Well, the end of 2020 is nearly here. I am nearly the end of my first month in this role as chair for Gloucestershire MVP, so it does still feel like new beginnings for me at the moment. It also feels very much as though each day has stopped and is skipping like an old CD, in a car going over speed bumps. You just don’t know where you are but the song will continue, maybe at the start, maybe in the middle.

This year has been incredibly tricky. I can only express my heartfelt sorrows to so many families; there has been a lot of hurt this year. I also know that this blog will not be enough to make any of it ok. It is simply a letter to all those people who are affected by the situation we find ourselves in;  for siblings who haven’t been able to visit new brothers and sisters. Grandparents who are yet to hold their now few months old grandchild.  Partners who have missed precious time with their new born. Mothers who have felt anxious waiting to know the current guidelines. New parents, who are currently reading in the middle of the night whilst feeding (get some sleep while you can). To the parents sat on the floor by a cot shhhing a little one to sleep.

But in all that, we have heard some remarkable stories. Stories of love and care, empowerment and support. If possible, I think it is so important to focus on the positive and reflect on what we have each achieved this year.

Gloucestershire MVP has continued to listen to all the comments, concerns and feedback this year. We are working closely with maternity services to ensure that the voices of families are heard. Obviously we haven’t been able to go on to the wards and speak with new families, but the team has been working hard to find new ways to engage. We are part of a new Maternity Cultural Diversity Group, to ensure that the needs of people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds are recognised. We are also looking at ways in which we can support families going into next year, if it is possible to have a support group or if these need to be through a virtual call. We are hoping to continue the Breakfast meet up for dads and partners and considering how we can extend this further to other groups.

We aim to work together to improve services. Obviously at the moment this is very tough, we are receiving lots of feedback from people who are feeling hurt about the new guidelines and the restrictions in place. I want to let you know that we do hear you. Your concerns will be voiced. I have been invited to be part of the meetings which look into the restrictions and risk assessments in place at the moment. The MVP does not have direct influence into how maternity services are run, but it is a chance for co-production and to voice the concerns we receive. I also want to take the opportunity to say that we also get an overwhelming amount of feedback from families saying how brilliant their experience was, so please feel in some way reassured, our maternity services are trying to deliver a positive experience to all families, whilst protecting families and staff.

I have been feeling a bit disheartened to realise that this role for me over the next year will have a large focus on COVID-19. There are lots of other exciting projects which I would like the MVP to be part of but would not be appropriate this year, and of course I recognise that many roles have to prioritise and this is the world we are currently in.   But I am lifted every day when I read how incredibly strong the families of Gloucestershire are and just how wonderful our maternity services are. There will always be experiences which do not reflect this, and to these families, I am so sincerely sorry.

I honestly think the families of 2020 and the soon to be 2021 families should be incredibly proud. Everyone has their own story and there will be lots of people who are still facing struggles, but I want to say how amazing you are to have kept going in such a confusing and tough time. Obviously I don’t know the people reading this personally, but what I do know is this – parenting is tough. Growing a baby is exhausting. Birthing is different for everyone. Feeding is different for everyone. Managing life, work, babies, children, education, it is all different for everyone.

Please remember that if you had a baby under the age of 1 year old on the 2nd December 2020 you can create a support bubble with one other household. If you feel it is right for you, then do use it.

Christmas will not be what a lot of people are used to this year. But however you choose to spend this time of year; stay safe, keep warm, enjoy time with your family and if you can, find time to rest your mind from it all.