Dr Alison: Love is the best medicine
DR ALISON BERNARD (nee Griffith) has been married for eight years to Lawson and counts ten happy years together filled with many moments. But the moments she is cherishing more now are the times spent with their two daughters, Amayah and Allyse, 6 and 4 years, respectively.
Alison is an only child, born in Britain to Barbadian parents, but her parents made the decision that she would be raised in Barbados.
“We came here when I was 18 months. I grew up here my whole life. This is home. So when I left here in 2001 to do my senior house officer job in Britain it was hard. But I wanted something different and going back to England seemed like the right thing to do. It opened my mind to other things and bigger possibilities.”
Alison is a medical practitioner, and studied at the University of the West Indies, holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery and is a member of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. She did her postgraduate training in Britain (living there for 11 years) and over the last 14 years, her training and work experience have been concentrated in paediatrics, most of which occurred in Britain.
Currently, Alison works with an experienced paediatrician in a large established practice in Barbados. During her tenure in Britain, she worked with a brilliant paediatric consultant who was a staunch breastfeeding advocate. This relationship heavily influenced Alison’s passion for breastfeeding along with her personal experiences with Amayah and Allyse.
Amayah was born in Britain, moving here when she was two, and Allyse was born in Barbados.
“We very much planned Amayah and then 15 months after I found out I was pregnant with Allyse,” she said, blushing.
As a working mum, in a stressful job, Alison has learnt to be a good juggler.
“I didn’t even get to finish set up the nursery for Amayah. Some stuff was in but not all. It was a lot of work and I tried really hard, but then we had our hands full with our jobs also,” she explained.
Alison remembers Amayah’s first day of school, which was completely different from Allyse’s.
“Both my children were breastfed. I find that that kind of bond is a little bit more intense than those who were bottle-fed. Let me clarify that bottled-fed babies have a bond with their mum, but the breastfed are a bit more intense.
“They both are attached to my hip, (chuckling). When Amayah went to preschool it was stressful for her. She cried. But primary school for the first year was over the top. Amayah was a bit of a mess. It took her a year to settle down. Now she’s fine. She tells me don’t kiss her, let her go off with her friends.”
“Allyse was different. Very independent, and adventurous, she settled down quickly,” mum said.
“They both go to the Rock Christian Primary. Allyse cried, but not for long and didn’t cling for as long. She needed a routine. I had to hug her three times and we said our special code of goodbyes. We had to do that every single day.”
Amayah, the older of the two, is very sensitive and thoughtful.
“Amayah is the thinker. Allyse is the doer. She taught herself cartwheels, she wants to be a gymnast. Amayah will sit and think and she is very perceptive. She picks up things.”
Alison is raising well-rounded children – Amayah is in swimming and a member of Mustard Seed as is Allyse who is also into gymnastics.
“I have been pretty rigid since they were born. They have a routine since they were weeks old. I am up from 4:30 a.m. preparing so that they can get out the door on time.”
“Back home every single evening it’s a ten-minute de-stressing and then it’s homework. By 8 p.m., they are in bed.”
Alison said she is happy for the extra hands from her mother, Delores Griffith, when she or Lawson have other commitments.
“I have an invaluable support system from her. She is now retired and without her and Lawson I wouldn’t get it all done. When I need her she is there. She is always willing and she has her own life but she is my rock. They enjoy spending time with her.”
What is the most stressful part of raising two daughters? “Mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy,” she said shaking her head. “That is the stressful part. Both have their individual needs and they both want me at the same time. Sometimes it’s hard splitting myself in two to cater to their needs and my husband’s needs as his needs are just as important.”
Alison said while she lived in England she made sure to come home every year,
“I came back home every year as my heart was here. Life now is not the same as previously. People have changed, things have changed, but I am passionate about adding some value to it somehow and that is why I started a charity.”
Along with two other colleagues she has started the Breastfeeding And Child Nutrition Foundation Of Barbados (BCNF), a registered charity. It is a year old: “That’s on my mind constantly along with my family. I am asked how I get it done and honestly I just do it. You have to do it. I am a wife, a mother so you have to prioritise everything in your life.I have a book that I write down every single thing that I have to do.”
The BCNF’s main purpose is to provide advocacy and support for breastfeeding mothers and their families.
Its objectives are: To establish and then eventually improve the breastfeeding rate in Barbados, to help develop programmes to assist women in their journey of breastfeeding, and to assist parents in offering the best nutrition possible at the time of weaning and beyond.
“We realised women in Barbados weren’t breastfeeding the way that they used to. They come in the office and by four to six weeks they just gave up. I was giving them advice in the office but 30 minutes isn’t enough so we decided to do something about it.”
Alison said there are many positives to breastfeeding such as decreasing the risk of chronic diseases.
“I am passionate. I mean passionate about advocating breastfeeding. But if you don’t want to I am also passionate about helping you formula feed in the best way possible. So we will guide and support you.”
Memories are being made and treasured every day for the Bernard family.
The children already have their career goals, which “changes often”.
Amayah wants to be like mum (a doctor) and also a chef and Allyse is clear on being a gymnast.
“My mother has instilled values in me that I am teaching them. Always be polite, be kind and have a strong work ethic,” Alison said.
She calls it “pathetic” but she likes to watch them sleep at nights.
“When I look at them and see how well they are growing. They are two happy children. I have a vision for them and I see it starting to take shape.”