It’s what this week has been all about. A daunting brief when you think about it, something you never expect to have to do, but sometimes life has a funny way of turning all your plans and perceptions and pre-conceived ideas on their head and sending you off in a completely direction to the one you expected to take.
Without a doubt, every new parent looks forward to the journey they’re about to embark on, albeit often with more than a little trepidation about how they will cope and they start with ideas about how they will deal with feeding and sleeping and routines. They might plan to follow in the footsteps of parenting gurus like Dr Spock, or Gina Ford or Jo Frost, after all they’ve read the books and seen the TV shows; or perhaps they think they will take a more relaxed approach, where routine is dictated by the child and everything becomes an opportunity to learn. Of course, you quickly realise that however much you’ve studied the subject beforehand, your baby hasn’t read the same manual and your best-laid plans go out of the proverbial window. No matter the milestone reached – that heart-melting first smile, the scent of your newborn as she snuggles into your arms, the infectious sound of his giggle, that quizzical first taste of food or teetering first step – as Mum or Dad you’re there to love and encourage and cheer them on.
When we started our family, Mike and I prepared ourselves to answer their every question as best we could. We anticipated having to deal with the never-ending whys and knew we would need to find truthful words to reply to the most personal questions with simple honesty. We understood our role was to teach them about the world surrounding them, even the unpleasant bits, and equip them with knowledge and understanding and the skills to withstand the buffeting winds that life would inevitably send in their direction. We couldn’t know what storms we would need to weather together
There’s no question that having the responsibility of educating our community about the most precious of subjects is often scary, but it’s one I embrace wholeheartedly and honestly feel that it’s a privilege to have found ourselves in this role. It’s about so much more than being M’s advocate or defending G’s corner, although those form the greatest part of my job. It’s about sharing the lessons I’ve learned and, with that, it has become about explaining to others the nature of M’s chronic illness and the impact it has on our lives. This morning we spent a few hours at our community market, our information boards proudly on display, leaflets ready to hand out, a few bits and pieces placed to try to raise even the odd penny more for Over The Wall and most importantly, a smile on our faces that meant we were willing to answer questions, to explain, to share even the tiniest bit about EGID.
By the time we finally gave in to the cold and the rain, packed up and left, I had spoken to over a dozen people, who wanted to learn a little more and were genuinely interested in what we had to say. Not only had we had opportunity to teach our community, but I found that in response, people had felt able to share their stories and really talk about things that were close to their hearts. A lady whose daughter had been oxygen-starved a birth over 30 years ago and who had sadly lost her last year was able to empathise with the challenges of juggling family life and meeting G’s needs as much as we do those of M. Another woman, who had been diagnosed with Coeliac disease a few years previously, shared her disappointment that those around her still struggled to offer gluten-free options, instead simply opting for something “safe”, but infinitely less satisfying such as fruit or yoghurt to replace the cakes and biscuits they were enjoying. And a family, who had seen our story in the paper and were longing to talk to us about their daughter, who had been struggling with gastro issues, eating disorders, anxieties and food intolerances since she was 11 and even now, at 37, found the medics lacking insight and understanding and unable to help. I don’t know that really I could give more than a sympathetic ear and insights from our own experiences with M, but I also know just how valuable those small things can be.
Have we achieved what we were hoping from this week? I think so. I’m proud that we’ve worked hard as a family to raise awareness of EGID and hope, that in some small way, we have taught our world a little more about it.