Transcript - Non-judgmental parenting support (with cake!) with Lizzie from Cake Club (Episode 5)
Updated: Mar 21
Libby You are listening to Constellations, the community podcast connecting charities, communities & causes in the two unitaries of Thurrock & Southend.
Todays episode is being released on March 8th - international women’s day. We thought it was fitting to release our chat with Lizzie from Cake Club. Cake Club is definitely not just for women - it is for the whole family - but it has supported so so many of the women, as well as in the Southend community as well! Not to mention the fact that it is women-run… Lizzie and her team have provided a vital service to families since setting up Cake Club, and as I discuss during the chat, I personally feel ever so grateful for the support provided through the community for my own family, during the pandemic. So without further ado, let’s get started!
Libby Thank you so much for joining us to talk about all things Cake Club today.
Lizzie Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Libby So for anyone that doesn't know, what exactly is Cake Club?
Lizzie So Cake Club is a parenting support and play group. It's basically kind of a hybrid of sort of church play group with all the toys everywhere, um, and the support group. It's a really kind of chills of social atmosphere.
It's not just for the parents. It's not just for the little ones, but we've kind of got something for everybody. But just allowing parents to access support, and non judgmental support, evidence based support. You know, while kind of in a relaxed environment.
Libby How did it come about?
Lizzie I was already running sling library sessions alongside other groups, So I often went to some of the baby clinics, this case like the health visitor clinics and a couple of playgroups. And then I had another friend who was training as a breastfeeding peer supporter at the time, and we were, by second time parents who had had, slightly rocky journeys. I would say with our first babies, so we were NCT friends from our first babies, but had found very much that we have had to figure things out for ourselves because our babies didn't do what the books said, didn't follow the routine didn't kind of do all the things that we were very much led to believe our babies were going to do so, and we found that we, um chose a more kind of responsive, parenting kind of gentle parenting route ourselves just naturally because that's what felt right to us with our first babies. So but we really felt that we weren't supported in that, so that, you know, everything that was out there was very mainstream, very kind of routine driven. Thankfully, we had each other and we had a couple of other friends who were all on the same wavelength. And during that time I went and lived in Norway for a couple of years as well and met a lot of parents with lots of different backgrounds.
I mean, at one point I remember with my second when he was a year old, I had to go to Chelmsford to go to a breastfeeding support group because there was literally nothing. It was quite a complex issue I was having. And, you know, I needed somebody who was really experienced, and that was the closest place. So I think we were really conscious of that and wanting to provide something that offered that feeding support. But really, with the emphasis being on you follow your instincts to make your decisions about what you want to do as a parent. But, what we wanted was a room full of people who didn't feel like they were being judged. Didn't feel like they were doing something wrong, because I think we felt both of us had felt with our first babies that we were doing everything wrong. And that's not very nice feeling as a new parent.
Lizzie So I think, really, we set out to help other parents not to feel like that.
Libby So how did you get into slings?
Lizzie so I got into slings because I had a non sleeping non-put-downable baby, so what I now know with lots of kind of, you know, research and reading and study that I've done over the years, He was what's typically described as a high needs baby. He needed a lot from us as parents.. He had quite a rocky start. He was in special care for his for the first week because he was born with an infection and fluid on his lungs. We didn't get to take him home for the first week. I didn't get to hold him for the 1st 24 hours. So I think he was always going to be a kind of high needs baby anyway. But I think that kind of slightly traumatic start for him meant that then when he did get home, he's like, I never letting go of you, ever.
I remember really vividly when he was, I don't know, a couple of months old, like pacing the streets with him, crying in my arms pushing an empty pram and a sling underneath my pram because I hadn't really fully understood that that was going to make my life easier. And I think it was that.
Lizzie: Yeah. And I say this and so many parents have had the same experience,
Reluctantly I gave into using a sling and then, like that, of course, was kind of, miraculous and really, really helped us because that was all he needed. He just needed to be close to us, and he slept better. And he, you know, just generally was happier. And then practically for being able to travel like I flew to Norway on my own with him. So, you know, I had to have I had to have a way of carrying him around and managing. and luckily, when I got there, baby wearing is a lot more more commonplace. So you know, people just just as a tool, like, not even necessarily kind of a particular style of parenting.
Libby It's like a magic wand, isn't it? Like when I used to sing for the first time with my son,
Lizzie That's what you need. Yeah, absolutely. And I think also there's a lot of maybe kind of myths and misconceptions around carrying. And I think what I learned was that, you know, for a small baby, it really is just one of the things they need. They need, like close contact, and it's you know, it's lovely to hold them and sit on the sofa and watch Netflix, but life doesn't always allow you to do that. So you know, using a sling allows you to kind of meet their needs while also doing lots of other things. And I found that that kind of really fitted into how I felt about being a parent and kind of, you know, wanting to meet his needs. But while also feeling like I'm a person and I need to be able to do stuff for myself, I don't want to get kind of lost in this, you know, just having a baby because there's there's more going on. There’s other stuff I wanna do!
Sharen So you started just over three years ago. Tell us how you changed or how you had to adapt during the pandemic.
Lizzie Like everything else, we shut down pretty much straight away, and I think what was really difficult, especially now looking back on it there was no guidance for running anything at that point. So, really, the only option was to close. You know, there were no no support services running at all. So, um, yeah, we had no alternative but to just say right, that's, you know, we're shutting down. Um, And then, of course, the schools were closed. So I have two Children, so I had my own Children at home and that first lockdown again. It seems mad now, looking back on it. But there was no child care. Preschool wasn't open. There was nothing. Um, so I was at home with my own two Children. My husband works from home, thankfully, so I was able to keep working. Um, but in terms of Cake Club, we really had to just try and move as much online as we possibly could. But actually, given the nature of our groups, that was really, really tough because it's hard to be kind of sociable and supportive all at the same time. On Zoom, It just doesn't work. We have a Facebook group. We at the time we only had a couple of 100 people in our Facebook group, but during the pandemic that just grew and grew because I think people needed a space to interact with each other. Um, So while we did do some sessions on Zoom, Um, actually, I think what was the most important thing for people to kind of access our support was the Facebook group, and we grew to, I think, 1000 members during that kind of first few months of the pandemic. But what we found was people were going into the group to ask a question or to kind of share their experiences, and we tried to put as much as we could into that group. So I was doing kind of just like live chats regularly. Every week we were doing a live sling library session so people would send messages of what things they wanted to see, and then I would demo them. We had breast feeding support, and we got I think about 40 different individuals in, mostly during in that first lockdown, just to kind of offer information and supports parents. but it was it was really hard. It was hard to keep any momentum going. I personally found it very, very difficult being stuck at home and not able to go and do everything. My Children did not respond particularly well to being at home, trying to do school stuff with me. So, you know, it was I kind of felt a bit like I had this responsibility to support everybody and make sure that you know my team were all okay and everybody wanted everybody was kind of wanting to be involved in offering a bit more support still could do that. But actually it felt for me it felt a lot like every day was a bit of a struggle myself as well. So I didn't always feel like I had the spoons to kind of be supporting anybody else.
Libby What it's worth. My daughter. She was born in March 2020. Yes, I'm not a big Facebook user but Cake Club was invaluable for me. I’m more of a lurker than anything else Yeah, but there's always someone that's got the same issues going. Yeah, it was great to have all of that support.
Lizzie But that is, I think, the really wonderful thing about a Facebook group that feels like a community because you can be a lurker. And I think we've probably got 1000 of them because you don't see everybody's names popping up there all the time. But we would do a live and we'd have 30 40 people watching because everybody was at home , so nobody had anything else to do. But you know people were responding, and I would get a message afterwards going. I just watched that and now can I kind of, hire a sling or can I speak to you about feeding support and feeling this way like, you know, do you have any suggestions? So we definitely reached a lot of people that way. And I think, Yeah, we can kind of look back on and be really proud of ourselves for doing that because I think it did that. It's so lovely to hear when we hear it from people. But we have heard that and that. I think that really kind of reinforced what we then decided to keep doing. I think going beyond that first lockdown as we were able to kind of emerge into doing stuff again. Um, but I think it is wonderful that you can have a question, you don't even have to ask it. You can just look through and somebody else has asked the same question at some point.
Libby You've taken that exactly out of my brain.
Lizzie Yeah, exactly. And I think that there's a lot of downsides to social media. I'm very conscious of that, particularly bringing up children in this digital world. But at the same time, I've seen what it can do when used as a power like as a force for good. And I think that sense of community, you can't replicate that in another way. And I think that's that's what's really, really lovely about kind of having that space, that people can come in and kind of share their experiences and and, you know, it's not most of the time. It's not the kind of so called professionals, like jumping in its parents and that I think that's what's at the heart of Cake Club and always has been, whether it's kind of our online presence or are groups, it's about peer support. It's about parents supporting each other. And we were just two parents who started a group. In fact that's all we were and in fact, our entire team. We have 52 people in our team and Volunteers group now, you know, some more active than others, each one of them very valuable in their own way. Almost everyone in that group is a parent who at one point came to Cake Club, needed a little bit of support, wanted to hire a sling, wanted to kind of make a friend, and they're still with us. That's what Cake Club is about. It's that peer support. It's accessing peer support alongside that kind of non judgmental and evidence based professional support as well. So it's nice that we were able to continue to offer that online as well as in person.
Libby I think a lived experience is just completely valuable, isn't it?
Lizzie Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's what we've learned more and more as we've gone on. And now that you know, we we run a lot more groups now. We're able to kind of diversify and have different people running different groups because they all have their own experience to bring to the table. It'sjust like knowing that we have kind of all these people who are able to offer their life experience in order to support other people. Um, and that they want to do that. That's just yeah, that's that makes me kind of really pleased that that's something that we started.
When the world had started to open up again. After that first, lockdown it actually, it's again seems crazy, but we end up in a weird situation in the summer where actually could go on holiday but they hadn't let you open support groups yet - really odd time, and I think it took the government such a long time to prioritise. You know, small groups, charities, support like that just wasn't on the radar as being something that needed to be put back into place. But when we then went back in September 2020 we immediately went back into our two venues that we'd earmarked, you know, a year earlier, and very quickly found that the demand was was higher. So over that kind of next couple of months, we then added a couple of extra sessions. And then in the November, when we had that lockdown where the schools were still open, but kind of everything else pretty much closed and all the baby classes and the clubs all closed, we were able to keep running because we were classed as a support group. So we found at that point that our numbers sort of doubled tripled every week because, parents access support in lots and lots of different ways. I'm talking to the two of you as parents, I know you know that, but I think it's something that we didn't really realise. That when somebody goes to a baby sensory class or they go to a baby massage class or they just go and meet their mate for a coffee. Whoever's leading the class probably has gone into it because they have a passion for supporting parents because these jobs do not pay well enough for you to go into it for any other reason. That person is looking for something, they're in a position where they want to support parents. Everyone else in that room is probably a similar stage of parenting to you and knows exactly how you feel. So you go and you get your hot cup of tea and you get that experience of sharing some oxytocin with your baby. And you know, the person next to you has had exactly the same issue as you there, baby, not sleeping the last night. Or, you know, whatever is going on teething, you know, choosing the right nappies like reflux. All these, like millions of issues that we all deal with when we have a new baby. And so parents access their support and get kind of fill their own cup and deal with their own mental health and their own mental well being by having those experiences. And when those experiences are taken away, then actually the need then for more targeted support increases. So what we found was that everything we ran became incredibly well attended by people who wouldn't necessarily have normally come to Cake Club. But they just needed somewhere
Lizzie what we found was people don't want to go that far. They and they want something that's like on their doorstep that they can easily access. That's accessible by public transport and, you know, has good parking. And like all of these things, different factors to consider. But they're actually kind of having them spread out, then means you've there's always something that there's always the option of going and accessing some support, like wherever you are and whatever day of the week it is, um, they're not always going to be convenient for everybody. And the fact that we now run so many, I don't run them all by myself it's not possible anymore because there's too many of them. So, you know, we do have different team members kind of running the sessions, which means that they all have a slightly different vibe. Our Shoeburyness, for example, is run by Libby, who runs the Milk Carbon Southend, and she is a breastfeeding counsellor. She's a really real infant feeding specialist, so she's able to answer some more complex questions and support in ways that some of the rest of us, although a lot of us are infant feeding peer supporters were not trained to that level so having that option of going and saying, actually, you've got a particular issue. If you go and see Libby in Shoebury, then you know we know that she can support you and the same we have Claire on our team, who's a midwife and again a real infant feeding specialist. So if people are worried about anything to do with their pregnancy or you know that kind of initial postnatal period or again need real specialist feeding support, they can go to Claire, and the sessions that she runs there were kind of able to offer a little bit more, by contrast, then in Eastwood, we've got Steph who runs supernova birth services. She's a doula. She does hypnobirthing, and she has a lot of the antenatal prep. So if we've got expectant parents, they're more likely to want to go to that session because they can kind of get some of that from her, and so we're able to offer kind of different things at different sessions. We try and have slings available at all of them, and have now trained almost everybody, so that that's enough. But then you know for people again If somebody's got a more complex and if they wanted to carry a baby with if they've got special needs or baby with complex medical issues or wheelchair bound parent like lots of different kind of something that's maybe slightly out of the out of the norm of what we would see every week, then I would always suggest that they come and see me or a session that's got Joe out another one of our volunteers, because she's a baby wearing consultant as well.
Libby So if our listeners would like to get in touch with you or follow along with what you've got going on, where can they find out more?
Lizzie So we're on all of the social medias. You can find us on Facebook. Cake Club Sling Library and Parenting support that’s the page. And then we have the group, which is Cake Club Community. Um, so you can just just stick them onto Facebook and they should come up. And then we're on instagram at lizzie dot Cake club on instagram. And, um, we have got a website on the way. It's we've managed so far without one, and it's it's just something that needs to happen. But it is coming. It's coming. And then various other members of the team have their own social media presence as well. So they're all on their all on instagram. And, social media is generally where you're going to find us. But most of our groups, you know, we're happy to welcome people just to drop in as much as possible. So yeah. Please, please come and find us.
Libby Brilliant. Thank you very much for coming to see us and talk to us
Lizzie Thank you for having me!
Sharen Keep up your amazing work.
Lizzie Thanks, we will!
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Thank you so much. Take care - bye!