As we say goodbye to you, I have such mixed feelings. On the one hand, it has probably been the most difficult year for many, and although I’ve had a fair share of tears, too, I cannot help but look back in amazement because there have been just so many wonderful things as well – things that no one ever dreamed imaginable. There will be those who live in large cities talking about how for the first time they could hear the birds singing. I marveled at the sight of the moon; its details and brightness I had never seen before. However, I digress, and could talk about the marvels of 2020 to no end, including daily walks in nature with my family, and a new found co-dependency as my children enter their teens that I’m hopeful will keep them grounded, and open to me as the years proceed.
What I really want to say to you, 2020, that although many feel beaten down by you, I have witnessed some miraculous parenting, especially some miraculous mothering. I’ve also seen families banding together to support their elderly, and fathers staying home even after their two-week paternity leave because they now worked from home, and their presence at home was the support that mother and baby needed to establish breastfeeding or partial breastfeeding.
At the beginning of the year, I said goodbye (work-wise) to a family I had been consistently working with for two years. This was so very hard because of the bond we had formed: our lives and even our families are now interwoven, my children frequently asking to see them. The once newborn baby I had helped with had become a toddler attending nursery, and the mother well past the postnatal depression that was lurking for ages around the corner ready to consume her. It was now time for me, Mary Poppins-like, to float away, my work done. Although the idea was a bit agonizing, we both knew deep down that it was time. We are also so thankful that it came naturally to an end, and was not another thing that Covid took from us. I believe my last working day was cancelled due to lockdown, and this saved us from feeling emotionally distraught on our last day.
When lockdown came, I knew I needed to adjust and pivot my business because working face-to-face wasn’t always going to be possible at times. Having been in the breastfeeding/postnatal business for some years, I knew one thing to be true: many mothers struggle because of a severe lack of education. I had always wanted to target expectant parents, engage them before babe was in arms, and well before any crisis mode. This way they’d have some idea of what to expect in the early weeks, especially learning what good feeding looks and should feel like. Thank you, 2020, for making me finally start teaching online, and I will continue to do so because of the wonders I saw through this medium.
During this year, I had about three dozen students, some of whom I got to meet in person during easing of lockdown, and almost all were supported via many texts once their babies were born. One of my first pupils asked about inverted nipples. I guided her on how best to latch a baby on in this circumstance, and then proceeded to journey with her through many difficulties in the first few weeks including her baby’s tongue-tie, strong upper lip tie, and torticollis. Because of time spent home with daddy and no visitors, she was miraculously able to establish breastfeeding after weeks and months of struggle. This mother knew what she wanted and was like a soldier going into battle. I take no credit for anything except telling her, ‘You can do it!’ and pointing to information and evidence related to the things she was experiencing.
Another mother had been diagnosed with insufficient glandular tissue, an uncommon case (although many worry about this) of the mother really not having sufficient glands in her breasts to produce enough milk for her baby. She felt that with her first baby she struggled without guidance, and this time around she was going to prepare as best she could. I leant her a book called Making More Milk, which is recommended by the La Leche League, and recounted instances and testimonials of women who ‘taught’ their bodies to produce enough milk, or at least partially enough so that they might enjoy the experience of breastfeeding. This mother went on to exclusively breastfeed! There was some work involved, but she overcame this problem, simply because she knew that more glandular tissue can be formed if as much milk as possible could be harvested antenatally, and within the first two weeks postpartum. Another miracle.
Besides my online students, I was called on again and again to provide support in homes, which, thankfully, did not
spread illness to anyone that I know of. With mask and face shield and much hand washing, just a one-off visit helped many to know how to latch a baby on successfully. Other visits included making home-made lactation aids for supplementation at the breast when mother’s supply was damaged due to early use of formula. And then there was the case of being hired by Reading Borough Council to look after an especially vulnerable mother. Thank you, UK government, for recognizing the role and value of a postnatal doula!! Would this have happened in any other year? Probably not. I was also hired by the charity ’Doula Access Fund’ for a single mother who did not have the financial means to pay for support. I’m still in touch with both these mothers today.
I was called back to a family I had supported postnatally a couple years ago, to help look after Grandad. We were all well aware that my training does not include caring for the elderly, and I was emergency, temporary help until they found a proper carer for Grandad. Although a bit out of my element, my listening skills were put to good use, and we had many long, interesting conversations. My being there felt good too, as four family members were allowed to carry on going to work. This is another family that is embedded deep in my heart, and helping out when they needed it was a welcomed opportunity.
Near the end of you, 2020, I was supporting remotely a mother of twins who gave birth at 35-weeks’ gestation. This is not a mother living in the UK, and I was repeatedly shocked and sometimes horrified by the undermining of her attempts to breastfeed. Immediately after the birth, she was left on her own; her husband not allowed to see her or advocate for her. Antiquated, routine, medical interventions included unnecessarily forbidding this mother to breastfeed one of her babies, an order which infringed on her human rights. As a result, there has been unnecessary postnatal trauma caused, all under the guise of ‘health care’. Medical staff were misinformed about many things, and babies were weighed daily, causing so much anxiety and undermining the parents’ care for their babies. We have now journeyed together for five weeks, and I am in awe.
After getting help with latching her babies, she later found the World Health Organization weight chart for premature babies, so that she herself could determine how well they were doing. Although the trauma is still there and it will take time to heal, she has at least had moments of enjoying her babies, and breastfeeding has become established. Another miracle. For the first time in my career, I stayed up until 2 am talking to this mother who was left alone on a hospital ward with her babies, and bullied at every turn. I feel honoured to have a played a part in this scenario, where I hopefully provided a bit of relief to her.
The resilience, determination, endurance, and achievement that I have witnessed during 2020 was definitely a gift to me, especially from the mother of premature twins, but also from dozens of others. So, although we feel slapped around by you, 2020, I’m feeling ever so thankful and positive for all the gifts you provided me. These gifts will keep me going.