Why is becoming a mum often an emotionally charged time for women? For new mums, things are suddenly no longer the way they were. Nothing is the same. Her body is changing. Her role at work has had to go on hold or be reduced. Her relationships have changed as spontaneity goes out the window. Her income is often decreased and she can lose her sense of identity as she adjusts to her new role of mother.
Volunteers applying for the Caring Mums Program recognise these issues and concerns from their own experiences as mums.
The Caring Mums Program began in Melbourne in 2012 with the mission of pairing volunteer mums with new mothers to offer additional emotional support through this challenging period of life.
According to family therapist and parent educator Michelle Kornberg, people today are more mobile often due to relocation from the extended family. Many mothers find themselves without the support of ‘the village’ at the beginning of their journey of motherhood. They can feel quite isolated, unsupported and at risk of postnatal depression.
Michelle heard about the Caring Mums Program starting in Victoria under the auspices of the National Council of Jewish Women Australia – Victoria, (NCJWAVIC). An inner urge drew her to apply for the position of Program Coordinator. Ironically, she was not really looking for something new at that time. She had plenty going on in her life to keep her busy and involved.
“But when I saw the elements of the program, it was really something I so believed in! It has become one of my greatest passions,” said Michelle.
Michelle says she was really fortunate to have had amazing support around her when she was a new mum yet admits she still found it emotionally difficult at the time. Her thoughts are often with new mothers who have no support. Now working with the Caring Mums Program, she and her team of volunteers are on a quest to empower new mums and make sure no woman is alone through her motherhood journey.
“I feel that every woman should be emotionally supported as she adjusts to the biggest change she will ever go through and that is becoming a mum,” she stated.
The Caring Mums Program
The Caring Mums Program evolved from an earlier program initiated in Boston that was so successful it travelled to Israel. Later it was brought to New South Wales where it is known as Mum For Mum and run by the National Council of Jewish Women Australia (NSW). Four years ago it was introduced in Victoria and became known as Caring Mums.
“I felt really excited to be on the brink of a program that I felt was going to be so rewarding not just for the mums who were about to be on the receiving end of something that would have an incredible social impact but also for the work I would be doing in finding and training volunteers!” Michelle told me.
Winning at the Volunteering Victoria State Volunteer Awards
Michelle and I first met at the inaugural Volunteering Victoria State Awards ceremony at Parliament House in 2015 where she accepted the winning entry for the Impact Award on behalf of the NCJWAVIC for its Caring Mums Program. Now a year later, we were sitting over coffee chatting about how she became involved with volunteers and the program.
At the start of the program, Michelle’s days were filled with endless tasks on her to do list. Her appointment calendar was bursting. She had to creating a training manual and set up training. She needed to go out and promote the program to referral sources to ensure it would be embraced. Then she had to recruit volunteers.
“I went to local Councils, local family services, medical professionals and clinics which work with pregnant women and new mums to talk to people about promoting the program. Fortunately often the verbal response was ‘if only there was a service like this when I had children!’” she said.
To be eligible potential volunteers had to be somewhere on their own journey of motherhood as new mothers needed a role model who had experienced a similar journey.
Meanwhile, Michelle was allocated a small space in the offices of NCJWAVIC in Caulfield with one computer, a desk space and calendar. Volunteer Sharon Stone, (not that Sharon Stone!) who was already working with NCJW, came on board to assist her.
“Admin work is not my forte let me tell you! I’m a people person not a computer person,” jokes Michelle.
Pairing volunteer Caring Mums with new mums
Judging from the positive response to Michelle’s callout for volunteers, many women wanted to be involved in the program.
“We were inundated with responses. We held an information evening and volunteers were individually interviewed and we ended up with 24 potential volunteers for the new Caring Mums Program,” she told me.
Eighteen hours of training delivered over six weeks followed. It focused on communication, empowerment, the importance of non-judgmental support and active listening. Also the training highlighted ‘red flags’ for mental health and domestic violence issues.
The first Caring Mums volunteer was paired with an older mum with her first child. This mum had received no local support but now that was all about to change.
“This was a mum who felt very isolated even though she was surrounded by lots of loving caring people. And it was only when the relationship with the volunteer was well established that she felt really heard and understood for the first time. I knew then that the power of good training combined with an excellent caring volunteer was a winning combination!” said Michelle.
Volunteer Caring Mum Sharon
Volunteer Sharon Stone started volunteering as a Volunteer Caring Mum with the Caring Mums Program at its inception in 2012.
Regular reliable ongoing meetings between Caring Mums volunteers and their mums allow for a meaningful sincere trusting relationship to develop.
Sharon’s first experience was working with a single older mother living in inner Melbourne who was feeling isolated and unsupported.
“She didn’t have a partner and her family was living far away. Her previous life was as a high achieving career woman. Now as a mum she didn’t know anyone who had newborn babies to talk to about motherhood,” said Sharon.
“She told me that she felt lonely and uncertain about her future as a single mother. She was concerned about her financial situation, about the repercussions of going back to work and hesitant about meeting people in a social setting,” continued Sharon.
Every mum is different and her needs are different. This particular mum felt like things were missing in her life. Prior to motherhood she had been a very organised career woman. Sharon sensed that this mum was a structural thinker. So together they sat down and made a kind of a bucket list of what she would like to see her ‘new’ life become.
“This remedy worked very well for this mum but I’ve had countless mums since and that would not be the right approach for them. It’s not always about making a list but sometimes living in the moment and letting things happen organically,” said Sharon.
Another mum that she was paired with was from Germany and had no family around her. Her husband was working away and she was also feeling isolated, she and Sharon would meet on a weekly basis.
“I was a sounding board for all that was troubling her in that period of her life with her new baby. When her year with Caring Mums was up, we kept in touch. Actually she called me a year later to tell me she was expecting again and would like to re-establish our relationship for her second child,” said Sharon.
Recently one of the volunteers rang Sharon full of excitement telling her that her ‘mum’ had asked her to go wedding dress shopping with her and she just felt so privileged to be the ‘stand in’ mum.
The Caring Mums Program is offered for 12 months but a mum can opt out whenever she feels she’s ready. It’s a time when the volunteer mums know they have done their job well and can celebrate becoming redundant that is until they are allocated their next new mum!
By Volunteer Writer Lesley Sharon Rosenthal for Volunteering Victoria
For more information on volunteering as a Caring Mum or if you know a mum who needs help please call:
Michelle Kornberg – Caring Mums Program Coordinator
National Council of Jewish Women
131 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield 3161
Tel: 03 9044 5405