By Marion Paddock, Islington Breastfeeding Peer Supporter
Late December 2019, I had a gut wrenching moment when I knew lockdown was looming. I was obsessively following the Coronavirus and watching the world news. When I saw Chinese keyworkers covered in PPE;
I became scared and anxious, I felt sick and my gut instinct warned me – “We are doomed”, “the end of the world is is nigh’, “Don’t panic, don’t panic DON’T PANIC!” The voices in my head screamed at me.
Initially, my anxiety levels were high and trying to stay calm to the outside world. I went into full survival mode – I read and watched everything, I bought my own PPE from Amazon, industrial visors (sigh). I shopped a little extra from week to week. I already had a secret stash of toilet paper. Because the Chinese were buying it, I started to add a few extra rolls to my weekly list.
My family thought I was nuts. “Run to the mountains” was something I would often yell if we were ever in danger. We were in danger I secretly thought. Probably, empty supermarket shelves freaked me out the most.
When lock down was announced, the prospect of not working or supporting mums was overwhelmingly fearful. With a deep sigh of relief, the Islington Project would still be maintaining a service. I really felt appreciated, punching the air, as we were considered essential workers. My guys at home family were celebrating; I would be out of the house rather than us all stuck indoors together. Phew!
Abruptly, March 23rd and our working schedules changed. Project Leads Hannah and Jane not only reached out to the team and supported our individual needs, but kept our service running.
Those early lockdown weeks, I was mainly working at UCLH hospital – no calls – no home visits. February was the last time I used public transport, so I was back riding my bike into work. It was brilliant – Cycling through the empty streets of London. Pure Delight! Tearing through the one-way systems (if you can imagine 54-year-old menopausal women tearing down the streets of London), jumping the lights, not a soul in sight… clean clean air – I could breathe – pure heaven. The morning birdsong was sublime. Nature came alive.
The wards were eerily quiet. Where had all the mums gone? Hospital management were keeping the bays clear and to a minimum. No Dads! Mums and staff were feeling all very overwhelmed, fearful, and apprehensive. Understandably anxiety levels skyrocketed.
It felt so right just being there. It was not just breastfeeding support, but general support. Sitting next to mums and staff, listening, fetching cups of tea was a big deal. Giving a mum my fruit who was craving an orange – because her husband was not around to go out and to buy some. Lots of extra pillows for Mums to feel extra comfortable.
I felt you had to double check in on mums to see how they were doing mentally and emotionally in regards to the pandemic. I wanted to give them space to air their fears, worries and concerns to release and vent them. Little acts of kindness were the least that I could do.
When I was feeling happy and safe, I was also reminded the lives lost and those suffering just in the next building. It was all very humbling, peppered with mixed emotions.
As weeks went on, changes to my schedule and I was back in community home visiting mums. PPE was a faffy new extra activity. Gloves, visors, masks, shoe coverings and aprons. Putting it all on – took a bit of time in the early days. My glasses were steaming up wearing a mask, tolerating my own coffee chatty breath coming right back at me…. eeeeow!
Having a few hot flushes in PPE was like bacon in cellophane on a hot summer’s day. Definitely zipping about all over Islington on my bike.
Another pandemic was spreading though out Islington.. a nipple shield pandemic. Every mum was using them. Again, their emotional wellbeing and breastfeeding capabilities were being jeopardised with lockdown.
However, with reassurance, coping tools, listening and checking in on with them with follow up texts and extra phone calls; a week later the anxiety of those early feeding days eased a little – and mums were off the shields most of the time. Zoom video calling breastfeeding support – its new! It’s different! It’s not easy! It will evolve.
As a team we were attending weekly zoom meetings, reviewing our schedules, checking in on how each of us were managing and how we were feeling. You never forgot that you were working and supporting amazing women not only in our team, at hospital, at home and the wider social media community. Mums were so grateful and extra thankful for the amazing service we were still running through the pandemic.
The new normal was juggling home-schooling, domesticity, work, learning new technology, looking out for Grandad and different ways of communicating was draining. Often, coming home from work, my own anxiety and frustrations were taken out on my family. Short bursts and flash arguments broke out and we had to go to our designated time out rooms to cool down.
Giving your time to a mum, is the best you can be to somebody. In my volunteering years it was never too much to make that extra call, do that extra visit, learning my craft as I went along so to speak. This year for the lucky few has been a moment to pause. Seize a quiet opportunity to do things just a little differently. I am thankful for all the small and strange little blessings.
I have learnt over the last few months to be more resilient, patience, reflective and lighter in spirit. I am much more grateful just being there, here or anywhere – very unifying. Stay safe 🙂🙂🙂