Sunday, 3 March 2013
This weekend the annual La Leche League conference is on in Co. Cork, and my heart is there even if my body isn't.
Aside from all the talks which no doubt are very inspiring, the networking of mothers is the bit I'm missing most. In particular one mother who I've never met in the flesh, I'm not even that familiar with her face, but her soul and her heart are very dear to me.
Aideen, the mother, the teacher, the friend.
After my (well-documented here) appearance on Four Live in January 2012, Aideen was inspired to set up an online support group for mothers in Ireland breastfeeding their older babies. I think me talking about breastfeeding my then 3.5 year old struck a chord with her, and she wanted to connect mothers-to-mothers so we wouldn't feel so "out there" and alone.
In Ireland most mothers return to work after 6 months maternity leave, and breastfeeding usually ends around that time, if not before. So anyone breastfeeding a baby older than 6 months is well-used to the question "When are you going to stop?" phrased many different ways, mostly negative.
But this group, this online "village", this tribe of women has grown and grown. A closed group, word spread from friend to friend, mother to mother, women adding sisters, friends, colleagues... The membership now exceeds 1,160 mothers who are mostly still breastfeeding their babies.
There are the more seasoned mothers who have more than one child, some of them stopped breastfeeding years ago, but still have wisdom to share. There are the new mothers, only weeks into the nursing experience, but with questions for the tribal "elders". There are the mothers who had one child, for whom breastfeeding didn't work out, but they are trying it again on number two, and asking all the little questions which seem niggly, but are so important when you can't latch on a hungry baby.
The situations are myriad, the questions are varied, the members are so different, from all over the country, and some abroad, but there is one bottom line: They all want to breastfeed their children.
So everyone pitches in. Someone has a baby with a temperature, she's worried, she posts a question. Within minutes she has many answers, she weighs up the information, reads the links the other members add, she makes her decision. Hours later people ask how her baby is, she updates on the situation, thanks her online friends for their care and support. Mothers share breastfeeding photos, celebrate the milestones, the common line is "Nobody else gets this like you ladies" or "I couldn't share this anywhere else" or "I'd never have done it without this group's support". And so much gratitude, you wouldn't believe. Yes, personalities clash from time to time, but it invariably gets sorted out.
There are women I have met through this group who have become close friends in real life now. There is an old school-friend I have been re-united with. There are many more women I consider friends, though we have never embraced, but I've seen into their hearts, and I recognise my kin.
This is a true "village" and we are all raising all the children, together.
But the real hero, the one who was the icing holding the cake together, was Aideen. Single-handedly for most of 2012 she administrated the group. She kept an eye on the conversations, jumping in to diffuse a situation with humour and balance when needed. She asked questions of her own, she shared her own experiences. She also set up some spin-off groups for more specific needs: tandem-feeders, breastfeeding children over the age of 2 etc. Despite mothering her own children, and working, and studying(!- loon!) she also mothered us all, and we all feel like we know this kind soul, despite many of us never having met her. She kept us in line, she laughed with us, she cried with us, she got cranky with us, she kept it real with us.
She is being honoured this weekend. Some beautiful hand-crafted gifts were made by members of the group, and presented to her on the Saturday evening. Months of secret preparations went into the gifts, the sentiments behind them, the symbolism. We were all there in spirit as she received her gifts, thanking her for creating this safe space for us to mother as we need to, as our children need us to. Without judgement, without fear, just love.
Aideen, from the bottom of my heart, this group has changed my life for the better. And not just my life, but hundreds of other mothers have you to thank for all your hard work and time. None of us know how difficult it must have been for you to keep it going, but every one of us appreciates you.
Go raibh mile maith agat, a mhuinteoir, a chara, a chroi,