The Rarest Elixir
Having children in Oxford is a very special thing as was growing up here.
I didn't know about Flo’s until I went to a midwife appointment; I’d moved closer into Oxford, my midwife team changed from Wallingford to the Isis team. I grew up in South Oxfordshire in the house on top of the hill.
I moved to Garsington for a year. And then we moved to Donnington Bridge. It was a huuuuuge change for me. I went from the countryside, in the middle of nowhere, to basically the centre of Oxford.
It was a very stressful period. A was two and I was pregnant with Z. I had issues with the house, the ceiling fell through because the water tank burst in the loft. And then a day after everything was resolved, we went into the Covid lockdown.
I've never lived in the city before, but I thought it would be nice to not need a car all the time. It'd be nice to just walk around the corner and there's a Tesco. But there was a lot more than I had even anticipated – places like Flo’s.
Flo’s midwife appointments didn’t have that distant, clinical feeling you might find at the GP or wherever you go. There was a sense of a homely community. I felt like I would get better care, a continuity of care. And I knew the midwives because I had attended a meeting with them in 2019. They were lovely.
I went into labour on a Monday morning, and by lunchtime, Z was in my arms at home. Even though it was a dream birth, I had postnatal depression, quite badly. I just had to soldier through it. I didn't really know how to cope. I had toddler who I felt guilty for, second child guilt syndrome if you like.
I slept next to Z. I strapped him to me most of the time. He was a wonderful sleeper from one to three months. After that he was absolutely terrible! But in Arabic we say ‘Aasal’, meaning he's literally like honey. He's very sweet. He’s just a teddy bear. So he saved me in many ways and made some things easier. He's always had this pure sweetness to him. He's super cuddly. A is too, she’s my emotionally intelligent and intuitive firecracker; Z is just a different level of tactile.
I didn't know that I'd be entitled to A being in a nursery at two years old - because of my financial situation. People called me from the Childcare Choices. I remember that phone call because it was a really hot day in the summer and I felt the coolness of relief. Z might have been about four or five months. I was sat in the passenger seat. They called me and they said, ‘Do you know that your daughter’s entitled to 12 hours of nursery, two years of funding? And I was like, ‘Really?!’
I’d never seen the nursery at Flo’s close up. I had walked past and seen that big green door when I used to visit the midwives. But I had a good feeling and I loved the energy in that place. I'm quite an instinctive person. I'm really big on feeling somebody's energy, or a place's energy. And I remember thinking, if there's a nursery that I would send A to, it would be Flo’s. I could just sense the buzz and community when I came in for midwife appointments. I had a look on the website and I read their ethos. I was like, ‘This is really perfect. A nature nursery.’ I was running through the fields when I was young, so having my children somewhere which is more nature-focused and more child-led for me was like, ‘Yes! This is the place!’
Flo’s is walking distance, so if we're at home for the day we can pop down and spend the whole day there. There’s the cat. And if the kids get hungry, there's the cafe. We can go have a picnic in the big open space. And then behind the bushes there’s the discovery routes, it's really lovely. It makes a huge difference. And then there’s Frances Rose. I always said to myself she is Miss Honey from Matilda. She was genuinely magical, and A still remembers her now. Now Z is at Flo’s and he has his Miss Honey, Del. He is obsessed with her! One of the few words he said when he eventually started talking was ‘Del.’
I can bring my kids here and not worry too much about them being a bit wild, because it's that family space. It feels like everybody's welcome, which is a big thing for me. Growing up, I come from quite a privileged background. I've been to all-girls school and stuff. But I felt like an alien. I always felt like the outsider. Always. It's nice that my kids don't have to have that. They can see other kids that are like them. It means a lot to me. I felt like an outsider because of my background. I'm Syrian and I’m Muslim. So culturally, and taking into account normal social expectations, I wouldn't always fit into that.
There’s everything going on at Flo’s. There’s a craft community events, you've got something for new mothers going on. And then you've got elders of the community. You’ve got Ramadan night - when that sacred month is here.
I took over what was called The Positive Birth Movement in 2019, and started meetings in 2020. It grounded me every month and I met people who were on the same wavelength as me when it comes to birth and positive birthing. It's not just to go with the flow and let the system do what they want. It's more like saying, ‘This is my birth, my baby, my body.’ It’s now known as Birth Space Oxford, as the PBM network was shut down, and my motivation is to support pregnant women and their partners to see that birth can be positive and beautiful.
You've got all sorts of people coming here because they feel welcome. The Muslim community can be more cautious, because it can be difficult in places to feel welcome. But there's certain things that can make somewhere more welcoming than others, and I feel like Flo’s has mastered it. They've organically cracked that wide open. It just feels like it’s a place where it's cool to be you.
I'm quite connected with a lot of people that home educate their children. And they’ll choose to come here on the odd day out. There’s always something to do and things to discover. I don't want to sound cringey, but Flo’s is that home away from home.
I had a lot of health issues in 2021. Well, I still do, and I think that's what snapped me out of a lot of negative thinking. It's weird. There are silver linings everywhere. I think as a woman, being a mother has helped me become a very mindful person. More self-aware. And After my diagnosis I can see myself more now. I honour me more. It's hard as a mum to do that sometimes, because you're usually on the back burner. Becoming a mother can sometimes mean it’s easy to lose sight of yourself, as all you want is to give that nurturing and loving, the impulse comes from a whole new place when you have your baby. That love that you discover, it's quite magical. You can't really get it from any other source. You can love your partner, but it's not the same as when you have your child in your arms. And your children and that purity in life, that's quite rare. It's the rarest elixir in life. If I was to have any more babies, they'd definitely be coming to Flo’s. A safe place in my community, that I can come and connect and relate to so many people from all backgrounds all ages and all walks of life!