Meet Helen Parker, Founder and Managing Director of The Babes Project, a pregnancy support centre which helps mothers during pregnancy, birth and early parenthood by providing a holistic, supportive learning environment.
The Babes Project was established after Helen experienced her own crisis pregnancy at the age of 20 with limited support services available. Helen, now a mother of two beautiful girls uses her passion and determination to drive The Babes Project and has recently opened a Frankston Centre to help local Frankston and Mornington Peninsula mums to be during their pregnancy journeys.
MLTS – Thanks for chatting with us Helen, tell us a little about your story and what inspired you to start The Babes Project?
Helen – I found out I was pregnant one afternoon just before heading into a uni lecture. I was 20 years old and in my third year studying Architecture. I decided to continue with my pregnancy, but felt alone and scared and quickly realised how little support was available for women facing a crisis or unexpected pregnancy. I had no idea what I was doing.
I cannot believe this is still happening in our modern society… we talk about “sisterhood” and empowering women, but we are leaving women to raise children alone, sometimes with very little resource and knowledge about parenthood. This is absolutely unacceptable. We founded The Babes Project to break through any stigma and shame and to equip and care for women.
We are mostly women helping women because we are aware of what it takes to raise a child and feel more needs to be done to help women in this role. We are often the first to say “congratulations” and then we get on with helping practically.
My daughter is now 16 and I am so glad I overcame my fears to do all I could to become a good mother to her. It is my desire that through The Babes Project other women get the opportunity to parent well because they feel supported, equipped and empowered.
MLTS – Well, as the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child…” You originally started this program in Croydon, what made you choose Frankston as the next destination for this support service?
Helen – We opened in Croydon, in a building that was offered to us (actually it was an old adult bookstore, but that’s a whole other story!). So, it was different to choose an area and pursue something in that space. But we were getting an increasing number of referrals from the south eastern area. We then realised that some of Victoria’s highest statistics of teen pregnancy were from the Frankston and greater Mornington region; how could we ignore that? Teens almost always need more holistic support when pregnant so it was a no-brainer.
Our Frankston service has been developing for three years. We started a small outreach service to see if there was a need. I would go into women’s homes with our team and we were just overwhelmed with how many women needed some extra support, yet they were in their homes scared, confused and disengaged from so many services that could help them. The best part of having Frankston open is now they have their own safe space to come and work through what is happening for them.
MLTS – How many women have accessed the Frankston Centre since it first opened? Do any particular stories/women stand out to you?
Helen – The Frankston Centre has only been open for 10 weeks, but we’ve been able to transition the women we’ve been working with into support via the centre. We have 22 women at this stage and are starting to take more referrals now that we’ve settled in.
No two women are the same. They all make an impact on you. But the women we support in birth are extra special. When we’re in that birthing suite together and she holds on to you so tightly with tears running down her face and you realise you’re all she has in that moment. Well that’s a favourite moment… a privilege really. And so we get to smile back and say “keep going sweetheart, you’re doing great!” We’ve done a few births at Frankston hospital now and can imagine there will only be more.
MLTS – My goodness that must be an incredible experience! And so empowering for them women to have you supporting them through the most important moment of their lives…What can the women expect on arrival at the Centre? What sort of services are provided to them?
Helen – The Babes Project is always a warm and inviting space; women can expect to feel safe and cared for. We work with women right through the Perinatal period (conception-1 year) and the program is designed for women who can engage well with the support they need.
They have fortnightly appointments with our support workers and we cover everything from antenatal education to labour support to material aid. We also run workshops including CPR, cooking, baby massage and “day with a newborn.”
The Babes Project is good at creating community and safe spaces. Then we can work on the other stuff!
MLTS – We’re sure all mothers, especially young mums, greatly appreciate the wealth of knowledge and support you are offering to them, such an amazing service. Tell us about “Equip a Mum” How can people donate/get involved?
Helen – We realised that we have an incredible tribe of supporters who just want to help other mums… and they LOVE buying baby things! Who doesn’t right? Equip a Mum is just a simple and beautiful way to say to women. “We’ve got you” and extending ourselves to help in a practical way.
People can sign up via our website to pack a nappy bag for hospital or a basket for the first weeks at home; these are really an amazing gift to our women. Officially the campaign ran until 9th September, but we have had such an overwhelming response we now take them anytime really.
MLTS – Buying baby things is definitely up there with one of our fave things to do! What a great initiative. You are a mother yourself to two daughters, tell us a little about your family.
Helen – Ariel is 16 and in Year 11 and Payton is 10 and in Grade 5. They’re both great kids. I am really loving this stage of parenting, especially the teen years. Everyone tells you how hard it will be, and I can appreciate that it can be for some, but it’s working well for us at the moment. Goodness, every season of parenting has it’s challenges anyway! I married Dean when Ariel was 3 and he has become her Dad. We all have a good relationship with her biological Dad now too, but his role is different; there’s no huge expectations from anyone and so it just works.
When Payton was born we decided that our girls would be raised the same. And so they both have three sets of grandparents. My parents, Deans parents, and my ex’s parents. We love them all and they love us all. Dean is a social worker, running a therapeutic foster care team which means he understands about different family dynamics and how it impacts a child’s developing brain. So that’s been super handy! Ha!
MLTS – That’s so fantastic to hear and we’re sure having 3 sets of grandparents has never hurt anyone! Lol! Has establishing The Babes Project changed your perspective on life? The way you interact/spend time with your girls?
Helen – It’s been challenging. I am far from the ideal or perfect mother. Here I am cheering on mothers and encouraging them in their own motherhood journey while a lot of the time I’m barely able to pull it together to raise my own kids! But maybe that’s what I have learnt. That we will exhaust ourselves trying to live up to an image perpetuated by society instead of understanding that motherhood is what we make of it.
I am aware of what my family gives up because we’ve chosen to establish The Babes Project. But I love what it adds to my daughters’ experience of life; that charity is not just a one of donation, but rather about giving of ourselves to improve the lives of others. And I love that they get to be a part of that.
MLTS – It’s so healthy for kids though to see their mama’s working hard, it sets a good example. What tips can you give to other mums who may be considering re-entering the workforce or starting their own business?
Helen – Every choice we make in life has benefits and challenges. Being a working mum is no different. I would say to all women considering adding anything to their world; be prepared for the greatest challenges. I think we can plan out what we imagine it to be like when we add work to our plate, but we cannot fully understand what it will look like, feel like and be like.
We must factor in the ups and downs. The successes are great, but the challenges can hit really hard and that’s when we question if we’re doing the right thing. So find some other women who are living it out. They don’t have to be doing it perfectly, but they can give insight that will be invaluable to you.
The Babes Project has 29 on the team, of which, 19 are mothers. We all manage our world and family life really differently, but we all encourage each other and dive into it together knowing that we all get the chaos that can accompany life at times. Just embrace the craziness of life and try not to run through your days too fast or you’ll miss the most important moments… and pre-cook your weekly dinners as much as possible!
Thanks so much Helen, we love The Babes Project and what it stands for. Helping mums in our community is close to our hearts and you guys are doing an amazing job.
If you would like to find out more about The Babes Project or perhaps support a mother to be via the “Equip a Mum” initiative, visit www.thebabesproject.com.au