Why the value of relationships and networks can connect, bind and help to support us.
I could have sworn I heard the creak of the garden gate, but as I awkwardly turned over in bed and slowly raised myself to sitting upright, while my wounds tugged furiously at the stitches, I could have easily imagined it.
When I was recovering from my double mastectomy, my daughter was only three years old. I was a busy nursery mum, redesigning my life with three blissful free mornings a week and considering my work options. The surgery for this particular operation was brutal and there was going to be a long process of recovery. Looking back, I am not sure how I would have coped without the support of my literal village.
Fast forward seven years and I walk carefully up the street so as not to spill the contents of the flask in the gift bag I am carrying; stuffed full of homemade snacks, smoothies, a little candle, a few straws and one of my favourite mummy poetry books. As I approach my client’s gate, I lift the latch slowly, quietly and practically tiptoe up the path to their door. A sign hanging on the door says, ‘Knock softly, baby sleeping’. I place the bag of goodies on the doorstep and retrace my tiptoe steps back to the solid tarmac of the road beyond. I pull my mobile out of my pocket and send a brief text saying ‘A few little essentials on your doorstep. See you for our first session next week x’ I smile. I love my job.
This famous quote ‘It Takes A Village’ has been banded around a lot around these parts recently. My own village, where I live in Surrey, has seen its very own baby boom from January through to a few weeks ago and it has been such a beautiful time of life, community and support.
Of course, there is so much more to this quote than simply taking a geographical sleepy little Surrey hills village, with all of the yummy mummies taking their children to local nurseries and local schools, madly sending rushed deal making texts to each other over childcare and swapping recommended fool-proof child friendly recipes for fussy eaters but I, for one, had never truly appreciated the depth and metaphorical meaning until I had to be on the receiving end, and because of that, I have made it part of my services.
In April, in the depths of Covid, I was working with one client and the phrase really struck a chord. I was supporting her as she worked through the turmoil of feeding her baby, in the first two weeks since birth. The fatigue was palpable; the frustration and guilt that had built up around how she was feeding her baby had reached an emotional level of overwhelm. As I listened and we talked it through, I offered as much reassurance and support as I could, and I mentioned this quote. My client smiled and nodded and then we both laughed as we realised how many other women were in the exact same situation as she was, at that very moment, literally on either side of her house! ‘You should get t shirts made’ she giggled. So, I did!
Covid has taught us many things. I would like to think we have become more resilient, less judgmental and kinder to each other, as human beings, but our worlds have also shrunk. We have only had to interact with those people we live with, work with or physically support. Our confidences have focused on daily routines and conversations we have had with those people and our relationships have been limited.
Birthing a baby in a pandemic, potentially without a birth partner, has been challenging. Returning home for the fourth trimester and postnatal period, with limited support has been hard and isolating. Add in a cancer diagnosis and worlds have turned inside out and backwards. Never before has family and local support been so important.
When we become mothers, not only does the responsibility increase overnight, but our self confidence shifts. There is so much to adjust to, so much to learn, all while trying to heal and recover on every level. No woman can do that alone. I don’t even think Superwoman would be able to make that work!
As human beings, we thrive on interaction with other beings and when considering what the word ‘village’ means to you, I bet community, people, be they family or friends, come to mind as much as ‘a group of houses and associated buildings, larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town, situated in a rural area’ (Oxford Dictionary).
The word ‘village’ signifies something small, non intimidating, comfortable and safe. To me, it has connotations of an environment that is compact, strong, a united bubble, where one feels protected, physically and emotionally supported and encouraged.
I left my client’s home that day and emailed the amazing company who designed my postnatal doula business logo. Then I found a wonderful online clothing business who supplied good quality hoodies and t shirts and a few weeks later, there were three boxes of personalised merchandise sitting in my hallway, waiting to be distributed, all proceeds going to the Mummy's Star charity.
As some of you may already know, from reading previous blogs, I am a three-time breast cancer survivor and currently undergoing ongoing treatment for a fourth diagnosis. I have a ten year old who was a tiny baby when I was diagnosed for the second time. It was the most pivotal time of my life and has led me to where and who I am now. Motherhood with cancer takes an exceptional strength and bravery, no matter what stage the pregnancy, what age the child or children, or what the diagnosis. I have never needed a ‘village’ more.
During my work within the cancer community, my own experiences through treatment, and as I transitioned to motherhood, I realised that building our own ‘village’ was paramount to a woman’s physical and mental, as well as emotional recovery. Not only did I have my literal home village supporting me with food deliveries, dog walking, lifts to appointments and playdates, I had my wellbeing village, of holistic therapists, counsellors, doctors and rehabilitation practitioners as well as my personal village of family members and friends. It is that that has carried me, scraped me off the floor, cheered me on and comforted me on the bad days and that is not just as I have gone from blood test appointment to scan appointment, it has been the days I am so physically tired after sleepless nights breastfeeding with one breast, struggling with fussy eating, celebrating every birthday and battling with fondant icing on the chosen themed cake and advising on the best way to stick to boundary setting when I am being pushed to the edge of my patience.
Parenting is a group effort, raising a child takes a team. We are not meant to do all of this alone, not as a mother, a couple or a family. Yes, we have each other. We trust, we push, we bend and we love, but we are never solo.
We are all in our own boats, sailing the same sea. We always have a hand to hold, be it through illness, grief, celebration and all the ups and downs that make life, life. A village is so much more than a group of buildings. It is a light, a constant beam, always glowing, pulsing and breathing that life, back into us all.
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