How the kindness of a stranger sowed the seed for Swathe.me

This is a little story about the kindness of a stranger; and how I ended up in a French hospital an hour from home with a 3-month-old baby, no nappies, no house key, no money, no phone, no shoes, in my pJ’s with no idea of how to get home at one in the morning.

The Big Move

In Oct 2007 I was 8 weeks pregnant when we decided to go and live in the South of France for a year – a long-held dream of mine.

My husband and I had been living in the UK for seven years, and we were over it. We left our jobs, rented out our newly renovated house, and bought a left-hand drive car.

Sadly that dream didn’t last long for various reasons, and we returned to the UK in February only to find I was no longer part of the National Health System. I had been transferred to the French medical system and could only be treated in France during my pregnancy.

Kindness of strangers in france

As my husband had just acquired a new job in London, I ended up going back to France alone and renting a house in a tiny hamlet in Rouillac, Brittany. Basically in the middle of nowhere but close enough for my husband to commute to and from on weekends. Not really how I saw myself in my dream but hey, I had to deal with my new reality.

Even though I was clueless when it came to babies, I naively thought I’ll be fine. How hard can it be right?

Settling In

The hamlet had a grand total of 4 occupants including myself.

On one side of me was a childless English couple, Susan & John (not their real names) in their early 50’s. And across the lane, an English lady called Jackie, around 60ish.

I settled in well, and during the remaining months of my pregnancy, I hung out mostly with Susan and John who were your typical bored expat couple who liked to have a good time.

As Susan didn’t have children she had no interest in babies, and after Laud’s birth, it didn’t surprise me when she was no longer wanted to hang out.

It was Jackie, who had kept to herself and I hadn’t really had much to do with, who came knocking on my door. She was to become my guardian angel.

One month old Laud with Dad

A Stressful Time

When my son Laud was born, my husband was able to stay with me for the two weeks which was great. Then I was on my own. From that moment on it was all about survival. I just clung on for dear life until the weekend for that much-needed respite.

Daily walk in Le Herrison

My three cats who had made the journey with us and once the loves of my life were on their own. As well as the cornucopia of wildlife they brought in to show me – voles, rats, mice, birds, moths, that I had long given up rescuing.

One morning I was upstairs wondering how I was going to feed the cats as I had run out of cat food and was juggling all things baby. I heard my name called from outside and opened the window. It was Jackie. She asked if I needed anything from the shop, a 15-minute drive away. I remember a wave of relief washing through me that someone was there to help, and that the cats would get fed without organising a massive expedition.

Kindness and compassion come from the most unlikeliest of places.

Jackie started popping in each day to see if I needed anything. She had been a single mum and knew what I was going through. She was a total godsend.

The Sting of Rejection

One day Jackie wasn’t around and I desperately needed something from the main centre, 30 minutes away. It took me ages to pluck up the courage to ask Susan next door if she could pick it up for me if I gave her the money. She was going into town that day anyway and loved to shop so I thought it wasn’t too big of an ask, for her.

When she said no, in so many words, I was crushed. I put on a brave face and slunk back inside the house and cried in a heap.

My breast milk started to dry up from the stress and Laud wasn’t latching on correctly which didn’t help. I was up early every morning hanging out for 9 am UK time to call La Leche League over there to get much needed expert advice that was not available where I lived.

One night, after hours of Laud screaming in hunger and me at my wit’s end, I went across the lane and shoved him into Jackie’s arm saying, ‘Here, you take him. I can’t take any more.” She happily cradled him to sleep whilst I sat there watching, defeated.

Eventually after two very stressful weeks, using various measures I was able to get the milk sorted and I was so happy and relieved. Life was good.

Kindness of strangers

The Moment It Went Pearshaped

That night I went upstairs and put Laud in his cot.

I remember it was 7 pm and I texted my husband that everything was sorted and I was going to get an early night and that tomorrow would be a better day.

As I got into bed and turned over to turn off the light, the room started spinning violently and I couldn’t move without wanting to vomit.

I didn’t know what was happening and I was terrified.

All sorts were going through my head as I got on the floor to crawl down the stairs to the phone to ring Jackie. She came over at once and rang for an ambulance. Thirty minutes later six big burly Frenchmen carried me off the couch and took me off to the hospital just as I was – PJs, bare feet, no bag, no nothing, just Laud, looking like I’d been pulled through a hedge backwards and feeling 10 times worse.

I left my house key with Jackie to feed the cats in the morning and then come and pick me up from the hospital.

I got to the hospital expecting to be admitted to a ward like you are in the UK. But I was kept in a waiting bay on my own in a bed for the next three hours with no way of changing a dirty nappy, while they tried to find out what was wrong with me.

Over time I started to feel a little better and when they didn’t find anything wrong with me they said I was free to go.

I was like “what? It’s 1 am!” How was I going to get home without money, a phone with all my contact numbers, and no house key?

Jackie wouldn’t hear me knocking as she was quite deaf and it would scare the living daylights out of her anyway if she did.

In the end, an ambulance took me home and billed me later for the hour-long trip. The porters carried Laud and me across the gravel around the back of the house in pitch darkness to climb through a window I had left open for the cats.

When I got upstairs to the bedroom, bang, it happened again. There was nothing I could do but crawl into bed and wait out the night.

Thank God for Jackie

The next morning, feeling pretty vulnerable and sorry for myself, I rang my husband and broke down in tears. He left work immediately to get the train to Portsmouth for an 11-hour crossing to St Malo. Unfortunately, with the ever-increasing peak hour flights to/from London each weekend that we hadn’t originally budgeted for, we didn’t have the funds for the last minute flight to Dinard.

In the meantime, I was so desperate that I rang my doula (a French lady I had hired to help me through birth) and asked if she would come and look after Laud until Andrew got there (and offered to pay), but she was busy with her family and said no. Another crushing blow.

Jackie insisted on driving her car to St Malo to pick Andrew up – a two hour round trip. I knew that was a big ask because of the cost of petrol, but she wasn’t comfortable driving my car and refused to take any money.

This was a lady who until a few weeks earlier, had been pretty much a stranger, but had stepped up and helped me through this traumatic time.

One month old baby and me

My husband was able to stay for a week of frequent doctor visits to find out that when I rolled over awkwardly in bed, I had dislodged the crystals in my ear causing BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo). In other words, severe vertigo which is apparently quite common.

Pretty much soon after that, our tenants in the UK moved out, and we were able to move back home again. I had never been so happy to be back in London, unlike my cats whom I sure went through a period of mourning.

To this day, I have never forgotten the kindness of Jackie. Without her, I don’t know what I would have done.

What I Learnt

What that experience taught me, besides never attempt to bring up a newborn on your own in a foreign country in the middle of nowhere, is that…

• we can’t always do it on our own,

• we’re not always going to be fine,

• we may need help,

• it’s really hard asking for help,

• help is not always available,

• and when it is, it comes from the unlikeliest of places.

This experience also sowed the seed for Swathe.me, our direct support platform. Because when I was at my lowest, I would have done anything to be able to send a text or a shoutout to someone online for help, instead of asking face to face, or over the phone, and leaving myself wide open to rejection.

It also gave me a new appreciation for single parents, and to always be mindful of the struggles going on behind closed doors just because it’s so hard to ask for help.

And this is where you make a difference. Every day, make a deliberate, conscious effort to ask how can you help someone today. Even the littlest acts of kindness can have a huge ripple effect, dramatically impacting someone else’s life for the better.

I’d like to find Jackie one day to thank her for being there. She no longer lives in the Hamlet having moved back to the UK five years ago and I’ve lost contact. But I want to let her know that because of her kindness, hundreds of other people now get the support they need from people who care without having to ask, with Swathe.me.

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Do you know someone going through a difficult time?

Chances are they could really do with some practical day-to-day help but will struggle to ask for it.

Swathe.me makes it so easy to give practical support to someone you know, in a way that works for both you and them.

It’s really simple – you just make a list of what you can do to help and share it. And it’s FREE!

Click here to make every day better for your loved one today.

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