In the absence of formal support structures, Cork Multiples Club has provided parents of multiple-child births with advice, assistance, and a little bit of breathing space for ten years. Mike McGrath-Bryan spoke with organiser Alexie Ui Laoghaire on the eve of the anniversary edition of the group’s monthly coffee morning in Wilton.
Beginning or expanding a family is undoubtedly a seismic event in anyone’s life: the amount of planning and preparation that goes into welcoming someone new into the world is a drastic and transformative process, that alters every aspect of how one looks at the world, their work and their responsibilities. And if that either frightens you, or resonates with your own experiences, you can probably imagine what goes through the minds of new parents when told that their upcoming arrival is, in fact, twins, triplets and more. But despite what one might imagine, supports specific to the situation of multiple new additions to your team are scarce on the ground, bar some benefits and home help. It’s an issue that led to the foundation of the Irish Multiple Birth Association, a volunteer-led charity that provides new ‘multiple’ parents with information and advice, directly from multiple parents themselves.
But taking that first step to get involved and help oversee that support for your own area is another big step again, one that was taken in February 2009 by multiple parents Noreen O’Keeffe and Valerie Maout Uí Aodha, IMBA members and co-founders of the Cork Multiples Club. Seeking out a space in which to host families from across the city centrally, the pair began running coffee mornings in Wilton’s Brú Columbanus. For Alexie Ui Laoghaire, the club’s current co-ordinator, these mornings provided space, support and a sense of community. “I originally attended the monthly coffee morning, before my twins were born. I had received an IMBA booklet from CUMH, and had seen a poster in the twin clinic about the group so decided to check it out. I missed the following month’s meet as I had just had my babies, but I have attended pretty much every month since for the last four years. I took over running the group about two years ago, and love meeting all the multiple families. I think it is a really important space to enable multiple parents to get together, and share their experiences, their challenges and to be supported through these by their peers.”
Mutual support among parents is important to the development and growth of individuals, families and communities, all over the country, and the intensified need for support around multiple-birth families is met with aplomb by the Club. The coffee mornings are an important part of the group’s activities, but not the only means of addressing the questions of support, time management and keeping things afloat in a busy household. “The coffee morning is a space for multiple parents, expectant parents, or carers minding multiples, to chat and share peer support over a cup of coffee while little ones nap, play, feed, or squabble (laughs). It is an informal meet but it provides an opportunity for unique support from others who are on the same journey. As well as our monthly meet, we host a quarterly information evening, also in Bru Columbanus. This is an opportunity for expectant parents to chat to multiple parents further along on their parenting journey, about what to expect when babies are brought home, what to get organised, possible sleeping arrangements, feeding, breastfeeding, routines, equipment etc. Our evenings are well attended and hopefully reassuring to expectant parents that while it is challenging it is also survivable!”
The club’s home in Brú Columbanus is a natural extension of the facility’s accommodation of multiple parents’ needs at CUMH. An independent charity, it provides “home from home” accommodation for relatives of seriously ill patients in the hospital, as well the headquarters for the club’s coffee mornings. “Initially, the coffee morning started in a meeting room within the building, but for the last number of years we’ve held it in the family playroom there. The room is bright, and cheerful with plenty of space for the double buggies, lots of toys and comfortable couches. It was recently redecorated by Dulux. Anne-Maria, Pat and their team are so accommodating, and we are delighted to be able to rent the space each month and for our quarterly information evenings. We would like to thank them for enabling us to keep our meet going for the last ten years.”
Over the course of a decade, you’d imagine a group like Cork Multiples Club spanning not only the development of young families, but the growth of multiple-birth kids not only as groups, but as individuals. As time has worn on, the Club has been present for families as schedules and life allows, and the common experience of bringing pairs or groups of people into the world has brought people together outside of it. “While some families attend the monthly meets for a number of months, or years, other parents return to work, or babies become pre-schoolers and then start national school, and may occasionally come along if the meet falls on a school holiday. Sometimes it’s hard to believe our pre-schoolers were once the tiny babies other parents are now arriving with! Some regular parents have struck up friendships that continue outside the Club, and we hope these families have fond memories of their time at the meets.”
February 22nd just past marked the Club’s tenth anniversary, and while it was business as usual regarding the meetup, it’s also cause to look toward the future for Alexie, still-active contributor Noreen, and for the group’s development, as it looks at expanding to new towns and areas in the county, and raise further awareness wherever multiple-parents may be. “We’re thrilled that the group is still going strong ten years later, now Noreen’s twins are twenty, and my own are turning four! It was great to see both new and old faces, and we look forward to welcoming more families to IMBA and Cork Multiples Club, in 2019 and beyond. We plan to continue running our monthly meet, our quarterly information evenings, and hope to get more volunteers involved. We would like to get some posters up in local GP and Public Health Nurse offices, to spread the word further offline.”
For more info on Cork Multiples Club, search for their page on Facebook. For more info on supports for multiple-birth families, check the Irish Multiple Births Association’s website (imba.ie) and Facebook discussion group, or call 01-8749056.
The group’s quarterly information evening is held the first Wednesday of each quarter, from 7.30-9pm. The next installment is 8 March 2019, at Brú Columbanus in Wilton.