I sat in the psychiatrist’s room, the light shining on my back, warming my tired bones. I had lost hope, hope that anyone could hear me, or know what was clawing at my soul. I finished my story, my years of suffering and pain, I looked from the floor to the kind eyes of the lady before me, and there were tears, glistening catching the spectrum of light. She tried to hide them, blink them away and be professional, but I saw them. Then those words, “I’m sorry”, she said them, she said “sorry”, and then the explanation, the diagnosis that would change my life, “Emma, what you have been suffering with is post-traumatic stress, and I’m going to help.”

I cried, I cried for two days. I cried out relief, I cried out of anger, I cried out of sadness, but mostly I cried out of frustration. Frustration because it had taken over ten years to get here, ten years to get answers, ten years of anguish, suffering, pain, feeling I was weak, somehow less of a mother and unable to ‘sort myself out’. I had endured panic attacks, flashbacks, trips to hospital, anxiety, physical illness and sheer despair. But now there was hope, someone had listened, someone knew what was wrong and I left with an answer, that it wasn’t that I was weak, but I was suffering because of trauma and PTSD and just having someone acknowledging that, and hearing what was wrong meant I could now look for treatment.

I finally had answers for my years of pain. I went from that appointment full of hope and with a care plan. However, it didn’t last. I had 8 sessions with a psychologist which did help a little but unfortunately, the treatment I needed didn’t exist. I was told there was no specialist counselling for birth trauma, and no treatments such as EMDR available. The lovely psychiatrist I had seen left and then I saw another who was cold and uncaring. Then I had my appointment with mental health services cancelled five times. It was over two years before I saw anyone again, and at times I felt invisible.

Yet I’m lucky. I had the strength to search for help myself, to do research, to reach out to organisations like The Birth Trauma Association and learn self-help techniques. I’m in recovery, but it’s a journey I’ve felt has been tread alone. Finding treatment has meant paying for help and being the one who has led my own healing.

So I try to campaign, raise awareness and speak up for those who cannot. Yet my heart is heavy because I still see so many who are struggling. Struggling to access help, to make someone listen to find services that will provide the treatment they need. Still, the support for birth trauma is lacking. Everywhere there are families struggling, on the brink of despair, with nowhere to turn. Many are left seeking help from charities. Yet charities should not be left carrying the weight, the pain of these families.

Would this happen with a physical illness? Imagine breaking your leg and being told there was no one to fix it, or there was someone that knew about broken bones but didn’t have specialist training in the injury you had suffered. Or imagine being told there was no funding to have an X-Ray, or a plaster cast or the operation you need to repair your leg. Imagine being in pain for days, weeks, months, unable to walk, unable to work with no help in sight. Imagine being told it was all in your head, to get over it or pull yourself together. Imagine no one understanding why you were finding each day a strain. Yet this is what families are facing daily. Mental health services that are stretched to the limit, that are underfunded and struggling to cope.

Families when brave enough to reach out for help are told that the services they need simply do not exist. Then others, like me, are sent from department to department, seeing staff not trained in spotting or supporting birth trauma or given treatment that isn’t right, doesn’t help at all, but instead makes it worse. Sadly some families pay the ultimate price, their loved one, no longer able to cope says goodbye to the world of suffering and pain that has become their life, and seek release in death.

It is time to act. We cannot any longer sit back and let families go on without the specialist support they need. We can not risk families being left without a mum or a dad because we failed them. Our beautiful children are precious, with them are our hopes and dreams, and they deserve better. When families don’t get the support and treatment they need the result is devastated lives, it can steal years that can never be got back. It leads to isolation and feelings of guilt, damage to relationships, loss of jobs and physical illness. Families need support and it’s time that the focus is shifted to show those suffering they are not fighting the battle alone.

When I was at my lowest I was expected to fight my hardest

So what can we do?

When you’re going through the battle of birth trauma to fight, to keep asking and asking for help is exhausting, just to get through each day is hard enough. When I was at my lowest I was expected to fight my hardest. But we can be the voice they need, we can speak up about perinatal mental health and campaign for change. We need to keep pushing the NHS,  local services and the wider government to see how important it is that there is specialist care available. We can also support those charities trying hard to help families.

If we have experience of birth trauma either as a sufferer or if we are someone who has cared for a loved one, we can share our stories, this helps reduce stigma and raise awareness. When we do this we make it easier for ones to ask for help and for those developing services to know what is needed to support those they care for. We also educate healthcare professionals and others who families rely on and help them understand the battle that is birth trauma.

But what families also need is kindness and compassion, a caring touch and a helping hand. I can remember every person who said a kind word to me, but also those who didn’t say a word but just sat with me while I cried and held me tight. Let us help them to not feel alone, to know that ones care and that we believe enough is enough. We may not be able to take their pain away, but we can be a strength and a light in the darkest of times.

Yes, it’s time to act on birth trauma. Join us, be a light in the dark and say Enough is Enough!

It’s time to act – Supporting Birth trauma and Perinatal PTSD.

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