Dorte Kjaerulff shares her experience of creating her own company whilst living with birth trauma PTS. 

Starting a business with birth trauma PTS

Clients would arrive, and everything would go blurry. I would hear loud swooshing noises in my ears, feel dizzy on my feet. I would completely forget their names even though I knew them a minute ago. I had no idea how to operate the camera – total panic attacks! At the time, I didn’t recognise them as panic attacks, because people like me don’t get panic attacks!

I had a picture of how our life would continue entirely unchanged after having a baby. We bought a new cream sofa while pregnant, we had a perfectly colour coordinated house, great jobs. I would pop to hospital to have the baby, then carry on with life!

I had a picture of the kind of mum who would “loose the plot”, the kind of people who had mental health issues – and they didn’t look like me! I had it all together! And all that control I was used to, was probably exactly why my card house came tumbling down…

I didn’t quickly pop to hospital to have the baby! We had a long difficult labour, that ended in an emergency C-section and baby being rushed to neonatal. My first moment of completely losing all control…

Eventually we were discharged, but I was poorly, I had infection after infection, I wasn’t coping, I wasn’t functioning, yet every day I would get up and pretend, because my background is very “pull your self together, keep going”. Every day I would think “oh no everyone can see that I’m a mess” and then the other voice would say “how on earth can no one see that I need help?!”.

After spending months pretending, I didn’t need help, I found I couldn’t get any help! I came home from playgroups and baby massage classes crying, they were supposed to be fun right?

I contacted the health care advisor who said “I’ll give you a ring on Wednesday” but never did. I went to my doctor, it was late in the evening, I cried snot, really ugly crying, and she said “I can give you some anti-depressant” and type some kind of “post-natal depression” comment on my record. But I didn’t want anti-depressants, I wanted help…

Fast forward to having baby number two, and finding myself in a new town, with a new health care visitor but crying the same ugly snotty tears. I vividly remember her saying “hmmm I don’t think you are depressed, I just think you are bored…” but hesitantly she referred me to their Home Start team. I saw their birth trauma counsellor, who diagnosed me with PTS linked to the birth trauma, and this is where I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel!

I still had conflicting voices and drives. One part of me was desperate to do my photography, to offer my services to other mums, the other part wanted to hide at home and never go out.

With all this fantastic hindsight, I knew that while we struggled, it didn’t show on the outside. I knew that while we spent those baby months/years beating ourselves up for not being good enough, with pictures I could enable myself (and others!) to go back and re-visit that baby phase and see that it all looked good, that I was a good enough mum, I did love the boys enough.

Starting a business is tough at the best of times, but starting a business when you feel one big ball of not good enough it something else. Everything I did would cause me internal agony, my body would scream “noooo”. Everything I did felt scary and vulnerable. I felt shaky, couldn’t speak, sweaty hands. Every set back felt like a sign to stop. I was terrified of rejections, competition, getting bookings, not getting bookings… I was lived in a state of permanent fear, but somehow once I got the camera in hand everything would flow! I LOVED photographing the mums with their kids.

They would all be more than reluctant, but then as the years went on, I would hear back from them all saying how pleased they were that I “forced” them to be in those pictures.

My big movement became about getting mums into pictures, we don’t feature nearly enough. We give up our careers and our personalities to become mums, and yet we are barely visible in the family album. How many pictures have you got of your mum when you were a baby? How many pictures have you got of beautiful every day cuddly moment of you as a baby with your mum? 

In hindsight I have no idea how or why I started my photography studio when I did, but I am grateful. I feel I do something really important, I give something very valuable to mums, to their kids, to their future generations.

Be conscious about shaping your memories, what do you want to remember, what do you want your kids to remember? How do you want your kids to see this phase of life when they look back at the pictures in 50 years, when they have their own families and they are finding their own parental feet in life?

It's a scary world out there, but go do what lights you up. Women have come through far worse situations than ours x

Dorte Kjaerulff

Hi I’m Dorte, I am Scandinavian, but first came to England in 2000. I live in a beautiful country village with my (English) husband, and our two gorgeous boys. I’m a lifestyle family photographer & film maker.

My big movement is getting mums into pictures, and consciously shaping our memories.

We don’t feature nearly enough. We give up our careers and our personalities to become mums, and yet we are barely visible in the family album. It’s easy to come out of every phase with kids feeling not good enough. You probably have 5000 pictures on your phone of your kids and partner, but how many really good pictures have you got of yourself with your kids?

Images and film build evidence to your future doubting self that you WERE completely good enough!


My party is mainly on Instagram