Ok - to state the obvious, we are all aware that once you have a baby living in your house full time, everything changes. Everything! Maybe you have a baby that won’t be put down, or has colic, or won’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time, or will only sleep beside you, or in the car, or while a particularly obnoxious song is playing on the radio. One of my babies, it seemed, was happiest parked on a traffic island. After walking her around quiet, peaceful, residential streets for hours, Evie would finally drop off to the soporific sound of ambulances shrieking past and taxi drivers beeping at each other, and the sound of the pedestrian crossing going off like an alarm clock. An inner city siren lullaby.
Maybe you have a baby who won’t feed or is constantly hungry, or has reflux, or spits up what looks like an entire feed after every feed, thrusting you into a spiral of concern over whether they’re actually getting enough food. Maybe breastfeeding isn’t working out, or maybe your baby won’t take milk from a bottle. Maybe you were expecting to have time to talk on the phone, or do a little bit of work here and there, or have proper meals, and for whatever baby-related reason, you find yourself at the end of the day having eaten three apples, a spoonful of nutella and a tupperware of risotto that you found in the fridge and didn’t get around to heating up.
And that is when you need...other women. After my first baby was born, I brought her home from the hospital, and almost instantaneously all of my hormones started coming out of my eyes. It had been a difficult birth and I was nowhere near recovered by the time my husband went back to work. Breastfeeding was a huge struggle, and it felt like we spent a lot of time crying at each other. Poor baby!
The local health visitor came to see us and gently suggested that I go to a breastfeeding support group that met once a week, a ten minute walk away. The idea of feeling so vulnerable in front of people who I assumed would be managing this new baby business better than me was, I thought, sort of the last thing I needed. “Maybe in a few weeks” I said, “once things settle down”. “Maybe this week” said the nurse “it’s a support group, not a judgement group”. So, off I went.
The women I met at that Breastfeeding Support Group came from all sorts of backgrounds, and yet we all had so much in common because of the babies. It was run by one midwife, who weighed the babies and doled out glasses of water in between compliments, advice and support. Most, but not all of us were first time mums. Some of the babies were piling on the pounds and sleeping for ten hours a night, and others were failing to thrive and getting by on the odd power nap. Some of the women had had positive birth experiences, and others hadn’t. It became a space to tell our stories and learn and listen and laugh and cry. We were all, in some ways, at different times and for different reasons, pretty vulnerable.Between us all, there was a kaleidoscope of questions and answers which over time became experience and expertise. Even after the group itself wound down and people started going back to work, we stayed in touch. The WhatsApp BF Group has been renamed the Friday Wine group!
Having a baby when political turmoil and climate chaos and pandemic fears are bearing down on us like never before makes the need for maternal social support greater than ever. Find your people. They’ll be your friends. They’ll care about your baby, and you’ll care about theirs. You’ll have a WhatsApp group into which you can type all sorts of questions you never thought would be an issue, mostly involving poo and wee. In our competitive world, let’s make motherhood a team effort. It really does take a village!
By Susannah Sweetman - writer and mum of 4