By Melissa Grant
Alone, vulnerable and pregnant.
It’s a scary scenario faced by many women.
Some are young, jobless, single or have no family support. Others are already battling mental health, drug or alcohol issues when they discover they’re expecting.
Becoming a mum is the last thing they could have imagined.
Throughout the past decade, The Babes Project has stood with hundreds of these women as they have faced and overcome the challenges of their early motherhood journey.
Since its inception in Croydon, the not-for-profit crisis support pregnancy agency has helped more than 800 new mums and touched the lives of thousands.
The service – which celebrated its 10th birthday in June – began with the crisis pregnancy story of Helen Parker.
At 20 years of age and studying architecture at university, Helen felt alone and scared when she discovered she’d fallen pregnant.
“I was exposed to the reality of what a crisis pregnancy looks like for women,” The Babes Project founder and CEO explained.
“I came to really understand that band-aid solutions were only really solutions for a short amount of time.”
About 10 years later, Helen became determined to address the lack of crisis pregnancy support available in Australia.
She spent two-and-half years researching what holistic pregnancy support services were needed and how to engage women before a building was offered to her in Croydon.
The Babes Project’s Pregnancy Support Centre in Croydon opened in 2012, with a Frankston centre following four years later.
At the centres, women receive free face-to-face holistic support during their pregnancy and the first year of their baby’s life.
They are given access to midwives, life skills and baby care workshops, and labour support programs.
The service helps women work through their top three needs, such as housing, budgeting and mental health issues.
Lunches are also held each fortnight, giving women the chance to meet and connect with others in similar situations.
“The thing we hear most commonly from the women, is ‘I don’t fit in anywhere, I feel so alone’,” Helen said.
“When they come to Babes they can articulate that they do belong somewhere.”
Women who turn to The Babes Project are facing a huge range of challenges, including teen pregnancy and single parenting, mental health, domestic violence, drug and alcohol issues, family breakdown and isolation.
“Social isolation is huge – it means those women aren’t in a healthy environment where they can access help and services easily,” Helen said.
“(Also) communities can be quite harsh on women who have a history of drug and alcohol use, but we know that can come from experience with trauma and their own upbringing. We are excited to work with these women to create new patterns.”
Helen is passionate about helping women across Australia access the care they need to prepare for parenting.
Last year, a dedicated midwife started at The Babes Project Croydon to act as a triage nurse, a first point of contact for women facing crisis pregnancy including those in remote areas.
The midwife provides on-phone support, advice and recommendations for local service providers, and ongoing contact replicating the face-to-face perinatal program.
The Babes Project also launched a free smartphone app last year, which features information about pregnancy stages and the first year of baby’s life, plus key Australian contacts and services.
The agency has recently expanded its operations into far north Queensland where, like Melbourne’s outer east and southeast, the rate of teen pregnancy is well above the state average. The new hub in Cairns is expected to offer the full perinatal program from October.
Needless to say, there was plenty to celebrate when The Babes Project officially turned 10 in June this year.
A series of events were held for volunteers and supporters, including a Decade of Babes Celebration and Fundraiser in South Yarra.
Looking back, Helen says her proudest achievement is a pretty simple one – that The Babes Project is still open and continues to grow.
“You can often have a dream and sometimes they grow fast and you bomb out,” she said.
“We have overcome quite a few challenges over the years, and now we can celebrate women, whose children are now at school, who say ‘I was part of that first cohort and it really changed my life’.”