Why my local West Sussex children and family centre was a lifeline for me as a new mum
Having a child was everything I had wished for after years of failed pregnancies, but what I had not prepared myself for was the sense of isolation and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
Yet I was lucky. Not only did I have a supportive husband and family nearby, but I had an excellent children and family centre nearby - a place I had come to know during my midwife appointments.
The centre was not only the place where I had my baby weighed - at first on a weekly basis - but it also held breastfeeding clinics where I could access support and advice.
There was also a free drop-in playgroup, and information on different mother and baby clubs available.
For me, this was a place where if I needed to get out of the house I could visit.
There were always people I could talk to and, as a first time mum, it gave me the chance to meet other parents - vitally important so you know you are not alone. The middle of the night messages with other new mums when our babies would not sleep helped all of us 'get through' this period of time.
I was lucky I was able to use the centre for the first four months of my daughter's life. Then the pandemic, and subsequent lockdown, happened and everything stopped. No more weigh-ins, no more drop-in playgroups, no more meeting other new mums.
For new mums since the lockdown, not having that lifeline must be incredibly hard. And the thought maybe those children and family centres will not come back at all following news West Sussex County Council plan on permanently closing a large number of them is of great concern. Where will new parents go now? Where will the regular health checks take place; the support groups; the free playgroup; the casual drop-ins.
It helped me go from being a nervous mum who felt overwhelmed, unsure of what to do and adrift (my husband came home one day to find me in floods of tears declaring I needed to go back to work because I clearly was not cut out to be a mum) to someone who blossomed and begun to really enjoy it and realise I could do this role.
My daughter is now 14 months and I hope if she is ever lucky enough to have a sister or brother that the children's centre will be there to offer the lifeline that was available.
I realise the county council need to make budget cuts, but I just hope this can be weighed up against the need for new parents to access support within their local community.
Alex Jenkins, is this newspaper's engagement editor. Have you had similar positive experiences at your children and family centre? Email us at [email protected]