Holding each other and being held by Free We Grow

By Sara Asadullah

Since bursting back through the gates to Dacres Wood, after three months away, there’s been such a real sense of mutual delight! Delighting in the wood, the freedom, the spring, and each other. Being together as a group feels precious and exciting. There’s been an eagerness to come to meetings, an attentiveness and curiosity towards each other. There’s been respect and harmony in sharing our space, and so much joy in being together physically – wrestling, dancing, moving, chasing, and of course being cats and creatures together. And with my pregnancy, I’ve experienced so much tenderness and care from all the children – another thing bringing us all together. There’s also something emboldening about deadlines – the fact that we have a certain amount of time together before the baby – that brings clarity and energy, and a sense of purpose. Just like having been deprived of each other during lockdown is helping us to value our experiences even more now.

At the end of our time online, thinking of how we were facing the next weeks and months together, with my maternity leave starting, and new facilitators in the space, it felt a little bit like we were about to get on a rollercoaster ride together; one we could call the ‘Transition’! Once you’re on, you can’t get off! I had a lot of fear that the type of ride might be like one of those which has a sudden drop, that brings your heart to your mouth and your stomach to your feet, something you need to get through. The reality is so far completely opposite to that – full of joy and love, and gentle processing, with relationships strengthening and deepening, instead of the opposite. Now I have a feeling we are holding hands, travelling towards the top, looking around, taking in the faces around us, before plunging into another phase. There are many things that are making this ride feel safe and fruitful, and I want to appreciate them here.

The children! The response to the pregnancy has been remarkably tender and celebratory, with curiosity and playfulness too. Rowan and I have taken an approach that the pregnancy offers all sorts of opportunities for learning and exploring. So during check-in time I am sharing regular updates on how the baby is developing and how my body is changing. Rowan is reading stories about pregnancy, we have books about changing bodies available, and some are curious to check my pregnancy app, which shows how the baby develops week to week. The stages of the pregnancy are giving us a way to mark time, and track the changing needs, little by little, in a way that I think helps us all to be present with the transition in a positive way, through the excitement about the baby, and the wonder around how it is developing, rather than either ignoring the upcoming change or being in anticipation of separation. We also wanted to make sure that pregnancy and childbirth could be something the children witness and understand as a wondrous, safe, biological process – rather than an unknown mystery, that might even appear a bit scary to some.

The children are noticing my size and shape changing, my speed and agility, they are commenting and being curious. They’re noticing that the baby likes me to dance, and that I can still do most things, just that I’m getting out of breath a bit quicker, and I have new limits during wrestling time! (They also have new limits, saying that I am heavier and could potentially squash them!)

Today I shared that the foetus is currently developing taste buds, prompting a discussion around whether or not if they offered me interesting foods at this time the baby’s taste buds would be sophisticated and enjoy many types of food! So there were lots of pretend offers of food for me. Last week, when I shared that the baby could now hear sounds, the group erupted with messages of love and friendship directed towards my belly! I have had secret presents gifted to the baby, and imagined scenarios of them coming to be at Free We Grow, lots of noticing that there are now actually two people doing whatever it is I am engaged in. And then there is also spring – with all the creatures we are noticing – the frogspawn, the birds building nests, getting ready for babies as well.

The Team! The ride feels safe due to the Free We Grow directors team and the care shown towards the process of transition, and how to handle things smoothly for the children, with Rowan as an anchor. Part of this is the holistic care for the facilitators, which includes a dedication to maintaining healthy open communication, the chance to talk whenever we need, as well as monthly supervision with a psychologist. This space has been so helpful to make sense of how we want to approach the transition, and to have space and time to acknowledge all the feelings, so we can feel clear and happy when we meet the children. It has helped bring the realisation that through sharing our experience of this upcoming transition with the children, it will be an important part of their growth in learning about other transitions in life; how to have goodbyes, how to go through changes, how to honour one phase and enter into another. So this is how we are approaching it.

Above all – space – time – play! As usual, I am blown away by how play is clearly a route to happily and healthily process the events of life. All of this new information and perspective on bodies and childbirth is finding its way in through play. In our fantasy play, I am cast as the pregnant komodo dragon, or the mother cat, protecting her babies. Rowan was recently cast in the role of mother cat giving birth to a litter of 5 kittens, each one passing out from within her womb (a designated space under the chairs), to the outside, attached by the umbilical cord (a cable). Our new intern Elena started last week, and was put to the ultimate test – stuck in the mud – recently described by one child as the ‘National game of Free We Grow’, which seems to function a bit like a child-led induction process. There is something about this favourite game that seems to provide a way to really get to know each other, and especially to get to know a grown-up: to know how they approach play, how it feels to play with them, to be on their side then against, to be chased and caught by them, how they work together with other facilitators; way to examine their speed, strength, agility. A way to feel out how this adult will use their power in the space.

I was incidentally a bit cheeky, and managed to stick one of the children in the mud through sneaking up on him. Holding space for the new intern Elena to have time to connect with the children brought a pang for me that I might be missing out on special moments with the kids. However, a day later, and I found myself the target of a leaf-revenge on Sara mission for my stuck in the mud transgression, which made me really feel there’s time and space for all of us – for each of us and each child to be seen, and for the play to equalise the power, and to even out kinks in our relationships. Being so rich in time and space at Free We Grow that the ebb and flow of play can help to hold us all through this current ride!