Autoethnography and Severe Perineal Trauma

An Unexpected Journey From Disembodiment to Embodiment

Holly S. Priddis


BMC Womens Health. 2015;15(88) 

In This Article


Learning to Survive

What I have shared with you in this paper are my memories: thoughts, words and physical scars that are embedded in my consciousness. Recollection is personal, biased, and my memories are tinted with fear and sadness. The road to recovery has been difficult, but I have always been a fighter and way too stubborn for this to overwhelm me. In addition I have an amazing husband and four incredible children who have always been my light in the darkness. Through the process of researching, reading, and searching for recovery stories, I discovered helpful websites addressing anxiety which taught me how to face my anxiety each day and work alongside it to minimise my daily fear. I commenced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy along with walking kilometres each day, doing yoga, and complete dietary changes including giving up alcohol and caffeine. My research supervisors, my husband, my best friend and a few close colleagues listened to me without judgement only concern. Am I recovered? No. But I am on the path. I cannot say that these changes in my life have come from a positive place, but I can say that the changes are becoming a positive thing and I feel blessed to have been given this opportunity for self-discovery that may or may not have happened otherwise. I am healthy, fit and in tune with my thoughts and feelings. I now identify myself as a "Spiritual Adventurer", exploring all that it is to be me. Whilst I am not yet always able to manage these overwhelming anxieties, I know that I am a strong, determined woman who has always faced her challenges, looked them straight in the eye and conquered them.

What is the Point if it Does not Make it Better for Other Women?

The aim of using a transformative emancipatory research design was to allow for an in depth understanding of how women experienced and understood SPT. The study focused on the individual experiences and interactions with health care professionals to inform and advocate for change through the research process. A strength of using a transformative research approach can be demonstrated through the actions of the research participants.[16,55] Following data collection some of the women who participated in the study initiated ongoing contact with the researcher via email and phone to inform me of their subsequent pregnancies, births and endoanal assessment outcomes. I have had the opportunity to present my research reporting on SPT, including my own experiences, at various seminars and workshops over the years. At one such seminar a physiotherapist approached and thanked me, telling me that my presentation that first day had inspired her to specialise in caring for women who had sustained SPT. She has now established a SPT clinic for women just like me.

Reflecting on the aims of my mixed methods doctoral study, one of the purposes of data collection, analysis and integration was to determine how services can be improved who provide care for women who have sustained SPT. Senior health policy makers and advisors welcomed my principal research supervisor and I into a discussion to explore how the findings of my research could be used to assist with the development of guidelines to improve and support service provision. The positive response of policy advisors and policy makers from this discussion was rewarding, as during the most difficult of times when death and the peace to be found there seemed attractive to my anxious mind, one of my many concerns was that my work had been for no purpose. To transform, by using the transformative-emancipatory approach, was my initial motivation, and to have hope that my work one day, will assist with the development of guidelines to improve health services and the care that women with SPT receive. I know now this could bring with it a sense of closure, personal transformation, and, with that, peace for me.

To witness transformation, no matter how small, is humbling. At a research presentation forum for doctoral candidates an academic staff member came up to me. She held my hands, and looked into my eyes. "You are doing such valuable work, you are a very special person. This work must have been very challenging for you, given your personal experience". I agreed with her, describing the difficulties I faced as I was required to peel away my own coping mechanisms to immerse myself in the research. She nodded solemnly, as her eyes pricked with tears. "Twenty five years ago I gave birth. My perineum was badly damaged and the doctor said to me 'don't look at it, it's all black'. And I've never looked, not once since that day". She looked back up at me and gave my hands one last squeeze, "Your work is so valuable, you are very special". She smiled at me then walked away.