"Hope is 100% the thing that got me through it"

with Martha Keith, founder of Martha Brook

Show notes:

Trigger warning: this episode discusses endometriosis, fertility, IVF, miscarriage, birth trauma and PTSD, so if it’s not the right time for you, please listen to an episode from the archive.

Martha Keith founded Martha Brook two years into her fertility journey, having decided a stressful unfulfilling corporate career was perhaps not conducive to starting a family. Her award winning stationery business has gone from strength to strength, but Martha’s journey to 2 daughters has been difficult and long. Endometriosis, IVF, a traumatic birth and PTSD all feature, but ultimately, Martha’s story is a hopeful one. If she can come through all of this with a sense of humour, a beautiful family and a successful business, we can too.

Yesterday was PTSD Awareness Day; 30,000 women a year experience trauma after birth, and yet Martha and I both felt ‘silly’ for our diagnosis. We didn’t think it happened to mums, only to war veterans. Conversations like this one are important, so more mums know that they are not alone in what they are going through and that they can come out the other side.

Another thing that Martha and I have in common is how positive an influence we found our businesses. When everything else was a bit of a mess, it was soothing and hopeful to be able to channel our energy into something productive and positive, dare I say, controllable. I think this is true of every mum/business owner; it’s important to have something outside family life that connects you with that other side of yourself.

Listen in for:

  • How important it is for people to talk more about their experiences, how “silly” Martha felt saying she had PTSD from birth trauma, but if 30k women a year experience birth trauma, we need to recognise and talk about it more
  • Entrepreneurship was never Martha’s plan, but having achieved her corporate career ambitions she still wasn’t fulfilled
  • Martha’s initial struggles to get pregnant and how they contributed to her change in career
  • Martha’s business journey, from a bootstrapping bedroom business to crowdfunding £250k
  • The Australian Martha Brook offshoot: ‘an experiment’
  • Martha’s 18 year journey to an endometriosis diagnosis
  • The reality of IVF
  • The isolation IVF and then PTSD brought
    Martha’s PTSD journey and the healing process of having a second baby
  • The Instamum community and ‘doing it all’
  • How positive it is for a business to give a sense of purpose outside family life

Resources Martha mentioned:

Pandas Foundation
EMDR Therapy
Human Givens Therapy
Fertility Show




About Martha Keith

Martha Keith is an entrepreneur, speaker, writer and business mentor who was awarded Great Britain’s Consumer Goods Businesswoman of the Year 2023.

In 2013 Martha quit her senior role in healthcare to found the award-winning personalised stationery company Martha Brook.

As CEO, She has led the growth of the business into the feel-good global brand it is today, turning over more than £1m ARR.
Martha is also a passionate Small business mentor and speaker – alongside her achievements she is also on the Advisory Council for the British Library, inputting into the work they do helping businesses innovate and grow, as well as their custodianship, research, culture and learning programmes. Martha also now helps and advise other businesses at different stages of their own growth journeys.

Not only all of her incredible (and I mean incredible – who does not love Martha Brook stationary?! – especially my VA colleagues) career achievements Martha is also a mummy of two.

Martha’s story to motherhood includes endometriosis diagnosis, IVF and PTSD from birth trauma.


Martha Keith’s Links:

Instagram (Martha)
LinkedIn (Martha)



Hello. I’m Caroline Marshall, and welcome to Bump to Business Owner the podcast speaking to mums in business. You. I’ll be in conversation with some of the most inspiring women and mothers in enterprise about their journey, how they created their successful businesses alongside raising their children and what that looks like in work and family life.

Caroline (00:29):
Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Bump to Business Owner. I’m your host, Caroline Marshall, and today I’m welcoming founder Martha Keith. Martha Keith is an entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and business mentor who has awarded great Britain’s consumer goods businesswoman of the year 2023. In 2013, Martha quit her senior role in healthcare to found the award-winning personalised stationary company, Martha Brook. As CEO, she has led the growth of the business into the feel goods global brand it is today turning over more than 1 million annual recurring revenue. Martha is also a passionate small business owner mentor and speaker. Alongside her achievements, she’s also on the advisory council for the British Library inputting into the work they do, helping businesses innovate and grow, as well as their custodianship, research culture and learning programmes. Martha also now helps and advises other businesses at different stages of their own growth journeys. Not only all of her incredible and I mean incredible, who does not love Martha Brook stationary, especially my VA colleagues, career achievements, Martha is also a mummy of two. Martha’s story to motherhood includes endometriosis diagnosis, IVF and PTSD from birth trauma. So please do consider this while listening to this episode. Wow, Martha, what a journey.

Martha (01:45):
That was quite an intro, Caroline.

Caroline (01:47):
It’s amazing. I’m so excited. I’m such a Martha Brook fans.

Martha (01:52):
Thank you so much for inviting me on. It is great to connect and great to chat about all these things. And I know you reached out after the PTSD thing, which is something I’ve never really talked about before. So I’m really pleased that resonated and struck a chord with you.

Caroline (02:07):
Yeah, and I think actually we’re timing the release of this. So when we released this, it’s PTSD Awareness day and I’m just so happy, which I guess you must be, which sounds a bit weird talking about PTSD, but so happy we’re talking about this in relation to motherhood and both are traumas, very different circumstances. But talking about this because for years I felt it’s all about postnatal depression and now it’s like we are learning all these other things while it’s overwhelming, especially we’ve just had this birth trauma stuff all come out from the government, which is great, but it’s a hard time for everyone right now I think who might have experienced something like this.

Martha (02:43):
Definitely. I mean I’ve never talked about this before. This happened six and a half years ago and it’s something I’ve just, I find mental health stuff really difficult to be open about, quite happy to be open about everything else, but I find it has such a big impact on me that I’ve struggled to really articulate it. But you probably saw the charity Pandas Foundation who look after post and postnatal mental health and help families reached out to do a collaboration with my business and actually they just sent a cold email and I rarely, rarely jump on cold emails, but it was such a lovely worded email and I thought, do you know what? Actually this is the time to, I feel I can do this now I can talk about it. And I’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction from people and when I went through the experience myself, I felt felt it was so silly getting PTSD, I’d never heard about it myself in relation to birth. And it was unbelievable seeing that report that came out last month that said an estimated 30,000 women a year experienced PTSD following birth, which is insane. So I’m really glad that we’re talking about this more because it’s obviously something that does affect a lot of women and I felt very alone going through it and I’m sure a lot of other women feel the same way.

Caroline (03:58):
Yes, and I’d love to talk about that and I think because it’s twofold as well, it’s like PTSD you said, you sound silly saying that and I think that is key that everyone needs to know. You do sound a bit ridiculous as a mother, not someone who’s been in a war zone or something you traditionally put together with PTSD. You feel ridiculous saying that, so thank you. And it’s not, but that’s so true. But also the loneliness around it because I think especially in motherhood, because when you’ve got friends going through, they might be pregnant and you are going through your PTSD or in a lovely little bubble and you’re going through PTSD, that’s incredibly isolating I think at this stage of life as well, which is huge to ways awareness of. So thank you for your work with Pandas to do that as well.

Martha (04:42):
I agree. I think early motherhood is quite isolating in itself anyway. There’s so much you are going through and really so much is going on with your hormones and your brain and anyone that’s experienced a traumatic birth can really affect those first couple of years in ways that you are not really expecting and no one really tells you about pre-birth. I think you’re so focused on, you’re so focused on the pregnancy and focused on getting the baby out and so focused on the type of birth you never really think about and you hear about postnatal depression, you think, oh yes, I understand I might need to go to my GP if I feel low. But no one really tells you that actually the birth itself can have such a profound impact on you. So I’m really glad we’re talking about this more and I thought that report was actually really helpful from the all party parliamentary group and hopefully some good and some change can come from it.

Caroline (05:32):
Yeah, so thank you so much for being open. I think I’ve been quite open since I did started recovery. I did EMDR,

Martha (05:39):
So did I!

Caroline (05:40):
So we’ve both discovered EMDR, the life-changing magic that is, if people want to look that up, we’ll put that in the show notes, what that is. It’s basically a form of therapy to help with trauma, which they’re discovering more and more really helps if you’ve got it post birth or like me due to an incident with your baby. So we’ll come back to more in a minute, but can we learn just a little bit, Martha, about what made you start Martha Brook? How did that come
around? Were you always going to be an entrepreneur?

Martha (06:08):
I don’t think I was. It was never the plan. I didn’t have a grand plan to do this. I left uni and I went to work for a large healthcare company and I was on the graduate programme and they accelerated you through various roles and I became a business director of this company by the time I was 29, which was really young and I had big responsibilities and I learned loads. And when I joined, that was my ambition, my ambitions was to get to become a director of this company and I thought, oh yeah, that’s going to make me happy. I’m going to be really successful. And I got there and I wasn’t happy. I really, really was just, I didn’t feel fulfilled in any way and I felt more removed from the patients and the reason that I actually joined wanted to do the job in the first place, which was to help people and to use my creativity combined with my science knowledge. I did a science degree but I also love marketing. I love creativity. So I thought I could bring the two together, but I felt more removed from making a difference and I’ve always loved stationary. I did try and start a stationary business when I was 10. Oh my goodness. It was a little company called Moo after my childhood nickname. And ironically there is now a stationary company Moo, that wasn’t the one I started that would’ve been…

Caroline (07:27):
They stole that from you!

Martha (07:29):
I started it first. I know they completely stole my idea! I felt there was a real gap in the market for a more personal stationary brand, a stationary business that helped share my story to help other people share theirs and really helped in the digital age bring back the joy of non-digital moments and can inspire and encourage people to capture their own thoughts and ideas and empower them to do so. And as you probably know Caroline, it started out really not in any impressive way in my bedroom, just me and a printer with honestly designs that I look back on slightly cringe over.

Caroline (08:14):
It’s part of the journey.

Martha (08:16):
I always say to people, this business was completely bootstrapped. It was, I didn’t have any investment I learnt, I learned by doing. And I think that there’s really a lot to be said for trying stuff and that is the best way to learn. And because it is an online business, what I became very good at was all things digital marketing, building brand online, personal branding, social media, which was a huge thing that’s really helped our brand grow. Email marketing, SEO, those are the things that have really helped and I’ve grew a team of fantastic group of of people who have come with me on the journey and year by year things have changed and evolved into the brand it is today. And I’m proud that I started small and it wasn’t that impressive and it wasn’t that exciting because I think that there are so many micro businesses every day that start around the country and I think it’s a really good message that it is absolutely possible to build and grow a business. And I think actually today it’s even easier than ever. Obviously there are lots you need to do, but I think yes, it’s a business that there was no grand plan. It grew organically based on what customers were loving feedback and building on what worked.

Caroline (09:35):
Love that. And did you take any investment later on to grow it to a certain stage or have you just bootstrapped it?

Martha (09:42):
So we bootstrapped it and then in 2021 we decided to do some crowdfunding and this was middle, not middle of the pandemic back on the second year of the pandemic, which is interesting experience. So I knew that I wanted to take the brand to the next level. So we decided we were going to do some crowdfunding and we were amazed to hit our target in less than 24 hours. That’s amazing. Really off the back of our social media community. So we raised a quarter million that allowed us to, I grew the team further, we evolved our product development, we started an offshoot in Australia and it is been really helpful to have that set of people, which is 500 of our customers who are essentially our investors who are now with us on the journey. So that was definitely a really interesting experience and it has really helped leverage the next stage of growth for us.

Caroline (10:42):
For female founders, crowdfunding sounds like a great one.

Martha (10:48):
Yeah, it’s interesting. There was a real phase of popularity of crowdfunding, but I think it has changed a lot. The landscape actually in the last three years and investment on the whole has got much harder, as you probably know for female founders. It’s extremely difficult to get funding and I had that experience myself. I pitched to VCs, I pitched to angel investors. I know a lot about the investment landscape and it’s tough for women and it’s tough for women orientated businesses. So yes,

Caroline (11:16):
They don’t know what we want and we want brands like yours.

Martha (11:21):
They just don’t get it. So very, very interesting experience but I think that’s why it’s so brilliant as a business owner to focus on building your own community so much you can leverage around that.

Caroline (11:32):
I love that. And how come Australia then to go there?

Martha (11:37):
Well there was a stationary brand called Kiki,whe ther you’ve heard of them. So they were really quite a big global brand. Started by a lady called Christina maybe like 10 years ago. They were kind of the global stationary brand and they started in Australia and they came across to the US to Europe. They had concessions across stores across Europe. They were kind of everywhere, but they got into real financial difficulty because they hadn’t nailed the online offering. Habits changed more to shopping from an e-commerce perspective. They hadn’t kept up with the trends. So the company went into administration and was bought out and they have to had pulled back a lot of their operations and massively scaled them down internationally and focused them just back I think in their home country, which might have even been, it’s a combination I think between Sweden and Australia.

Anyway, there was a huge opportunity because they had a huge business in Australia and we have a lot of customers over there and shipping there is obviously it’s harder, it takes a long time and I knew an ex-colleague of mine who I used to work with in my old corporate life, we connected and we discovered that there’s a potential opportunity there. So that’s kind of how it came about. Amazing. So it’s been done in a slightly unusual way, but it’s really interesting and we have a setup there where we have a manufacturing distribution in Melbourne run by a husband and wife team similar to me and my husband. And that is growing and it is interesting to see where we can take this, it’s an experiment, all these things, everything we do is an experiment and some things work and some things don’t. So it’s really interesting.

Caroline (13:24):
That’s excellent to know. So you have people that run it, so are you quite hands off then?

Martha (13:31):
Completely hands off. My team have regular check-ins with them. It’s the same products. We work out what we can scale over there. We try and manufacture as much locally as we can, but some things we ship from here because everything we make ourselves, we don’t buy things from China, but we are very hands off. But we use a lot of our digital marketing we transfer over there. So our SEO skills we take over there, our pay-per-click advertising we take over there and of course it’s a completely different market. So it’s learning that and getting the traction, which takes a bit of time because we are not spending loads of money on marketing, we’re trying to be quite clever about it. So it is trying things that work that are profitable that we can then keep the growth going in a sustainable way.

Caroline (14:16):
Amazing. I’m fascinated by that. Did I read somewhere that had you started your, well you got diagnosed with endometriosis, had you started your trying for a family when you started the business? Was there some crossover there and did you ever think about how is this going to look like as hopefully a mother and going through that stage?

Martha (14:38):
So your research is incredible, Caroline. So my husband and I got married in 2011 and I thought, oh we have children. And it didn’t happen for two years after we got married, I wasn’t pregnant and we thought, oh, I’m not sure what’s happening here. And I wondered whether it was the stress of doing this sort of high powered corporate job and I wonder whether that was a contributing factor. So one of the reasons that I decided to walk away from the corporate life was to be more in control of my own time, my own life and to see whether that made a difference to being able to create a family. So the business was started at the end of 2013 and we still couldn’t get pregnant for two years. And then it wasn’t until 2015 that I finally got the endometriosis diagnosis.

But finally after, I’m not even joking, that 18 years of agonising periods and them ruling my whole life and people just telling me to get on with it. So I’m now really passionate about talking about endometriosis because I think there’s just massive diagnosis problem in this country. And it wasn’t until I had one consultant finally take me seriously that I was able to get the diagnosis, have the operation, and I was riddled with it. I was completely riddled. It was wrapped round both of my ovaries, my whole abdomen is filled with it. I have real problems, I’ve always had problems with my bowel and I realise now that’s because of endometriosis tissue. So I had that operation in 2015 and then I still couldn’t get pregnant and I was told I couldn’t have children naturally. And then that’s when my IVF journey started. So yeah, fertility has been a very interesting journey for me over the last 10 years and I’m really grateful to have finally got the endometriosis diagnosis. I think so many people probably have it and don’t realise and it’s such a thing that affects such a, has such a huge impact on so many women.

Caroline (16:43):
I was going to say, how were you managing everything with your education, career and every month you were in crippling pain with this? Was it just when you were due your period or constantly?

Martha (16:56):
For me it wasn’t all 30 days of the cycle. There were a few days a month where I feel great and I often would plan my life around that, but certainly the parts of my cycle where I certainly said it’s just changed now that’s been interesting. But certainly through my twenties and thirties I just couldn’t function in certain times of my cycle. I literally couldn’t do things and I would cancel on things. I would plan not to do things, but I got so used to putting a brave face in it and going to work and then I’d just come home and just be a bit of a mess. So I got very good in my twenties of faking it. So I make it just turning up with a brave face in it and then coming home and being a bit of a wreck. But my poor husband who’s very supportive, but I think a lot of women are the same.

I mean in my studies at school, I was not good at school. I spent a lot of time off school and a lot of time in the sick room and I really struggled with it when I was a teenager because my peers used to be two weeks long when I was a teenager and just excruciatingly painful. But they have changed slightly as I’ve got older. And I think I’ve had now obviously all of the pregnancies really reset your body and the two hysteroscopies, I’ve had to clear it out and the laparoscopy have definitely made a bit of a difference. Yeah, it’s been very interesting to learn about. And frustratingly you’ll laugh at this, once I got the endometriosis diagnosis, my mom went, oh, I had that. I was so sorry had you never thought to tell me this whole time and you know how much I struggled with this. So maybe there’s a hereditary element. I don’t know.

Caroline (18:34):
That’s such, I laugh as well because on a much lesser scale, but my baby, the first one was 10 days past his due date and everyone, I was the first of my friends to get pregnant and everyone kept messaging and going, where is it? Where is it? Even family members. And then I was like, in our family, all the babies are late.

Martha (18:57):
My daughter was 10 days past their due date as well.

Caroline (18:59):
It’s stressful isn’t, it’s the stressful, oh my god, you do not want to come across a woman who’s past 40 weeks pregnant.

Martha (19:06):
Oh my god, the pain, it hurts, doesn’t it? I felt terrible those 10 days.

Caroline (19:13):
So angry.

Martha (19:16):
Angry, so angry. My daughter, my first daughter, she was due on the last posting date, so it was the 22nd of December. So then I was overdue all the way over Christmas. So Christmas day I was overdue. I was so angry. I was just like, and I just felt terrible.

Caroline (19:33):
And then you get people like, oh enjoy being pregnant, enjoy not having a baby. And you’re like, no, I’m so angry.

Martha (19:41):
But also, I dunno whether about you, but the force of 40 weeks, the force of the baby pushing down this baby, it’s just me and my vagina.

Caroline (19:48):
No, mine were quite high so I literally, they didn’t go until I’m literally ready to give birth. So I was lucky, but it was my ribs so I couldn’t breathe..

Martha (19:56):
Oh gosh, yeah, that you did not want to know me in those 10 days.

Caroline (20:03):
No, I agree. It was like summer for my first and I was just like, everyone’s at the pub and I’m sat in front of a fan naked.

Martha (20:11):
Oh no.

Caroline (20:14):
I do wonder then talking about your endometriosis journey and all that resilience that must’ve given you, I do think these things in life, while it would’ve been far better for you to get the right support far earlier on built resilience, do you think that helped with all that process you had to go with through IVF and that journey while running Martha Brook?

Martha (20:36):
I think I definitely have got a bit of an attitude when it comes to all of this sort of women’s stuff that you just have to lump it just because I guess that’s what I was told. It’s my, isn’t it? We’re just told to get on with it. My mom has got this real thing of as far as anyone knows, everything’s wonderful, put in a brave face. And I think that’s very much what I was taught. Maybe I think the IVF, the IVF and recurrent miscarriages, I found much harder than the endometriosis diagnosis just because, I mean it is the constant hope and then the dashing of the hope and the constant injections and the hormones and just being in hospital the whole time, I found it much harder. And I don’t know, I mean I think my resilience was better at sometimes and harder at times and less at other times.

I think for my first daughter, because it was all novel and she was only, although I had the endometriosis operations, I had loads of procedures and stuff, she was only a one round of IVF baby. And that was then I would say the PTD, which we’ll talk about. And it took a long time for me to be able to go, right, I’m going to try this again. And then I was not expecting the extra six rounds of IVF and the four miscarriages and that I think I got into a place where I just was so single-minded that I was just like, I’m going to do this. But with each round I just was losing it. I was getting, my resilience was working worse and worse.

Caroline (22:17):
And were you doing that during covid for your second?

Martha (22:20):
No. So we were booked in to have the round of IVF and then covid happened and it was cancelled and that happened twice. And then we started the first round of round of IVF, the second maybe, I think it was still covid but it wasn’t that first year. It was in the second year where things were sort of a bit touch and go. So it was quite strange and there was still a lot of rules and regulations around it and it’s very weird being in hospital a lot during that period. I think it added an extra level of stress that probably is not helpful.

Caroline (22:58):
I think it’s really good to hear the realities because living in a world I think, I don’t know, I watch selling sunset, I think of that sometimes they talk…

Martha (23:06):
I love selling sunset.

Caroline (23:07):
They talk about like, oh I’m just going to put some eggs on ice and some embryos on ice.

Martha (23:12):
Oh stop it.

Caroline (23:14):
My friends a midwife and we literally WhatsApp each other ranting. My sister had IVF as well and they make how this process is so easy and it’s just the solution to putting off your children and focusing on your career when stories like yours show. It’s not easy at all.

Martha (23:33):
It’s not. I think you spend your whole, I certainly did my whole, I was brought up Catholic, very strict Catholic my family, and I was told that abortion was a massive, no, I was told the sex beforer marriage was a massive, no.

Caroline (23:51):
Did you go to a Catholic school as well?

Martha (23:54):
I went to a convent, yeah. My dad was basically Ned Flanders. I carried so much Catholic guilt about sex, about relationships and this huge thing of the idea of getting, pregnant. I had to tell my dad, my dad sat down with me on my wedding day and tried to have the sex conversation.

Caroline (24:18):
Oh God, no, no, stop.

Martha (24:22):
He’s like, Martha, now you’re married and you’re going on a honeymoon with Chris. I just want to tell you a little bit about. And I was like, oh my God, he’s having the chat. I’m 28, 29, he’s having the chat. I was like, it’s okay dad. Mum’s talked to me.

Caroline (24:37):
Enjoy the day.

Martha (24:41):
I was like, does he genuinely think I’ve not had sex? Does he genuinely think? Anyway, I lived in fear of the idea of getting pregnant and just thought never in my wildest dreams, I think it’s actually going to be something that’s going to be really hard. And I think the whole narrative now will have a career, leave it till later, put your eggs and eyes. It’s so damaging. I understand that everyone’s circumstances are different, but having children is not something you can just magically click your fingers and you don’t know. You don’t know what your fertility is like. You dunno what your partner’s fertility is going to be like and actually the process to get your eggs out of you is not an easy ride.

Caroline (25:21):
No. And I think that’s even just that process alone, it needs to be flagged. I think there’s a well-known podcast that’s been like, I’m telling my friends to freeze their eggs and I’m like, that’s, do you have eggs? Do you know what this is like?

Martha (25:35):
You literally have to go through a process of downregulating your cycle, then stimulating your ovaries and they swell up to swell up to the size of tennis balls. You feel absolutely terrible. You have to harvest them under an anaesthetic and the whole process is like a two month process, which completely takes it out of you. And if you do want to then get pregnant, you’ve got this huge hope of seeing these embryos, seeing these eggs, seeing them fertilised, seeing these embryos and there’s so much emotion attached to it. And also if you’re freezing eggs, not embryos, there’s a differing success rate and I think it’s really, really damaging. We shouldn’t be talking about it as if it’s some sort of, what’s the word, transactional thing that we can just go and do. It’s a solution. It’s not a guarantee. Having children, I realised that I feel so lucky to have my girls every day. I think that the consultant that I saw for nine years, he’s one of the first in my first operation and then I carried on seeing him for nine years. He was just amazing. And I really every day think of him. It’s not a guarantee having children, it’s not. And I feel very to have finally got there, but I think be under no illusion that having freezing your eggs or having IVF isn’t an easy solution. It’s a lot.

Caroline (26:52):
And I think that’s key. There is, you feel so lucky every day you’ve got gratitude, but you’ve also got to recognise the process you went through to get there. I think I heard you say it must have been quite isolating going through that, especially if you were at stage of life. Did you have friends having babies around you?

Martha (27:08):
Yeah, it was really hard. I didn’t know anyone else when I started doing this. I had gone through IVF and I think the same week I was told I couldn’t have children. Naturally my sister got pregnant and she just got married a few months beforehand and she’s like, oh, it’s been really hard getting pregnant. I’m like, and I found that conversation. Of course I was thrilled for her, but I burst into tears. I found it really hard to regulate my reaction and she was so cross with me. She was so angry and it really damaged our relationship for a long time because she couldn’t understand at all how I felt, which I was pleased for her. But also I still really regret that conversation. I didn’t handle it well at all, but I’d just been told I might not ever be able to have children and it was something I wanted more than anything.

And I’ve had friends that have moaned at me about their pregnancies when I’ve just had a miscarriage and moaned at me how hard it is or moaned at me about having a second child. And it’s so, so difficult when you’re stuck, it’s impossible to, impossible to explain to anyone that’s not been through fertility struggle, how heartbreaking it is. How much of a stab in the gut it is. You are pleased with people, but also you see stuff on Instagram and you just feel a bit sick or you see a pregnant person walking down the street and it just suddenly you just suddenly get a bit shaky. You get so in your head about it, it becomes all consuming. And because you’re injecting yourself all the time, these hormones play havoc with your brain and it becomes all consuming. When am I doing my next injection?

When am I going for my next scan? When am I next in hospital? It is very difficult to take a step back from and sometimes see the bigger picture. And it is very hard to explain to anyone that’s not been through it how difficult it is and how, one thing I found extremely hard was God, these seven rounds of IVF. My dad was, my dad got, my dad got very ill the same year I started my company. He was diagnosed with this really rare muscle wasting condition, which I never really knew what it was. I think about 40 people in the country had the form that he had essentially it was a very rapidly progressing form of muscular dystrophy and he got more and more ill and everyone was so focused on my dad, quite understandably he was not where he stopped down to walk, he stopped down to move down to parts of his body, stopped working that nobody really, my family didn’t really care really about the fact I was going through this experience round my last miscarriage, which was the latest one, which was the one that really floored me.

I was going to the hospital to have it removed and my mom, she had this massive shouting at me on the phone that morning. She was so stressed about my dad and I felt so isolated from my family because I didn’t have any, nobody ever said, oh, are you okay? Or God, this must be hard for you. Everyone was so focused on my dad and I did find that really, really difficult and I found a lot of people haven’t really understood how difficult it is. But my husband luckily has been amazing through the process. I think I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. I think everybody needs somebody, somebody that they can cry on and rant on.

Caroline (30:34):
He understands because you are going through all of that. But obviously it’s his baby too.

Martha (30:39):
And it affects the partner as well. They feel so it must have a huge impact on them. They feel so useless. Well actually he did pretty much, I hate needles. He did pretty much every injection.

Caroline (30:52):
He had a whole part of it.

Martha (30:55):
Yeah, no, he really did. And obviously he had to donate the sperm, which he made a really big deal of.

Caroline (31:00):
Oh, how hard is it.

Martha (31:03):
I know. So hard. So hard. He had to go into a room and donate a sperm. He was like, you don’t understand. It was really difficult.

Caroline (31:09):
Did not say that.

Martha (31:14):
You had to go into a room and watch porn. I so sorry.

Caroline (31:17):
At most, I call that awkward, not difficult. I think you should describe that as awkward, not difficult, when you’re around what you are going through.

Martha (31:30):
And also after the first time he donated, he read all these studies that said that if you eat certain things can really help your sperm count. So he read this study that said eating pickled walnuts really helps your sperm count. So then he ate jars of pickled walnuts and then he had a higher sperm count the second time round and he was really gloating about it and it was so annoying.

Caroline (31:50):
Good for you.

Martha (31:52):
And then when we had quite a few fertilisers, he was really, really smart as if he’d done this amazing thing and I’m like, Nope, nope, I can’t.

Caroline (32:01):
Oh, you’ve got to find the humour somewhere in these things though. I think that’s it. We’re going to laugh.

Martha (32:07):
Yeah, we still joke about his pickled walnuts.

Caroline (32:12):
Thank you for sharing that. I do think whether it’s IVF trauma, whatever, it can be so isolating and it’s isolating from the people closest to you.

Martha (32:26):
Yeah, yeah. I found, yeah, really isolating. And I found it’s been difficult to come up, get myself out of that mindset of feeling sort of like people don’t really get it, but I’m getting there. But I did find it really, really lonely experience. And I think what I have learned is that nobody really can put themselves in anyone else’s shoes. No one really knows what anyone else is going through and that’s fine. You’ve just got to kind of going to accept that. And things like running a business, things like going through fertility stuff, things like having a baby, you don’t know till you’ve done it. No one knows what it’s like. And that’s fair enough. People just find it really hard to put themselves on people’s other people’s shoes

Caroline (33:14):
And they take the Insta highlights, all that, oh, be grateful for your child. And I think that’s the hard part about it. And with your second then, had you kind of appreciated you’d had PTSD by the time of your second IVF or was it afterwards you realised after your second child?

Martha (33:33):
No, no, it was the first birth was awful. It was awful. She got stuck, bless her. And it was New Year’s Eve and into the early hours of New Year’s morning and I think it was a low staffed ward. I had a junior midwife and I think I was pushing for about three hours and she was stuck. She had a hand by her head and her heart rate kept dropping. She kept producing rounds of meconium and they decided to do a double episiotomy, which isn’t even a thing, but they did it too high up. So they cut at sort of three o’clock and nine o’clock instead of at what would be normally like five o’clock. And they sliced through both of my labia on both sides and they didn’t sew them back up. And they also left a lot of placenta in, I mean a lot of placenta.

So I started haemorrhaging huge amounts of blood and tissue like three weeks after birth and I went back to hospital and then I ended up being on a wait list for days and days and days to have a general anaesthetic to get the placenta taken out of me to have a DNC. And they didn’t have anaesthetist. I kept getting bumped for other operations and I was just nil by mouth for days and I lost my breast milk and I was on this postnatal ward and it was awful. And then I didn’t find out, I didn’t look at my down below, which I really regret and I didn’t find out until three months later what happened when I was just an excruciating amounts of pain. So then I’d have another operation to try and repair what happened, but it never fully repairs. I have permanent problems with my lady bits, which, and so this kind of went on for weeks, this sort of months post birth. And I was just in a really, really bad, I didn’t have any maternity leave so I was running my business.

Caroline (35:31):
Did you plan that?

Martha (35:32):
No, I just was not very organised at the time. I was being fed all these messages by the Insta mums and people are like, if you’re running your business, you can have it all. You can do everything. And I was living in that world at the time.

Caroline (35:48):
Was your husband in on the business then or not yet?

Martha (35:51):
He was. Yeah, he was. And I just thought, oh, I can just juggle the two.

Caroline (35:58):
I was the same. Don’t worry. That’s what you think. I know loads of women now who are a bit further in their motherhood journey are like, oh, I think it’s better now. I’m like, no, they’re still being fed these messages. The mums, oh, you can juggle it, it’s fine. I just have my baby on my hip.

Martha (36:14):
Yeah, I remember, I won’t name the instant mum, but she was posting pictures of herself at a laptop a couple of weeks after birth and I think it just subconsciously seeped into me that it was possible to do this. So I just sort of carried on and then, then the PTSD kicked in and I was just a mess. I was honestly a mess because I think it because I never really had taken the time out to recover from the birth mentally or physically. About nine months later it just really caught up with me and I was doing that thing again and putting a brave face on and then just being an absolute mess.

Caroline (36:54):
How did it manifest? Were you angry?

Martha (36:58):
Well, I was really angry with my husband. Really angry at home. I had flashbacks all the time because the pain, I still had the pain down below, so I was hyperfocused on this. I kept having these flashbacks of, I kept thinking the whole time about this birth. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Caroline (37:17):
It comes up every day, doesn’t it? It’s like all consuming.

Martha (37:21):
Relive all the time. That’s all I thought about.

Caroline (37:24):
And people don’t ask you about it, they don’t want you to relive it and you’re like, you don’t understand. I am. So just ask me at least then it comes out. Did you talk about it?

Martha (37:35):
Well in fact also I talked about it a bit to random people in the street, but it got into when she was about a year, I remember that I really realised I needed to sort myself out there. I was in this article in the Daily Mail about high flyers who had decided to go and do a different job. And I remember it came out and I spent the whole day crying the whole day crying, thinking that I wasn’t worthy of this article. And literally I was having a panic attack of I couldn’t believe my face was in the paper and that it wasn’t me. And I can’t tell you it is the weirdest reaction. I’ve never told anybody, anybody did this before. But I remember just sitting here literally hysterically crying and I was just like, okay, I need to sort this out. My brain is just not functioning right at the moment. And eventually got referred to the local mental health services. I got diagnosed with PTSD and it kind of made a lot of sense. So I literally just couldn’t stop thinking about this. But I was so angry about my vagina, I was really down, I was really anxious and my whole relationship broke down with my husband.

Caroline (38:42):
It does. It impacts those relationships. Again, closest to you.

Martha (38:46):
It completely. And that’s the thing, we’re such a team, my husband and I, we run the business together. We’ve gone IVF. Yeah, we are like best, we’re like best buddies. We’ve been through all of this together and our relationship just completely broke down. It was horrendous. So I had the eye movement therapy and all the different sorts of things, but actually it wasn’t until, and all these things helped a bit, but it wasn’t actually until, I think it was about three years later when I went back to the hospital and I kept having anxiety attacks and I went back to the hospital, was like being there again, was stimulating it for me. And one of the nurses who was doing my check-in at the IVF recognised I was really struggling and she referred me into the IVF counselling service and there was a lady there who is trained in, it’s called Human Givens Therapy and she hypnotised me. And this is going to sound so strange.

Caroline (39:36):
No, no. I’ve had hypnotherapy. It’s excellent.

Martha (39:39):
Honestly, she sort of hypnotised, I’ve never had this happen to me before. And she basically made me play my birth as if it was on a VHS cassette, put it in an old fashioned TV and player. And she made me really vividly relive this in this hypnotised state. And then she made me eject this tape and put it away and shelve it. And I’m not joking, I walked out of this session just feeling like this weight had been lifted off me that I’ve been carrying for about, I think it was about three or four years I could finally go, right? I said, I can move on now. I can do this. I can strong enough to start IVF again because I just couldn’t mentally do it. And I mean the thing is, you’d never know any of these things about me when you see online there stuff you keep within you and this is what I think maybe, I dunno, people get so good at hiding all this stuff, but honestly that hypnotherapy was a game changer. Absolute game changer. This lady was amazing. She got it. She could see that it was in me and she could see that she needed to somehow compartmentalise it in my brain. I dunno what she did, but it was amazing.

Caroline (40:47):
And I do wonder as well, if you were ready as well. So I didn’t start EMDR until two years after, but it was a year after I was basically similar to you. And I think it’s like they do say it’s time and that’s what people don’t give you when you’ve got something like this. They don’t give you time. My therapist would say, you weren’t ready to do this before. You couldn’t do it before. You had to just live with the trauma for a bit and then you were ready and this magic lady came along.

Martha (41:17):
It’s too raw I think, isn’t it at the start of this? It’s so emotional, it’s so raw. I mean I just was such an emotional mess I think. But then as it goes on a bit, it becomes clearer, which bits are certain bits surface and certain bits and I think it becomes a bit easier to process the bits that you’re still carrying it very strange. The thing about PTC that’s so strange is it just hits you in really unexpected ways when you are really not expecting it and it is so unexpected. It’s like you have this sort of trauma reaction to really small things. It’s really hard to explain to people,

Caroline (41:56):
But it’s something related to that moment. And I think it gets easier and quicker your recovery from those moments. But I think it’s always clear to say once you’ve kind of been through that it kind of does stay with you to an extent, doesn’t it? Or do you feel that way?

Martha (42:15):
Oh, it never, ever, ever going to leave me. I found once I came towards having my second child, I finally got pregnant. I was like, oh my god, I have to do that again. So I decided to do it completely. I just knew I couldn’t push another cut my vagina. I was so mentally traumatised. But

Caroline (42:35):
No, I think that’s fair with everything you went through, Martha?

Martha (42:39):
No, I just couldn’t. So I decided to have a C-section and I decided to do NCT again, which sounds a bit weird, but I needed to do a bit of a do over of the whole thing. And I had this really unexpected reaction in one of the NCT classes where I suddenly just started getting a bit, I suddenly just burst into tears because it suddenly brought all this. Then the lady was amazing who ran my NC. She really knew what happened and she really was brilliant with me and that’s great, weirdly having the second birth and doing it again and feeling so much more supported because the first birth, I just did not have any support from the system post birth. I just was completely left. And there were obviously major problems, placenta in me, gaping wounds in my vagina that I was left. I was left. Whereas I felt so much more supported the second time around.

Caroline (43:34):
So healing,

Martha (43:34):
Enough though it was probably what most people would’ve said was not an ideal birth. I got, what’s it called? Pre-eclampsia. I was in hospital.

Caroline (43:43):
On no.

Martha (43:43):
I know.

Caroline (43:46):
I was going to ask, how was it with your second? I thought, oh, she a C-section. Oh God, poor you.

Martha (43:51):
Yeah, I know. But it’s fine. It was actually, I felt there was some really nice, it’s a really nice midwife and that I think really, really a really lovely midwife who, and what happened was my mum paid for us to have a side room because one of the really traumatic things me the first time around was that I was on this postnatal ward several weeks after birth for a very long time. And it was bringing me flashbacks of, so my mum paid for me to have a side room, which was amazing, even just for a few days to be out of a mele. And my husband came and slept on the floor and we had this three days where we were in this room that, I mean, for most people probably would’ve been a nightmare. But it was like this healing process of rebuilding ourselves and emotional, I’ll get emotional thinking about it, but it was like we were in this bubble of we’ve had a baby again and it’s going to be different this time. And it really, really helped me. And I felt very different leaving the hospital and coming out the other side of it. In some ways, I think it really helped me process it all again and made me realise you can have a different experience.

Caroline (45:01):
And I’ve heard that a lot if you go after it next time. I think there’s a lot of self, self-blame attached to PTSD. Would you say that? Yeah, that’s a really odd one. I think that’s just motherhood in general in the early years in pregnancy, isn’t it? And so I’m so glad you had that healing journey with that. Do you still find you get triggers?

Martha (45:24):
Oh yeah. I mean I found a little bit weird coming up to the first anniversary, my second daughter’s first birthday, and I’ve just been feeling this month a bit sort of, gosh, I think it’ll always be there. I don’t think people realise how much birth changes you. I mean both of them in different ways. I don’t think it ever will leave you. And I found, obviously when this trauma birth report came out, I found that it was quite triggered. I don’t think it ever leaves you, but I definitely have. I’ve processed it now and I feel like I’m able to, I think I was never able to talk about it before. And I think the fact I’m able to talk about it without crying.

Caroline (46:05):
Yeah, I know that’s huge.

Martha (46:07):
It shows that I’ve made progress. No, you have.

Caroline (46:09):
That’s huge. And I think it’s just, I mean my PTSD wasn’t from birth trauma, but I found the report triggering because it’s just mentioning PTSD everywhere and just how awful and certain things. But it’s also December is a triggering month, which is an awful month to get triggered. And then I’ve realised with all my friends having their seconds, I just go quiet for a few days and it’s got less, but it’s a trigger because it’s a second child and you want to be, I don’t realise how much I’m putting on them that I want them to have healthy babies kind of thing. And it’s that. And I just think you just have to welcome it as part of the experience and know, I think we’re processing it. I’d love to see if you agree is that when you’re triggered you will come out of it and you just have to deal with it.

Martha (46:54):
Yeah, and I completely agree about, I completely agree about that. You recognise when you’ve been triggered. And I think the first time around I wasn’t recognising that that’s what was happening. I wasn’t recognising the reaction myself. And I recognise it now and I recognise the way that my body, the physical reaction my body has and the fact I’m going to come out of it. And I know the things I can do to, I do to help with that. But I was really interested. Somebody messaged me on Instagram and said, oh, I dunno about you even after all this IVF and miscarriages, I get triggered when I see a pregnant person, even though I’ve now had my children. And I was thinking on that thinking, God still, when I see pregnant people, I do sometimes have that feeling of it’s very small now. I do sometimes have that feeling of it is still there at the back of my mind, which is so ridiculous.

But it obviously becomes sort of embedded. These sort things become embedded in you. And actually, I went to talk at the fertility show a few weeks ago and I found that hugely triggering. I was not expecting, oh god, people listen to this podcast. I think I’m completely emotional mess. But I came out of the fertility show and they gave me pineapple. I was leaving, which is a symbol of fertility symbol of people are going through IVF. I sat on the pave and holding this pile and I had a good cry and I thought, God, that was my world. That was my world for so long.

Caroline (48:13):
I hear there’s a lot attached to that though. When it’s the guilt that you’ve got through the IVF and got two children.

Martha (48:20):
I felt so guilty. I felt, so there’s the thing, I felt so guilty. I spoke to this really lovely couple where I was many years ago, and they were asking for my advice and people get so hung up on, oh, eating something or drinking something or having a particular, all the IVF, there’s different things they can do. They were very hung up on the technical stuff. And I just remember thinking, God, I felt so guilty. I felt so guilty to, it’s a very weird feeling. I remember being there.

Caroline (48:52):
The spport you could now give people though I think that don’t underestimate that for you. Talking about PTSD, talking about IVF and I really believe in that. It’s like there’s going to be people listening to this that are like, if Martha can get through this, I can get through this. If Martha can have these two beautiful babies at the end I, and I think hope is what gets you through all these things.

Martha (49:14):
Oh, hope is a hundred percent the thing that got me through it. It was so holding onto the hope of, and actually in some ways, because I had got my first daughter, I knew that something so good could come from this. I think if I’d not had her and had to go through this in total seven rounds, I think I would dunno how I would’ve found that. But the hope of being able to have, I knew what was on the other end of it. And I think actually it’s helpful you said about knowing what to expect with the triggers. I think it’s the same when you have a baby. When everything is a phase that you’ve got to come out of the other side of it, it becomes much easier to, it becomes much, much easier to manage it when you’re completely sleep deprived. I’m still in that moment now or when something is happening that actually it is just a phase.

But yeah, I mean the hope is the only, you have to find a way to keep that hope. It is impossible to keep going through it. And I think stories are hugely important. I think one of the reasons I found out halves, I didn’t really know very many people that have done it. And Emma Barnett was a huge help to me going through the latter stages of IVF because she started to talk about it a bit. And she’s had this very, very, very similar experience to me. And I started following her on Instagram and I found that hugely comforting. So I always encouraged anybody to DM me because I had lots of chats with lots of lovely people. And as you probably know, my business created an IVF journal to help people who are going through it. That’s wonderful. And it really focuses, yeah, it’s wonderful. It really focuses on the self-care side of things as well as all the practical stuff. And I’ve had lots of really lovely message when people are saying what a difference is made to them. So I think some good definitely has come from it, which I’m hugely pleased about.

Caroline (51:11):
And I think that really does tie into that the hope, the IVF journal, it kind of gives you your business must have, I think with me it definitely did. Actually with the P ts d, your business gives you some hope as well of something else to think about. I dunno what it is about it, but there was something about that hope for the business that really helped me through.

Martha (51:29):
I think it’s having some sort of purpose in life that is something that takes you out of the intensity that all consuming us of babies, fertility, something that gives you another sense of purpose that helps you look externally because it’s really hard to lift your head up from what you’re experiencing. And I think that having the business has been hugely, hugely helpful because although it’s been really painful to have to show up, it’s forced me to do that and forced me to think, well what’s the next thing? And actually my whole business is focused on helping people, empowering people. And a lot of the products have come from my own experiences. And actually that’s hugely given me a sense of purpose and help me really find a way through it all.

Caroline (52:22):
Yeah, no, that was it. I think we were speaking this after it with you can now started Business Secrets because it reignited your sense of purpose. And we were saying how definitely when my business Upsource and both the podcast, this strong senses of purpose that are beyond the making money side of it, that’s still important, but it’s the purpose that really keeps me going, especially while I’ve got two little ones that are running it. So how has it felt finding that again with Business Secrets? Is it Business Secrets Club?

Martha (52:53):
Business Secrets Club, yes. I haven’t really told anyone that I’m doing this yet. I have this thing in decades. So I quit my first job when I was 30 and I decided to start something else when I was 40. I dunno why decades really. I hit decades and I think I need to do something different with my life. I obviously coming out the other side of all of this, I really was feeling a bit lost of what I feel like I’ve been given the second chance at life with my dad passing away the embryo that made my daughter went in two days after that and it all felt really weird. Everything has sort of happened for a reason and I’ve been given a second chance at life. And he often said he wanted to do these things, this whole list of things he was going to do when he retired and he never got to do any of them.

So it is given me a real that you never really know what’s around the corner and you have to seize the day and do the stuff that you want to do right now and not wait for the when or the perfect moment. So I decided this year to start something else in secret just because I wasn’t really sure whether it was the right idea, but also I wanted to see whether I could take everything I know about growing a business online and apply it and see if it works. So I started something called Business Secrets Club, which is essentially a secret free club to help other business owners grow their own brands online, sharing sort of my tips and advice and lived experiences and yeah, 37 followers at the start of February and I think amazing. It’s now got about 36,000 and it’s been really brilliant in terms of just in that first year baby phase whilst also running my other business to give me just a bit of a sense of finding myself again, finding what am I good at, who am I? I’ve been trying to rediscover, I felt so much of my life has been taken up by just living in a hospital.

Caroline (54:50):
Yeah, a whole decade really, it sounds like.

Martha (54:54):
Yeah, it’s been very weird and I’ve kind of feel like I needed to find myself again. And it’s been really good for getting my confidence back and really the messages I’ve had from some of the businesses in terms of the transformations they’ve experienced through following some of my advice has just really given me. My dad always used to say, gives him a Philip. My dad was called Philip, so he always used to love the phrase, give you a Philip. So yeah, it’s given me a real Philip and it is been wonderful. I dunno where it’s going to go, watch this space, but I think I’ve proven that it was a good idea, so now I need to decide what I’ve done it into.

Caroline (55:32):
I love that. Yeah, everyone go follow that. It sounds amazing and I think there’s such power in people who are just willing to share their learnings as well. And you’re doing both actually. You come on here, share your experiences, talk through your story, but also share your learnings. And I think that’s not the traditional way of doing business back in the day, and I’m all here for it.

Martha (55:51):
I think that the hard thing when you start businesses, there’s so much you dunno, but you just dunno what you don’t know. You don’t even know what you don’t know.

Caroline (55:56):
I think that’s what I’ve been,

Martha (56:03):
It’s like parenthood and you’re like, oh, that’s how you do that thing. And I want to try and make other people’s journeys and lives easier. So it is been really, really fun so far. And I have a few ideas as to where I’d like to take it, but we’ll see.

Caroline (56:18):
I so look forward to it. And Martha, honestly, thank you. I think sharing your story, you’ve been on an incredible journey and I think the next 10 years are going to be your powerful journey as well for you. Now what you have gone through is just quite simply inspiring. So thank you for being so generous to share with us and yeah, I really hope people get something from this and I know they will. Where can people find you, DM you find out more about you?

Martha (56:43):
Yes, they can find my personal Instagram, Martha Keith, which has been slightly neglected because I’ve been working on my secret project, but I’m always there on the end of a dm. My new advice account, business Secrets Club, which if want, if you’ve got ambitions to start a business, so you’re running a business is a great source of free tips and resources. And we’ve got a real challenge coming up at the end of June, which we had 2000 businesses join in last time. It’s happening again at the end of June if you want to join in that. And of course my brand Martha Brook, which is Martha Brook LDN. And I for my sins manage all three accounts. So just come a message me.

Caroline (57:21):
That is no mean feat. And also it’s the Pandas Journal. It is our pandas journal and also IVF Journal on there.

Martha (57:29):
Yeah, the Pandas Journal is now finished. That was a two week collaboration. But yes, we’ve got the IVF journal and we’ve got obviously lots of other amazing stationary. I really recommend our life planners, which for me have been a game changer and lots of other really lovely stationary products. If you like stationary, you must come and check us out.

Caroline (57:47):
I think we all love stationary. Well thank you Martha, and thank you for sharing and I hope to speak to you again soon and find out more about Business Secrets Club.

Martha (57:55):
Thank you so much for having me on. It’s been a delight to chat and hopefully this was useful.


Thank you so much for listening to Bump to Business Owner. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Please do rate, review, follow or subscribe wherever you’re listening. It really helps us to connect with more mums and business owners. You can DM me at Bump to Business Owner on Instagram and I’ll be back next week.