Brave mothers are reliving their traumatic birth stories in a bid to encourage other mums to open up about their own experiences and not suffer in silence.
The courageous ladies took part in a stunning photoshoot, shot by Jaimie Harris, with their little ones to bare their scars and showcase the reality of motherhood and the impact it has on your body.
The idea for the project came from Jaimie’s sister Carly Stainsby-Harris, 31, a secondary school PE teacher from Church Langley, Essex.
Carly fell pregnant a month after marrying husband Adam, whom she’s been with for six-and-a-half years, in August last year.
The idea for the project came from Jaimie’s sister Carly Stainsby-Harris, 31, a secondary school PE teacher from Harlow, Essex. Pictured with her son Theo
After a healthy and active pregnancy, during which she completed an online hypnobirthing course and attended a retreat to learn more about the practice, she felt confident in her body’s ability to welcome her baby into the world.
But when she went into labour in May a scan found her son was breech and, after 60 exhausting hours, she was prepared for an emergency C-section.
‘I felt let down by my body not being able to do what it should have done, but at this point but priority was my baby,’ she told FEMAIL.
When doctors lifted her son out of her and held him above the curtain, he was soon whisked away as he hadn’t made a sound.
Carly fell pregnant a month after marrying husband Adam, whom she’s been with for six-and-a-half years, in August last year
‘The atmosphere changed, most of the room now congregated around my baby with various doctors resuscitating him and wires and masks being attached,’ Carly recalled.
‘I remember seeing one of the doctor’s faces – her expression was fear. His heart was beating but his lungs weren’t working. Five attempts were made to kickstart his lungs but they wouldn’t work, and then his heart rate quickly decreased and they rushed to get the ventilators in.
‘His tiny body lay there helplessly and, for a few minutes, with his feet still over his shoulders, lifeless.’
After 15 minutes Carly’s son and husband disappeared to the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) while she lay there ‘open, numb and helpless’, having not been able to hold him or even look at his face.
Theo, pictured left in NICU, is now 10 weeks old and thriving, and Carly said she felt compelled to share her traumatic birth story as she knew she couldn’t be the only woman who was struggling to accept her birth and the feelings she was having
‘That immediate skin to skin contact that I had yearned for was gone and I felt empty. I remember thinking, “He’s going to die”,’ she said.
‘No one could tell me anything, if he was going to be OK, and I just laid there shaking.’
When she was finally wheeled into intensive care in her bed, Carly broke down at the sight of her baby hooked up to machines, feeling an instant rush of euphoric love.
Carly admitted she felt her body let her down as it ‘didn’t know how to safely position my baby or birth him’. She said: ‘I felt like his first experience of the world was him being resuscitated and that was because of me’
‘I remember not wanting to leave. I was scared I wouldn’t see him again,’ she admitted.
‘I was scared to be moved to a ward with other new mummies, except they all had their babies and I didn’t. This was excruciating and mentally really affected me.
‘I didn’t resent them, but I wished I could have had that with my Theo. I cried myself to sleep for the four nights that I was there and that Theo spent on NICU.’
Theo is now 10 weeks old and thriving, and Carly said she felt compelled to share her traumatic birth story as she knew she couldn’t be the only woman who was struggling to accept her birth and the feelings she was having.
Here the courageous woman who took part in Carly’s project share their own stories with FEMAIL. Pictured left to right: Mollie Fawcett, Natasha Michael, Jodie Malins, Lauren Fricker, Jessica Staddon, Carly Stainsby-Harris, Rebecca Allerton, Laura Fitzgibbon, Emma Pendrigh and Emma Laurence
‘I want to encourage women to speak about traumatic births as often we don’t and they can lead to depression and PTSD,’ she said.
‘I want to create a safe and supportive community where women can be open, honest and there for each other.’
Here the courageous woman who took part in Carly’s project share their own stories with FEMAIL.
‘I was so upset my body didn’t “perform” in the one thing we are made to do’
Emma Pendrigh decided to share her story as she struggles to make peace with her two birth experiences. Pictured with her 15-week-old daughter
Accountant Emma Pendrigh, 31, from Lincolnshire, is married to husband David, 35, whom she’s been with for 14 years.
The couple share a four-and-a-half year old and a 15-week-old baby. Emma said: ‘I chose to take part in this campaign because I never made peace with my birth four years ago and lived in hope that my second would be different.
‘There is so much spoken about positive birth experiences and I understand the rationale behind that, but there are so many traumatic experiences that never get spoken of; they are held by women inside and affect them more than people realise.
‘I craved that “amazing experience” people speak of, and it turned out my second birth was actually worse than my first.’
After a straightforward pregnancy with baby number one, Emma went into labour naturally at 40 weeks and said ‘all hell broke loose’ when her waters broke in the birthing pool.
Emma hoped her second birth in May would be ‘perfect’, but after hours of agonising pain Emma felt her daughter shift and her heartrate began to rise to worrying levels
‘Anyone that’s had a back to back baby will know the familar “grouping” of contractions, with no break,’ she explained.
‘They were lasting around six minutes each and felt like bone grinding on bone. As it was my first baby I had no idea this wasn’t normal!
‘All of a sudden I felt him shift; the pain was indescribable and I went under the water nearly passing out.
‘My husband and midwives dragged me out of the pool and into the delivery room and I agreed to an epidural and to be put on the syntocinon drip as I was still only 4cm dilated.’
As things began to progress more quickly, her baby’s heart rate was dropping to as low as 30 beats per minute with each contraction. When she finally started pushing her son arrived in 13 minutes and he was whisked away by doctors as the umbillical cord had compromised his oxygen.
‘I was so upset my body didn’t “perform” in the one thing we are made to do,’ she said.
Emma admitted she felt robbed of her birth experiences, but is so relieved both her children are happy and healthy
She hoped her second birth in May would be ‘perfect’, but after hours of agonising pain Emma felt her daughter shift and her heartrate began to rise to worrying levels.
Feeling an urge to push, Emma began to bleed and, as she was only 7cm dilated and pushing on an undilated cervix, was rushed into surgery.
‘I have never shook so much in my life, it was uncontrollable, was it shock? Adrenaline? Fear? Who knows, but yet again I was being passed a baby and wasn’t really with it enough to register that she was finally here,’ Emma said.
‘The thing everyone says when you say you’ve had a horrible birth is, “Well at least the baby is ok”, which is true, but doesn’t mean it hurts any less.
‘My second birth was meant to be better, enjoyable and fulfilling. I feel robbed by my experiences. They weren’t meant to be this way.’
‘The scream that came from my lungs was like no other’
Jessica Staddon lost her daughter Daisy at 20 weeks and had to give birth to her – a harrowing experience she’ll never forget. Pictured with her ashes
Classroom support worker Jessica Staddon, 25, of Stowupland, Suffolk, lives with partner James Freeman, whom she’s been with for six-and-a-half years.
She discovered she was pregnant in December 2015, but due to the fact she has a very rare genetic condition called mitochondrial disease it was considered ‘high risk’.
Tragically at a scan shortly after they reached 20 weeks in April 2016, they discovered their little girl had passed away.
‘The scream that came from my lungs was like no other,’ Jess recalled. ‘It had felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest. This was not fair.
‘That same day my partner and I headed back to West Suffolk Hospital to discuss delivery plans.
‘I couldn’t take anything in, it felt like I was having an outer body experience, like I was watching myself go through the trauma.’
Several days later Jessica arrived at the labour ward filled with women who were excited to bring their babies into the world.
Jessica, pictured with her son Zach, is currently on antidepressants to help support her postnatal depression and PTSD, something that was brought on by the birth of her baby boy
‘I laid on the bed and received four tablets that were placed up and into my cervix to help soften it to start labour,’ she recalled.
‘This was a pain like no other. We had to wait all day, with the pain getting worse. I was warned that she could come any time, therefore I had to be careful if I went to the toilet.
‘I felt like a child again that could not protect herself or even look after herself.
‘During my labour the consultant and midwives were worried that I was getting an infection as the adrenaline in my body had taken over. I felt so cold but my temperature was so warm. To help my body relax and take away the pain they offered me morphine. This helped as a blocker to take away the pain – but no drug could ever ease that.’
Jessica didn’t cuddle Daisy when she arrived silently into the world, weighing just under a pound, as she was so tiny.
‘It took me a good minute to look at her as I was scared about what I was going to see,’ she said.
Daisy was placed in a Cuddle Cot to stop her body deteriorating and she spent the night with her parents. The following morning Jessica gave her one last kiss goodbye.
‘I left the hospital in my dressing gown with no baby,’ she recalled. ‘Walking out of the maternity ward without a baby seemed wrong, and it is wrong.
Jessica dreams of sharing her counselling diary with other mothers like her so they don’t feel like they are alone
‘I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life. It felt like my life had ended. I had loads of questions and wasn’t sure they could even be answered. I was angry at my body for not doing what it was meant to.
‘I still struggle with the death of my daughter today. I’m currently on antidepressants to help support my postnatal depression and PTSD, something that was brought on by the birth of my baby boy Zach.
‘There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. The pain will always be there, but slowly I’m learning to cope. Currently I am undergoing private counselling to mend myself and it is a work in progress.
‘Along with this I’m also writing a diary of my counselling journey, that I dream of sharing with people one day. I just want to share my journey with other mums like me so they don’t feel like they are alone.’
‘I was numb in the literal sense both, physically and emotionally’
Natasha Michael had dreamt of a water birth, but she ended up going through an emergency C-section
Teacher Natasha Michael, 30, from Hertfordshire, has been with her husband for 10 years. Her son Marcus was born by an emergency C-section in May last year after an ‘amazing’ pregnancy.
She had dreamt of a water birth and started contractions naturally, but when her waters broke they contained meconium, the dark green substance forming the first faeces of a newborn.
Natasha suffered terrible back pains every time she had a contraction – Marcus had turned back to back and she was put on a drip.
After several hours of labour she realised she was very swollen and unable to go to the toilet so she was fitted with a catheter.
Doctors eventually decided on an emergency caesarean as Natasha was still only 4cm dilated, and her baby’s heartrate dropped dramatically.
When he was delived he wasn’t breathing and she and her husband watched him have his chest pumped.
‘I was numb in the literal sense both, physically and emotionally,’ she remembered.
Natasha suffered terrible back pains every time she had a contraction – Marcus had turned back to back and she was put on a drip
‘I didn’t cry, I just stared over but couldn’t see my baby boy. I could just see people all in blue surrounding him.
‘The emergency button was then pressed and very soon after lots more staff rushed in to help. Thankfully as they approached him he had already started breathing and did a big cry. An overwhelming feeling of relief filled my body.’
Marcus needed to monitored in case he had ingested any meconium and because he wasn’t breathing when he was born.
Natasha said: ‘I found it really hard to come to terms with the C-section, and the injections you have to have for the proceeding week, along with the feeling like you’ve been cut in half, were a constant reminder.
‘I wanted to be part of the campaign to help women feel empowered to talk about their birth story. You hear they don’t always go to plan, but it’s good to know you’re not alone.’
‘I spent the last half of each pregnancy on crutches or on bed rest’
Laura Fitzgibbon, pictured with her children, has lived with endometriosis for nine years, with the pain sometimes preventing her from getting out of bed
Stay-at-home mum Laura Fitzgibbon, 28, from Waltham Abbey, has been with husband Adam for nine years and married for two.
She has lived with endometriosis for nine years, with the pain sometimes preventing her from getting out of bed.
Following her first laparoscopy (with endometrial ablation) and official diagnosis at 23 in 2014, she was encouraged to try for her first child.
Having only just got engaged, Laura and Adam were scared but welcomed their baby daughter in June 2015 and their son in May 2018.
‘Both pregnancies were very difficult,’ Laura said. ‘I had terrible pains as a result of too much scar tissue on my uterus from the endometriosis and surgeries. This meant that it was struggling to expand with a baby.
‘I also live with Hypermobility Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS). In particular, my hips are very loose. This, combined with the weight of a baby, meant I experienced pelvic girdle pain (also known as symphysis pubis dysfunction).
‘I spent the last half of each pregnancy on crutches or on bed rest. I also received extra attention and medication for pregnancy induced hypertension. So my body really didn’t like being pregnant. But it was worth every moment to become a mother.’
Laura, pictured following her second birth, said feeling invisible while giving birth is a feeling she’ll never forget, and believes that experience directly links with her postpartum anxiety that she still struggles with to this day
Laura’s first birth was difficult as she felt midwives didn’t take her concerns seriously as she was a first time mum.
She was induced at 39 weeks and despite nurses saying it would take 24 hours to take effect, she was having strong contractions within a couple of hours.
‘Eventually, after crying out for help many times and having several examinations, the midwives realised I had been right,’ she explained.
‘Mainly because my daughter was about to make her appearance while I was still in the induction ward. So there I was, being rushed straight into a delivery room on a wheelchair, scared to sit down fully for fear of hurting my daughter’s head, and on my own as the midwives had sent Adam and my mum Caroline away.
‘They made it to the delivery room in time thankfully, and my mum managed to stop the midwife putting my legs into stirrups – the most dangerous position for my hips to be in!
‘Feeling invisible while giving birth is a feeling I’ll never forget, and I believe that experience directly links with my postpartum anxiety that I still struggle with to this day.
Laura’s first birth was difficult as she felt midwives didn’t take her concerns as seriously as she was a first time mum
‘I used this horrifying experience to empower myself to speak up and gain more control over my birth the second time and it went much smoother.
‘I strongly believe that the more we normalise the topic of traumatic births, the easier it becomes to normalise the topic of postpartum mental health.
‘I struggled so much to tell people about my postnatal anxiety, but I think if I had spoken up more about what had happened to me, it would have created a pathway to talking about my anxieties.
‘Women who have been through difficult births need to know that they aren’t alone. That we can all support each other and lift each other up.
‘I hope this campaign reminds others that it takes incredible strength and courage to create another life and those going through the journey towards becoming a mother should be embraced with kindness, not criticism.’
‘We felt like we were giving birth to a diagnosis’
Emma had a ‘textbook pregnancy’ with Eva and enjoyed a wonderful home birth without any medical intervention using hypnobirthing techniques – but her journey with Noah, pictured, was very different
Solicitor Emma Laurence, 35, from Essex, has been with husband Graham since they were in their twenties after meeting at university and the couple share daughter Eva, three, and son Noah, 10 months.
Emma had a ‘textbook pregnancy’ with Eva and enjoyed a wonderful home birth without any medical intervention, using hypnobirthing techniques.
At her 20 week scan with Noah, they were told he was measuring small and regular tests and scans followed until an intermittent diastolic cord flow was detected which suggested the placenta wasn’t doing its job and causing intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR).
The medics couldn’t rule out a genetic condition and Emma was told to aim to reach 28 weeks with the hope Noah would weigh 500g, making delivery viable.
Noah spent almost a month there before returning to his local hospital NICU and was finally allowed home at 10 weeks old
‘The pregnancy was no longer enjoyable, we felt like we were giving birth to a diagnosis,’ Emma said.
‘At 29 weeks in October 2018, a scan showed the umbilical cord flow had reversed and Noah wouldn’t survive much longer, so delivery was scheduled within 24 hours.
He arrived via emergency C-section weighing just 680g (1lb 7oz) and was resuscitated, ventilated and taken to NICU.
As Noah was so small he needed care at a level 3 NICU and was transported to Luton and Dunstable – over 50 miles away from his parents.
Emma set up her Instagram page as she spent so much time Googling and reading stories of others in similar situations, which at times was a great comfort
He spent almost a month there before returning to his local hospital NICU and was finally allowed home at 10 weeks old.
‘Apart from some hearing loss, Noah seems in good health, but I guess it’s too soon to tell with some things,’ Emma said.
‘I decided that I would share my story and set up my Instagram page @myteeniepreemie as I spent so much time Googling and reading stories of others in similar situations, which at times was a great comfort.
‘I also feel that I can account honestly about having a natural and a heavily medicalised pregnancy and birth. I want women not to be scared but empowered and feel in control.’
‘I cried every day for two weeks’
Rebecca Allerton’s first labour went without a hitch, but her second saw her require an episiotomy to get her son out. Pictured with sons Frankie and Jack
Executive assistant and blogger Rebecca Allerton, 26, from Essex, lives with her partner and two boys, Frankie, three-and-a-half, and Jack, 11 weeks.
Her first labour went without a hitch, but Jack was born by forceps and Rebecca had to have an episiotomy (a surgical cut) to get him out.
‘It became an emergency so quickly I didn’t have time to process it and I have had a hard time blaming my body for getting Frankie here safe and sound, but Jack born battered and bruised,’ she said.
Rebecca had a hard time blaming her body for getting Frankie here safe and sound but Jack ‘battered and bruised’
‘Recovering from being cut open with a toddler and newborn devastated me – it wasn’t the lovely family-of-four life I’d prepped for my whole pregnancy.
‘Frankie was left out, I couldn’t hold my newborn properly and I felt like I was failing. I cried every day for two weeks until my other half returned to work.
‘That was when I decided to pull on my big girl pants and start coping for the two boys and get on with it.
Rebecca chose to take part in the campaign to encourage other mothers to talk and not suffer alone with their thoughts
‘Recovery was hard going and I’m still mentally recovering from the trauma of the labour, but speaking out and to other mums who have had bad experiences has helped.
‘Pregnancy and childbirth are supposed to be two of the most natural things in this world for a woman, but having now had such a traumatic experience, it’s left me wondering if I could put myself and my family through it again for another child.
‘I chose to take part in the #MyStoryMyBirth campaign to share my story and encourage other mums to talk; don’t suffer alone with your thoughts, there are people you can speak to.’
‘I couldn’t look at my daughter without a part of me blaming her’
Jodie spent a week in hospital alone after suffering two cuts to her bladder during the birth, but her daughter Nahla Rose (pictured) was discharged on day two
Store manager Jodie Malins, 31, from Great Notley, Essex, has been with her husband Lewis for four years and was told they had a two per cent chance of conceiving naturally.
But while having tests done at the hospital, they discovered they were pregnant – but Jodie sadly miscarried.
Eight weeks later she was pregnant again, and she was induced in October last year.
‘After being in pain, the nurse noticed the pessary was in the wrong place,’ Jodie recalled.
‘She inserted it again and then it all started to happen. I’d been showing contractions for just over five days. The midwife explained Lewis needed to leave as it was the evening, and within an hour of him leaving my waters were broke.
‘I’d been so calm about my labour, but I soon panicked and completely lost myself.’
After an hour of pushing, doctors tried forceps, but that didn’t work and she was sent for an emergency C-section.
After an hour of pushing, doctors tried forceps, but that didn’t work and Jodie, pictured while pregnant, was sent for an emergency C-section
‘After a few minutes I told my husband I could feel pain,’ she said. ‘I was told I could feel pressure and not pain by the doctors, but after a few more minutes I knew exactly what I could feel and was knocked out.
‘No skin to skin with my daughter and no memories of seeing her cord cut. I felt so cheated when I woke.’
During her recovery, Jodie began to balloon and was in agony – worse than her labour. She was rushed back into surgery where surgeons discovered two cuts in her bladder – one from the forceps and one from the C-section incision.
She spent a week in hospital alone, but her daughter was discharged on day two.
‘I couldn’t look at her without a part of me blaming her,’ Jodie admitted. ‘The first six weeks were extremely hard and I still struggle with my birth, but now our daughter Nahla Rose is nearly 10 months old and we’re enjoying being parents.
Jodie said she loves that the shoot shows the mothers’ real bodies as it is a ‘powerful message’
‘Everything that happened put a lot of pressure on mine and my husband’s relationship. He struggled to get his head around it and had some counselling after to help. The whole experience has put us off having another child.
‘I struggled to get people to open up about finding life with a baby hard, let alone opening up about their births. So many people would say, “But I bet you wouldn’t change it”, and I had to be honest and say, “Yes, I would change it”. The birth I had ruined my experience.
‘I loved that we got to show real bodies in this shoot, with no editing. That in itself is a powerful message.’
‘My daughter and I were moments away from being in serious danger’
Mollie Fawcett, pictured with her children Bea and Maximus, was lucky to survive her labour, as was her daughter
Mollie Fawcett, 25, from Hampshire, is mother to Beatrice and Maximus with her partner Dec and envisioned a water birth for her first child in July 2017.
However, after being induced due to signs of pre-eclampsia, Mollie started getting contractions straight after and began bleeding heavily and was in horrendous pain 15 hours later.
She was rushed into surgery for an emergency C-section and put to sleep so they could get her daughter out as soon as possible.
‘I never thought I wouldn’t see my child being born into the world or that Dec wouldn’t be in the room with me,’ she said.
‘I felt my body had failed me, I had failed my baby, I had failed my partner. I will always feel guilty for this, but I will not let it define me.
Mollie admitted she felt her body had failed her, her daughter and her partner, and she will always ‘feel guilty’
‘After having Bea I was so confused, upset and angry at how my birth had happened. Along with all the hormones of just having a baby and breastfeeding, I was feeling really broken. I requested a birth reflections meeting with midwives from my hospital.
‘In this meeting I realised how lucky me and Bea were to be alive. I found out that I had a placenta abruption, and Beatrice and I were moments away from both being in serious danger.
‘It wasn’t until Bea was almost seven months old that I sought help; I went to the GP and was told to call iTalk.
‘I called them up and was put on their waiting list, then about six months later I had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and it was amazing, it helped me so much.’
Mollie said we need to speak up about traumatic births – not to scare mothers but to educate and to provide a safe place for those who are struggling to speak about it
Mollie began writing, and putting pen to paper helped lift a huge weight off her shoulders.
‘I felt I could breathe again and not feel ashamed, angry and upset about my birth,’ she explained.
‘We need to speak up about traumatic births – not to scare mothers but to educate and to provide a safe place for those who are struggling to speak about it.’
‘I lost nearly two litres of blood’
After her son George was born in December 2018, having had to be cut out, Lauren instantly passed out
Stay-at-home mum Lauren Fricker, 23, from Halstead, Essex, has been with partner Emanuele for just over two years, and though her pregnancy wasn’t planned, it was a welcome surprise.
‘Everyone has a perfect picture in their head of how they expect their births to turn out, and mine definitely wasn’t the easiest,’ she said.
After her son George was born in December 2018, having had to be cut out, Lauren instantly passed out.
She had haemorrhaged and it took over half an hour to get it under control.
‘George was fine thankfully and sitting with his daddy in the corner waiting to meet his mummy,’ she recalled.
Lauren had haemorrhaged dramatically during the birth and it took over half an hour to get it under control
Lauren said her birth left her traumatised, but she would do it again in a heartbeat for her baby boy
‘All I could think was how guilty I felt for not having that first skin to skin moment and not holding my baby boy, whom I had been waiting months to meet.
‘I had lost nearly two litres of blood and was kept in for overnight with George for us both to be monitored. Luckily I didn’t need a blood transfusion and was put on iron tablets for two months after the birth and had to have regular blood tests to check my iron levels.
‘Twenty seven hours of labour, having my baby poo in me and having my little baby taken away was definitely not the birth I had in mind.
‘I hope our stories have encouraged some of you women out there to speak up about your difficult births and realise you’re not alone.
‘I will never forget my birth, it truly has left me traumatised, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat for my beautiful baby boy.’