In her latest column, Joanna Ellner celebrates the kindness of the motherhood community
“Hello, I’m Bernadette. Do you mind if I…?” “No, no, go ahead.” Stood in front of me, Bernadette brusquely hoists my left breast up and forwards, clamping Noah on to my nipple.
It’s day seven, and while Noah’s feeding successfully – her little gulps are confirmation of this – she wriggles off a lot, and I’m endlessly in search of the best breastfeeding position. Rugby-hold? Crossbody? Semi-upright and splayed out like a dachshund?
Bernadette is a local breastfeeding support worker – from a scheme in our London borough – and within minutes she’s transformed the way I breastfeed – elbow cradle for left, rugby-hold for right – given us her life story and flown out of the door. I’m tearful with gratitude.
I’ve seen every shade of the female spirit this week. The boundless care of my midwife Anna, who’s been delivering babies since 1987, and takes calls from frantic expectant mothers several hours after her shift is due to end. The lady across the road that we’d never met before, who saw us arriving home with Noah and came out to say that if we needed anything, ANYTHING, to give her a knock. Of course, not all women have this mothering chip. The less said about the nurse who refused to help when I was wailing like a caged animal, begging for an epidural, the better.
That biologically-innate female support has been sent to me in tiny, but no less meaningful, ways too. “You probably don’t remember me, but I just wanted to say congratulations, Noah is beautiful, you’ve done an amazing job,” said one social media message from a girl I’d met in a nightclub loo 12 years ago. Friends I’ve not seen since we sat our GCSEs extended their best wishes. A work colleague I hadn’t spoken to for over a year seemed to peer into my befuddled brain when she texted a small essay of support, re-affirming that c-section babies were just as healthy as naturally born babies and I wasn’t to blame for things not going the way I’d hoped.
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Every little message, card, and social-media comment has chipped away at the protective armour I’d left hospital with.
The next week, an elderly woman hands me a pound, “for your wee baby,” an old ritual, my mum tells me, to bring good luck.
The kinship of women has been the most wonderfully unexpected part of motherhood. I’d been apprehensive about joining the ‘mum tribe’, a network of women who only talk about their kids. “That’ll never be me,” I’d think.
But the reality is, our babies are the most important thing in our lives: they have every right to dominate conversation. Being welcomed into the fold feels like when the older kids at the youth club teach you how to play pool.
Before I’ve even taken the cards down, I’m offering advice to a friend who had her baby a few weeks after me. Texts are exchanged during night feeds. “Is it normal to feel like crap still?” “Absolutely. Take it a day at a time, and keep the TV on in the background,” I reply, hoping to conjure up words that would have helped me at the start. That’s the extraordinary cycle of motherhood – you pay it forward. Imagine if we had that woman-to-woman support in the workplace? We’d be unstoppable.