Heaven for Mamas
HEAVEN FOR MAMAS Louise Randall samples the delights of the Mamaheaven retreat in rural Herefordshire I’d never been on any kind of retreat before (unless you count staying in bed rather than face the washing up). Neither for that matter had Poppy. I’m quite sure that we couldn’t have chosen a better place to start. I’d read a beautiful article about someone’s experience of Mamaheaven (you can find it on their website), which had brought tears to my eyes and left me champing at the bit to get there. I was anything but disappointed; the whole weekend was just too good to be true. I’m not frantically saving all the spare pennies that I can, hoping that I can scrape together enough to go back again one day. She’ll be eighteen months before I know it so maybe I won’t manage it before Poppy is past it, but hey, I’ve been looking for an excuse to have another baby.
Mamaheaven was just wonderful, I loved it. Poppy loved it. February seems so long ago now, but many warm happy memories of the weekend we spent with all those lovely ladies at Penrhos Court burn like candles in darkness. It is the most enchanting and unbelievably beautiful place, even at the bitter end of winter, with only the occasional cluster of snowdrops to show that spring is finally on its way. Before sleeping I’d stand outside our room in the owl broken silence gazing at the multitude of stars in the crisp black night and I’d feel blessed to be there. I can tell you quite simply what I least enjoyed. It was leaving. Nor, after such a delectable juicy, crunchy banquet of a weekend, have I ever been so dismayed by a limp, slightly yellowing head of broccoli as I was by the sad specimen loitering in my kitchen when I got home. It isn’t as easy to sum up in so many words just why we had such an amazing time. Let’s face it, how do you pin down heaven?
From the instant we arrived it was though we had stepped out of real life and into a brighter, better world. Thinking back now I’m oddly compelled to draw comparisons to some fictional idyll, to Narnia or Tolkein’s last homely home at Rivendell, not because there was a faun waiting to greet us as we got out of the car or a hoard of elves and hobbits milling about, but because Penrhos is so brimmingly natural, so magically vibrant, so fantastically alive.
The food, my goodness, the food we ate. Juices and smoothies and salads and soups and crackers and breads and biscuits, fish and fruit and porridge and puddings, rice and risottos, cakes and custards – and was just for the babies! Poppy was just over six months old and tentatively embarking upon her great big eating adventure. I couldn’t have wished for a better way to begin her initiation into the wonders of taste and texture. What serendipity to discover Daphne Lambert and her inspirational attitude to food and nutrition. To meet her is to see the proof of her passionate belief in living foods personified; she just glows with an aura of ageless health and vitality.
Looking back I guess I was kind of flagging in the food stakes, neglecting my diet and all too often hurriedly relying on the ‘On Toast’ range or on some huge vat of lentils and things that would linger on for days getting gradually duller. Speaking to Tania, one of Mamaheaven’s organisers, I discovered that good nutrition is fundamental to their vision of providing what we new mums need…they want to feed us up before they say goodbye and they certainly do that. I remember a weekend of cornucopian feasts, often quite literally sprouting with life-force, that stretched from morning till night, drawn to a close with fabulous candlelight dinners – saffron risotto, mackerel so shimmering it could have leapt straight from the sea, bowls of steaming black bean and celeriac or carrot and beetroot soup, the lightest of homemade whole wheat breads still warm from the oven, delicious crumbles and nutty ice-creams. We breakfasted on fruit and oats and unimaginably good mushrooms on muffins, then munched on crackers and hummus or gulped warming gingery juices and smoothies.
I would have been blissfully happy to sit about munching away, drinking herbal teas and chatting to mums and babies in the cosy warmth of the huge inglenook fireplace but Mamaheaven is so much more than that. Somehow they also cram in space for yoga classes for mums and their babies, a deep and powerful massage treatment to release and ease away all that tension and those knots and niggles that maybe you hadn’t realised were there; interesting, intelligent and enlightening workshops on nutrition and herbal therapies, where one doesn’t feel like a crank for thinking that infant suspensions don’t have to be the only way, and best of all, time to relax or to wander off along a footpath into fields, or to have a long deep bath before bed rather than sift through another load of nappies and rake the toys back into their pile ready to be scattered afresh like leaves the next day.
I’d been a bit anxious about the yoga, my only previous experience having been during my pregnancy and very much of the gentle lying down variety, but the sessions allowed me to discover that I have the strength to complete a sequence of sun salutations without ending up in a messy quivering heap, which is always good to know. It was glorious to spend an afternoon attempting poses while babies pottered around on the carpet or looked adoringly at their mummies – goodness knows what they must have thought of us. Poppy began to cry as we sat in a circle around our babies, closed our eyes and began to chant together. She must have thought that she’d somehow ended up in the middle of some strange Stanley Kubrick film, but it makes me laugh every time I think of it. At the end of the session we each held our baby close and danced with them and it was truly heart-stopping to feel such a tangible overwhelming force of love fill the room and enfold each and every one of us.
Mamaheaven was wonderful, and I haven’t been quite the same since, I sure spend a lot more time dancing around my kitchen with Poppy. Maybe mostly in imperceptible ways but no one the less fundamentally it was a life-changing weekend. I don’t think I was alone in finding it occasionally a deeply emotional experience. That’s what motherhood is though isn’t it?
The opportunity Mamaheaven provides – to reflect upon and recognise the challenges and rewards of birth and motherhood, to heal, to grow, and to accept and to let go, to listen – that’s invaluable. And I love a good cry sometimes, don’t you?