In her third year at university, Helen Parker found herself in a situation where she was scared and alone. She was pregnant and the very little support she had did not provide her the empowerment she needed.
From that experience Parker founded The Babes Project, a not for-profit organisation where women are offered support when facing a crisis pregnancy. Since its inception in 2009, the organisation has come to the aid of hundreds of women and to this day continues to offer a haven for those in need.
As mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts, we believe support is key.
One of the seven finalists of our Female Empowerment Grant, we sat down with Helen to hear more…
What is The Babes Project and where did it begin?
The Babes Project began because of my own story. I found out I was pregnant in my third year at University and I proceeded with my pregnancy.
I felt scared, alone and the relationship I was in fell apart fairly quickly. I went to my local hospital and the Salvation Army and I was alarmed that I was unable to access holistic, good, empowering support. There was a lot of Band-Aid support.
After giving birth to my daughter I began running the local hospital’s antenatal program for women in crisis. I learnt on my feet. For three years I worked there and again, I just thought it was another Band-Aid and something more holistic needed to be done. And so, in 2009, we launched The Babes Project.
What does female empowerment mean to you?
Empowerment is about the person that we’re helping, taking ourselves out of the equation and giving a woman in crisis skills equipping her to move on beyond us, where she can then make decisions long term that align with her own values.
I think once women are safe, they can be beautifully empowered.
I also think, to be empowered, you first need to be safe and you first need to know that there is someone out there who is encouraging you, who believes in you and values you.
How important is it for more people to empower women in Australia?
I think it’s crucial. I think we have so many problems in our society and we want these quick fixes.
If we’re not empowering we’re only going to get the same thing, cycle after cycle.
As a society we need to step up and say “look enough; let's do something holistic, let's work together to solve this” and then we're actually engaging in empowerment, which will have a long-term positive effect.
Talk us through the process of someone coming to you in a crisis pregnancy?
We have a couple centres, women come in and often they’re really overwhelmed.
We offer them a safe space to process their whole pregnancy and be resourced as they need. The women meet with two of our team, who are either trained by us or are midwives and social workers, each fortnight, where we work on their top three needs, which might anything from domestic violence, mental health issues, drug abuse or housing. We also work on delivering their antenatal education and help them engage and plan for their baby. We give them baby clothes, baby goods and then of course we celebrate with them when they’re baby is born. Sometimes we’re in the birth because they have no one else.
My view is no women in this nation should ever birth alone. That is absolutely not okay.
After the birth, they enter our post-natal program where we teacher them things like pediatric first aid, bonding with baby through massage and cooking nutrition. We have many women that come to us and they don’t know how to put on a nappy, or bath their baby and are often too scared to ask their hospital midwife how to do it. We love that we get to think long term about the women we meet and the children we are raising.
What is so integral about the lead-up and first year as a mother?
We know, and science tells us, that the first year with your baby is really crucial for their own development and their brain development.
We run a therapeutic model of care, and that means that we acknowledge that some trauma may be playing a part in mum’s world, which means we need to apply reparative solutions – we need to work with the new mother, so the baby isn’t a further victim and can reach milestones that potentially won’t be reached if mum doesn’t have support.
What are some of the skills that women can take away from the end of their first year for the many years to come?
The skills that we want women to take away with them from The Babes Project is actually far more than just being able to be a good mum.
Women come back to us and say “you gave me the confidence to pursue what I dreamed of”, “you gave me the ability to say I am worth something, my life is not over because I had a baby” but to find the joy and the value in that motherhood journey and take courage from that.
Once a woman graduates, they are forever part of The Babes family.
What would it mean for you if you won our Female Empowerment Grant?
To win the $25,000 would be quite remarkable for us, because we can actually put more women through our full program. At the moment, there’s a waiting list and it’s fairly maxed out all the time, so the Grant would be amazing for that.
What does the next five years look like for The Babes Project?
I hope to see us open another few centres, perhaps even go beyond Victoria!
I will not stop this until every woman in Australia knows how to get good support in the prenatal period.
Photo of Helen courtesy of Your Creative taken in the TOM office garden.