Birth Trauma, Raising a Disabled Child and Returning to Work

10 mins

Nothing can prepare you for a difficult birth and our next Life in Digital podcast guest, Na...

By Amy Halls

Senior Marketing & Talent Manager

Nothing can prepare you for a difficult birth and our next Life in Digital podcast guest, Natalie Dawson, Strategic Agency Sales Director at Ozone, shared the trauma she experienced giving birth to her beautiful son, who was born with Williams Syndrome, bringing up a child with a disability and her journey back to work…

“It became a complete nightmare…” 

Natalie’s build-up to her maternity leave was idyllic: great career, working from home and in her own words, she was "flying high".

Everything took a turn for the worse when she started experiencing reduced movements and was quickly rushing into a c-section...

“You expect that golden hour, for baby to cry… I had none of that” 

Their baby underwent weeks hooked up to a ventilator before being diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, a non-hereditary genetic condition that affects one in 18,000 people in the UK.

The trauma Natalie experienced became apparent when it was time to bring her baby home. Thankfully, she sought help and was able to share this experience with us on the podcast.

​Support and finding your Tribe 

Natalie's experience of trauma was related to the birth and the subsequent time in the hospital. Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that can be a result of many traumatic events during labour or childbirth.

There are various treatments that you may be offered for postnatal PTSD. Your doctor should discuss these options with you, so you can make a decision together about the best treatment for you - read here for more information from the charity Mind. 

Natalie found strength in talking therapy, something she had previously been resistant to:

“The thing that worked for me was compassion-focused therapy” 

Natalie expressed that finding her tribe was one of the hardest parts of her traumatic birth and raising a child with a disability. The trauma of birth had resulted in Natalie being unable to speak about her son to anyone at work. 

Finding your tribe (or peer support) brings together people who have similar experiences, to share and listen to each other's experiences. For Natalie, this was joining a WhatsApp group for other parents of children with William’s Syndrome. 

More businesses are now offering support to returning parents, and part of this has to be giving the space and time to listen to the needs of those individuals, who in some difficult cases, may be returning without a child. But as Natalie shared, there is more that businesses and governments can be doing.

Raising a disabled child 

Juggling parenthood and work is difficult at the best of times, the added complexity of bringing up a child with a disability means needing access to greater support, childcare and specialist treatment to reach milestones. 

Natalie was able to lean on their local council to secure a place with an Outstanding rated Nursery and stressed the importance of seeking help - read more about the support provided by following the link here. 

"An education, health and care plan (EHCP) is a legal document issued by your local authority. It outlines the support your child must have to meet their Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Whether your child has an EHC plan or not, you may still get extra support from your local authority."

Preparing for what life might look like for Lochlan, has resulted in a longer-term view. Williams Syndrome is a spectrum disorder so he can be “pretty high functioning… hopefully live an independent life, hopefully live on [his] own” and be able to secure a low-skilled job, or he may not able to live on his own and need support for his entire life. 

“It’s hope for the best… prepare for the worst” 

Returning and growing at work 

For Natalie, and many other mothers, returning to work was a non-negotiable: “work is part of my identity”. Now, going into her second maternity leave, Natalie shared some brilliant advice and resources on how to empower yourself and what conversations to start having with your employer. 

She shared some brilliant resources for anyone who needs support or wants to listen to stories from other parents: 

Only a quarter of organisations offer shared parental leave offered enhanced payments, and they are mostly larger organisations with 1000+ employees, according to Pregnant Then Screwed. As a result, the time off for a mother or the person giving birth is usually the longest and many women are stepping away from work because of the rising childcare costs.

Having great child care is often the first step in returning to work. Whilst some parents live close to relatives, for others, this may come in the form of a nursery or a private caregiver.

The number of people leaving the workforce due to caring commitments is at the highest level since May 2020. According to analysis carried out by the Guardian, the past year has seen a sustained increase in stay-at-home parents and carers after 30 years of decline.

Whatever the route a family goes down, Natalie wanted to stress that it’s about ‘choice’. She was open about being lucky enough to have that choice to return to work, with the average child care fees in the UK reaching 60% of the average persons' salary, returning to work can be financially impossible. 

Some 43,000 women have left their jobs to look after family over the past 12 months, representing a 3% increase on the previous year, according to the most recent UK labour market data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). It also showed the number of men leaving the workforce due to family commitments has risen 15% year on year.

For those who can juggle work and parenthood, Natalie shares some brilliant advice around important keeping-in-touch days, setting goals for returning to work and the power of being open. 

Listen to the full episode here.

A big thank you to Natalie for being so generous with your time and sharing your experience with us.

In even more important news, Natalie's husband is raising money for Williams Syndrome! He's run a marathon and cycled 500 miles...!

The link to their GoFundMe is here.

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