This past week was a monumental milestone for Theo and myself which gave us both a sharp jolt towards the reality of what we’re about to undertake. After just one year working under the Feel Good Factory in Netherton for the Breast Start service as a breastfeeding support worker, I finished my final shift- and also picked Theo up from his last ever day at nursery.
The experience of actually leaving was eerie to the extreme. I actually stumbled into my job following the birth of Theo; certainly breastfeeding wasn’t even remotely linked to my original career plans or indeed, my degree in English from University. I had struggled to feed Theo when he was born, and with limited guidance or support within the hospital, I felt incredibly isolated and confused. When I came home, I was assigned a wonderful peer supporter of my own, and then begun to attend a breastfeeding group on a regular basis- and it was thanks to the incredible women I met along this journey that Theo and I not only survived the early days of difficult breastfeeding, but thrived and grew to enjoy the experience. I eventually trained up as a volunteer and begun to help other women in similar situations within support groups around the area I lived, under the guidance of the Flintshire Breastfeeding Peer Support Service. I really enjoyed the work, and felt pleased to be able to make a difference- no matter how small!- to other mums and babies. So when an opportunity opened to do the same supportive work in a paid role within Liverpool, I jumped at the chance.
I really enjoyed my job and had the privilege to meet some incredible people along the way. Some of the women I came across, who displayed a strength and determination even under the most challenging of circumstances, completely left me in awe and continually inspired me. From those who would spend hour upon hour patiently expressing for premature or sick babies under the care of NICU staff, to those who overcame enormous social or family pressure, or their own personal battles in order to pursue breastfeeding- there were women from all walks of life, and a range of circumstances, each with a different set of issues…all unified by this one desire and need to breastfeed. I worked with a great team of women also, and was lucky enough to also work alongside one of my close friends whom I had met through pregnancy. It was something I felt passionately about, and during those times when you helped a mother and baby overcome various hurdles to successfully establish and maintain breastfeeding, it was enormously rewarding to know you had made a difference to peoples lives. When we moved into the hospital and begun supporting women on the postnatal wards, it became more rewarding still. Nothing can quite compare to helping a new mother latch on her hour-or-so-old baby for the very first time.
Admittedly my job, like all jobs, had it’s ups and downs. Working in an area where breastfeeding was still a slightly ‘taboo’ subject for many had a huge range of challenges- fighting prejudice, long-standing myths and inconsistences were but a few of the hurdles we faced daily. As a fairly new service, there were also many, many ‘kinks’ to work out in the running of the service- in a way it was exciting to be part of something so new and unchartered, but it was also a true game of trial and error. I can’t say I was a huge fan of the paperwork, the continually changing boundaries or expectations…and towards the end as the workload quadrupled in a matter of 2-3months, I was beginning to look forward to leaving. But perhaps worst of all for me was the commute- a quite significant round trip of 1-1.5hrs each way in the car with a toddler in tow- and as the price of petrol rocketed, it begun to reach the point at which my job was no longer even financially viable. However, the year in which I worked in breastfeeding- and the year I volunteered prior to that!- truly shaped me and became a part of me; offered me a passion, a focus and an opportunity to be ‘someone’ outside the occasionally restrictive boundaries of motherhood. The prospect of losing that part of my identity was truly overwhelming.
I knew it my heart of hearts it was the right decision; but as those who have been in these same shoes previously will know from experience, that reassurance alone does little to settle fears once the reality truly hits. I’ll openly confess that ahead of my last day, I begun to view the prospect of leaving with a mixture of relief and excitement combined with fear, apprehension and pure doubt. It was almost sickening once I took the time to fully contemplate the finality of it all- because I knew once I walked away, I wouldn’t be coming back. Not into this role, this job. This was truly it.
Actually my final day was almost an anti-climax, but I felt oddly grateful for that. Just a half day and with no specific attention drawn to the fact I was soon to leave- in fact, I went about my normal duties in an oddly familiar and routine manner, as though nothing had happened, nothing was going to happen. It was as though I had been dreaming all this while previously and things were set to carry on as they always had. I collected my files almost robotic-ly and carried out my final phone calls in a systematic fashion. I entered my work onto my monitoring and checked my emails idly. Admittedly I did return my equipment and go about my ‘final’ duties also, but without sentiment or recognition of the significance of the actions- actually, I felt as though my mind had gone into a protective state of denial, and was refusing to acknowledge the fact that this was a day different from any other at all. Even as I bid my goodbyes to staff, I couldn’t quite get my head around the fact that I was going. Admittedly most of the team weren’t actually in work that day so the rounds of goodbyes were thankfully small- but as my bosses both hugged me goodbye and wished me well, I found myself light-heartedly joking and brushing off their comments in a frustratingly nonchalant manner. It was as though a more emotional part of me was standing apart from the whole scene, forced to merely observe, and was gawping in amazement at my apparent lack of care of sentiment. I wanted to shake myself out of this bizarre state I had sunken into- why wasn’t I more bothered??
Finally though, after stalling for time as I apparently waited for this ‘moment of significance’ to hit (which it never did…) I signed out from reception for the last time and left. Just like that. Goodbye Breast Start.
By contrast, I found picking Theo up from nursery for the final time a far more emotional experience. Perhaps this was because I was so acutely aware of the fact that despite trying my best to explain it to him, Theo clearly still had no grasp of the fact that this was his final day. As his speech has continued to come on in leaps and bounds over the past few months, he has talked endlessly about his friends and time and nursery- in particular recalling his favourite members of staff, and his ‘best friend’, Anthony. He had created bonds far stronger even than the ones I had with my colleagues, and clearly adored his time spent at nursery. And I was taking that all away from him in order to pursue a selfish dream. The guilt was absolutely consuming.
The staff were wonderful in giving Theo a lovely goodbye; he was given a photo album with pictures of himself and his friends and time at nursery in, along with some books and a teddy. The staff all hugged him and wished him well as he obliviously made to rush out of the door with the expectation that he would be returning in just a matter of days. The only moment at which it seemed to hit for him was when one of the staff told him he could keep his favourite toy- a little red tractor, matching the one on his top. This is a toy that had always been gently coaxed from his hands and put away at ‘tidy up time’ with the promise that he could play with it ‘next time’. Suddenly though, he was being allowed to keep it. Theo became obviously confused as he tried to give the tractor back and then uncertainly held it to him. I could see him look from one face to another as he tried to figure out the meaning behind this sudden change in affairs and the bewildered expression as LouAnn explained to him once again that he wasn’t coming back because he was going on an aeroplane with mummy and daddy, and so he could keep the tractor to play with. I confess I bit my lip quite hard at this point. It was a heartbreaking moment.
And then all at once, we had walked out and shut the door, and that was that. Into the car and driving home from work for the last time. And perhaps the most overwhelming emotion of all was sheer relief- we had been building up to this point for so long, and now it was finally over. The next part of our experience could finally begin in earnest.
Thankfully the rest of our ‘goodbyes’ are only temporary and as such I hope will not evoke quite the same emotional response as last week. Or perhaps I’m being too sentimental- because after all, moving on, accepting change and saying goodbyes is an inevitable part of life. And even in this moments of doubt and sadness, I never once regretted making that decision. I know that all the sacrifices I have made along the way will be worth while for the experience we will gain in undertaking this adventure- and when I regard it in that light, I cease to feel any sadness. I’ll keep repeating it to myself during those times when I start to feel any niggling uncertainty- it’ll all be worth it. It’ll all be worth it.