In our first post our CEO, Karen Burgess, explains a bit about how the idea of setting up Petals as a charity came about.
‘My role as Women’s Services Counsellor at The Rosie Maternity Hospital was extremely challenging on many levels. I had set up a counselling service that integrated with Obstetrics and Gynaecology services at Addenbrookes in 2009. This service was established to provide counselling and support to clients with a wide range of issues surrounding pregnancy and birth. Some clients had suffered miscarriage, others had social terminations, and some were undecided whether to terminate a pregnancy. Some clients had phobias that affected their pregnancy journey, some were terrified of giving birth. Most of the clients I worked with were experiencing devastating news. For some a scan or routine test may have identified life-threatening conditions in their baby, for others, their baby may have died in the womb for no identifiable reason, or their baby had been dead at birth. As I was working within the maternity department, I was able to be with many of these women either on the ward or in ‘Out-patients’ as they experienced these traumatic situations, I was able to provide support, to talk with them about what was happening and help them to be with their devastating reality.
Reading this you may think ‘why would anyone want to put themselves through that!’ It has been said to me many times. For me, it is the reason I trained in counselling 14 yrs ago. I wanted to be able to use my skills and experience where it would really matter. It is in those horribly charged, life-shattering moments that you can really make a difference as a counsellor. The despair, the helplessness, the anguish that I have witnessed in a maternity department is devastating and isolating for the parents. The medical team can support, but their roles are different, they are totally focussed on the physical health of their patient, and rightly so. Some of the time they are trying to manage their own emotions too. As the counsellor, I would be able to be separate from that, to be someone who the parents could ‘hold on to’, someone who knew how helpless they felt, how frightened they were. Someone reassuring them that they weren’t going mad, that this was real and that they would be alright.
This work had a profound effect on me ‘it changed me as a person and as a counsellor. I guess it reinforced the reality of how close together life and death sit for us all on a maternity delivery unit – it is happening daily in one room – the joy of new life, in the room next door, the tragedy of death.
For all of these reasons, when my post came to an end at The Rosie I knew I could not just walk away from this work, it was too important to me, and to the many women and partners that I had supported.
The post of Women’s Services Counsellor was never secure at the Rosie – it was originally created as a pilot project by the Head of Midwifery at that time. She recognised the need for psychological support within the service and her intention was to provide evidence through this project that would reform psychological care in maternity services in the UK. The pilot project was an undeniable success and I was working at full capacity, but, when in April 2011 drastic cost savings had to be made across maternity services, my non-clinical ‘temporary’ post was an obvious casualty for the Trust. I left the Rosie on 15th April 2011, it was a sad day for me and many of my friends and colleagues there.
My first thoughts were to set up a private practice to continue this work. I set up The Perinatal Counselling Centre in April 2011. This enabled me to continue to provide specialist counselling support for women and couples. The obvious barrier was that clients would have to pay for this themselves. Another barrier was how women and couples needing and wanting the support could access my service. Addenbrookes hospital staff are prevented from referring patients directly to private services, and GPs are restricted on their private referrals, so I was therefore reliant on clients ‘finding’ me on the internet or through ‘word of mouth’.
I had met Miranda as a patient at the Rosie some months previously when she had suffered the tragic loss of her twin boys. I had to tell her and all my clients at the Rosie in March 2011 that I would be leaving and unable to continue supporting them in the same way. Miranda explained to me her own vision of charitable support for parents like herself, coping with loss. This discussion was to provide the foundation of something new and exciting for us all – the birth of a new charity called Petals!
Miranda and I had no experience or knowledge of how to go about setting up a charity, we just felt we knew it was the right thing to do. Our first task was to seek some guidance which we did via Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services who were very helpful in steering us towards the appropriate constitution and structure for our charity. We realised that we would need a strong base of Trustees and that to avoid any ‘conflict of interest’ I should not be a Trustee as I would be volunteering or working for the charity as a counsellor.
So I immediately set about recruiting Trustees! Yvonne Sangster had been a colleague of mine at the Rosie and was retiring after 23 years of providing bereavement support. More than anyone, Yvonne understood the importance of this work, she too had been alongside hundreds of couples at the time of the devastating loss of their babies, supporting them in arranging funerals. I didn’t need to work very hard in convincing Yvonne to join our team as a Trustee – she was very willing!
Ela, like Miranda, had been a client with me at the Rosie. We had worked closely together as I supported her through her third pregnancy following the loss of her daughter and subsequent miscarriage. Ela understood my passion for this work, she too was angry and upset when my post was lost at the Rosie and wanted to help me continue this work. Most importantly, Ela shared the vision Miranda and I had for Petals and was keen to join us as a Trustee.
We realised that whilst all four of us shared a vision for Petals, we lacked business acumen. My solution to this dilemma was to recruit a close friend of mine for whom I have great respect as a successful and trustworthy business woman. Esther Cornell agreed to join us and support the set-up of Petals as Trustee and advisor.
With the help and support of this great team of women we were able to embark on this amazing journey to work towards establishing a charity which we hope will help thousands of couples through the most difficult time of their lives.
You can find out more about Karen and the other trustees on our website www.petalscharity.org