Death and hope in Warrington

24416125040_8f4ba149ae_kThe week after I wrote #myNCTstory blog post, I found out an old and wonderful friend had died. She too had suffered from postpartum psychosis. She’d survived and lived and mothered. But then, things caught up with her and she died. It’s a tragedy, she was too young, too miraculous and too loved.

I had lost touch with her apart from the occasional facebook message. In fact, she wrote to me a week before she died, I think she knew. But I didn’t. Grief is always a shock, and always complicated. In part, I felt I had no right to feel as upset as I was. I wasn’t close family. I wasn’t living near her. I hadn’t seen her physically for so long. But she was often in my dreams, and then, my thoughts when studying to be an antenatal practitioner. She was the one who told me to find what I was really passionate about when I was messing about in theatre. I don’t ‘think’ it was because I was a rubbish actor!

Every time grief hits, though, it’s like a fresh cut. If you’ve suffered many losses, the cuts build up into an visceral wound. We’ve seen a lot of death in our family. We’re relatively at ease with it, as much as you can be. Yet, when someone dies, all those regrets, unspoken thoughts, love never expressed come back to haunt you. I found myself searching through our message history to make sure I had told her how much she meant. And I had. For whatever difference that makes.

I can’t connect her experience of becoming a mother with her eventual loss of life, but I feel somewhere in my core, that her suffering was part of a long term lack of care. Care for herself above all else.

That initial journey to becoming a parent can heal and it can harm. I’m very unlucky and statistically unusual to have known two people to have suffered so severely around birth, but it has left a lasting impression on me and in my work.

On my long road trip back from Yorkshire, I decided to stop and see some friends in Warrington. They took me to Risk Astley’s parents garden centre and we went for a walk on an old slag heap, the site of Stevenson’s first steam engines. The light was cut off by a ferocious black cloud, sleet came down, making us laugh, chasing after their small dogs. Small balls of furry fire, streaking across the industrial landscape. Of all places to find hope, I found it there. One step in front of another, carrying on, because, after all, stopping seems worse.

#myNCTstory

@Stroppybrunette started a new hashtag on Twitter and Facebook after recent negative coverage (again) of NCT in the press. Her call to arms got me thinking about #myNCTstory and why I was at the point I am now – a probationary NCT practitioner in South East Wales.

Simply writing the linear story of how I got to this point doesn’t seem to cut it. My NCT story is so large and yet so small that it feels hard to write it down in a couple of hundred words. It starts with my mother. Her first baby died when he was just 10 weeks old, and one of the few positive things she remembers from that dark time is how her NCT teacher supported her. Not by doing anything, just by being there, quietly holding the space.

For this reason I had an enormous amount of love for the organisation already and wasted no time signing myself up for Relax, Stretch and Breath (RSB) classes. I also booked a weekend antenatal course. We never made it to the second day of the course due to heavy snow and a steep hill, but the RSB classes became a weekly ritual. There I could stretch, move and be still. Our teacher modelled so many things that I found useful whilst in labour – how she changed the atmosphere of a room, and gave me the tools to go inside myself and let my body take over. By the time labour kicked in I just knew what to do, how to breath, how to move, how to moan. Most importantly, my NCT practitioner was there for me when I was unsure about my looming induction and came round with a copy of the AIMS booklet and lots of support. Who knows how things would have panned out if she hadn’t have taken the time to come to me that day?

Despite lots of things in both my births that took me off the ‘spontaneous straightforward vaginal birth’ route, I would say that both were active, positive and (mostly) undisturbed. Even the twin one with around 16 people in the room…

I’d begun thinking about training with the NCT when I was a volunteer in Kent, but after a friend killed herself due to post-partum psychosis I knew I had to do something. The transition to parenthood can be a perilous time, and adequate support is lacking in a lot of places. I know how much I have gained from the support I received – who knows what would have happened to me with 3 children under 3, if I hadn’t had the NCT, my husband, my family. I was under no illusions that I could single-handedly stop all parents suffering during this time, but working as an antenatal practitioner was a way I could make a small difference.

I wonder sometimes whether NCT comes in for so much flack because so much about childbirth and parenthood is fraught with judgement? It occupies that awkward space between public health messages, personal experience and research. It doesn’t take a massive leap of imagination to see why it might be attacked – how can it possibly get the message right? And it is hard to differentiate between the personal (I don’t care how someone gives birth or feeds their baby, as long as they are supported and positive) and the political (how we give birth and feed does have an impact on public health). All these arguments and thoughts keep me engaged and sharpen my brain.

So what have I gained apart from a job I love, an address book of inspiring women and two positive births? Well, I now practise yoga, dabble in meditation, breath a lot deeper and am a much more reflective person. Which, in turn, has made me a better mother, daughter, partner and woman. I am incredibly excited about what lies ahead for the NCT – with our new CEO Nick Wilkie and President Seanna Talbot the future looks good. To paraphrase Nick in a recent interview, I’m not sure I’d say I’ve ‘enjoyed’ my NCT journey. Enjoying something sounds simple and pleasant, my story doesn’t have much in common with that. It has been hard, it’s been challenging, it’s been very difficult at times, but the reward is huge.