Today, we have a guest post from the brilliant Katherine Crawford, one of the co-ordinators of the café. Thank you to Katherine for sharing more of your brilliant writing with us!

A sickness has fallen upon this house (not Covid-19). It passed the children as a single sneeze and has been settled in my sinuses since December. The fearful drip, the cough, the stuffy nose and difficulties sleeping have descended like an exploding nappy, unwelcome.

So I’ve been feeling rubbish for a while and it’s made me realise something: mums cannot afford the luxury of being ill, the luxury part being the ability to rest and recuperate: instead, there is always a demand, a need that must be met. I don’t believe it’s just my house that operates like this. I’ve spoken to many a mum who feels the same.

Including the act of giving birth, of course. Giving birth has been medicalised in the UK, with most women giving birth in a hospital or in the quasi-medical space of a birthing centre with trained medical professionals tending the needs of mother and baby. I’d query how much time is given to tending the mother. After the birth of my own babies, I was taken to a post-natal ward, while my husband was told to go home and I was left to try and soothe a newborn baby with my insides being held together by a couple of stitches. There was help, of course, but everyone on the ward needed help too, and there was not enough to go around, so we all muddled through with sore nipples and “the new mum walk.” This is not a criticism of the midwives and support staff; they are simply under-resourced and spread too thin. The help I did receive was welcome. What I am trying to say is that the focus seems to be on the baby from the moment they are conceived. Are we merely vessels for new life? I thought this idea had long been removed from modern thinking.

Covid-19 has brought additional challenges to maternity care: How does the NHS protect their staff from this disease? A friend recently had a planned C-section and was allowed home a day later because the father could only be in the operating room to witness the birth before they had to leave. She faced new motherhood after major surgery where she was only able to use the bathroom with professional help and this idea was understandably a bit much. Do many people return home from major abdominal surgery after 24 hours?

A conversation held by the Oxfordshire Maternity Voices Partnership also highlighted the difficulties faced on both sides, health professionals and expectant mothers, particularly when it came to scans, which partners were then (during the pandemic of 2020) prevented from attending. How do we support women when they receive the worst news, now on their own, and the next client is waiting? How can we support women going through not only physical, but also emotional turmoil alone?

There is also the statement that as long as the baby and mother are healthy, everything will be ok. What is being implied here is that the mother and baby are alive; this does not mean healthy. We see a lot of women at The Motherkind Café who appear physically healthy but who are certainly not ok and who require treatment for many many years to come.

What are the answers? Sometimes, it isn’t money. We can throw money at the NHS and it will never be enough, but we can start advocating for our mothers, sisters, friends, and daughters; we can demand change through small acts of rebellion. We can visit new mums and ask them how they are (a friend said not one person had asked her if she was ok in the post-natal period), ask them what they need, remember our colleagues on maternity leave, remember the friend going through the sleepless nights. Activism from the ground roots is normally the most successful. Fathers need to start demanding better paternity leave, not just shared leave, but leave they can take at the same time to support the woman who gave them a child to get the rest she needs, to care for them both.

I often think back to what I needed after the birth of my second child. I’d have liked someone to come round, insist I sit on the sofa the whole time holding feeding my baby whilst they prepared lunch and entertained my toddler, then pack me off upstairs for a nap while they cuddled the baby, leaving only when my other half got home after preparing dinner. I’d have liked to talk about something other than babies; I’d have liked them to listen to my birth story and to have congratulated me on what was an awesome feat.

The Motherkind Café cannot operate in a physical space at the moment, so we have gone online at The Motherkind Virtual Café, where I hope we encourage mums to seek support, through peers or professionals, and help women to advocate for themselves and others.

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