Friday, 7 August 2020

Peer Support in a Pandemic

Today I did something I haven't done in months. I went to a breastfeeding peer support group. And it was lovely.

In normal times, I'm a volunteer breastfeeding peer supporter. I help to run a local peer support group, which before lockdown was welcoming around 12-18 mums per week. That might not seem huge, but for those women, it was a chance to get support with feeding problems, meet up with others in their situation and generally feel heard and accepted.

And then, the week before lockdown, we had to cancel all sessions indefinitely. I was gutted. How were all these women, and the new mums to come, going to get the support they need?

Peer support since then has been difficult. We set up Zoom sessions but numbers dwindled and providing support with problems over a video call is a big challenge. We have a Facebook group which mums can use to share concerns which has been great for the more commonplace issues as other mums are often very ready to share their experiences as reassurance, but it's hard to address more complex problems via keyboard. And the backdrop of all this was not knowing which services were still running and not being able to signpost to breastfeeding counsellors who would usually offer home visits but, for obvious reasons, are unable to now. As a peer supporter, I am trained in the basics of breastfeeding support but much of my role is signposting, so this has made things really difficult.

This week a report was released called 'Babies in Lockdown' which highlights the challenges new and expectant parents have experienced during lockdown. One of the issues highlighted was the lack of breastfeeding support. Some of the stories women told almost made me cry with frustration at what they've had to deal with. It's genuinely heartbreaking to see mums struggling and being unable to provide or refer to the support they need.

Today, to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, we tried out a peer support group in a park, with strictly limited numbers and social distancing measures. It felt very different to the usual meetings we have in a children's centre - I kept getting the urge to offer tea and biscuits (another big part of my role usually) and not being able to get a sneaky cuddle was rubbish. Now I'm done with baby making myself, the biggest perk of peer support is being able to nab other women's babies for a cuddle on a regular basis. But that aside, it was so lovely to be able to talk to mums about how they'd been doing, offer support and reassurance, and see them chatting to each other and getting the social support that these women have so lacked in lockdown. It reminded me why I love the role. 

I really hope that as we weather the ups and downs of the next few months - because it's become obvious that it's not going to be a steady relaxing of rules, and situations can change very quickly - more thought will be given to the needs of new parents. They need support in so many areas, but breastfeeding definitely needs more protection. This isn't a judgement on formula feeding. My role is to facilitate mums to meet their own feeding goals, not beat them round the head with a 'breast is best' message. It's a recognition that there are challenges specific to breastfeeding than need support, and that for many mothers being able to feed their baby how they choose is a priority. 

I hope I will be able to get back to more regular peer supporting soon. I hope that mums get the support they need. I hope that the government will prioritise the families of infants and toddlers who have been almost entirely overlooked so far.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

The Pandemic That Proved I Can Parent

A photo I took on the last school run before lockdown. It feels really strange to remember it was still spring.

Back in September last year, when I was noting down term dates and realised that this year's summer holiday would be seven weeks long, I felt a vague sense of dread. I've always been daunted by school holidays. I stress myself out wondering how on earth I'll keep both kids happy, healthy and entertained. Seven whole weeks? Didn't bear thinking about.

Ah, 2019 me, so naive, so blind to what was coming.

Here I am at the beginning of that seven week holiday. How do I feel? A little worried, yes. But nowhere near the dread I used to feel. After all, it's now seventeen weeks since schools closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Aside from Preschooler having two days a week at the childminder's for the last seven weeks, and Girl Child having two hours at school on the last day of term to get to know her new teacher, I've looked after both children for all that time. Without recourse to playgrounds, libraries, cafes or anywhere interesting, really.

I realise now how much I used to doubt my abilities as a mum. I worried about screen time, I worried about providing enriching activities, I worried about the kids getting enough exercise, enough time outdoors, enough time with other children. Enough, enough, enough. I worried I wasn't enough.

Have I been the perfect parent over the last seventeen weeks? No. Have the kids had the optimum amount of screen time, education, exercise etc etc? Also no. Have I managed to stop myself from shouting until I'm hoarse some days? A big, emphatic no. Does it seem to have damaged their development irrevocably? I don't think so. I am concerned about the early education Preschooler has missed out on, and I weep for the progress Girl Child has lost - she was having such a good year. But it hasn't been nearly as horrendous as I thought it would be when I saw the news that schools were closing and terror gripped my heart.

I have to say I'm fortunate in many ways. I haven't had to worry about working from home like many other parents. I have a laptop and a printer, which made doing school work at home a lot easier. My husband has been able to work from home, which meant he could occasionally step in to help during the day (although it also posed the challenge of keeping the kids quiet during conference calls!) so I haven't had to do it totally alone. And, thankfully, we've all stayed healthy. But even so, I never thought I'd be able to cope in this situation. And I have. The kids are OK. And at the moment, OK is good enough.

I've said before that I don't want to home educate. This experience has very much confirmed that view! While I'm aware that home education normally involves going places and meeting up with other home ed families, I know that I would not have the patience. Preschooler only started at the childminder's last September so I was only just getting used to time alone when lockdown hit, but my word have I missed it. And I'm neither mentally disciplined enough to create a solid home learning routine, nor relaxed enough to go down the unschooling route. If it hadn't been for the work school provided I would have really struggled to know what or how to 'teach' Girl Child. And my efforts to teach her meant that Preschooler was often left to watch TV as I just couldn't find any other way to occupy him.

I have, however, loved having time with Girl Child again. It was like a return to the days before school, when I wasn't just getting the scraps of her in the evenings and weekends. I've seen her creativity, her intelligence, her humour and her affection in whole new depths. I've also seen the bond between her and Preschooler grow even further. In many ways, it's been lovely. But at the same time I know I will breathe a sigh of relief when she returns to school in September!

I wish it hadn't taken a pandemic to have these revelations. It's been devastating and terrifying seeing what's happening in our world and our country. My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones. I'm in no way making light of the situation. But I now know that I am a better mum than I thought I was, and I'm stronger than I thought I was. And my kids are far more resilient than I give them credit for. We'll get through this, hopefully with our health intact, knowing that we can cope with more than we realise.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

I Quit Twitter At The Best And Worst Possible Time

It's not much of a secret that I love Twitter. There's something about the brevity and transience of tweets that appeals to me - I can use it to record fleeting moments and thoughts. I've also made a lot of online friends through the site, some of whom I've met but most stay reassuringly distant. There's something quite addictive about expressing your thoughts to a bunch of people you're not going to bump into on the school run or in the shops.

And addictive is the right word - at the start of this year I realised I was spending unhealthy amounts of time on Twitter. I tried limiting that time to 2 hours a day (yes, you read that right, that was a reduction) but I felt like I needed to take a proper break. So I decided that I'd give it up for Lent, only dipping in on Sundays.

When Ash Wednesday rolled around, coronavirus was a concern as the first cases in the UK had been recorded earlier that month, but numbers were still low and we hadn't had any deaths here. It's strange to think that was just seven weeks ago. I had no idea of the impact the virus would eventually have on our country. 

In one way, being off Twitter as things descended into dystopia was a relief. As much as it is a good place for a chat, it's often like you're having that chat in a very crowded room with lots of very angry, shouty people. Constant retweets bombard you with outrage and fear. It's not great for an anxious person. (The irony is there seems to be a lot of anxious people on there.) So not having the facts and opinions around coronavirus shoved in my face all day every day was actually really helpful.

But then, when things started to ramp up, I missed having my Twitter 'family' to talk to. When, on my birthday (16th March), the first significant restrictions of movement were brought in and I said goodbye to my mum not knowing when she would be able to visit again, I wanted to fire off a miserable tweet. As that week progressed and my autistic daughter's life was plunged into chaos with friends and school staff disappearing into isolation, then the announcement of school closures, I wanted to go where I knew there would be people who could relate. And as lockdown began with the loneliness it brought, I missed that connection even more.

One thing about the Twitter app is, it's needy. Even if you're not using it, it'll send you notifications alerting you to popular tweets. And this was another thing which made it really hard to stay off - the tweets went surprisingly quickly from the usual parenting chat to people who I've chatted to for years falling ill or even losing relatives. I felt awful for not responding to their tweets.

Ultimately I think taking a break was a good idea. I wasn't to know what was to come but it would probably have made me feel worse to keep reading tweet after tweet of bad news and criticism of our government's approach. On Sundays I would check in and retreat from the 'noise' very quickly.  And it's meant that I've talked online more with "real life" friends, who are the ones I'll need to connect with when this is all over.

Time will tell whether this break will change how I use Twitter, but I think I'll definitely become more selective about which tweets I read and engage with and focus more on the chats and friendships that make it a good place to be without paying too much attention to all the shouting.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Review: 'Mister TV' by Julie Fulton and Patrick Corrigan (gifted)

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of this book for the purpose of this review but all words and opinions are my own. 

It's been a while since I blogged - before Christmas I was starting to find it more of a chore than a pleasure so I took a little break which turned into a few months - but now I feel like I need an outlet and a distraction from what's going on in the world. (If you're reading this from sometime in the future, this is the era of Covid-19 lockdown, remember that? Things get better, right? RIGHT?)

Anyway, a little while ago I got a lovely package of books from the ever-fabulous Maverick Children's Books, one of which was this great non-fiction picture book about the life and work of John Logie Baird.

For those of you who, like me, get their inventors mixed up, John Logie Baird was the inventor of the television - and let's face it, right now that is something to be very grateful for! This picture book begins in his childhood, when poor health meant that he was often unable to go out and see his friends. But this became the driver for his inventions, giving him the will to find other ways of communicating.

The story doesn't just talk about how he invented the TV but it explores many of his inventions, including the ones that went wrong. This is something I really love about the book - it shows that sometimes things don't work but that if we keep trying we can find something that does work. It's a great message of resilience, perseverance and creative thinking.

The story part of the book communicates John's achievements in a clear, accessible way and the illustrations are very engaging and help to tell the story really well. There are also little fact boxes scattered through the story for further context, and the introduction and endpages give lots of great factual information too.

I really enjoyed reading this book and I think it would be great for younger school age children to introduce them to the work of this great inventor. I love the message it gives of keeping trying even when things don't go how you want, and the fact that Logie Baird's inventive nature was born out of isolation is very timely!!

'Mister TV' is due to be published later this Spring so keep a look out for it!

Linking up with 'Read With Me' hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love to Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog, Acorn Books and BookBairn.

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