The following blog is by Sally, who has been supported byHome-Start Glasgow South, as part of our #VolunteersWeekScot series:
I’ve been blind all my life but never needed to ask for support before. I truly believed that I could embark on the journey of motherhood without any help.
After a textbook pregnancy my beautiful daughter Alice Elizabeth was born in July 2011. To say I was euphoric was an understatement – I felt such achievement, and the immediate love I felt for her was otherworldly.
It started reasonably well until I realised how bloody hard breastfeeding was. The warmth of post-labour dreaminess quickly turned into constant and gnawing anxiety. Breastfeeding became a haze of cracked and bleeding nipples – I couldn’t master the technique and Alice began losing weight.
In the months that followed I struggled with feelings of isolation, loneliness, exhaustion and an overpowering sense of inadequacy and failure. For the first time I perceived my blindness rendered me incapable of doing the single most important task – feeding my child.
At my lowest point I struggled with strange beliefs that Alice would become deaf mute, and I would be unable to communicate with her. Our water-tight bond was being wrenched apart by my obsessive anxiety until all I wanted was to run, escape, and ultimately end it all. I felt useless as a disabled mother and should give Alice up for adoption – other people would do this better than I could.
My mum recommended I seek help. I couldn’t face my GP or social services, convinced they would try and take my baby away, but when I reached out to Home-Start Glasgow South[LH1] I was immediately put at ease.
My volunteer coordinator Colette listened. All my worries – no matter how crazy and outlandish – were completely normal. Lots of parents weren’t able to breastfeed, or felt isolated and inadequate. Since reaching out to Home-Start all those years ago I have been matched with four volunteers: Inga, Kathleen, Sandra and Lynn.
The help they offer comes in a variety of forms. Being a blind mum sorting clothes and matching socks is tedious and time consuming. Volunteers help me to match my many odd socks, and find the rogue detritus of toys, clothes and books my children have hidden in strange places. Little things make all the difference: I can do this stuff myself, but my volunteer makes it fun and stress free.
To say I was terrified the first time I took Alice out of the house would be the understatement of the century. The confident rampager of the streets pre-Alice had been replaced by a shivering wreck. My volunteers helped me navigate. They helped me through the potential dangers, and knew where I could go as a blind mother. Eventually I felt confident enough to take Alice about unaided, knowing that she would be safe.
Alice loved books from the get-go. I was floored by the realisation that I couldn’t help her learn as other mums could. But I had a volunteer now – and so I armed myself with my Braille writing machine, sticky tape, some books and my volunteer. Every week we would sit for half an hour, her dictating and me typing. With these braille labels a magical world was opened to me as for the first time Alice and I could bond over these stories.
My volunteers helped me to navigate a new world and bond with my child, but it was after the birth of my second child Amelia Isabel this support became even more life-saving.
The emotional storm following Alice’s birth was nothing compared with the terrifying transition of unreality with Amelia. Three months of no sleep, constant mastitis, milk allergies and endless expressing left me paralysed and sobbing on the floor of my doctor’s surgery, gripped by such severe panic attacks that I thought I was dying. Violent mood swings made me feel possessed, and constant dizziness and ringing in my ears made walking or even talking impossible.
I was admitted to a mother and baby unit at my local psychiatric hospital. Doctors, nurses, family, friends and Amelia helped me make a full recovery, but through all of this my volunteer was just a phone call away.
When she visited I was able to talk candidly about my worries and feelings. Although the help from the unit was invaluable, I found those talks with Sandra were the most healing balms of all. She knew me and I trusted her more readily than the unfamiliar staff. She made me laugh, played with Amelia, and helped me open up to everyone. She was a gem.
This emotional support is the best thing about Home-Start. All my volunteers have become lasting friends, bonded with me and my children. They are a seeing eye, a listening ear and a helping hand in one. They have helped me to become the strong, confident mother I am today, and I will always be indebted to them and to Home-Start for their support.
So if you are thinking of becoming a volunteer this Volunteers’ Week, know that however small the difference you make to a family, it will be one that families will cherish forever.
Every day Home-Start[LH2] is providing life changing support to thousands of families. Get in touch today to find out how you can get involved.