For many years now, I have been completely content to spend my days pottering around my family’s home. I spend hours cooking, far less cleaning, occasionally wash and fold the laundry, play and read with Abigail, and of course, devote hours to sewing and painting and making, using my love of crafting as just one expression of my love for my husband and daughter and the home we have created together.
This year, I have stepped just a little out of my comfort zone. I have attended weekly classes and workshops on Buddhism, put down the preferred fiction, and read books on happiness, joy, compassion and love, and the importance of sharing this with all we meet. And I came to the conclusion that my daily life had become quite self indulgent. Yes, I am a diligent mother and wife, but if I simply concentrate on what’s within my four walls, I am failing my community. Mmm … I truly mean that … failing. To quote the magnificent John Donne …
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a part of a continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less …”
So after procrastinating for over a YEAR – I’m a slow mover – a month or so ago, I joined a group of 40 odd people at an information session for volunteers at a large, local hospital. My first preference was for a role as a Ward Nanny in the Mothers’ Hospital but I was more than happy to massage feet, run errands, keep day patients company … wherever I was needed would be the right spot for me. At my interview, I said as much, but after describing my life experiences and what I hoped to do in the future, the HR coordinator nominated me for a position as a Ward Nanny. I smiled for the rest of the day … and in private moments, clapped my hands with glee and jumped up and down.
Today, was my first day. What do I do? I provide support and friendship to mothers. I offer to run errands, settle their babies if the mums are at their wits ends or tired, encourage the mums with the feeding and bathing of their babies, sit and listen, accompany them to baby care classes. Be their companion for the morning. Some mums are confident and content, some are frightened and exhausted, many are a bit of both. All are new mums who have such a great adventure ahead of them and it is my immense privilege to be there at the beginning, even in the most simple of ways.
It was a quiet day on the ward. I chatted with a mum whose family and friends are a l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-n-g way away and was able to suggest the services of the local Maternal and Child Health units as good, supportive places to find other new mums, professional help and build friendships. I attended a physio session on baby massage – that was so good, I wish I had possessed these skills when Abby was born. And I even learnt how to pick up a newborn baby sideways, so as to help them develop strength in their neck muscles. Julian suggested practicing on Toph but I think she’s probably the wrong shape.
But the best part of the day came after I had popped my volunteer smock in the laundry hamper, signed out and was trudging home – wondering why I ever agreed with Julian that the walk home would be quick and good for me. As I rounded a corner – a couple of blocks from the hospital – I came upon a young, very pregnant woman who was holding her stomach and crying. I had walked a couple of paces past before I registered her distress, stopped, questioned whether I should ask if she was okay – can you believe that! As a society we have sadly become so conditioned to “minding our own business” – walked back and asked if I could help.
She cried harder, grabbed my hand, squeezed it and said oh yes, thank you so much. She had terrible sciatic pain shooting from her back, through her hips and down her legs, and had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for days. Now she had an appointment at the antenatal clinic with the physio and didn’t know how she was going to walk that far. I tried to convince her she should sit in a nearby shop whilst I got her a wheelchair but she wouldn’t hear of it and instead, leaned heavily on my arm and we ever so slowly walked to the hospital – the pain in her back and hips was so intense, she couldn’t even lift her feet, but shuffled.
I listened to her talk about her toddler, her dreams of becoming a horticulturalist, her desire to move her family to the country where life would be slower, quieter, more friendly. I know I’m going to sound sentimental, but it was a wonderful 15 minutes of connecting with a sister of my community. Of being in the right place, at the right time, to make a little difference, to add some love and comfort when it was needed. We rested every now and then and when I delivered her to the clinic’s reception, I hugged her and wished her well. Likely I will never see this woman again, but the opportunity I was given to help her, was a wonderful affirmation that it is right for me to put down the needle, take off the apron and give a few hours of my week to my community.