I am reminded again of Mark Harris‘ assertion that we are meaning making beings. Leigh Kendall posted yesterday in advance of her son Hugo’s second birthday, asking us what we are grateful for? Hugo was born on 20 February 2014 and lived for just 35 days. Leigh has been doing incredible work raising awareness of HELLP syndrome, premature babies, parental bereavement and more under the hashtag #HugosLegacy. She joined the #MatExp team as “Language” champion for NHS Change Day in 2015.
What striking little parallels. On 19 February 2014 my youngest son David had his second open heart surgery at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, so we were in Alder Hey at the same time as Leigh was giving birth to and meeting Hugo. David turned 5 months old on the day that Hugo was born. My experiences in Alder Hey at the time of that second op, and the experiences of others on the ward, led me to start my Hospital Breastfeeding campaign (#hospitalbreastfeeding) to highlight the need for improved breastfeeding support on children’s wards. Discussing these issues brought me onto Twitter and led me to Florence Wilcock, Gill Phillips and the #MatExp campaign. I joined the team as one of two breastfeeding champions for NHS Change Day in 2015.
Leigh and I have worked together on #MatExp for some time now and I am in awe of her strength and the raw honesty of how she takes us all into her world via her blog and public speaking. Yet I had not fully appreciated the crossover of our experiences until I read her post yesterday. I was reading it whilst taking a break from writing my presentation on Hospital Breastfeeding for a BfN Study Day, and had been writing out what led me to start my campaign. It was so striking to realise that it all started at the same time as #HugosLegacy.
So Leigh is asking for what am I grateful? Well firstly I am grateful that this is the story that I am able to tell. David came home to us after that second operation, and is now a thriving 2 1/2 year old. Hugo should be celebrating his second birthday tomorrow with his Mummy and Daddy, but he is not. All parents feel a sense of gratitude for their children, I feel very privileged to be Mummy to my eldest son Edward, but when your child has stared death in the face that gratitude is all the more present. Every milestone for David is a moment of reflection. I know that Leigh wishes for all of us to appreciate every second we have with our children, however challenging that can sometimes be, and I truly truly am.
I have much about which to be grateful, I live a life of Western privilege, good health, good fortune, love and happiness. I am mindful of that every day. Most of the people I have met through #MatExp share some of that good fortune with me, but many have been through unbearable heartache. Not only do their stories throw my own good fortune into relief, but by telling those stories these incredible women help others to find healing, peace and a voice for their own struggles. Catherine MacLennan, Founder of the Pinks N Blues CIC, Emma Jane Sasaru, founder of Unfold Your Wings and the Perinatal Mental Health Network, Susanne Remic of Ghostwritermummy – three examples from a much bigger group of people who are using their voice to improve maternity experiences for others, so that future families have more about which to be grateful, and less heartache to remember and relive.
One of the #MatExp Focus topics for this week is Why Your Voice Matters. It matters because it is important to say thank you for that for which you are grateful. Rachel Gardner’s wonderful Showing Thanks page is the perfect place for that. It matters because it is important to tell your story so that others realise they are not alone in their struggles. It matters because speaking up can help you to make connections that support you in your experiences, and that help you to make the changes you desperately want to see. And it matters because what others have experienced helps us to find our own gratitude for the things we, so fortunately, have not had to endure.
Thank you Leigh. And Happy Birthday to Hugo. H.xx