Stephanie Thompson is the founder of the Bravemumma community, Podcaster and Birth Trauma Advocate – this is her story.
Stephanie Thompson is a brave mumma. Her long journey to motherhood is her greatest achievement. Her never-die attitude and resilience to adversity was never going to let cancer or birth trauma stop her from being the ‘best’ mum she can be. With over 15 years’ experience working as an educator and leader, she knows how important advocacy is for making real change. After completing her degree, she worked as a critical responder in Child Protection before heading into the classrooms of public schools for the next decade.
Prior to the birth of her babies, she was a consultant for some of the top private schools, while also running a small tea business and competing in triathlons. Busy is what she does best. Stephanie lives with her loving husband, two little people and one fat cat on the South Coast of New South Wales. She isn’t able to be a teacher, a triathlete or tea business owner anymore. The trauma from giving birth has left her body broken. But, of course, that is not how this story ends. After looking in all the wrong places for help, she discovered writing. Writing is now how she is helping to make way for change in this women’s health space. Stephanie created the ‘Bravemumma’ community and is working hard to advocate for better education and support. Her main aim is to ensure women feel empowered to make informed decisions about their birth choices – and beyond into motherhood.
Stephanie published her memoir, The Day My Vagina Broke, in 2019. She is the host of The Low Down with Bravemumma Podcast.
Tell us how your journey started
I felt like a mumma figure for years before becoming pregnant. From 2001 I began my journey to caring, educating and loving children in primary schools across New South Wales and London. For years I watched the mummas every morning in the playground bringing their children to school, often with a toddler or baby in arms. This was something I wanted for myself. I would spend hours dreaming of it. Imagining what it would look like in my home and heart. This dream was beautiful.
When I went to my female G.P to ask what vitamins to take for pregnancy, I left with something very unexpected. At the very end of this appointment I said ‘my over the shoulder handbag has been uncomfortable for a while and I can feel this pea sized lump, can you check it out’. I explained that I thought I’d pulled a muscle at the gym. If only! My GP sent me from that appointment directly to a specialist whom she arranged an immediate scan. This was no baby related scan. It was a diagnosis of cancer.
This came from left field and sent me into shock. If I’m honest, this probably lasted for the next few years. It was only once I was back teaching did my dream of becoming a mumma start to thaw out from what just happened. It was told to me that becoming pregnant after chemotherapy and radiotherapy could be tricky. They were right. While I was wanting a baby ASAP. The planets were telling me it was not the time. Five years on and a new big love in my life, led me towards the IVF route. Thankfully some early intervention in the way of a medical procedure described to ‘flush the system’ and a regime of vitamins meant I was pregnant before starting the IVF drugs. So, my official journey started in 2015, when we met our little girl for the first time – earth side.
What led you to work in the field you are in?
Just like my cancer diagnosis, my experience with childbirth too came from left field. What happened in that delivery room wasn’t in any of the birthing books we read, nor was it talked about in any of the pre-birthing classes. It totally blindsided both me and my husband. As two educated people we felt like we must have failed childbirth. Like we were taught what to do and just didn’t do it right? What other explanation could there be? Our midwife kept telling us it was all ‘normal’. She kept saying that it will just take time for my body to heal, and to stop worrying. I tried that and it didn’t work.
I’d been home with this new born baby for weeks and was unable to sit down. I mean AT ALL. The stitches needed to repair my perineum were three layers deep and from ‘front to back’. This meant sitting was a no go zone. It was only when I was unable to sit that the conversations with the close trusted women in my family began. ‘What happened in your birth?’
I had no idea what they were talking about at first. I possibly snapped back at them because I thought they were having a go at me and I remember feeling very confused why they would even be asking me that. Remembering, my midwife kept telling me it was all ‘normal’. To be asked by the women in my trusted circle made me start to think, ‘was it normal not to be able to sit down?’ So I did what I thought would be the natural thing to do. I asked my midwife outright…is it normal to not be able to sit down? Her response was ‘just roll up a towel and place it under your bottom’.
I did that. It didn’t work. I then was told to try a donut cushion. It didn’t work (and perhaps made the wound open). I tried laying on my side as much as I could… I think you get the picture. It felt impossible to care for a newborn baby and myself. I put up with the pain and agony for weeks before noticing something was wrong. Really wrong. Once again when I reached out for help to the people charged for caring for me, it was met with the same response. ‘It’s normal, you need to give it more time to heal’. This was just so far from the truth. My wound was infected and open. The stitching had
come undone and so had I. There was nothing ‘normal’ about what I had to go through next. Days, weeks, months and now years of medical treatments for both the physical, mental and emotional toll childbirth had on us. Being brave enough to talk about this openly with the world took a bucket load of vulnerability. I knew that if I did not start saying something, then nothing would ever change. The Bravemumma community was started so we can better care for mummas, who need to be seen, heard and supported. All to ensure that nothing like this happens to my little girl (or any of our future mummas).
What are you passionate about & what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I’ve always been righteous about social justice and advocating for the change we need to see in this world. It’s in my DNA. When I first started this journey, all I wanted was to change childbirth for the better, so that my little girl didn’t have to go through what I did. Though I’m not naive, I knew it was going to take more than publishing one book. The more I researched childbirth the more I realised how complex it is. It’s going to take major changes to a system that has entrenched ideologies about how babies are born. What I’ve also discovered is that childbirth is just one piece of this puzzle. If we are only focusing on one part, then it’s going to be an uphill battle to fit all the other pieces together. It’s much more than childbirth. It’s understanding our own bodies, long before we are even thinking about becoming pregnant. So many of us are in the dark when it comes to how our own bodies work and what they need to prepare for things like periods, pregnancy and childbirth (and beyond).
The key to knowing more and being about to make better decisions for our own health is Women’s Health Literacy. This is where we are focusing our energy into the future to ensure our girls understand the inner workings of their bodies in a way that is not shameful or embarrassing. We want our girls to be able to talk openly about their bodies, needs and wants without being told it’s ‘secret women’s business’. The health of our girls is everyone’s business.
The ideal future would include (to name a few);
- investing adequate funding into women’s pelvic health medical research
- including women’s pelvic health in our education curriculum
- mainstream media to accept and support discussions around women’s health
What advice do you have for other women 40+ who are wanting to make an impact in the community or the world?
Making an impact starts with you! Find that one thing you can’t stop thinking about. When you’re hanging out the washing or driving the kids to school, if there’s something always circling around in your mind – follow that path. When I first started, I blasted on the scene like I could ‘fix’ childbirth overnight. It seemed simple to just tell my story, everyone would be horrified and want to change the system.
It simply does not work that way.
It takes constant, small wins along a very long and winding path. There are ups and downs and mountains to climb along the way.The dedication and nous required to make an impact can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. This is why it’s vital to find yourself a team of people to support you on this journey. Find those who you are aligned with and allow them to help you. This will change over time and that’s okay. As you grow and change, so will these key people. It’s also okay to need to take a break. Often when we are doing passion projects, we can feel burnt out. You don’t have to quit. Just take a break. Take a break from the things that are more draining. You can always come back. The best part about making an impact is knowing you are in the driver’s seat. You can achieve your goal then pivot in another direction. Or you can decide to move into another space as you learn, discover and grow. If you can learn how to do these things, you’re well on your way to making the real change we need to see in this world.
You can follow Stephanie here: