“I started working here eight years ago and I can still remember the day you walked in for the very first time – a newborn baby in your arms. A brand new mother,” said the lady at the front desk of the consultatiebureau to me at the end of my last visit.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have set foot inside my local consultatiebureau since 2007. But the woman who has weighed and measured all three of my sons over the space of eight years gave me reason to stop and reflect on my visits there; the same woman who remembers the name of my eldest son despite his last consultatiebureau visit being four years ago.
Eight years ago, when a nurse came to my home and made an appointment for me at the consultatiebureau, I had no idea what to expect from the government funded child wellness clinic.
I knew it was the place where my children would be vaccinated. It was a place where their growth would be meticulously measured and recorded. It was a place where I could ask questions, ask for advice and ultimately ask for help if I needed it.
It became a place I got used to visiting but not one I relish going to.
I learnt quickly it was a place that always smelt of dirty nappies – sometimes the air was merely faintly tainted but other times it was a full-on assault to my sensitive nose. I’m put off by the waiting (they’re invariably running late), the mess of baby clothes strewn across neatly arranged rows of dark blue changing mats, by having to console my baby who, funnily enough, never seemed to appreciate having a needle stuck in his soft chubby thigh. And all whilst listening to the discordant sounds of an unpracticed baby and toddler choir around me.
It’s a place we’ve had development checks, help with sleep issues, advice on raising bilingual children, discussions on bread intake (he should eat how many slices of bread a day?), eye tests that have lead to referrals to eye specialists at our local hospital and emotional support during periods of parenting lows.
The consultatiebureau has been a springboard to other services within the Dutch youth services, services that gave us direction when there was the threat of losing our parenting way.
As my eldest approached his fourth birthday his time at the consultatiebureau came to an end but his younger brother had barely started his consultatiebureau adventure. Shortly afterwards my youngest son was born and I juggled appointments with two boys at different stages until last summer when my middle son turned four. Then his relationship with the consultatiebureau ended too.
And now as I stand in the consultatiebureau listening to the lady behind the front desk tell her tale of our first meeting I fight back a nostalgic tear that threatens to escape. I hold back a wave of melancholy thoughts and memories of my journey here with my three tiny babies who have grown into little boys before my eyes. And before the eyes of the ladies who work in my consultatiebureau.
I realise I have one more appointment in this place before my family parts ways with the consultatiebureau. Our time here is almost done.
By then it will have been nine years since I first walked into the small L-shaped room that forms my consultatiebureau, a place whose appearance has barely changed during those years. As I shut the consultatiebureau door on my way out for the last time I will be walking into a new chapter of motherhood, a new phase for my little family and I already know that I will feel like I am losing someone that has had my back for the first nine years as a mother.
*This post was first published on Passionate Parenting in 2015