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Our Featured Charity: Birth Trauma Association
As part of our ‘Featured Charity’ campaign, we’re continuing to support small charities and highlight the life-changing work that they do across the nation. We spoke with press officer Kim Thomas at the Birth Trauma Association, a small volunteer-led charity that supports women experiencing birth trauma - a shorthand term for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after birth.
Maureen Treadwell and Debbie Sayers founded the charity in 2004, when they both recognised that birth trauma was widespread, but there was very little support for women with the condition. Approximately 3% of women who give birth go on to experience PTSD, which translates into about 20,000 women a year in England and Wales – a substantial figure.
The Birth Trauma Association operates nationally in Britain, offering support to women who have had a traumatic birth and, in some cases, also supports their partners. This support is provided via a Facebook group with over 6,000 members.
Women with birth trauma often find that partners, relatives, friends and health professionals have a very poor understanding of the condition and will tell them that it’s time to move on, or that they should be grateful to have a healthy baby. Women say that finding the group and other people who understand what they’ve been through is a huge relief – some tell the charity that it has saved their lives. Partners can get PTSD from witnessing a traumatic birth, so there are some men in the group too.
The nature of PTSD, however, is that you can’t force yourself to move on – it’s a mental health condition in which the trauma becomes burned into short-term memory rather than being stored in long-term memory. Sufferers find themselves experiencing flashbacks and a heightened state of anxiety because they are constantly reliving the experience.
The Birth Trauma Association also works with policy makers to try to improve women’s birth experience and the mental health support they receive afterwards. This means responding to national maternity consultations. For example, taking part in updating NICE guidelines and working with the royal colleges on topics related to birth, such as perineal injuries.
The charity helps to raise awareness by taking part in media interviews about childbirth and placing stories about women with postnatal PTSD in the press. In 2017, the Birth Trauma Association held their first big Birth Trauma Awareness Week, and received a lot of media coverage.
Kim’s work with the charity involves providing comment when there’s an important maternity-related story in the media, writing press releases and finding case studies when journalists are writing about traumatic birth. Kim also covers a number of other activities such as responding to enquiry emails and managing social media accounts, and has recently worked with a filmmaker to produce a very powerful 30-minute video of five Birth Trauma Association members talking about their traumatic birth experience, which was released to coincide with the annual Awareness Week.
Seeing members go from a situation where they felt in complete despair to one where they’re living normal, fulfilling lives is a rewarding part of the working with the charity and there are many stories of women who have gone from the depths of postnatal PTSD to being advocates for maternal mental health, giving talks to health professionals and supporting other women.
One of the charity’s success stories is that of Gillian Castle, a member who suffered terrible birth injuries and had to undergo a permanent colostomy. Last year she took part in the Outlaw Half Nottingham – a triathlon involving a 1.2-mile open-water swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. In the process she raised more than £3,000 for the charity. Gillian is a phenomenon!