My Mum Cut My Neck – Official Message from Susannah Birch

Susannah Birch - The Girl Whose Mother Cut Her Neck. Official message.

In January 1989, my mother cut my throat and held me for 40 minutes as I bled. Thanks to a moment of sanity, emergency services were called and my life was saved by quick-acting police, an ambulance officer and medical staff at Dalby Hospital.

On Sunday April 13, a documentary was broadcast on ABC Radio National. The journalist, Amanda Gearing, who spent months working with me on the documentary, also wrote a news article which appeared in the Sunday Mail on the same day.

Another reporter used the radio documentary as the basis for an article which was published in The Daily Mail (UK). This article was written without my knowledge or approval and did not credit the work of the original reporter, instead claiming it as her own, which it was not. The Daily Mail article and all the translations and copies of it contained many inaccuracies and used photographs from my personal Facebook page without my permission.

The feedback I have received has been overwhelmingly positive. Some social media comments however are concerning to me.

Many people have been shocked by the fact that I was allowed to live with my mother just a year after what happened. Others have wondered why my father had allowed this and what type of man he was.

My father is one of the most loyal and loving men I know. Many people have commented that despite the many ups and downs he’s experienced in his life, he’s still a cheerful, happy and helpful person.

Following my mother’s attempt on my life, she spent a year in Baillie Henderson psychiatric hospital. My father was on a disability pension following her return home so he could supervise us both.

When my father returned to work in the building trade, we moved in with extended family, so I always had other adults close by.

My father and I were always very close. We were very open about my mother’s illness and talked about it a lot, as well as all that had happened and why.

I loved my mother; I wasn’t scared of her. The simplest way of describing my feelings for her as a child is by comparing it to an alien possession or being on drugs or alcohol. When she hurt me, she was a different person; nothing like the mother who I knew loved me.

My mother homeschooled me because my tracheostomy impacted on my health. She was wonderful at it, always finding interesting projects for me to do and taking me out for fun excursions or social events. She could be a devoted mother a lot of the time.

It’s taken me many years, but I’ve started to forgive her for what she did to me as a child. I don’t condone or fully understand it and I know that I can’t have her in my life due to the pain it would cause us both. But I’ve started to feel compassion for her and realise how deeply it has affected her over the years since it happened. To see the evidence of what she’d done in front of her each day could not have been easy for her.

Other people have questioned if it’s possible that I really remember these events. The answer is yes, I do. My memories are limited and don’t involve words or movements, as they’ve slowly faded with age.

However I can recall clear images of one or more knives in a saucepan on the stove. I can remember a knife coming towards my face as I raised my hands, then laying on an ambulance stretcher outside, on a very bright sunny day.

I can picture the inside of an ambulance and have a memory of motion. My next memory is laying on a stretcher, in a helicopter, tan seats around me. I have a vague feeling of crankiness because I wasn’t allowed to look out the window and could only see the sky from where I lay. I remember staring at my thumb in the Royal Brisbane Children’s hospital, blue jagged threads sticking out of it.

Many people seem to want to blame religion. Having grown up in the Seventh Day Adventist church, although I no longer attend, I can say that their belief system is not to blame. From what I’ve seen, there are many mainstream churches which are far more likely to accidentally support or encourage people experiencing psychotic experiences, believing they are gifts from God.

Following the incident, many people in the church didn’t know how to deal with what had happened, as can be expected.

The Seventh Day Adventist church isn’t a cult, although it’s often accidentally confused with other churches that do have more unusual beliefs. The SDA church and their teachings weren’t responsible for what happened. My mother was insane at the time of the attack and wasn’t thinking like any rational person. Similar events could have occurred if she’d read a murder mystery or a book on Aztec sacrifice.

I’ve seen many comments using my story to blame religion or even to talk about crime rates. Neither of these issues is why I went public with my story. Instead, my main goal is to promote better monitoring  for mentally ill people as well as their families who often pick up the pieces and provide unlimited support.

Our case had three similarities to the Lindy Chamberlain case; their names, the fact that a child was attacked and sharing the same church. That’s where the similarities end. Lindy Chamberlain was completely sane and innocent of the accusations. My mother was not sane at the time but she did harm her own child.

However the fact that the Chamberlain case was used as a reason to keep our case quiet was a blessing. It was a small town and police were able to have the story minimised in the media, which meant that our family wasn’t placed in the public eye or in a media storm. We were able to deal with our pain and repair our lives in privacy.

I am now going public with my story because I feel that if I don’t, what happened to me would simply be a random and pointless event. By telling my story as well as sharing my feelings about my mother, my family and my own coping mechanisms in my upcoming book, I hope to be able to help other children and adults dealing with similar issues.

Some other inaccuracies that have been written into subsequent stories after the initial one which was correct, include that my mother was Catholic and that I am now fighting to safeguard the rights of people to live with mentally ill parents. Neither is true.

I am in fact fighting for better monitoring of mentally unwell people and more safety for those around them, particularly children.

 

If you wish to copy this post, please copy it in full along with a link back to this original post. If you wish to write about me or use a quote from this post, please contact me via my media form. Thank you.

8 Comments

  1. Tony Watson

    Susannah, I was moved by your story and infuriated by the Daily Mail’s blatant hijacking of it. I live in the UK and, unfortunately that’s what the Daily Mail is like and it’s not alone in the UK in that characteristic. I have done my best to spread your accurate story by re-tweeting , posting on FB and Pinterest. I hope some good comes of the publicity for you. Tony

    Reply
    • Susannah Birch

      Thank you very much Tony. I appreciate it!

      Reply
  2. Karen Bristol

    I’m so glad you are getting your own story, in your own words, out there. Let’s hope this fosters a better understanding, and helps those in need, now and in the future.

    As a researcher and historian I know only too well how blatant inaccurate and sensationalised newspaper reports can get :-\ Truth is what matters most.

    Reply
    • Susannah Birch

      Thank you very much Karen. It’s awful how much spin the media will put on a story for a headline!

      Reply
  3. Karen Bristol

    Yes, and it is about time someone put a stop to it.

    Reply
  4. Kevin

    I heard the story on ABC. It was touching and moving and the reporter conveyed your story very well. I am sorry it got hojacked by other reporters. You must be a very strong person to put your story out there and I hope your strength provides help for others who are suffering from mental health issues

    Reply
  5. Danielle Oswin

    Hello Susannah and John,
    I am one of the nurses who looked after you in Brisbane.I have thought of you over the last 25 years and wondered how you got on.Its fantastic to hear that you are both well and happy and getting on with your lives. As you will remember, John, we had many young trachy patients in the ward who we nurses looked after for months or years and once they left we generally never saw them or heard from them again. It’s just amazing to see the photos of you both in the ward and present day and to know that you are ok. I remember you both so well. Dani

    Reply
  6. brandielinn

    I know all to well the horror and hell. I was diagnosed with Postpartum psychosis after my second child. I don’t know if you want to call it luck or what but I recognised I wasn’t right and got help. My cousin on the other hand wasn’t. She took her life and her child’s. Your very brave and mental illness is real. It needs to be made aware.

    Reply

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