Two years ago I sat in my living room with a video camera staring at me as I poured out my heart to a complete stranger. Tim was kind, gentle and full of empathy as he guided me while I told the story of the birth of my daughter, having perinatal PTSD and the many years of struggling to get help.
It was the first time I had told anyone the complete story, spoken the awful reality out loud. I struggled to hold back tears, as did Tim, as I tried to retell some of the most difficult times of my life. Afterwards exhaustion mixed with relief but also sadness filled my mind. To admit the pain and turmoil, to speak things that should never happen to anyone, to admit that yes I endured them but have been forever changed by them was hard. I also felt relief that maybe by doing so I could make a difference.
After a few more return visits to capture more filming, finally last week I was invited to attend the release of my film and the other films on perinatal mental health at the ‘Out of the Blue‘ by Best Beginnings launch event. A week before a phone call also revealed a secret, that attending the launch would be HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, who with HRH the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry are strong advocates for mental health with the Heads Together campaign, Not only would the duchess be attending but that myself and a few others would get to personally met her.
To say I felt overwhelmed would be an understatement. Never would I have believed that when I started my journey to want to help others would it ever lead to meeting someone as important as the Duchess. I think I walked around in a bit of a daze, and even on the day as I traveled on the train to London it just didn’t feel real.
At the event I was greeted by familiar faces and also met those who like me had bravely shared their stories to help others. While everyone else gathered in the main auditorium to hear about the launch and also hear the Duchess of Cambridge’s speech, those few of us who were privileged to be able to meet her waited nervously upstairs. All around us cameras and media crews where poised, I felt like I was dreaming it was so surreal.
After what felt like an eternity the Duchess appeared, a vision of grace and beauty. She carefully made her way through the room, cameras clicking, to sit with us.
One by one she spoke to us, and when it was my turn I hoped my voice would hold and not break, that I would be able to speak and carry to her the voices of those that I know need to be heard.
So I spoke, in a haze and answered the questions that she asked me about what helped me in my recovery and if knowing others had struggled too had been a support to me. I saw in her face genuine interest, empathy and compassion and my anxious heart grew quite. I was struck by how normal she seemed, like life had touched her too, and that she also understood the struggle of being a parent, a mum. I wondered if she too had at times she felt overwhelmed and scared, worried or alone?
Despite time being limited she made sure that everyone got to speak and have time with her. Then it was off to the other room for one finial photo of all those who have been part of the Out of the blue project.
Then just as the Duchess was about to leave, the cameras silent and the room quite she came and took my hand. She told me what a pleasure it was to meet me and that herself and William had watched my film and been deeply moved by it. She thanked me for all the work I do to support families and then she was gone. For me that moment I will treasure always, because as I held the hand of the future Queen of England I felt hope. Hope that my story can move others, that it can help those who have suffered to no longer feel alone. That the voices of those who seek to be heard will ring out loud and clear. Hope too that our stories will mean improvements will be made both in caring for women in birth and afterwards but also in the services in place to support them when struggling with perinatal mental health.
I’m not special, just a mum that suffered birth trauma and PTSD. I shared my story because I hoped it would make a difference. As I traveled home that night the emotion was almost too much to bare, because like me there are so many others who have been touched by trauma and perinatal mental health too. I hope that by having such an amazing privilege to meet the Duchess, by the coverage in the media and the films that are now there for all to see that real change will follow.
So no matter how small you feel, never doubt that your voice is too small or your not brave or strong enough to make a difference. We can go through the most awful of times but they can lead to something good. For me if I’ve helped just one family then all the work and hard times have been worth it.
I had an amazing privilege that was once in a lifetime, I know that it will stay with me for many years to come.
Thank you to Alison, Stephanie and all the Best Beginnings Team.