Freeze frame – a view from one of the breastfeeding counsellors

baby jack
Baby Jack the rice dolly

cross cradle hold I took a moment the other day in the busyness and noise in the middle of the drop-in.
I sat back – on the floor with my legs going numb, where I had just been talking for a while with a mother and her baby. I was at the perfect level to see his eyes as he sat on his mother’s lap. Deep blue eyes showing he was full and content. Full with milk, satisfied by his mother’s breast.
But as I took that moment, I felt a grip in my chest, that feeling you have when there is something wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. Unsettled.
I look around the room and for a moment, everything freezes. I look at the mother lying back on her chair with her tiny, pink newborn in just a nappy that swamps his tiny body and his skinny legs. He is lying draped over her stomach and breast and he is still with his head resting on his perfect pillow. She is looking down at him, stroking him. Her whole body is oozing with that warm, relaxed look of a mother in love, and a mother who is discovering she can feed her baby. The grandmother sits there too – soaking up the oxytocin and watching her daughter and grandson. Remembering similar moments maybe, swelling with pride maybe, regretting decisions she made, maybe.
And the mother with her two week old, who had been there last week. She has that air of comfort, that she has done this before; and that it is going to be okay. She knows we don’t have a magic fix, but she will be listened to. And she waits to tell someone how long the last week has been, that there have been moments of it all going as she wanted, but some dark, lonely moments when she wondered whether she could do this. She waits her turn, watching the other mothers with empathy of shared solo journeys.
And the father sitting anxiously on the edge of the chair as he watches his tiny baby and sobbing wife talking with one of the breastfeeding counsellors. He looks nervous – perhaps because being surrounded by women breastfeeding is not common to him. But I don’t think it is that. The nervous clasp of his hands, the focus in his eyes, is only for his baby and her mother. She is crying – that’s not unusual – and she shows her desperation to make this work. She is telling her story, and her story is being heard. And she is being handed a tissue.
And I see the mother who I had spent time with at the start. She arrived anxious and rushed, but is in no rush to leave now. She is soaking up the pride, joy even, that she has seen that she wasn’t doing anything wrong, that she wasn’t letting her baby down, that it wasn’t her fault it hurt or that things were not like she had seen in the magazines. But now, she has breastfed her baby and she is basking in his milk-drunk sleep on her chest – and it hadn’t hurt as much. She looked at peace.
And I look around. There are more mothers again this week. We aren’t being needed less. We don’t have ‘quiet’ days. We don’t get to finish early. There are three mothers waiting, with babies of different ages, but all with patience with their babies and with their wait. Even the one who has made it here with her toddler as well as her three week old. She watches her play with another toddler – and she looks relieved. They made it here and they’ll wait, with a breath of optimism that maybe things can be better. They hope.
And I look at the mother watching intently as one of other the breastfeeding counsellors talks, and she watches as the heavy, rice-filled, doll flops on the breastfeeding counsellors lap, with its face buried in her chest. And I smile.
And that unsettled, anxious feeling in my chest goes. I realise it’s not anxiety I feel but a glimpse of grief. A grief for the mothers and babies who are there and for all of those who have walked in the door before, and for all of those who have the right to do so in the future.
It’s a desperate feeling, a sense that no-one really knows what goes on here. Unless you’ve needed to be there. And then you do. Unless, you’ve walked in there with in exhaustion and pain and fear – and with a tiny bit of hope. It’s the thought of a loss of hope, that tastes like grief. We need to keep giving hope, and support and information and plans for mothers and babies who are there because they want to be and they need to be.
And so I stand up with pins and needles in my feet, pick up my knitted breast, and ask who’s next. And we start again..’so how are things going?’. And we keep going.

Homerton coffee table
Homerton coffee table

4 thoughts on “Freeze frame – a view from one of the breastfeeding counsellors”

  1. What a lovely piece of writing 🙂 Would it be possible to publish this in our NCT branch newsletter (Basingstoke) as this quarter breastfeeding piece? We could include a link to your blog and Facebook page.
    Anne, BFC in Hampshire

  2. Thank you Anne! Yes, please do use it and, as you say, if you could link to our blog and facebook page, that would be great. We need to get the message as far and wide to help prevent the drop-in from closing. Justine

  3. Excellent moving piece. Needs a big audience! Thought of sending it to national newspapers?
    Really hope you don’t get closed down. Good luck.

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