We are honoured to publish this wonderful blog written by Emma Jane Sasaru who is doing an inspirational work in supporting mothers and families. Emma is from United Kingdom (UK) and working tirelessly in ‘raising awareness of perinatal PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, and birth trauma by talking at conferences, campaigning, blogging and helping with the setting up of strategic pathways in local Trusts and helping develop education for healthcare professionals’.
Beyond Birth Trauma and PTSD – How we can support families and make a difference
– Emma Jane Sasaru
We sometimes go through things in life that completely change us. Sometimes it changes us for the better, sometimes the worst, and sometimes it’s both!
For me this is certainly true, when I gave birth to my first daughter it changed me, in fact, it changed not only me but my whole life. The trauma of her birth left me struggling with my mental health and at the time I didn’t realise that I actually had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
My trauma and subsequent struggle to get help for PTSD were very painful and a hard fight for many years. When I reflect on the struggle 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 and PTSD, reaching out to offer support.
Also that the impact of pregnancy and birth on new parents needs addressing and how we all must work together to build services that help reduce trauma and support those who are struggling with perinatal mental health conditions.
One of the main things that kept me sane and anchored after my trauma was breastfeeding, while separated from my daughter in those early days expressing for her while she was in Neonatal gave me the fight to survive, to continue living and although I could do nothing else for her, I could provide her my milk, it was my connection to her, my lifeline. I fought to feed her with every ounce of my body.
The fight I had to feed my baby with no support and then seeing others struggle also with no support, drove me to wonder why families were left struggling. It led me to find The Breastfeeding Network, training with them, volunteering and then eventually working for the NHS as a paid infant feeding support worker.
To do my job I had to overcome a lot of my issues as I worked on the same maternity ward and neonatal unit where I had my trauma and where for a long time I couldn’t even visit. I loved my job especially working in Neonatal. Being able to give other parents the support I had never meant everything.
When I saw parents sat by their little one’s incubators I remembered those feelings well and how just a friendly face, a kind word and someone to talk to is often just what is needed and how it can make all the difference at such a stressful time. Without my trauma, without my time in Neonatal, it would be an unknown world to me. Without my struggle, my fight to breastfeed, would I have trained to be an infant feeding support worker? I just don’t know. Yet providing support at such vulnerable times is so important.
My experience also drove me to train as a doula which not only taught me the physiology of birth and helped me in my healing but also how to support women and their partners to have a positive pregnancy and birth experience.
During my second pregnancy, I was given no support for my previous trauma and this meant I was anxious and scared. It was a lonely time and I know how invaluable it is to have the right support.
We can never underestimate how important it is that we care for women and their partners especially in pregnancy and how this can greatly reduce the impact that perinatal mental health can have.
My trauma and struggle to get help also drive 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 about the need for things to change, both in the culture of pregnancy, birth and postnatal care but also the need for more support for perinatal mental health conditions. I will always seek to use that voice to speak up for those that as yet are unable to raise their voices, to build awareness of what birth trauma and Perinatal PTSD is and try to make sure things change, and improve, in the care of women in pregnancy and birth.
I feel privileged to be able to share my lived experience by speaking at events to help health professionals see how they can improve their practice and support families in times of need.
For a long time, I have worked hard to raise awareness and make improvements locally too. The result has been that I now support women and their partners in my NHS role during pregnancy and beyond who have anxiety or low mood, are struggling with the loss of a baby or had previous birth trauma. This means I build relationships with families, gaining their trust, that they have someone there throughout their pregnancy for help and support. It means helping to reduce the impact of perinatal mental health and also healing from birth trauma.
I also sit the Black Country Perinatal Mental Health Task group helping to build services for families and the Local Maternity system engagement and clinical reference groups helping to improve maternity services.
My work led me to wining a West Midlands Thrive Mental Health commissioning award thus leading to more awareness of the support needed in pregnancy and beyond.
Raising awareness of PTSD/ birth trauma and providing hope for others is so important to me. When I was struggling I felt so alone and didn’t know where to turn. There was so little information on birth trauma or PTSD, so I founded a support website, called unfold your wings. Later my journey to healing led to Beyond Birth Trauma, helping others see that recovery is possible. Every week I’m contacted by women asking for help many of whom are struggling with a pregnancy after previous trauma.
Yes, my struggle was painful in many ways, but without it, I wouldn’t be doing my job and helping others to find support. Pregnancy and birth are such an important time for new parents. They deserve the right help and support to make sure they have the best possible start as families. We all have a part to play in helping the journey be a positive one. Let’s make sure we do all we can to show them we care.
Sometimes bad things happen to us, but we can turn those experiences into opportunities to help others, change and improve things, and give a voice to those that need help and support. Yes, even the darkest of times can lead us to something good, it provides us with a chance to make a difference and in turn, helps to heal ourselves.