My heart was pounding so hard I wondered if everyone in the room could hear it. My legs felt like jelly and I had no idea if they were going to be able to carry me to the stage.
It was here, finally time to stand and be heard.
I had made my way to London completely terrified, would I mess it up, forget what I wanted to say, disappoint those who had put trust in me and fail the women whose voices need to be heard?
Just the journey was enough to start my anxiety, a fear of being away from familiar places and people that I know. But I had to do this, I had to be brave, no matter how hard it was going to be, I could hold on and do this because it matters, it matters so very much.
When I was asked to speak at the Physiological Birth Conference at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists about birth trauma, I was shocked to say the least. Why me? I was convinced that there must be many others, much better to speak to such wonderful people. So many emotions hit me, I felt scared, excited, worried, inadequate and overwhelmed. I had never spoken to so many people before, in fact sometimes I struggle to even speak up in meetings at work. I doubted my ability to give a talk that was worthy of its subject. My fears and anxiety were screaming at me to say No! I knew however I had to do this, this was my long term goal, to raise awareness with healthcare professionals, and here it was being offered to me, now. My heart was desperate to do this, to share my experience, to explain the damage it can do to women, to families. I wanted them to hear, to know, to understand, that it steals joy and robs families of happiness, that it is real and that we cannot ignore it, but we must all work together to help prevent it and provide support for those affected when it does.
So I prepared my powerpoint and I put together what I wanted to say. It was going to be hard. There have been times I couldn’t talk about what I had been through without becoming a crying, quivering mess. Even then it would be one on one, yet here I was going to bear my soul, open and vulnerable to a room of 150+ people. So I practiced, to myself, to my girls and every time I did, I cried. It’s not easy to relive trauma, to speak about what you have suffered, everything floods back, the feelings, the smells, even the sounds. Yet I had to do this.
My talk was called ‘we must talk about birth trauma and PTSD’ and that was exactly what we must do. This was where I took my strength. We must talk about birth trauma and PTSD because by doing so, by acknowledging it happens and by hearing the stories of women and their families we can remove stigma and help improve services and the care given. We can make sure that even in the most difficult, traumatic situations that women feel loved, cared for and given the support they need. I know how important that is, what happens when you aren’t cared for, loved and treated with compassion. So I would do this, for all those in the grips of trauma and PTSD, for those whose voices are only a whisper, for those clinging on when their world feels like it’s falling apart. I have been there, in the pit, surrounded by darkness, not knowing the way out, but while the light is now shining for me I will speak out and try to reach others, try to make a change.
So my wobbly legs carried me to the stage and I let my voice be heard and yes it was hard. As I spoke to those before me and told only a bit of my story, my heart hurting. Yet before me I saw faces of kindness, faces in shock and disbelief and it was strange. Strange, because for many years I had been silent, held back by guilt and fear, but now I was purging my soul to strangers. So I stood there and I did it, I spoke from my heart and I didn’t cry, I held back those tears that have fallen so many times but my heart pounded and my knees knocked, but I did it.
So I want to say thank you.
Thank you for asking me to speak on something so important.
Thank you for listening to me and trying to understand.
Thank you for your kind comments and words of encouragement.
Thank you to the special people who helped me get there, helped me be strong and brave, you know who you are.
Thank you to those that came to me afterwards and hugged me and cried with me and asked me to help them never cause hurt.
Thank you to the doctors that came and apologised to me for care that wasn’t their fault.
But most of all thank you for letting my voice be heard, for letting me tell part of my story, because you will never know how much that means to me and I hope, oh I so hope that I helped someone even just a little.