What does growth through speaking up mean to me? – Phyllis Edwards

About the Author: Hello, my name is Phyllis Edwards I have had a stammer for over 61 years and it is only over the past 18 months as I have come to know what a stammering community is and met some really neat people who really got me. I have recently realized that having a stammer isn’t all bad, and I would not be who I am or have the relationships I have today without having gone through life with a stammer. I feel like having the opportunity, encouragement and mentorship to speak up as I have found my voice. I want to continue to speak up and share with others in the hope that they will be able to discover much earlier in life than me that, although they have a stammer, they can still follow their dreams and have really neat relationships.

Aged nearly 4, I remember feeling sad, when I was trying so hard to speak up, to get words out of my mouth and ask questions, while everybody was telling me to hurry up, but no one had time to listen. The more mum screamed at me “hurry up and talk, you stupid girl, I haven’t got all day”, the more my Tongue monster wouldn’t let me talk at all. The question I was trying hard to ask was “when is my dad coming home?”. But the answer was “he is not coming home until you learn to speak properly”.

When I was 16, I became a caregiver for my mother. I said to my family, “Oh I wanted to be a teacher, as that’s my dream, maybe I can do both”. “No,” said my family, “you can’t do that, as nobody will want you because you can’t talk properly. You are lucky to have a mum to look after”. So I became a caregiver, but still, that little seed was in my heart.

I found writing things down helped a little bit. It led me to want to share, to see who else out there has a stammer. I got a couple of things published in magazines which gave me the confidence to want to reach out to others and give and get support. I felt encouraged when the local paper rang and offered to help, but mum didn’t think it was a good idea so she pruned that idea.

After many years of being a caregiver, circumstances changed and so it was my time to follow that dream. That little seed in my heart whispered… it is your time to speak up and follow your dreams. I spoke to one of my only friends at the time, I said “I wish I could work in early childhood’’. ‘’Why can’t you”, Dianna said”. “Well, I stammer’’ I said. “So what,” said the caring Dianna. That’s when the seed was fertilised, supported, nourished, empowered, and grew.

This branch didn’t know there was more blossoming to come, branch by branch, blossoms of feelings from the pride of gaining a degree in early childhood. Increased self-esteem, love, empathy. Acceptance from parents, colleagues, children, and that yucky tongue was now well root-bound.

Another little branch that started as a seed and created lots of blossom on those branches, was my discovery of Alexis Parker, (we are now sisters from different countries brought together by God and being strong women who stutter). When Alexis was brave enough to speak up and share on the British stammering page, that she was worrying about stuttering when taking her wedding vows, I messaged back. I said I understood just where she was coming from, but don’t worry, love conquers all, and it did. This resulted in me going to the British Stammering Association national conference in Cardiff, Wales, where Alexis and I were able to meet.

I also had a seed of an idea that I hoped would turn into a branch to blossom, as I had written a poem that I was going to share on the open mic. But I pruned this branch myself by chickening out and came back feeling a bit yuk. Although I hadn’t been brave enough at the time, the seed was still there. Coming home I was lucky enough to be able to discover Anita Blom with all her experience and wise scary words that “maybe it was my time to pay it forward”. Empowerment again and the realisation that she had walked in my shoes and understood, showing me that empathy helped heaps.

How I wondered. Then I asked Laura, another wise women and Speech and Language Therapist, if she knew who I could help. Laura put me in touch with the organisation ‘Start’ and Janelle let me become affiliated with them. I was so grateful and excited.

My supportive husband added to the mortgage so I could attend the International Stuttering Association world congress in Iceland. We both knew I had unfinished business. Although I was petrified, this time I was able to speak up. I am so grateful for this humbling, amazing, liberating experience of my life which I couldn’t have done without feeling both the support in the room and the support I could also feel from friends and family. That’s you too Alexis. Thank you all of you xx

Now my barren root-bound tree has turned to full blossom because I have learned what “growing through speaking out” means to me. It is not until we do just that, that we can grow, and when we speak words, they actually come to life… Boy does that tree blossom. My barron tree would never have blossomed without the encouragement, love and support of those I met on the way and those who encouraged me to speak out.  So thanks to all of you. Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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What does growth through speaking up mean to me? – Phyllis Edwards — 36 Comments

  1. Great story, Phyllis! I really like the phrase “seed in my heart” and I’m glad you were able to reach all your goals. It was a pleasure meeting you in Iceland, too!

  2. Hello Daniele sorry if you got this twice but I not sure I did it right the other day. I wanted to say Thankyou so much for your comments and I really enjoyed and gained lots from your cartoon workshop. I took it back and I have been using the concept at my work for anecdotal learning stories.xx

  3. Hi Phyllis – this essay with such authenticity and feeling, really touched me. I too long felt that I had “unfinished business” – stuff that I ignored or stayed away from because I believed the voice in my head, that sprung from words my father yelled at me, that I wasn’t good enough, because I stutter.
    I allowed myself to believe for years that I was OK with that – when I never was but I felt so trapped by the very fortress I had built around me to keep me sheltered and from being hurt.

    I too wanted to teach but deeply believed that I would be better off in a career that wouldn’t require as much talking as teaching. I also believed that future students would be better off not having to be subjected to me. So I chose Social Work thinking I wouldn’t have to talk much. Well, that was a mistake. Of course, social work and counseling would require speaking, all the time and a lot.

    I found my voice 12 years ago and often have asked “what took so long?” As you said so eloquently, we bury our true self thinking that is better than claiming our voice and space. When I found my voice, I too wanted to “give back” and help others somehow. I started a podcast called “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories” to give voice and life to the stories we women have held in our hearts and away from others. I had never met another person, or woman, who stutters until my big “coming out party.” I now take pride in how much I have grown through the very thing I feared for so long: speaking.

    Your account is lovely and honest and poignant and so needed to be heard. I was planning to go to the ISA World Congress in Iceland this past June, but a series of unavoidable happenings and poor health kept me away. I was delighted to read here that you went and felt so empowered. And for your desire to want tp help others. I loved that you thanked some of the women who helped you and now you are paying it forward. Bravo.

    Sometime, if you would like, perhaps you’d like to add your voice to the wonderful treasure trove of women’s voices that are reflected and that shine in the podcast. (www.stutterrockstar.com)

    I am so happy to have read this. I raised a toast to you as I read.


  4. Hello Pamela Thank you so much for your kinds words when I read them I just sat here and cryed as it is so humbling when you realise that some other strong women with a stammer has walked in your shoes and they really understand you.I am paying it forward because Anita Blom has mentored me and Alexis parker and I met on line first then we met in Cardiff and we feel like sisters brought together by God and a having a stammer. I would be really honoured to share my story on your page .I hope we can stay in touch .xxxxxxxThank You so much .

    • Hi Phyllis – I just want to say one more thing, and hopefully others will read this comment too. It is never too late for us to “find our self” and put our self on the path that will help others. Even if it takes what we think is a lifetime, it’s not, so long as there are things left to do and people to help.
      Remember, when we’re ready, magic happens.


  5. This piece was beautifully written. I really loved how you didn’t give up on your dreams despite what other people said. It makes me sad to read that people put the idea into your head that you couldn’t follow your dreams. What angered me the most was how you wrote that people called you a “stupid girl”. No one should ever be called that, especially for something that you can not help. Those negative comments will only plant a seed in your mind that is not true. You are an inspiration and showed me that no matter what people say, follow your dreams.

  6. Thank you so much for kind thoughts and it really moved me as you seemed to understand the experiences I talked of. I was fortunate I had people who have given me time understanding and encouragement, and the discovery of stammering communities and the people in them are such an inspiration and so encouraging. And the children parents and colleagues who accepted me for who I am.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story and experience with stammering. I am currently a Speech Language Pathologist graduate student and I appreciate reading these stories in order to learn and help educate others about stammering. From your story, I will help future clients with a fluency disorder by giving them encouragement, love, and support.

    • Hello rebefost Thank you for your kind comments I really appreciate them. Encouragement, love, support and little steps to building up self empowerment which helps us all.

  8. Phyllis,

    I love that you characterize “speaking up” as a life-long journey. In my past ignorance, I’ve thought of stuttering as something you can emotionally overcome earlier in life. I’ve met older adults who are still on their journey; it’s clearly not about “getting over it”. Thank you for sharing your experiences of growth. I imagine that each small win adds fuel to a person’s confidence. In your way of putting it, a seed that has blossomed. In my future practice with people who stutter, one of my main goals is to help parents understand the stuttering experience so that they can create a positive communication environment with their children. Children remember all the hurtful things said to them, as you can attest, and it’s a totally preventative issue with the right education.


  9. Hello mandypandy thank you for your kind comments it was good to hear. I loved your empathy and understanding of your goal ”is to help parents understand the stuttering experience so that they can create a positive communication environment with their children.” I loved this statement because it is close to my heart due to my personal experience. I was really moved when I late in life had access to stuttering communities and I realised my experience of my child hood and how my stuttering was dealt with wasn’t at all uncommon. This really helped me heal move on and the amazing Anita Blom’s wise words that now it was ”my turn to pay if forward ‘I also loved what you said about it being a totally preventive issue with the right education. If you have any further questions or I can be of any other help feel free to just let me know .

    • Phyllis,
      Thank you for your reply. I know that what you have done, and have yet to do is well worth it.


  10. Hi Phyllis,
    I really enjoyed your article and unique story of developing your voice! Your story is truly an inspiration for individuals who stutter to not focus on becoming more fluent. Instead, they should focus on finding their voice and chasing their dreams. As a student, I feel more confident in advocating and supporting my future clients who stutter. Do you feel like the advancement of technology is beneficial in helping individuals who stutter connect with other people who stutter? I hope your story speaks to the seeds of others and help them to branch out!


  11. Keyra, thank you for your comments, I felt you really understood my story, and I loved your question, it struck a chord with me, it made me think and realise yes that is what has freed me up and brought such healing to me. The advancement of technology has been very beneficial to me in helping me to connect with other people who stammer. I have learnt so much from these inspiring people. I live in New Zealand and although I have very limited technical skills on the computer. With out the skills I do have I would never have discovered amazing stuff such as Stammering communities, conferences for people with a stutter and all the inspirational people I met at these conferences. The face book pages to support people who stutter. All this led me to get to know People who have helped changed my life such as Alexis Parker who is now my sister from another country, God, and having grown up with a stutter and we just got each other. Christine Simpson, and the opportunity to have the mentoring and wisdom of Anita Blom. When at the Iceland conference all the workshops I attended were amazing and inspiring. But one that may also help answer your question was run by a man called Erik Raj. Eric uses technology when he works with his young clients. Thanks again your thought provoking question.

  12. Phyllis- I greatly enjoyed reading your paper. Your likening of your hopes and dreams to a seed created a clear image in my mind, and Dianna’s ability to help nurture your seed to fruition was beautiful. It inspired me to fulfill that role in someone else’s life. I am glad that you emphasized the importance of social support and was impressed that you sought that out through publication in magazines. Access to support groups, organizations, and information regarding stuttering has become quite accessible through internet and social media today. Have you seen changes in how stuttering is viewed by the general population and how individuals who stutter cope through access to these resources? While I am glad that you have found joy and fulfillment through your trials and triumphs, it was disheartening to read about your experiences as a child. How would you recommend educating a parent who does not understand stuttering or how to respond to their child when they stutter? Thank you for sharing!

  13. Katie-Thank you for your comments you are right access to support groups really led my journey. I had never heard of a stuttering community or about conferences. You get to meet and be inspired by brave people, you also realise in my case for the first time that I was by no means alone in what I experienced as a child .In answer to your question I think todays parent has better understanding and support. by what you wrote I think you have the empathy and compassion to inspire others.

  14. Phyllis,
    Thank you so much for writing this amazing piece, it shows growth, strength, and perseverance. As I read through your article it showed me that no matter what you can make a difference and deep down you have to follow your heart even when people tell you that you can’t.
    I have a couple questions and was wondering if you could answer them; What did your teachers do when you stuttered as a child, did they do anything or try and help you in any way? What is your number one advice to give to someone who struggles with stuttering?
    Thank You,

    • Hello Rhiannon, Thank you for your comments it was appreciated, in reply to your question when I was at school with a stammer it was a long time ago and sometimes it varied from teacher to teacher some would just ignore, because they didn’t have the support for them to help me. A couple were mean, I remember when I was about eleven a teacher forced me to read aloud and then would snigger with other children who may have sniggered and laughed at me. It was tricky because in my situation if you went home and tried to say what the teacher made you do it was not taken seriously. this was not all the teachers a few were caring but couldn’t do much, most of them just ignored it.I am happy to say it is so very different today, It is so different today .My number one thing I would say to someone who struggles with stuttering that is to explore and become involved in the stammering communities that are around. There are some really helpful face books pages where people really understand and help each other. that have really helped me. Feel free to talk to me again and ask any questions.

  15. Hi Phyllis,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and your Growth. I am convinced that many people will benefit from reading this.


  16. Phyllis,

    I am truly grateful for this paper. I have recently made some changes in my life that required some speaking out, but it took some time for me to make the push for myself due to underlying self doubt. Of course, It’s an amazing feeling when your calling is fueled with love and affirmation, but believing in yourself is key. I love what you said, “It is not until we do just that (speaking out), that we can grow, and when we speak words, they actually come to life…” It reminds me there is a boldness and confidence we all have to have in ourselves if we ever except to flourish and be heard.
    I also know how words can greatly impact ones self- esteem, especially when it comes from family. It can really keep you quiet. As someone studying to become an SLP, I hope to be able to nurture and impact future clients, in the same way Dianna did for you, so that they can too speak out. I do have one question for you; how has learning about the stammering community after so many years made you feel?

    Thanks for sharing,


  17. Hello Jaya, I really appreciate your comments, and was so pleased you shared your experience of your recent speaking out with me.I also loved your empathy of how words can greatly impact self esteem. In answer to your question of how I felt learning about the stammering community after so many years and listening and getting to know some of these amazing inspirational people, going to work shops in both the conferences I went to and being mentored by Anita Blom and discovering Alexis Parker totally changed my outlook on having a stammer Also realised that what I had gone through particularly with the hard words from family, that what I had experienced hadn’t only happened to me which I guess I thought it had. But I am not alone I think it happened to lots of people. .Also one of the ways I described this learning I was that having a stammer didn’t mean I had an extra horn growing out my head. My loving and supportive friends were shocked I had thought that but I am trying to answer your well put question honestly also as I said in my story Anita’s wise words of paying it forward came at the right time to. Then I became affiliated with Janelle start in Auckland and they let me have a blog. .Although before I discovered these communities, Due to friends support and I guess that little seed I talk about, I was able to follow my dream and work in early childhood and some of those children can teach us acceptance love and its okay to be who we are. I also realised that having had this stammering experience I wouldn’t have the friends , my family, and found the love of my life and have two grownup sons who accepted having a mum with a stammer. I might not be be the quirky old lady I am today.xxxFeel free to ask me any moe wuetsions if it helps.

  18. Hello Phyllis,

    Thank you for sharing your story. It really moved me as I’m sure it was difficult for you to discuss. It broke my heart and at the same time gave me hope. I am glad that you found your voice and gained the confidence that enabled you to follow your dream. I am a student studying to become a Speech-Language Pathologist. It’s awesome that you found encouragement and support from others in your life when at times you couldn’t count on family. Do you have any advice that I could give future clients to help them when they may think that their goals and dreams are out of reach?

    Thanks in advance.


    • Hello Isabelle Thank you for your kind comments. In answer to your question I am sure having read your comments to me that you show the empathy and understanding to help your clients. One of the things I have discovered is the value of stammering communities on line and the face book pages. There are so many amazing people out their willing to listen and talk of how they too reached their dreams.

  19. Hi Phyllis,

    I really enjoyed reading your article. I am currently a second year graduate student in a fluency disorders class. It was very inspiring and I loved that you shared your experience. I am so glad you really had a support system and encouragement throughout your life! What advice would you give to a person who really struggles with their stutter?

    • Hello Carly, Thank you for your kind comments your comments struck a chord with me and in answer to your question I did struggle with having a stammer for a long long time. Although I was able to follow my dreams because there are some lovely supportive people around and in my case seemed to pop up at the right time. I would say now days that if the person who is struggling with their stammer was able to with technology discover these stammering communities it is such a help and for me a relief. I hope this has answered your question and feel free to ask me any more questions if you want too.
      Kind regards

  20. Hi Phyllis,
    I am currently a student at the University of Akron and I would just like to say that I really enjoyed reading your story! I do have one question for you ; what thoughts do you have or how would you recommend helping parents better understand their child that has a stutter?

    • Hello Hallie I am pleased you enjoyed reading my story. In answer to your question showing empathy, trust, little steps at a time working along side parents will all help foster understanding.. We are all different and parents need to work through this in their own way, The face book pages for stammering communities provide empathy and understanding for parents. Also I went to the Iceland congress where a man called Eric held workshops where he works with children via computers, may be parents could work with their children with computers .
      Kind regards

  21. Phyllis, this was a beautiful piece and the analogy of it all to seeds being planted and growing into a tree was eye-opening. It hurts me that early on people discouraged you from becoming a teacher, however, I apprectaite that you are now able to share your experiences so that I and others can learn more.

  22. Hello Katie thank you for your kind comments feel it is through our life experiences and dealing with whatever we need to deal with. That through these experiences we can reach out to others and share and still learn ourselves.

  23. Hi Phyllis,
    Reading your story showed me how strong you are. It takes a lot to go against the grain and following your own ideas. I am so glad you have found people to build you up and help you find your light. How did you handle your mother’s negativity toward your stutter? How did you find confidence while others were pushing you down?

    • Hello, Thank you for your comments you show lots of empathy .In answer to your question about how I handled my mothers negativity the only way I can explain it I guess when we are little we love our mothers and if you hear anything long enough I guess you believe it.I think anybody who lives with any sort of difference has that little seed in them and it is nurtured by peoples support and kindness .That is why I sometimes think that if I hadn’t had a stutter I may not be the happy cheeky old lady that I am today and have all the love and support that given me the courage to do this.

  24. Phyllis,

    Your article was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am currently a Speech Language Pathology graduate student and your story has inspired me to focus on understanding the personal journeys of the individuals I may work with.

  25. Hello ,Thank you for your comments that’s a good thought you have as we are all different and our journeys are different. Discovering the stammering communities as I have said before really helped me .As I could see for the first time I wasn’t alone .

  26. Dear friend. The online conference is soon closing and I haven’t had time to reply other people’s papers, but I wouldn’t want to miss out on yours, to, worldwide, tell you how much I admire you! Your journey was hard and long, but look at you now! A tree in bloom, a bird singing from the highest branch, paying it forward. I’m so proud of you, so thankful to your husband for understanding, and so happy you enriched my life. I still treasure the notes you gave me. I hope for us to stay friends forever, so I can follow your journey and watch you leave a path of flowers for others to show the way. Big hugs and keep talking.

    Love, Anita

  27. Hello Anita, Thank You so much for your lovely words. With out your time, patience and wise loving mentoring I would never have been able to experience that sense of freedom and self worth. And be able to help others Because of your understanding and wisdom you have showed me how to pay it forward you not only unlocked what was trapped inside me but you stayed and walked with me in this journey for which I am so grateful… I am lucky to have such loving support here, but I cant imagine my life with out you and Alexis in it for ever .
    Love from Phyllis xxxxx