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Belfast mum who tried to take her own life sends message to others in despair: 'please reach out'

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Stephanie McKittrick

Stephanie McKittrick

Stephanie with daughter Lexie

Stephanie with daughter Lexie

Stephanie McKittrick

An inspirational Belfast mother has opened her heart to talk about her experience of suicide in the hope of reaching out to others in despair.

Stephanie McKittrick is thankful every day that her serious attempt to take her life three years ago failed.

As suicide rates spiral to an alarming level in Northern Ireland, she has a powerful message to anyone who believes there is no hope.

The 35-year-old, who was in a coma for three days after trying to take her life, said: "The day I decided to finally end it all, it was not a cry for help, I was determined.

"I sat on my landing floor, crying. I wanted my life to be different, but nothing I tried worked. Everything was a disaster. I just knew if I ended it, the pain would stop and everyone would move on without my drama.

"Boy, was I wrong. As I woke up from a coma, choking on the tube down my throat before passing out again, I realised how wrong I had been. I was honestly glad I was alive," Stephanie said.

"Nothing in my circumstance had changed, but I was glad. I didn't think I would be glad, but I really was.

"If you are reading this and you are in that place, please reach out and talk to someone. Tell them how you feel.

"There is nothing in this life that cannot be solved. You are needed. You are wanted. You are loved.

"Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation that leaves a path of devastation. Reach out - you are worth so much more."

Stephanie hit rock bottom after an horrific period in her life which followed the diagnosis of a debilitating neurological illness and the devastating loss of her second baby.

She was 20 weeks pregnant in 2013 when she was diagnosed with hydrocephalus - a deadly build-up of fluid on the brain.

Doctors said that to save her life, they would need to put a thin tube called a shunt in her brain, but it could not be done while she was pregnant.

In a further blow, scans revealed her unborn baby had Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH), meaning her diaphragm had not formed properly and her abdominal organs were growing in her chest cavity, preventing her heart and lungs from developing correctly.

Her baby had just a 30% chance of survival. Stephanie was advised to have a termination to save her own life, but she refused. Instead she underwent horrific surgery on her brain while awake. She recalled: "Doctors said my baby was unlikely to survive. But I couldn't sacrifice my baby to save myself. That goes against every single mothering instinct. Even if she was born and only lived for an hour, I still wanted to meet her.

"I felt so ill that I thought I was going to die, I thought it couldn't get any worse, but when they told me my baby was going to die, my whole world collapsed."

Stephanie was offered a procedure at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast known as an ICP bar, to help relieve the growing pressure, but it would involve surgeons drilling three holes into the top of her skull. As she was 30 weeks pregnant, they had to keep her awake during the surgery, with just a local anaesthetic and paracetamol to help with the pain.

Stephanie added: "It was the most terrifying hour of my life. I could actually feel the blood trickling down the sides of my head."

The determined mum carried her daughter to 39 weeks before she was delivered by C-section on April 29, 2013.

Her baby daughter was rushed to intensive care, but it was obvious she had no chance of survival.

A heartbroken Stephanie named her Layla and was able to cuddle and kiss her baby before making the heartbreaking decision to turn off her life support when she was just 25 hours old.

Six weeks after losing Layla, Stephanie underwent a major operation - this time under general anaesthetic - in another effort to ease the fluid build-up in her brain.

She has since had nine more brain surgeries, including having a shunt fitted, but continued to endure horrific symptoms. This, combined with 'blocking out' her grief over the loss of her baby, led to a breakdown and suicide attempt.

She said: "I was grieving for Layla and fighting for my own life.

"Every day was a constant battle. I had to hold on to walls to walk as my balance was off and I had excruciating headaches. My vision was affected and I was constantly being sick.

"It was the worst time of my life and because I hadn't processed my grief, it hit me like a ton of bricks and swallowed me up."

It was two and a half years after the loss of her daughter that Stephanie hit rock bottom and felt there was nothing to live for.

Convinced that others would be better off without her, she planned to take her own life.

Now grateful to have survived the suicide attempt, Stephanie is happier and healthier than ever before and enjoying a new career as a credit specialist for a global cyber security company.

She volunteers with Stanton Health Care, a Belfast group supporting women facing crisis pregnancies and also supports people with chronic illness.

Stephanie hopes her story can impact anyone who is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.

She added: "I would just like to say to people who are in despair that whatever darkness you are facing, there is always light and always someone beside you and that is coming from someone who has survived suicide.

"I have spent every day since feeling so glad that I did survive it.

"Society has to take some responsibility. As individuals, we need to speak to people and be nicer to people.

"To anyone who is feeling suicidal, I would say that there is always someone there to help. Even if it is not someone close to you, please speak to one of the helplines, don't be afraid to ask for help, things can change for the better."

Anyone who is experiencing a mental health crisis, or who feels they need support can telephone Lifeline on 0808 808 8000 or ring the Samaritans on 116 123

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