Birthlight and building communities
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching Birthlight classes is seeing friendships between parents and babies form and blossom. I see groups of mums and little one’s in the park and families connecting as they enjoy swimming together. These friendships can last for years, offering support and mutual enjoyment through the challenges as our children grow. The enduring friendship with my birthlight group began in Francoise’ classes over 21 years ago. I am forever grateful. Do read below some of our group’s thoughts and may you enjoy and create many wonderful relationships yourself.
There is a group of friends in my life which I have met up with regularly for about 20 years - ever since we got to know each other through natural birthing classes with Francoise Freedman. Some of us also did yoga classes with her business partner Sharon. These classes encouraged us not only to shape the births we were preparing for, but also to take an interest in each other’s experiences. Some of us already had older children, who occasionally came to the classes and were regarded with curiosity by the first-time mothers among us. During the first year with my new baby, I ploughed a fairly solitary furrow, but some of us stayed in regular touch and found it very helpful and enjoyable to get together - swapping stories about motherhood and family life while the children went from babes-in-arms to crawling creatures who began to take an interest in each other.
Around the babies’ first birthdays it became clear that parenting was about to become more complex: adventurous toddlers would have to be helped to make sense of the world and stay safe and happy at the same time. Fortunately, Francoise invited us all for a reunion at this landmark point. When she was confronted with many requests for advice on how to tackle our babies’ new phase, she suggested we get in touch with an organisation called Parentlink. This organisation teaches parenting classes which encourage the discussion of feelings as a jumping-off point for forming better relationships with children and for tackling practical aspects of everyday life with offspring who need both stimulation and boundaries. It also encourages parents to stay in touch and build supportive networks after classes are over. Grateful for Francoise’s tip, we enrolled for a beginners’ course on considering what works best when trying to create a harmonious family life.
This second round of classes gave us further insights into each other’s parenting styles - and also into each other’s characters and personal histories. The many stories we swapped about our children and their reactions to the world meant we got to know them better, too. When the course was over, we felt much better prepared, but far from fully qualified for the time ahead - and we decided to continue to meet and discuss our parenting under our own steam. For many years, these discussions were a very regular feature of our lives, and usually they went well, and we would go home feeling we had had a chance to share our stories, and with some new ideas to try - whether it was a recipe for playdough or possible solutions for the sometimes complex behaviours which can characterise the development of growing children. Staying in touch like this fostered friendships and helped us to examine a range of parenting styles - it also meant we knew the details of each other’s lives and were able to support each other in practical ways, especially as we found out we could sometimes entrust our children to each other for quality childcare.
Over the years we have tried many things together: play dates, birthday parties, holidays, Christmas carolling, autumn walks, trips to the the theatre, days on the beach, etc. When our children got old enough to realise we sometimes gathered to talk about them behind their backs (and eat cake without them!), we transformed the parenting discussions into book club sessions, which we still enjoy today. Often, of course, the literary analyses are followed with the latest news about the activities of our now sometimes far-flung brood. Most of our children have had their 21st birthdays, and we’ve had some large-scale reunions for which most of them have been present. When we meet up like that, the children seem to chat with each other as easily as they used to build sand castles together, and they seem quite happy to talk to the older generation, too. The parents still meet up to share all sorts of things, which these days also features our new, independent lives which are beginning to take shape now that the children don’t always need our daily attention anymore - another phase which we are grateful to be tackling together.
Nienke de Maat
I joined one of Francoise’s antenatal yoga classes in September 1993. I didn’t really know anyone else who was pregnant, and don’t have any family living close by, so the sessions quickly became a significant moment in my week. Francoise’s gentle guidance, encouragement and wisdom was enormously comforting in preparing for my daughter’s birth, but the unexpected bonus was that I realised I had a wonderful new group of women friends. Our babies were born within weeks of each other in early 1994, and we embarked on motherhood as a joint venture. We stayed together for some postnatal classes with Francoise, moved on together to a parenting course, and then took up residence in each other’s gardens, kitchens and sofas. We had more babies, remarkably almost simultaneously, and we started a book group to try and restore some intellectual rigour to our rather jaded brains. 21 years on the book group is going strong, we’ve had many gatherings to celebrate significant milestones, we’ve supported each other through joys and sorrows, and most of us are still in Cambridge. Our children have the most wonderful huge extended family. Our parenting styles are all different, but we have a huge collective pool of wisdom to draw on, and have done so extensively over the years - and I’m sure that will continue for years to come! Friendship, companionship & support such as we have in this group is precious and priceless. I am so honoured to be a part of it.
Antenatal class of autumn 1993 - current Trustee of Birthlight
Finding Birthlight was like coming home. A group of kindred spirits guided by Francoise who could share all the highs and lows of our journey towards motherhood. In the ante-natal classes we were shown how to care for ourselves and naturally this grew into the ability to care for our new babies and each other.
The bond was so strong that it seemed perfectly obvious that days would then be spent feeding our babies on each other's sofas, walking them around the Cambridgeshire countryside and as the years passed, celebrating the rites of passage that come with birthdays, new schools, moving house, the arrival of siblings and changing relationships. We did this all together. Birthlight provided for me the extended family that modern life denies most of us.
I was very honoured when Francoise invited me to become a trustee and accepted as I see very many children and families in my professional life as a teacher and what is strikingly clear about Birthlight babies, is how grounded they are (now aged 21) and how it is clear they know they are loved.