A Little Bit of History…

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Bellyful Founder, Jacqui Ritchie

To help you understand more about the organisation and why we started, I want to share my story with you…

In 2002 I met the love of my life, my husband, Robbie. He lived in Pukekohe and I lived in Mount Maunganui. I had grown up in a pretty dysfunctional family (which is a whole other story!) and had moved constantly throughout my life, so didn’t really feel any deep connection with any particular town so moving was no problem for me. So in 2003, I joined Robbie in Pukekohe.

I worked in Greenlane (a 30 minute drive from Pukekohe) so didn’t really spend a lot of time in the town I was living in, and therefore didn’t make many friends locally. My family all lived some distance away as well.

Robbie and I married in 2004 (one of the most amazing days of my life!) and then I fell pregnant with our first baby (Alex) three months later. We were ecstatic about becoming parents and getting ready for the impending birth of our first baby. I literally read seven different ‘how to’ baby books. I had to find out how to make sure my baby slept through the night and did everything he was ‘supposed’ to do!

Alex’s birth was long and difficult – so by the time he arrived I was exhausted, having not slept for nearly three days. He immediately wanted to feed, which I found excruciatingly painful and all a bit foreign really! As a woman you spend most of your time trying to ensure your ‘bits’ are all covered, and then in one day many different people are looking at, poking and prodding, grabbing and positioning all those same bits!

My baby wasn’t reflux or colicky, just a bit windy and quite highly strung. But he clearly hadn’t read the same books as me, because the ‘sleeping’ thing was not happening! And he didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t cuddle him to sleep (as much as I wanted to!) because the books all said it was the ‘worst’ thing to do. So I spent many hours, kneeling on his bedroom floor beneath his bassinet, with my hand stretched up at a precarious angle, patting his stomach gently and shushing him in the rhythm of a heartbeat, until he settled…. at which point I would crawl out of his room (and I mean that literally, I would crawl in slow motion, so as not to be seen or heard) and down the hall, too afraid to stand up in case some part of my body (let’s go with the knees for vanities sake) let me down by uttering a creak and alerting my baby that I had abandoned him. Only to have the neighbour’s dog bark or the telephone ring – at which point I would silently throw a tantrum, mouthing horrendous words and waving fists at the unseen culprits. What were they thinking? Did everyone in my street not understand? I had a baby! How could I possibly follow the books when unforeseen events were going to occur?!?! Was I stressed? Um, yes. Was I enjoying being the parent of a new baby? Only when I didn’t have to get him to sleep!

Coupled with this was huge financial stress which meant I had to return to work, part time, when Alex was just 3 months old. My position was high pressure and my employers were putting pressure on me to return full time which I did not want.

I was offered a new position which meant I could work from home most of the time, but was dealing with ‘very important’ clients and the stress was huge. Alex still wasn’t a good sleeper and we had tried everything. Getting him to sleep was a nightmare, and getting him to stay asleep all night was even harder. Once he woke in the night, it would be hours before he went back to sleep.

When Alex was about 18 months old, the stress and lack of sleep became too much and I started suffering from crippling anxiety attacks. This led to an horrendous struggle with depression (which only my husband and a few very close friends were aware of) – it was the lowest point in my life and I battled with suicidal thoughts regularly. The only thing that kept me going was my faith, and knowing that I never wanted my son to feel that he wasn’t worth living for.

Through some intense counselling and ‘thought training’, I was elated to feel that I was ‘coming out the other side’. However, I was terrified at the prospect of having another baby. I knew that the lack of sleep and stress meant that I could start experiencing the anxiety or depression again. I also knew that my husband really wanted another baby, and deep down I really didn’t want an only child. So we started trying, and 18 months later, I got pregnant. I was a little bit happy… but mostly terrified! There were times during the pregnancy that I got completely overwhelmed and just didn’t know how I was going to cope.

By this time, I had been living in Pukekohe for about 4 years and had a great network of friends, including many great people from the church we had been attending for a couple of years.

When Will was born, I made an important decision – I wasn’t going to follow the books (unless there was a specific question that I wanted suggestions for), but I was going to get through this newborn stage the best way for ME and my family. William was such a sweet baby, very easy, but very keen to be carried around. So we invested in a ‘baby sling’ and William slept in there for the first 4 months of his life – perfect!

The anxiety did start coming back when Will was a few weeks old, but my midwife was amazing and sent me straight off to the doctor. The doctor was fantastic at explaining why I was going through this (and reassuring me I wasn’t crazy!). This gave me the courage to be honest with those around me about what I was going through and meant that I got some great support.

The one thing that made a huge difference during this time was the fact that people – some I barely knew, arrived on our doorstep with prepared meals and baking! It made SUCH a difference! On the days that we had dinner provided for us, it was just so much easier. Not having to cook dinner was wonderful. I didn’t have to ‘think’ and I felt supported. I felt that others must understand that this was a difficult stage, and that they wanted to help our family. Instead of feeling lonely and isolated, I felt part of a community. It was empowering!

At the same time, I was aware of a new Australian friend I’d made, who lived around the corner. Our babies were born only a week apart, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to be much help to her, but I watched her struggle with very little support the same way I had with our first baby. She had also become extremely sick while pregnant and didn’t feel that her midwife was particularly supportive. I passed on some of the food we were given, but I could see that although the meals were helpful, the part that was missing was the feeling of support and encouragement from her community.

It was around this time that the dream first came to me… in that strange state between awake and asleep, I had a very clear vision of women coming together to cook meals and distribute them to mums who had new babies and lacked support.

“Wow”, I thought, “wouldn’t it be great if someone did that!” And I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was supposed to be that person. “Ahhhh no, I’m definitely not able to do that!” I thought. “That’s huge, and I’m only one person. Nope, not going to happen”. But the thought didn’t go away. It kept niggling at me, and I kept feeling that this ‘thing’ was my purpose. I had been made for such a time as this. My faith told me that I would not be alone in this. If this was something that was ‘supposed’ to happen, all I had to do was make myself available, be prepared to do the ‘work’ and the rest would fall into place. Was I afraid? Absolutely!

I spoke to my friend Toni, who I’d met in antenatal classes and shared my vision with her. Toni was wonderfully supportive and very keen to be involved. With two others on board we officially launched Bellyful (Franklin) in May 2009. And the rest is history!

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