Continuing the birthday theme, Katherine and I have written about our memories of our children’s first birthdays.
In the run-up to The Motherkind Café’s first birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own children’s first birthday celebrations.
With my daughter, it was a lovely spring day, we had some friends and family over for a little party in the garden. It was also the first time she “self-settled” for a nap, which felt like a gift in itself. I remember feeling a bit underwhelmed: having my daughter around was as natural as breathing by that point, it felt like she had always been there.
My son’s first birthday was also a lovely sunny day, this time in high summer, and I remember having a paddling pool out for the little ones. This time though, the dark cloud of depression was fully in place. I was about to return to work, which was filling me with dread. What if my colleagues could tell I had a mental health problem? Was it somehow imprinted all over my face? Should I wear a badge warning people off? I remember feeling so anxious my ears would ring.
The Motherkind Café’s first birthday, no anxiety this time, no dark cloud, a celebration of this wonderful place, conceived by Emily and put together so lovingly by her cohorts Guin and Becca, brings me nothing but pride.
I remember sitting in Guin’s little house at the end of her garden feeling that I had found my place among women. We all had something in common, a desire to help other women who had felt like we had. Perhaps a bit alone, worried, depressed and more likely afraid. Afraid of what a label such as “mentally ill” actually meant. And we were going to take some of that fear away.
This is a space I would have used when I was unwell. I wish it had been there! It might have meant I’d sought help sooner; my recovery might have been quicker; I might have felt less alone.
Many of the ladies who visit us wear the mask I am far too familiar with, the false smile, the raised shoulders and head down. Most of the time, they leave with their head a little bit higher. To see someone have a genuine smile when they realised it’s not just them, to hear the words “our chat last week really helped,” “I’ve spoken to my health visitor and I’m getting some help,” just seeing women come to multiple sessions and realising that we have created a space which is making a difference no matter how small, it makes my soul glow.
I was honoured to be asked by Emily to step up to help co-ordinate the Café in 2020 alongside Kats. Working alongside two such brilliant and intelligent women in a role I feel so passionate about is nothing more than a privilege. The Motherkind Café is most definitely my rainbow after the storm of post-natal depression.
I read War and Peace as a young woman and I found it unbearably dull, but a quote came back to me when I started to feel better, which now completely resonate with me:
“They say: sufferings are misfortunes,” said Pierre. “But if at once this minute, I was asked, would I remain what I was before I was taken prisoner, or go through it all again, I should say, for God’s sake let me rather be a prisoner and eat horseflesh again. We imagine that as soon as we are torn out of our habitual path all is over, but it is only the beginning of something new and good. As long as there is life, there is happiness. There is a great deal, a great deal before us.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Depression was the hardest thing I ever had to go through, but without it I would not be here, working alongside these inspirational ladies, and maybe just making a difference.
My son’s first birthday wasn’t quite the picture-perfect celebration we had intended. It started off like any other day: we woke up earlier than either of the adults in the household would have preferred, and then I went off to the dentist, a logical celebratory choice, because I’d been putting it off for a while and my husband was at home that day so it meant I didn’t have to find someone else to look after our son, or, worse, attempt to corral him at a dentist. When I got back, we tackled the massive pile of presents from our very generous family and friends. He didn’t really seem to get what it was all about, though the ride-on car from his aunt went down well. Then we set off to take him out for the day.
Where had I decided would be the ideal venue for this celebration? Why, Westonbirt Arboretum, of course. Over an hour away. In November. When it was cold and raining. Where else? I think I’d had visions of him joyously toddling around in autumn-hued leaves while we watched on adoringly and took photographs, congratulating ourselves at having made it to a full year in one piece and laying down a precious memory that we would remember fondly for years to come. Instead, he wouldn’t eat his lunch, flipped out at being in the pushchair, and insisted on being carried by one of us through the drizzle at all times while the other pushed the empty pushchair. Undaunted, we went on to spend the night at my aunt’s house nearby, whereupon we realised we’d forgotten any nappies, and while she kindly went out to get some for us, we put him to bed, only to come downstairs to find she’d prepared a lovely birthday cake for him which he was now not going to eat. A bit of an anti-climax. The next day, we drove home via a farm with a soft play, which had the benefits of being mostly indoors, more interesting for a small child, and liberally supplied with tea. Much better.
What did I learn from this? Keep it simple. Have realistic expectations. Think less about abstract ideas and making perfect memories and photographs and more about making sure the birthday person is actually going to have a good time and will get to eat their cake. And don’t for goodness’ sake get a dentist involved unless it’s absolutely necessary.
I’m not sure how much of this applies to The Motherkind Café, although cake does often feature. But we want to keep it simple and realistic here too: we’re here to listen to whatever you want to say, without judgement, without labels. I’m so happy and proud to have been part of the café for a year now, supporting mothers and children in Oxfordshire alongside some of the most inspirational women I have ever met. I hope we continue for many years to come. Thanks for being a part of it!