They say if you do something that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
I would have laughed in Marc Anthony’s face if he had ever said that to me in person ten years ago. As glamorous as my previous jobs sounded, working as a PA in the film industry, I was constantly tired, surrounded by a large lump of ego and spent the best part of my life people pleasing. In my naivety I wandered what wasn’t to love (there were definitely elements that I miss now) but as I have grown (and lets say it) matured, I definitely appreciate how I was working to live, rather than living to work.
However, this appreciation has never been so blindingly obvious as the last few months.
Some of you may follow my @samspaceslifeaftercancer account on Instagram and gathered that I had a ‘bit of a blip’ before Christmas, when a scan came back showing a small suspicious area in my sternum. After what felt like another mini lockdown of my own, of waiting and not knowing, I had surgery in December and the results that came back in January showed that one of the lymph glands was showing early signs of oestrogen receptive breast cancer. It is a secondary from my second diagnosis but it chalks my total up to four breast cancer diagnosis now and, if I am honest, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about that!
Experiencing this during an ongoing pandemic, I have learnt so much; about myself, about others, and the importance of my work in keeping me sane! I have also noticed the elements that have made it much harder to process and manage, and listening to the dialogue and conversation around new mothers and ‘lockdown babies’, and shining a light on the importance of support during the post natal period is something I feel so passionately about.
During the first pandemic I, like so many others, took the moral high ground and full advantage of the warmer weather; appreciating nature, living in the countryside and basically counting every single blessing I could think of. As we all listened attentively to the news, adjusting to this new way of life, home schooling and navigating our way around Zoom; either hiding our Tesco PJ bottoms in business meetings or delegating quiz rounds while getting slowly tipsy on an ever decreasing supply of gin, we were actively thinking out of the box and determined to make things work.
Fast forward to lockdown three and the novelty has most definitely worn off!
All of the above are now a normal way of life and nearly a year on, society is recognising the mild to the serious symptoms of the fall out.
In a study by The University of Alberta, the rate of maternal depression ‘increased to forty one percent from fifteen percent after the pandemic began and the number of women expediting moderate to high anxiety symptoms has risen from 29 per cent to 72 per cent.’ (The Independent Sunday June 21 2020)
Any woman who had a baby in the last twelve months would have experienced a very different postnatal period than before the pandemic. Limited midwife visits, different antenatal departments in different hospitals or buildings, fewer in person coffee mornings with less mums to chat to and meet, not being able to explore a new social life for her or baby, higher levels of lonlieness and isolation and next to no external support from extended family if they were not in a bubble. It has been hard. Really really hard.
Even during the first lockdown last year I could sense the ever increasing black hole of new mothers falling through the cracks, as well as those needing surgery and medical attention for serious illnesses and diseases. We didn’t want to get checked, or make a fuss, in case it put more pressure on the NHS.
As a post natal doula I watched the conversations on social media and my heart broke for all the new mothers missing out on breast feeding support, postnatal self care and all the game changing conversations they could be having. We turned to the internet and we did what we could. We offered virtual support, zoom Mother Space sessions, over the phone chats and therapy. We invested in special lights and gadgets so we could video demonstrations and run workshops and the community came together, as it always does, to support each other while we juggled working from home with home schooling and, well, lockdown life.
Supporting a client virtually was not my first choice, but being given the opportunity to help a new mother on FaceTime and over the phone was an education. I worked through my case study for my TBR 3 Step Rewind over the phone too. The skills needed to really listen came into force and being able to hold space for a client through a screen may have been very different from face to face, but it still had so many benefits.
Being pro active at a time like this also helped me broaden my skill set and thanks to the postnatal community I started a mindful breastfeeding course. I was determined to feel a little more confident in this area and being able to focus on something that could help me grow as a post natal doula, was wonderful.
Working in an environment where new life is such a focus was also a huge positive. Celebrating a new baby and all the joy that that can bring to a mother, and their families, regardless of whether they can visit straight away, was precious. Once restrictions lifted and I was able to physically be with clients, I was like a puppy. It was so exciting to be able to sit and chat, to make nourishing fresh meals, to guide them in relaxations in person and physically hold the baby so they could rest. It was pure magic.
While the weather stayed dry and warm, Laura and I began hosting The Guildford Mother Space sessions again, giving clients and other new mums the opportunity to socialise with other mums in the same boat, while taking full advantage of all the baking my daughter and I had had so much time for! There were so many mums emailing to get details, Laura and I began offering more sessions just so we could include as many as we could within the rule of six rule and socially distanced walking around my village.
The energy we had to reframe the frustration was in huge supply. We had had time to rest and reflect on our goals and intentions and we were ready to put this all into action.
So, when my scan results came through and I was plunged into no mans land of waiting for a plan of action, I was reminded again of how so many new families and mums would have been feeling. The image of a giant pause button floated in my head and the irony was, I didn’t feel so isolated after all.
When my current client gave birth to her baby four weeks ago, I had had my own recovery time. I had been nourished and nurtured, I had rested and reflected and I had taken time to heal and build my strength again. I had been looking forward to this job for a few months, especially since the family live five doors down from my home and are the most gorgeous family. It has been a total tonic.
As doula’s our own personal experiences shape so much of the type of support we offer our clients. My experience as a new mother, my health experiences, even down to the way I was mothered, have all become the building blocks of my role as a care giver and support worker.
And so has cancer. This fourth diagnosis has been a light of its own. It has given me more patience, more focus and a deeper appreciation for the little things. It has also made it possible for me to have the first Covid vaccine, which was a very momentous occasion. It has given me a bigger light to shine.
It is a beautiful thing, to be able to shine a torch into the darkness, not just for others but for ourselves. We all have a light, every single one of us and at times like these, it is so important to shine it into every far corner. My work as a post natal doula is my brightest light. It has fulled my energy to recover, it has given me a purpose, it has given me the tools to reflect on my own healing journey and nourish myself to keep me strong, and it has made me a more sensitive parent and more understanding supporter.
I never imagined I would consider this work, my little light, but the image of Florence Nightingale, the ‘Lady of the lamp’ flashes into my mind and reminds me every day that what each of us bring to this role, is unique and special and can make such a huge difference to a new family and a new mother, as we pass the baton of motherhood and solidarity.