24 hours a day my mind is consumed with medical thoughts and things to remember, prepare and monitor. To attend a toddler group it is necessary to plan and prepare our day so that my little man needs minimal medical intervention for that 1 hour of the day. As a result he has the opportunity to play, explore, interact with others and be independent while this overthinking, anxious mum tries her best to step back and let her child simple be. When all the stars align, meds aren’t due, stoma bag is behaving itself, and a feed via gastrostomy isn’t due, being able to sit back and watch my child be like any other in the room is simply breath taking.
When I was pregnant, I had the typical mummy dream of taking my baby to all these different groups I had seen on social media, and the ones you see pinned up on local notice boards. Baby massage, sing along, sign language and the standard church hall group with toys that you trust are clean, and not so dirty they could grow legs and start walking off! When you search for toddler groups online you come across the extremes of both. Some people rave about them with the benefits of making new mummy friends and feeling less isolated. Others on the other hand rage about them, talking of fellow mums that make them feel pressured with the talk of milestones met, and feeling inferior to others.
In my case it was a different kettle of fish altogether. I had to contact everywhere that was a possibility and check they had disabled facilities, that they were easily accessible to where the group activity took place, and stress the fact that my little man has a stoma bag which in the early days leaked multiple times a day. When an accident happened, we would have to bail on whatever was happening at the time, and get to the nearest facilities pronto. The first group I went to was a Moo Music class. Cathy the lady that runs the class was the most welcoming and friendliest person, who made me feel at ease by the end of the first session. Driving to the class with Jake 4 months old I felt physically sick. I was making excuses not to go with my husband, and fighting between worrying what I would do if the stoma bag failed, and feeling like if I didn’t take him, I would fail as a new mum with my little man missing out.
Entering the church hall the group of ladies were sat in a circle with Cathy up front, a space was made and I thought to myself, come on Rach you can do this! So we sat down, the music started and Jakes little face lit up. YES! I had made my little mans day, he was happy, experiencing something new, and something every other baby did with or without a special need. Starting to relax 15 minutes in I felt a wet patch.
It had happened.
My worst nightmare had come true.
The stoma bag had come away from his tummy.
Stool was coming out. Unbelievably Jake wasn’t fazed still enjoying the music. I wanted so badly to carry on, pretend it wasn’t happening, and carry on living the dream that you see all the other mums living. Admitting defeat, I excused ourselves and bolted for the disabled toilet. I proceeded to get a new bag on him, using a one piece system at the time with no clear covering, I was trying my best to simply get it on. After several attempts it wouldn’t quite stick on the edge of one corner. The class wasn’t far from ending and I badly wanting to end it on a good note, so after using an extra dressing and checking all was ok we rejoined the group. Jake was happy to be back enjoying the music and I was left traumatised with the same old tune of ‘why me’ playing around in my head.
By the end of the class looking at Jake you would think he was like any other baby in the room. A few ladies said hello and made the effort to talk, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it with the panic of the stoma bag in my head. Making small talk with people I didn’t know was the last thing on my mind. From that day forward I told myself the worst has happened, you dealt with it. Everything was fine and we both had a nice time by the end of it. Yes we didn’t take part in the whole class. Yes my head wasn’t fully in the room. But we survived.
Roll on 2 years and we enjoy weekly toddler groups and have made firm friends as a result. All from different walks of life, brought together through the simple desire to make friends who can relate to the good, bad and ugly that is motherhood. When spending time with these special women and their gorgeous children (I hope you know who you are as you read this) I can relax in the knowledge that I won’t be judged, they accept me for who I am, and most importantly they show a genuine interest in how me and my little man are doing. One certain lady who has made the mummy moments more bearable has turned into my bestest of friends and so much so I have the honour of being her bridesmaid next Summer! If I wasn’t a mummy our paths probably wouldn’t of crossed so thank god for motherhood, she’s just as crazy and mental as me and she has the most gorgeous little girl too.
One thing I have never come across is many mums of children with special needs in main stream toddler and baby groups. This is so sad to see. Clearly facilities and what the groups provide are a huge factor in this, but the joy of having a friendship with another mum going through a very specific, yet similar struggle to you is simply magical. It’s like winning the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. I am lucky enough to have met a beautiful soul in the form of a lady who has the most gorgeous boy living with similar needs. We struck up conversation in the play room of the hospital ward and straight away I felt at ease and that if she was doing such a great job and surviving, then I could too.
I’m not saying every group we have been too has been rosy but it has led me to being a more confident mum, finding the type of people I want to invest my time in, and first time friends for Jake which he can share new experiences and embrace the sheer joy that forming relationships bring. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances I urge you to give groups a go if you haven’t already. You may find a few frogs in the pond but when you find the prince of groups, it’s a truly beautiful thing.
Until next time, thank you for reading. Rachel x