First birthdays, part 1

Our first birthday cake!

Emily, Katherine, and Kats

Last week, we celebrated The Motherkind Café’s first birthday, so I thought I’d start the blog by thinking about birthdays. A first birthday is a milestone, a time for both celebration and reflection on the past year and how far we’ve come. One of our peer supporters, Rebecca, says that in order to really get used to something, you need to experience it in every season. Now that we’ve done that, we can now look forward to the cafe’s future. This is especially exciting as this week, we received the best late birthday present we could have hoped for: a grant from the National Lottery, which will help us to continue to help local mothers for the next year. Thanks to everyone who has visited us, supported us, or spread the word about us in the past year and here’s to many more!

Here are Emily’s thoughts on the first year of The Motherkind Café:

Now that The Motherkind Café has been open for a whole year, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on that year, and what it was like to set up and run the group. And what a year it’s been! We opened the doors at Flo’s for the first time on 11th January 2019, and since then, we’ve run 42 sessions, met 93 mothers and 96 babies and children, and trained 17 peer supporters. It took 9 months of planning and preparation before we’d even got to that first session and it felt like the culmination of many, many hours of meetings, phone calls, writing documents and getting everything in place. For me, Guin, and Becca, finally being able to hold our first drop-in at Flo’s felt very special.

Everyone had told us that there would be a huge demand for what we were going to offer, but it was hard to gauge whether we had spread the word enough and got the tone right with all our publicity. I remember that when we were setting up on the first day we opened, we were wondering whether anyone would come at all. In the end, about seven women came, which was fantastic. I spoke to a new mum who was really struggling with the all-consuming demands of early motherhood. I’m not qualified to say whether or not she had postnatal depression, but for me, that wasn’t important. She said something along the lines of “Sometimes it just feels a bit like a prison. There’s just no break and it’s so hard, and this is my life now forever.” It was like looking in a mirror. To be able to say the words “I thought that too! It’s really hard! But you won’t feel like this forever, I promise” was the best feeling in the world.

The course of running the group this year has been a huge learning curve for all of us I think, and in particular for me, in terms of offering peer support. When I first started, I was so scared to ask anyone directly about their mental health in case they felt I was prying. Our society attaches so much shame to negative feelings about motherhood and sometimes it felt like asking women to admit to them was trying to embarrass them. Each woman who comes to talk to us has a different experience and also a different “comfort zone” around how they express things that are difficult and important to them. Some women are very open from the beginning, whereas others will come along several times before they will feel comfortable enough to talk openly about something they are struggling with. Understanding those differences and the cues people give is really key. We’re all still learning the delicate dance of opening the door for the conversation to happen without pushing anyone through it.

It has also been a real unexpected highlight to have Guin lead her very popular “Circle” sessions. She has facilitated lots of similar group discussions elsewhere and had found the format a good way for women to explore how they feel about motherhood. I wondered how anyone was going to feel comfortable talking about very private experiences in front of strangers in a room. Much to my surprise (and delight), the Circle sessions are usually our most popular Motherkind Café of the month. Our first one, “Nobody Told Me,” felt like such a vital space for women to discuss the things we rarely say out loud about motherhood, how hard it is, how it can be lonely and isolating and painful and overwhelming and full of guilt and shame. Something about the feeling of being both visible and heard as well as slightly anonymous in a group, as well as Guin’s superbly sensitive management of the discussion, gives such a wonderfully open and non-judgemental atmosphere. This year, we have discussed sleep, relationships, identity, and birth, among other topics, and they are always a real treat to be a part of.

As we start a new year of The Motherkind Café, there are a few changes afoot. Both Guin and Becca will be taking a step back from running the café in 2020, after some changes in their professional lives meaning that they now need to spend a little more time focusing on work and family, but they are both lending support and championing us. I am eternally grateful for how much hard work, scrutiny, and experience they poured into this project, drafting documents in the small hours while the rest of their house was asleep before a full day’s work the next day. The ethos of treating women with kindness and respect and giving everyone a chance to tell their story that they helped to foster is, and will continue to be, one of the defining features of The Motherkind Café for a long time to come.

I am also very excited that two of our longest-serving peer supporters, both of whom sat in that very first training session in Guin’s cosy cabin, Katherine Crawford and Kats Handel, have joined me as co-ordinators of the group. They have been so supportive and generous with their time this year and I am really looking forward to seeing where we can take The Motherkind Café in 2020!

Thank you to everyone who has cheered us on, shared our posts, donated, told a friend to come to a session, given us their time, and told us their story. You have all helped make The Motherkind Café something I am incredibly proud to have been a part of!

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