Pregnancy is daunting. Life-changing. Scary. Even when you have a strong, supportive network. Now take that support away and put yourself in the shoes of a woman who has experienced significant trauma, had a poor diagnosis for her newborn, or is feeling isolated and anxious about motherhood. For ten years, The Babes Project has been there, guiding and empowering mamas through their pregnancy and parenthood journey.
We first came across The Babes Project back in 2017 and have been partnering with this fantastic organisation ever since. It’s a cause tooshies by TOM deeply connects with, and our ongoing partnership is the opportunity to support local impact. Now founder Helen Parker is on a new mission. To expand to Far North Queensland and help another set of Babes mamas.
We sat down with Helen to recap a whirlwind ten years (two Victorian centres, an app and an OAM!) and learn more about The Babes Project’s latest crowdfunding campaign.
You’ve achieved so much in a decade! Tell us about your reasons for expanding The Babes Project to Cairns?
When women send us a message, we want to honour that bravery, but we’re not big enough to accept everyone into our program. Growth is a priority. Last year a Cairns woman (social worker Cristy Mock) approached us to ask if her group could become a “Babes Project Centre” and after some research, we felt the region was calling out for more help to support its young parents. That fabulous lady is now our Cairns Centre Manager and this centre will be a beautiful and safe space for many pregnant women in the area.
Pregnancy and motherhood can be overwhelming for any woman, even when they feel supported. What factors amplify this?
We often use “crisis pregnancy” to describe women whose pregnancy experience has elements of “crises” attached. This doesn’t necessarily mean the pregnancy itself is a crisis because often it’s a catalyst for positive change. But the Babes mamas have often experienced trauma. They have been raised in foster care or residential homes with no family of their own; faced addiction or mental health challenges; are a refugee, student or sex worker. Whatever the circumstances we’re here to ensure she is best prepared for pregnancy and parenthood.
"Cairns has the highest rate of teen births in Queensland, and one in four teen mums nationally identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Our program graduates are the thriving proof that local, face-to-face and independent support works, and we want to do something positive and empowering for women in this region."
Have you noticed the need for your services to increase or become more nuanced?
Whenever you start something, it begins as a “good idea.” I had experienced the gap myself – the lack of holistic services to help me feel supported and proactive in my parenting. Then the first young woman walked through the doors of our Croydon centre: 16, pregnant and visiting on her school lunch break, and we realised that need was real. Since then, we have further understood that every woman has the right to experience motherhood if she chooses to, no matter her age, race or circumstance. But it’s up to us as a society to ensure she has the resources and capacity to do so.
What are some of the most common things expectant mums need help with?
We are sometimes at the birth of bubs when mamas have no one else (this privilege is not lost on us!) The first one I attended was amazing, and in the days following, I went to visit bubs and her 18-year-old mama. I was surprised at her relief to see us arrive; she had been waiting to change the nappy but couldn’t work out how to do it, and was too embarrassed to ask the midwives for help. Needless to say, day-to-day baby care basics were added to our program! We love preparing women for what a “day with a newborn” is like: running sessions covering self-care, bathing baby, safe sleeping, settling and feeding. We offer additional workshops in paediatric first aid (shout out to Kidzaid who provide this to our mamas at no cost), baby massage, pregnancy exercises, food and nutrition and, of course, answering any other questions that we may not regularly cover.
What can friends of new mums do to help them feel less isolated or overwhelmed?
Don’t say “no” for her: don’t assume your new mama friend is too busy to catch up, go out or pick up the phone. Withdrawal can be a sign of overwhelm. Keep inviting her, popping over, including her and if she can’t make it, then be okay with that. New mamas need their friends more than ever, so think about how to include her and support her in a practical way. Let her sleep or chat or have a chance to take a shower. Be flexible and inclusive – she will appreciate that! If she does tell you she’s not okay, then help her access support. You can message The Babes Project, or she can get a mental health plan through her GP.
"Let’s interrogate what it means to truly empower women as they become mothers. It’s up to me. It’s up to you. It’s up to us. Let’s do better and work together to empower Australia’s new mamas."
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say: “you’re going to be okay.” This parenthood thing will be the making of you. You will have someone else in your world that you’re going to be responsible for and they will bring out the best in you. And the worst stuff too, but that’s okay because you’ll have to create strategies to overcome it because your kiddies can’t deal with the shit you carry. They need you to be okay. Give it some time, be kind to yourself and don’t succumb to the pressure to be perfect.
Has technology played a role in bridging the isolation and education gap?
One thing we are always working on is engagement in our program. Because no matter how wonderful it is, if no one is attending, what’s the point? Emma (our creative genius) presented her solution as an app. It’s now used by hospitals to help women remember appointments and women in remote areas who can’t easily access perinatal information. We love our app! It’s such a fantastic resource that explains pregnancy in a bite-sized format and helps women feel less overwhelmed.
What’s your hope for the next ten years?
When we see stories on social media about “drug-addicted mothers” or women who have harmed their children, we are often quick to accuse and condemn. But by doing nothing as a society to help women as they become mothers, we become complicit. Because we could have created a pathway of wellbeing for all women facing a crisis pregnancy where she was engaged, actively participating and could access the support she needed. So babies were safe and actions were taken. Cairns is the next step in creating a new pathway for women. It’s our opportunity to help another community of women to ensure their babies are no longer at risk because their mama knows how to create a safe and healthy environment for her family. It’s our next opportunity to do better.
The Babes Project has started a crowdfunding campaign to enable it to open its Cairns centre and provide a vital perinatal program to women facing teen pregnancy, single parenting, mental health, family violence, drug and alcohol issues or isolation. So far they have raised $40,400 of the $54,000 needed to open the doors on October 16 – let’s help them reach their target!
To support and donate to The Babes Project Cairns visit bit.ly/TheBabesProjectCairns