It’s Birth Trauma Awareness Week.
Gillian Castle @stomachameleon gave birth to her son Sam in October, 2011, at 34 weeks gestation. She suffered severe birth complications resulting in a permanent stoma (colostomy).
Since then, she has set out to prove to herself, and others, what is achievable with a stoma. Gillian also wanted to overcome the trauma of birth, which resulted in the loss of her job as a police officer and forced her to create a new identity for herself.
She has been diagnosed with PTSD and postnatal depression but has found new ways to manage her anxiety including open water swimming, an optimistic outlook, and medication. Gillian is consumed by a desire to face her fears and try new things, namely heights, the sea, flying, and spiders.
She is one inspirational mum. Here, she chats about raising awareness of her birth trauma, fundraising, and feeling the fear, but doing it anyway.
How important is Birth Trauma Awareness Week to you?
It is vitally important to me because I don’t want any woman to suffer as I did, people must know that birth trauma happens, and how to support those going through it.
How did you come up with ‘Stoma Chameleon’?
I strongly believe that there needs to be more positivity for women who have suffered birth trauma, and I wanted to share my story to offer hope and inspiration to those women who are stuck in a rut. I desperately needed to see something fun and positive when I was ill, and there was nothing. There were plenty of graphic stories, but I just wanted to see someone living a normal life, after a traumatic birth.
I just wanted to see someone living a normal life, after a traumatic birth.
What were your initial emotions after giving birth?
Completely overwhelmed, isolated, frightened.
Did you feel cared for and important by the medical staff assigned to you?
I experienced both the best and worst of medical care, some were too busy to take time to understand my concerns, others went out of their way to make me feel like I mattered.
How did your birth trauma affect how you bonded with your baby?
I struggled for a long time to look upon my child with the overpowering love that mothers are said to feel with their newborn baby. I remember the moment it happened. I looked at him and was overwhelmed with love – this was when I moved 150 miles back to be with my family, and I had the space to develop my relationship with him.
Did your experience affect your close relationships?
I lost some friends who weren’t as supportive of me as I had hoped, which brought me down initially, but ultimately I am now surrounded by the people who care the most and I am happy.
What was it like to be told you would need a stoma?
I didn’t understand fully what one was, but my first reaction relief, as it was going to prevent my horrific infection increasing, which was all I cared about at that time.
How did you adapt to live with a stoma?
It was very difficult for the first year or so as your stoma changes size, and there was a lot of experimentation to find out which products were going to work the best for me – bags that didn’t leak, etc. Over time I learned to manage my stoma, either by watching what I ate or wearing more comfortable clothes, and it just became a part of me.
How has having a stoma had a positive impact on your life?
It has made me appreciate life so much more – I had a year when I was unable to do any exercise at all, something I had always taken for granted. You never know when life is going to change so do what you can when you can!
You never know when life is going to change so do what you can when you can.
Tell us about the adventures you have got up to since having a stoma?
I have taken part in triathlons (including a half ironman), I’m halfway through my PADI diving course. I have done a skydive, become a regular open water swimmer, and completed a 105-mile race across Scotland in 48 hours (running, cycling and kayaking). I have cycled 100 miles in one day a couple of times, become a swimming teacher, and completed the 20-mile Chevvy Chase (Cheviot and Hedgehope hills).
Tell us about your fundraising ‘bikini blast’ challenge?
I have (crazily!) committed to wearing only a bikini for all sea swimming from 1st October to 1st May 2021 to raise money and awareness of the Birth Trauma Association. The water will drop to about 4 degrees, the snow and wind will be in action and I will be cold!
What would you say to another mum in your position who is struggling to cope?
You will be ok. You will find happiness again. You will be a different person than you were before, but you can lead a fulfilling life, just in a different way than you may have planned.
Do you ever wish you didn’t have a stoma or have you accepted it as part of who you are?
I have accepted it and remain grateful for the life it has given me without incontinence. I feel lucky.
Do you think more work needs to be done in raising awareness of birth trauma, birth complications, and stoma?
Absolutely. A negative experience like mine, and that of other women, is compounded by the ignorance of society when the topic is not openly discussed. It is important for women to be able to speak up about their birth trauma, and know that they will be listened to, cared for, and at least in some way, understood. Many lonely women are suffering behind closed doors and we need to help them realise that there is help, and people care.
It is important for women to be able to speak up about their birth trauma, and know that they will be listened to, cared for, and at least in some way, understood.
How do you deal with negative people or ‘trolls’?
I dismiss them as people who are willingly ignorant of the true reality of how awful life can be for some people. I feel sorry that people can only make themselves feel better by bringing down others. I rise above it and crack on!
Describe your life right now.
Happy, healthy, fulfilled, content.
What is your mantra you live by?
Never let your doubts stop you trying anything – just give it a go and don’t look back!
Read more about Gillian and support the Birth Trauma Association.