was the only one that seemed to know. Then 14 months after I found myself pregnant again. With my previous trauma unresolved I believed that this time there would be no escape from death. So I penned letters to those I loved, to my daughter that I had cherished for the past year and the baby I was never to hold in my arms and I waited. Not once was my previous experience mentioned or acknowledged, it was like nothing had happened and as fear took hold I waited for deaths grip to take me.
Death didn’t take me. Instead I birthed another beautiful daughter with ease. I got to hold her, kiss her and she never left my side. This wonderful birth should have healed me but instead it only made my unresolved trauma worse, deepening the guilt and anxiety I felt for my first birth.
Anxiety, flashbacks and panic attacks became my life until I could barely function. For years I battled for help, passed around from service to service. Wrong diagnosis after wrong diagnosis. Finally I was listened to by a wonderful psychiatrist who acknowledged my trauma. She diagnosed that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), caused by birth trauma and I cried with relief for 3 Days.
Yes I suffered birth trauma. It took me years to get it acknowledged or even accepted.
Trauma Counselling and self help made such a difference, as did reading the experiences of others. However I still lacked to ability to have my story acknowledged.
Sadly there is still little in the way of understanding for birth trauma and PTSD. I know how alone it makes you feel, so isolated and scared and I wanted to change this. This was why I founded Unfold your wings a support facebook page and website to provide hope for those who have suffered birth trauma and/or PTSD.
My trauma and subsequent struggle to get help for PTSD was a very painful and 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 reaching out to offer support. My experience drove me to train as a postnatal 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 heal from a difficult birth. I also trained in PTSD counselling, CBT and Mindfulness. These all give me the tools to offer others the help I struggled to find. I now work for the NHS caring for women who have been touched by birth trauma.
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 a proper diagnosis and support for birth trauma. I have been able to do this as part of #Matexp, that is 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, support families and reduce birth trauma.
I also know how important it is to have a safe place to share your story and be heard, to have your trauma acknowledged and how this helps you to heal. This is why I offer Birth Reflection Sessions. We must never underestimate how important it is for someone suffering from Birth Trauma or PTSD to be heard.
It is possible to find a hope and life again beyond birth trauma, to leave the darkness and spread wings that help us take flight . Like me, my hope is that you can too.
Love Emma Jane X