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It Takes A Village – Jennifer Gray

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It Takes A Village – Jennifer Gray

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It Takes a Village to Make a Mumma Sane!

You plan and prepare meticulously for a baby. You think of names, you read all the baby books (well some of you do – I like to wing it cos I’m dangerous), you decorate the nursery, you buy stuff (oh so much stuff – how does a person so small take over your home with that much stuff?)… I could continue forever. You even manage to think of yourself briefly and purchase breast pads and giant panty-liners, even splurge and treat yourself to some of those gigantic knickers.

We think of all these things when having a baby, yet we don’t consider the ‘after the newness has settled’ phase. We prepare meticulously for baby, yet we don’t consider ourselves beyond those first few weeks, and especially not in any way other than our physical health. We realise we will bleed, produce milk, need to consider contraception and possibly have trouble pooing (its glamorous having kids eh?).

But what about the rest of who we are as a person? What about our mental, emotional and social needs? Why do we not plan for this? 

For me the answer is simple. I was not told about this need for myself. Everyone offers advice on what you’ll need, where you should get it, what you should and should not do;but no-one, and I mean no-one, told me about the need to socialise and the support network it would produce.

Having a baby is a wonderful beautiful thing. It’s magical. It’s also life-changing in a way you never ever thought possible. You learn to have patience, you find strength, you realise your capacity for unconditional love. But you have also never ever felt exhaustion like it in your life, you feel as though your body is stuffed with cotton wool and are walking around in a bubble. You feel overwhelmed; you’re responsible for this small person. You feel like you have no idea what you are doing; this is all new to you; no amount of reading could prepare you for this.You feel emotional all the time – I have been known to burst into tears at the postbox for posting a letter without a stamp! You feel alone at 2,3,4 am when you’re up with the baby again and the whole world is snoring soundly; even hubby over there.

All these things seem less scary when you have someone to share it with; a support village. This is one of the most important reasons you need a support network, some respite,some genuine moral support; others in the same boat, plodding along, learning the same as you, facing battles you have overcome or are yet to face, sharing experiences you relate to, sharing ideas and advice, providing a genuinely emphatic ears with regards to teething, sleepless nights and more.

However, support networks can be very hard to come by. You may be lucky enough to have friends who are experiencing all this with you but let’s face it, this is rather rare.

First, understand that support networks come in a variety of forms; especially now we have access to internet and smart phones and social media. You don’t even have to physically meet people if you don’t feel up to it. Even breastfeeding support is available over the phone now via live-chats and telephone calls. And the internet never sleeps! This fact opened a whole new world for me when I had my first child. It formed the foundations of my support ‘village’. So, here’s my story…

My Village Foundations

I joined a Facebook group when I was trying to conceive. We were having difficulty and we had been trying for a while (5 years) and were starting to undergo fertility testing and it felt really personal. I didn’t feel able to tell my close friends about our ‘trouble’ (for want of a better word) because they weren’t in the same place and I didn’t feel they’d understand. Telling family felt like adding a lot of pressure when we were already putting pressure on ourselves. It felt very lonely and isolating. In this group I found 2 women who were experiencing the exact same thing and genuinely empathised. We became very good friends and started a group message. I could log in and tell them personal things, like feeling a failure as a woman for getting my period again, or that I was crying in the bathroom in a shopping centre and they got it. They were doing or had done the same. They became my rocks – complete strangers who lived in my phone! We all shared our news – good and bad and were very supportive of one another. We shared our pregnancy journeys together.  We shared bump pictures. We were there for each other when we went into labour, after labour and in the night breastfeeding or just alone in the dark with a small person. There was always someone around to share with – whether it be 2am or 2pm. These women became a life line for me – support, advice, a listening ear. This group chat is still going (4 years and 5 children, between us, later) and we talk honestly, every day; and though I’ve never met these two women in person, they are my best friends. They were the first residents in my support village!

The next resident in my village was … my mother. This may strike you as odd because she’s my mum and we already had a mother daughter relationship. But I never truly appreciated her and all she did until my first baby came along. I was always independent and never asked for advice but as new mother; in a very unfamiliar role and not knowing what I was doing I found myself leaning on my mother and seeking her advice more. She became one of my first port of calls if I had a question. We became much closer. I even apologised for all the stuff I did as a kid – ‘I get it now. I get it. All of it. I’m so sorry’. 

Several weeks later after a rough few days and nights with a reflux baby I was going stir crazy. On the advice of my villagers I got out of the house and attended a weekly weigh in session for baby. The health visitor mentioned a baby massage course being held and how it may help my reflux baby and benefit us both. After very little sleep I was desperate to try anything, so I booked us on. The group was very small and very encouraging of talking to each other and sharing experiences.There I met some ladies just like me. We had babies of the same age, we had babies with similar reflux issues, we had very little sleep. We shared remedies and laughed at some of the lengths we had gone to help our babies get some respite. We swapped numbers, met for play-dates, we became friends; more residents moved into my growing village. 

Children growing also provide you with an opportunity to meet new villagers. I met a mumma at a slimming world group after my second daughter was born. We arranged to meet up to do some exercise together and we brought our children along. They got on so well, laughing and playing together whilst we all walked around the park making small talk. After we left my daughter talked about her friend ‘M’ for weeks and kept asking when we were going to see her again. So, I got in touch with them again and we arranged to go for a coffee together. Our meet ups became more regular and we shared so much of ourselves with each other. We became friends, very close friends and our children are now best friends. We see each other regularly and talk almost daily (either on the phone, on messenger or face to face) and although neither of us attends slimming world anymore (I think I’m heavier now than when I joined) we gained a fantastic friendship and permanent village members. 

My Village Is Changing

Some villagers move on and some are just temporary (like some of the massage mumma friends); you fall out of touch or find you no longer have things in common and you drift apart, and you know what? That’s ok. Appreciate the support you got and let it go. You’ll always meet new villagers. The point is, these villagers could be anyone, anywhere, anytime. You never know when a stranger may become your next-door neighbour.

About The Author

Jennifer Gray is a former nursery manager turned stay at home mum who is learning something new every day whilst trying to keep it together!

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