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From Taxes to Trauma: my journey through the world of work

Sometimes in life you end up in a place you never imagined, but then when you look back at the journey, it all makes perfect sense.  Then, one day, you wake up and you realise it’s where you were always meant to be. 

I think I’ve always wanted or needed to help people. Being helpful was a way of getting positive attention, and when you’re the oldest of 4 children under 5 – thats a win!

Me and my siblings – saying cheese!

Being helpful didn’t last forever though, and I was a bit of a teenage delinquent. Leaving school abruptly one Friday a few months into lower sixth, with 6 “O” levels to my name, the following Monday I went to work for the Inland Revenue on a YOP Scheme (Youth Opportunities Programme – £25 per week). I believed a glamorous, possibly exciting and dangerous career in the Diplomatic Corps was at my fingertips. Sadly, the only danger I encountered in my brief career as a Civil Servant, was being sent out alone, aged 17 or 18, to knock on doors and ask for tax payments!

I left the Tax Office to work in a secondhand motorbike shop owned by my then future, now ex ,husband. I realised that this was not likely to be a long-lasting and fulfilling career so I did a Law Degree at the same time – well why not? In 1989, as a mature student, I was effectively paid to do it. I believed that working in the legal system would be helping people, as well as being credible and worthy. I hadn’t reckoned on it being quite so competitive and soul-eating.

Me in the motorbike shop

But what I wanted more than any career at that time, was to be married and have my own family. It was what I, like many of my peers, had been programmed and trained to do from childhood. So I catalogued and devoured “Mother and Baby” and “Parenting” magazines, that I read far more avidly than any of my legal texts. I fell pregnant while completing my finals, and attended my graduation 5 months pregnant.

I had my first baby when I was almost 27, all fairly average. I read Sheila Kitzinger, Dr Miriam Stoppard and other more obstetric, problem-focussed books. I knew all about all the awful things that could happen to you while you were pregnant (this was not a good idea!). I went to my local antenatal classes and I fell a little bit in love with my Community Midwife, who would later become my mentor. 

My 3 birth experiences were: awful and traumatic; wonderful and healing; and just a bit ordinary in their turn. Having had three babies and three very different experiences, I realised that being a midwife was an important job. I recognised that the relationship I had with my midwife for my second baby and having her present at the birth, someone I knew and trusted, was a huge part of the wonderful, empowering birth experience I had.

Me and my middle child – 1994

Many years later, on becoming a single parent and needing a career, I trained as a midwife. I had dabbled with ways of “getting in” before but my efforts had been thwarted by the demands of my family. Becoming a midwife was also a good new identity to adopt – no longer someone’s wife – I could join another club.

During my training, my eyes were opened to some of the realities of the system I was about to go and work in. I considered becoming an Independent Midwife and took a “Making the move” workshop. Unfortunately, with the financial uncertainty of self employment, and having a young family to care for, it wasn’t to be. I soaked up midwifery knowledge and passion like a sponge. I joined the Association of Radical Midwives and found a tribe I wanted to belong to. 

I have witnessed many very beautiful births and seen many that were not beautiful. 

Of the many amazing experiences I have had as a midwife, one that has stayed with me is from when, as a newly qualified midwife, I supported and witnessed a first time mother silently breathing through her entire labour, listening only to the words of reassurance and affirmationsrepeated to her by her birth partner.  And when she gently and, seemingly magically, breathed her baby out without making a murmur, I was blown away. How did I not know, even as a midwife, that birth could be like this?  How wonderful it would be if every woman had a calm, supported, “birth in whatever way she chooses” experience. 

I have worked in many varied roles in the NHS and in the private sector gaining a broad experience as a hands on clinical midwife, as a manager, a service leader and as a teacher and practice educator. I have tried to make a difference everyday. I keep trying to make the system better.

Me feeling tired at work, probably during a night shift

What I know is that women who are prepared and know about birth and their bodies, are better able to access that deep, primal power required to birth their babies. For those who turn up at the door of the maternity services and just “go with the flow”, its a bit more of a lottery as to who will come out elated or, sadly, damaged by their experience.

In 2013 a colleague and I showcased a staff training session we had designed at the Birthrights Conference. It was focused on disrespect and abuse in maternity care and used the words of women from their complaint letters. The session was welcomed by the conference but not so popular with the staff who couldn’t accept that that was how women had felt when using our services.

In 2016, I attended the  Women’s Voices Conference  in London and my world changed forever. I think this is where I first heard and understood the expression cognitive dissonance. Sure I had experienced it in my life before now, but I hadn’t understood how it had impacted me physically and mentally. 

I knew that the Maternity Services that I worked in were failing some women, but I didn’t really know what effect this had on their lives and their families. Hearing first hand accounts of mistreatment, disrespect and abuse made me feel ashamed to be associated with the maternity services but at the same time I was determined to do better for women and their families. 

I left the NHS for a while and worked with some wonderful midwives providing amazing, gold standard care to women who had chosen to have their care outside of the mainstream maternity services. Many of them chose that care due to their previous traumatic experiences at their local hospital. Unfortunately the relationship with, and interactions between, the services were such that the women often suffered as a result. I got more than a little bit burnt out around 2016-2017 and left full time midwifery. 

I knew I had to do something else to help women. I couldn’t be everywhere!

I realised I must do more to help women to navigate their way through the Maternity Services to avoid trauma and have the calm, life-affirming births I knew were possible. I passionately believe that women and their partners should have empowering pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding experiences as these are key foundations for positive parenting relationships. They are also a major influence in how we feel and value ourselves as people.

I trained as a kghypnobirthing teacher. Thankfully more and more women are taking mindful, hypnobirthing and other excellent birth preparation courses which inform them and help them find their way through the myriad of decisions and choices to be made. It shouldn’t be such a matter of luck. 

Rebozo training after leaving full time midwifery

But what of those people already suffering with symptoms of trauma and PTSD? What could be done to help them resolve their birth trauma and get back to living a life they can love and look forward to everyday?

In 2005, during my midwifery training I also trained as a Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner (NLP). This is where I first encountered the “Rewind”, often referred to in NLP as the fast phobia process. I saw it used on one of my fellow trainees and the results were incredible. The subject had a horrible phobia of rats and by the time the process was completed she didn’t even know that she had a phobia. 

One of the reasons I chose to be a birthworker was the experiences I had as a birthing mother myself. I have 3 children and had 3 very different birth experiences. It was during my midwifery training that I noticed that I was still troubled by the events surrounding the birth of my eldest son, more than ten years earlier. During my first birth I experienced some physical trauma and believed that once I had healed physically that all would be well. However, it was not until I was well into my midwifery training that I realised that I was still negatively affected by the traumatic events surrounding the birth of my eldest child. I was not able to fully move on from this experience until I undertook the 3 Step Rewind training and was able to fully detach all the limiting emotions from my birth memories. 

The three step rewind for traumatic birth resolution (and indeed any trauma) is a simple, yet powerful technique that can be carried out without having to put the subject in distress. The memories are accessed in a safe way to avoid re-traumatisation. It takes just a few hours to complete. The effects are immediate, long acting and permanent, and sometimes, just Wow! The feedback from clients is fantastic – it’s literally life-changing for some.

I have finally realised I cannot change the maternity services alone, so I work with and support others, along with organisations such as AIMS and theAssociation of Radical Midwivesand The Positive Birth Movement.

These days I only work part time as a midwife, keeping myself away from burnout, but keeping my skills and knowledge current to enable me to help the women I care for. 

Setting people free from the chains of their traumatic experiences gives me joy as I watch them move forward in life, free from the limiting and negative emotions and looking to the future with hope.

The Broken Machine

So I posted this on Facebook this week. And it really got people talking. And they said that they think the figures are higher. And they think that women often don’t realise they are traumatised for many years. And this was my experience. I didn’t realise that the way I was feeling was largely to do with my birth experience and the way I had been made to feel at that time.

I felt useless. I felt I had failed my child. I felt my body had let me down. I felt that I hadn’t prepared hard enough or really understood birth.

But how could I have? How can we truly understand what birth is like unless we experience it – either as a birthing person or as a witness. Anyway – here is the post. My opinion and thoughts about our broken system that is damaging women.

Trigger Warning. Stats. Reality check. 

BIRTHING WOMEN ARE NOT BROKEN.

This post might upset some people.

In 2019 there were approximately 650,000 births in the UK. 
For the women giving birth around 1:20 or 5% or 30,000 found the experience traumatic in some way.

That means that _*every week*_, in an average size maternity unit (say 4,500 births per year) 4-5 women are having a birth experience that leaves them with negative feelings and emotions about their birth experience. 

Sometimes for a whole lifetime.

This figure doesn’t include any birth partners.
This figure is based on pre-covid stats.
This figure doesn’t include the women who have experienced breastfeeding grief and trauma.

I go to work every week as a midwife. 
I go to work to help women to have the best birth experience possible given the resources available to me.
My colleagues and I honestly do not go to work to traumatise and to do deliberate harm to women.

So how are we failing so many women EVERY SINGLE DAY?

I believe that we find ourselves working in a system that doesn’t value women as individuals. 

I believe we work in a system that doesn’t truly value its workforce.

Most midwives are women, many of us (just on stats alone) have had negative or traumatic birth experiences ourselves.

The system is afraid of women and their power. 

The system pathologises birth, and women, so that it can control birth. 

The system is built on fear and defensiveness and this fear moves through every level and reaches the women we care for because it is the root of every guideline and policy that shapes how we care for women.

This fear is the brick wall that women frequently encounter when they reach out for answers about their experience.

Most midwives have to work within the system, and for me, and so many of my colleagues this is not what we signed up for.

Our passion is to be “with woman”. 

Our passion is to make the world a better place, one positive birth at a time.

Our passion is sharing our skills, knowledge, love and compassion to make birth the safe, wonderful, empowering and life-affirming experience it should be.

We must believe in women, women’s power and in birth itself before the fear will dissipate. 

We need guidelines and policies and protocols that support physiology and acknowledges that WOMEN ARE NOT BROKEN.