Like many people, part of what’s getting me through this strange and difficult time is a range of indoor exercise options, and adventures in cooking.
The unusual thing that’s been keeping me going, though, is breastfeeding. Not doing it myself, but helping others. My children are in their late teens, so those years are long gone. But I volunteer on the National Breastfeeding Helpline (and work, sometimes, training other women to volunteer on the helpline, and supporting them in their volunteering).
Women call the helpline with a wide range of issues, and in a wide range of situations. Particularly in the early days of the lockdown, when women couldn’t get their usual support from the NHS, and when they couldn’t see their extended family. Lots of volunteers stepped up, and in March and April we took more calls than we had ever taken before.
Why? Many volunteers were stuck in their houses with school-age children underfoot. Lots of us had unusual stresses about health and jobs. But, when you’re having a hard time, one thing that can really help, is helping someone else. It makes you feel powerful, and it makes you feel connected. Our training focusses on listening skills – we have to be able to listen effectively, to help women over the phone. We have to be careful to get all the relevant details, so we can give women appropriate information and support. Those listening skills include empathising with the people who call us – and that connection, during a dark and difficult time, was uplifting. When you’re having a bad day, helping someone else can really improve your mood.
Sometimes, on the phone, it feels like a weird sort of sleepover. Just me and another woman (most of the callers are mums) talking in the dark. Ok, there’s more crying than I remember from sleepovers. But it’s a sort of intimacy, a contact. Each call is a leap in the dark – you don’t know what you’ll get. You don’t know if you’ll be able to help. But you know you’ll do your best.