HPR Hero BECKY SHERRICK HARKS
“It was the month of January. 2009. I was getting a sinking feeling, call it a mother’s instinct or whatever, but I knew something was not right.”
Becky Sherrick Harks was taken in to the hospital to deliver her baby, and as soon as the baby was born, she was rushed into ICU. “I didn’t know what was going on, nobody was telling me anything.”
Perhaps that was the sinking feeling that Becky was getting, a reason she just could not pinpoint upon.
“I was up all night,” Becky continues to relive the horror she faced the night her baby was born. “I was nursing her. Suddenly, the nurses and doctors all came running in to my room and took my baby away for a CT scan. My baby kept screaming for me. Never have I felt more terrified, more helpless.”
Becky’s new born baby’s scan showed that her brain had grown outside of her skull.
“She was so tiny. She had such little hands and feet...”
And so started this new mother’s journey to get her new born baby the urgent care she needed. Non-stop visits to the hospital, rushing in and out of ICCU, a barrage of doctors, sometimes kind, sometimes unfriendly became a daily part of Becky’s life since the birth of her child, Amelia Grace.
At three weeks old, my baby was taken in to the operation theatre for her skull to be implanted. The surgery itself lasted 10 hours.
“I kept waiting outside the OT. Nobody was telling me anything, and I was devastated, alone, desolate.”
Being a nurse herself, Becky knew and understood the chances of her daughter coming out of this rare condition were slim. “I had seen two other similar cases in my profession, and both the babies had died.” But the mother in her held on to every bit of hope which overpowered the nurse in her.
“She had a huge scar all the way around her head, and the sight of that on her little head scared and shattered me. But Becky now had hope of holding her baby close to her body again.
“I had a very difficult childhood growing up. My mother has bipolar disorder. Suicide attempts, blood checks, feeling alone throughout my childhood were just some of the things that I grew up with.” Watching her baby cry for her, the separation, the anxiety and all the suffering was perhaps the last straw on Becky’s back, buckling under a post-traumatic stress disorder while her baby was still in recovery.
“But you know what? She recovered!! My baby came out of it all!!”
Today, six years later, the thrill in Becky’s voice while she revisits the memory of her child pulling through has still not subsided. “I got her back in my arms again! I would never ever lose her!”
However, the sense of loneliness that Becky felt throughout her horrifying journey marred with the uncertainty about whether or not she would be able to hold her child again is something she wishes no one should have to feel. “It’s a horrible feeling.”
Through the years, and many sleepless nights alone later, she learnt that you’re never really alone. Ever. At any given point, there are many others going through similar situations and facing the same amount of emotional trauma as are you. One just has to find such people. To share one’s journey with. “So you never feel alone on a path that is already uncertain and horrifying.”
It was during these years that Becky started an online forum called ‘Band Back Together’, a virtual home where people affected by different kinds of emotional trauma come together to find some solace. “It is a group weblog providing educational resources as well as a safe, moderated, supportive environment to share stories of survival.”
Band Back Together, Becky says, is something she wishes she had as a child, while she was alone and going through all of her own trauma. It is something she wishes she had to turn to when she was suffering within while she helplessly saw her baby suffer.
“My husband was always at work. I was always alone. We finally got divorced, and needed an outlet. It would have helped hugely if I had an opportunity to just talk and let my feelings out.”
With the birth of this online platform, Becky promised a safe outlet for people from all walks of life to connect anonymously. People with mental illnesses, survivors of rape attacks, people with previous failed suicide attempts, victims of depression, adults who had suffered abusive childhood, mothers who have lost their babies could all log in online without having to reveal their identity and just let their feelings out. It was a blog that united the broken.
“This was in the year 2010.” Through the power of real stories written by real people, Becky works together with her now large online followers to de-stigmatize mental illness, abuse, rape, baby loss and other traumas so that survivors may learn, grow, and heal. Her weblog features resources that her readers rely on to help them find comfort and answers in their time of need and “to continue to break down the stigmas found among other things not openly discussed,” says Becky. “It's time to pull our skeletons out of the closet and make them dance the tango! We will no longer let our secrets fester inside. We will no longer live in the dark.”
A survivor, Amy S, who has been touched by ‘The Band’, says, “The Band was a part of my family when I got divorced. I also have a special needs child (he has asperger's) and I struggle with mental illness - depression, generalized anxiety and OCD. So finding a tribe of other people who deal with the same issues really helped me through some dark days.”
Becky has now built a team to work on the site that has grown leaps and bounds since she first started it going to show that the need for people to not feel lonely in testing times is huge and a gap that is needed to be filled. As she says again, “you never really are alone.” Offering precious help to those lost, her online forum is now an entire library of people who have struggled through the worst in their life. Victims unite by reading another’s story and take strength in knowing that they are not alone. “Information is power,” Becky says. “Knowing that you are not alone makes you stronger.” A user, Ericka R, believes The Band saved her life more than once. "I'm sure this site saves at least one person every single day," she writes.
With over 600 resource pages, stories are grouped by category on the site and searchable from the sidebar box and along the top, making it easy for individuals to pull out a story they can relate to and find help, comfort, encouragement, the power and motivation to go on and the hope of being healed. “We even have an RSS Feed!" says Becky knowing well that everybody has a story. "We've made sure that you're in a safe place to share it. No story is too small, no problem too insignificant. These are your words, your problems, and they matter to a lot of people.”
A heartfelt letter from Nikki, a mother in NY posted on the online forum bears testimony that Becky’s heart and mission are on the right track: “I “met” Aunt Becky in January of 2009 after my anatomy scan at 19 weeks revealed that my baby had a Chiari Malformation and an Encephalocele (a rare neural tube defect). Because of the rarity of this diagnosis, I had a hard time finding people online who had been through a similar diagnosis. This was mostly because most people terminate their pregnancy after receiving this diagnosis. The ones who carry the baby to term, at least the stories that I found online, were not good. Most of the babies died shortly after birth. Then I found Becky. And I read Amelia’s story - and for the first time in days I saw a glimmer of hope. I quickly read everything that Becky had written about her experience with Amelia and I decided to email her. She responded within hours! I couldn’t believe that I was actually emailing with THE Aunt Becky. She saved my sanity.
She will probably never understand what her words meant to me back then. Fast forward and my baby is born - ALIVE - and thriving!! Sometime after, Becky asks me to write my story down for a page on Band Back Together. I decided to write my story down and it was so cathartic to have everything there in one place. I still post the link on my Facebook page every year on the Anniversary of the day that we received my daughter’s diagnosis. The comments - oh the comments. It felt so good to get the story out, I never would have guessed how good it felt to read the comments - especially after they connected me to other moms who were dealing with the same diagnosis. To know that I could give them hope - it was an amazing feeling. To me, that is what Band Back Together is - it is a place of hope. Even the most horrific stories of abuse and loss are hopeful because someone had the courage to put pen to paper and write it down. Telling stories, even the ones that are hard to tell, is what makes us human. Band Back Together is an expression of humanity. And in today’s world, we can all use a little humanity in our lives.”
Unable to understand and effectively deal with her own pain while she was facing them helped Becky to put a face to things not normally discussed. “My forum is the face of depression. We are the face of baby loss. We are the face of mental illness. We are the face of abuse. We are the face of rape. We are the face of fighters and we are proud to be here. We wear our scars proudly, like battle wounds because everything we've survived has made us who we are today: better, stronger, and smarter,” says the proud survivor herself.
“I’m thrilled!” says Becky. “It did what it needed to do. It forms as a lifeline to those needing it. I never ever want another person to feel the loneliness that I went through. Knowing that there is always someone to connect with in your lowest of times can save a life,” her comforting voice is reassuring to hundreds and thousands.
“Reading others stories made me feel less alone. Other people had gone through the trauma I went through, and there were names for it and words to describe it and help for it. Abuse is isolating, it takes your power and gives it to the abuser and it's very hard to get it back. The band helped me realize that even though it's hard, it is possible to take back that power and own your life,” reads one of the hundreds of comments on the page that unites.
Acting as a parent, Becky’s initiative today offers unlimited support and guidance. Always listening, always ready with a shoulder to cry on, her project is there to help regardless of age/race/gender. “No matter what, I know my story is safe with them. If I am lost, they will help me find my way. It is a STIGMA FREE zone and I know I will never be judged for what I write,” says a victim of domestic abuse too scared to come out in the open who is now leading a full, happy and independent life “thanks to the Band.”
Becky Sherrick Harks, you are the hope that connects hundreds of thousands of silent victims of circumstance across America. In an age when social media has become our world, you used that space to create a safe home for those needing it. Thank you!
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