When Leone heard about the Birth Trauma Association’s Facebook group from a private midwife, she’d been in and out of mental health services for about a year. During her third pregnancy, she had been hospitalised with sepsis, and the birth itself involved a terrifying emergency in which the baby was born with a cord around his neck. She kept looking for a fix for her PTSD symptoms, which she describes as “debilitating,” but wasn’t getting anywhere. Talking therapy didn’t seem to be working, and she started to think that maybe she just wasn’t the kind of person to benefit from that kind of therapy.
Joining the Facebook group brought the realisation that there were thousands of women out there with similar experiences, which created a shift in her perception. If there were this many people with a similar experience, she says, it meant she wasn’t weird. It also made her realise that she couldn’t just “snap out of it”. She went back to the perinatal mental health team with more confidence and, she says, “really began to heal.”
Through the BTA, Leone says, “I learned I could (and did) access my hospital notes and I went on to have a reflections appointment. Both milestones were instrumental in my healing but so was responding and reading other people’s experiences of birth trauma. In the Facebook group, Leone “learnt how much healing could be gained from sharing and caring for others.”
One particular experience stays with her. A year after finding the BTA, she says, “I crashed hard mentally and I didn’t want to carry on any more. In the middle of the night, I took to the BTA group and opened up about how I was feeling. I felt really validated and heard in that group and the kindness spurred me on to reach out to my private therapist instead of giving up.”
Leone’s experience is a good example of how something as simple as a Facebook group can help women recover when they’ve been through a traumatic birth. As a small charity, for many years the group has been our main form of support to the parents who come to us, and we’ve seen it grow to more than 15,000 members, who between them publish about 20 posts a day. The members (mostly women, but a few men) are very good at supporting each other. When you’ve been through a trauma, feeling heard and understood by others is an important part of the healing process, particularly as so many women tell us that family and friends don’t always understand how emotionally devastating a traumatic birth can be.
Although the Facebook group continues to thrive, five years ago, we launched a peer support service over email. We now have a team of 20 peer supporters, and the service is going strong. Last year we expanded it to include phone support. We also have a fortnightly Zoom drop-in, run by two of the peer supporters. If people need advice on issues such as arranging a birth debrief, accessing therapy or making a complaint, they can find it in the Frequently Asked Questions documents on our website, as well as our print leaflet about coping with a traumatic birth. When people come to us with questions about making complaints or taking legal action, we can put them in touch with a pro bono solicitor who offers advice and help.
Leone is now one of our team of peer supporters helping other women who come to us having had traumatic births. “I honestly don’t know where I’d be without the BTA and the peer support group,” she says. “I’m nearly five years past my trauma now and have had my first year living symptom-free from PTSD. I’m not sure we can say I’ll never be triggered again but I have the tools in place to cope should the landscape start to shift again and one of those tools is the BTA.”
To find out more about Birth Trauma Association and their peer support group visit their website.