They say that blood is thicker than water when it comes to relationships, but sometimes the support that we need doesn’t always come from the places and the people we expect, namely those that we love, but instead from those around us who are strangers.

It’s taken me a long time to write this blog mainly because some things are hard to say. How do you say that you felt alone and unsupported by those around you who are the ones that you look to for solace?

Throughout my battle with PTSD, I struggled to access help and support. This wasn’t only from those in the medical profession but also from family and friends. Maybe a lack of understanding, maybe being unsure how to help or maybe denial all played a part, but during my battles I often felt very alone, misunderstood and vulnerable.

I felt alone and isolated.

When I first came out of hospital after my traumatic birth no one mentioned it, not my family, not my friends, it was like it had never happened. I too then began to feel that it was something  I shouldn’t talk about, so I didn’t. This led to shame, shame for being weak, shame for letting the thoughts of anger and anxiety run riot in my mind, shame for not being like all the other women I knew, strong and capable of giving birth. As time went on and the more I struggled I felt I had to hide my battle. The times I did try to talk to anyone they just dismissed it and changed the subject or said I was ok now and in time I would forget all about it, all women did. Once I was even asked if I had exaggerated my trauma and told maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

As anxiety took hold and panic never far away, just doing normal things became like an impossible task. I felt like no one understood, ‘what is there to be worried about’ or ‘Why don’t you want to do this’ became common replies of the people around me. I lost count of the times I heard my husband making vague excuses to family and friends as to why we wouldn’t be going to an event or away with them on holiday. Why could we not just tell them? Why did we have to hide that I was scared and anxious and suffering? I felt like my family was embarrassed by me and it only increased my anxiety and low self-esteem.

My family didn’t understand the way I felt about my baby either. I didn’t want her to be picked up by others or passed around or out of my sight. So I got labelled as a possessive mother, obsessed with my baby, neurotic and over-protective. Never did anyone ask why I felt the way I did and even when I tried to explain I would be bombarded with, ‘You will spoil her’, or ‘Why don’t you leave her with us’ and ‘You shouldn’t be doing that’. I felt that nothing I did was right especially with my babies and so I hid my feelings more and more.

Why didn’t they want to listen?

The more I hid my feelings the more I felt alone and isolated. I felt like my husband would eventually leave me after all what did I have to offer him. I was nothing but a burden and although he was there I felt like he was just putting up with me, frustrated and weighed down by it all. I felt I was a bad mother, daughter, wife and friend.

I was desperate to banish this thing that had invaded my life so I started to do as much research as I could on anxiety and how to control it. I tried to learn as many techniques as I could and practice them when no one was around. While this did help I still struggled and felt a failure for not being able to banish it completely.

I felt like I was living in a bubble, trapped by fear, living half a life. I felt like I would watch everyone else around me on the outside of my bubble and wish I could be them. I wished that I could do everything, go everywhere and be happy, with no fear gripping me in its vice, paralysing me. When I did try to do anything and I ended up unwell, panic attacks often forced me to come home. I would rack myself with guilt for spoiling everything, my children were missing out because of me, because I was unable to pull myself together and get over my trauma. I had friends take me to one side and tell me to sort myself out and I heard many times friends comments that they felt sorry for my husband having to cope with me. Even now the pain of those words still sear through my heart.

Why didn’t my family and friends understand? Why didn’t they want to listen? Why couldn’t anyone see I was doing my best to just survive? I didn’t want or ask for this and I couldn’t control it. So I felt despair with no hope, alone and scared.

As time went by I believed that the battle was one I would have to fight alone.

When I started to train as a doula I found myself in a room filled with strangers. It was the first time I was finally asked about my birth, I didn’t hide it but let the walls down and told bits of my experience that I had never verbalised before. Those strangers listened and they tried to understand, something I had never had before and in their arms, I felt love, I felt support and I felt the load of my trauma lighten a little. Most of all I didn’t feel judged only listened to and it was powerful and the start of a long journey to healing.

When finally I found a counsellor who tried to understand I again felt support and compassion. She listened to my fears, to my worries to everything that was eating at my soul and again the burden and the guilt felt lighter. She had experienced trauma and so could relate to many of the things I was experiencing.

When I finally got to see a psychiatrist after such a long time, she listened and gave me the diagnosis I needed to help me see I wasn’t mad, weak or a failure and it gave me peace and relief. More than that I realised that something bad had happened to me that wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t to blame and despite it all I was doing ok. This was also when I finally got the diagnosis of PTSD and to me, this meant a lot, that finally I had been heard and understood.

When I found the Birth Trauma Association Facebook page and I shared some of my story there I again felt listened to, supported and understood like I never had before. I realised I wasn’t alone but others had feelings like I did and they knew what it was like to be consumed by your thoughts and held captive by fear. I was able to ask questions and was surprised that I wasn’t alone. Also, like me, others had been through traumatic births, that I wasn’t weak or a failure, and that instead I had been subjected to poor care and that this was why I was struggling.

There are those that have helped me.

Our story too can be powerful. I was asked by a charity called Best Beginnings to be filmed as part of a campaign to raise awareness of birth trauma and PTSD. I was scared beyond words the day the cameraman came, but my fears were soon calmed because he was lovely, gentle and reassuring. As he set up the camera I knew this would be the first time I had ever sat with someone and told my whole story, bared my soul and recounted every detail of what had happened to me. I cried and the cameraman cried and I felt like I had finally released my pain. That night I lay in bed and I felt a calmness I had never felt before because finally, someone had listened. It wasn’t my partner, it wasn’t my family, it wasn’t my friends, but a stranger. There’s a part of me that still finds it strange that the only person to know my whole story, to have heard it from my own lips, to have cried with me and been truly moved by my battle was someone I had never met before and will most likely never meet again. I know it will accomplish good by raising awareness and giving very much-needed help to others and so for me it was worth it despite it being one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. When I told those around me what I had done they were surprised, and wondered why. The loveliest comments were from my two daughters who said they were so proud of me.

I still struggle with the dismissal of all that I have fought over the years. I’m still viewed as odd and a little strange by some and there are days I still feel alone. In many ways, I did fight my battle alone but I guess it has made me stronger and along the way, there are those that have helped me. Even now I find support, and encouragement and feel inspired by those who cross my path both in daily life through my work supporting families and on social media. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to listen or give an encouraging word.

Yes, blood may be thicker than water, but water can be refreshing and cleansing. Sometimes when it comes to support it isn’t always found where we expect it namely from those that we love, but sometimes it is in the arms of strangers that we meet along the way. I

hope that by sharing my story I may be one of those strangers that extends a hand in support to someone, someone that I may never realise needed help. If you know that someone you love is struggling, listen, listen to their story, and let them tell you what’s tearing at their heart, because sometimes we don’t need advice, we just need someone to hold our hand, listen and try to understand.

Support from the arms of strangers.

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