Sarah-Jane shares her powerful personal story with VIEW

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Sarah-Jane McCann, right, with Rosemary Deans

“Before I was taken away, Keith was called in and told to say his goodbyes because they didn’t think I was going to make it” – Sarah-Jane McCann shares her powerful personal story with VIEW as part of our latest issue which looks at maternal mental health

I am 35 years old. I’m engaged. My partner Keith and I were meant to get married and then the children came along. I live in Bessbrook. It’s a little village just outside Newry.

I had a fantastic pregnancy with my first child Robin, who is now three, but I had a pretty difficult birth, it was quite traumatic. I had to have an emergency caesarean and I lost an awful lot of blood and needed a transfusion.

I was in hospital for five days and I found the recovery very difficult.

When I thought about the birth or had flashbacks I would feel anxious. I wouldn’t necessarily have a big cry, but I would become weepy if I was maybe talking to my partner about it. And he was very traumatised by it as well because he witnessed everything. He was there at the birth.

I eventually went back to work and we had a brilliant lovely family life and then I fell pregnant with my son Jude.

The birth of Jude was unreal, it was awful.

We went down to the labour ward at Daisy Hill hospital in Newry and the medics again performed a caesarean section. Everything seemed to go fine, but when Jude was actually delivered and lifted up over the screen I just stared at him and completely blacked out.

Afterwards in the recovery unit I was breastfeeding Jude and for an instant I thought ‘you know what, everything’s okay’, but a few seconds later, again, I felt like the life had just drained out of me. The next thing there was a team of consultants and doctors and they said ‘we need to take you back into the theatre’. I think there was just this kind of tense feeling and and everybody knew this was serious. The baby was taken away from me,

I lost a lot of blood and I was eventually rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) in Belfast.

Before I was taken away, Keith was called in and told to say his goodbyes because they didn’t think I was going to make it.

The surgeons in the RVH performed a hysterectomy (a surgical procedure to remove the womb) on me the following day. I’ve always longed for another child. I think my family especially would have said ‘health wise, you couldn’t have risked a pregnancy or a baby’ and I understand that and I probably wouldn’t have, but it’s just that the choice was taken away. I know that I’m 35, I’m relatively young. It’s just something that you’re not prepared for, and it’s kind of like your womanhood as well has been removed.

I didn’t have post-natal depression, but I definitely had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rosemary Deans (who founded Centred Soul – a not-for-profit organisation based in Newry) and I had chatted a few times, and I said there needs to be more support for mothers and families. I also know that Keith was totally affected by both the births.

Rosemary held an event on the issue in Newry recently. Maternal mental health campaigner Lindsay Robinson attended. Lindsay and Rosemary both got up and spoke about their experiences which led to post-natal depression. And they also spoke about perinatal mental health.

It was the first time I’d ever heard the term and I thought what does this mean? When they discussed it further I was like ‘Oh my God, that is what I experienced through my pregnancy’. That’s when I said to Rosemary I wanted to do something because a traumatic birth can bring on any type of feeling or issues or depression or worry.

It’s absolutely shocking that there is no mother and baby unit on the whole island of Ireland.

We have 67 members in our support group and around 10 people come to our meetings. It’s very early days for us.

I was very lucky in the support I got. I don’t think every woman gets the type of support I had.  There is definitely the need for more specialised services to help women. It’s absolutely shocking that there is no mother and baby unit on the whole island of Ireland.

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