Every Wednesday at 11am, a small, white car rolls up in my driveway. The driver takes a moment to gather her things, take a drink of water, put the sunshade across the front windscreen. And then she steps out, walks into my house, and cuddles my baby.
Her name is Margaret, and for the next two hours, she’s here to look after my baby – for free! – while I do whatever I want or need to do.
Margaret is a volunteer with the YAWN parent support program – “You Ask We Nurture”. Run by Connect Family Services, so far it is unique to the Blue Mountains region. The program connects fully trained volunteers with local families that have new babies, and sends the volunteers to the family’s home for a pre-arranged two hour block each week over a six-month period. Here’s a blurb from the Connect website:
The service is offered to families for six months and the role of the volunteer is not to offer advice, but rather to support parents in their desire to parent well. …When parents are supported and nurtured they can more easily develop secure relationships with their children. Our aim is to provide a service that helps parents make connections with the wider community. The support and encouragement that YAWN volunteers provide allows parents to enjoy their children and so develop a more secure attachment.
Amazing, right? Yes, yes, yes, sign me up! I feel like I’ve struck gold. Free childcare?! And I don’t even have to get out of my pyjamas?!
“You can do whatever you like,” explains Christy Hartlage, who manages the program. “You can write, you can sleep, you can watch TV, you can read, you can hide in your room with a box of chocolates. You can even just hang out and have a cup of tea.”
“The golden rule,” Christy continues, “is that you can’t clean up before the volunteer gets there.”
(“Can’t clean up?!” My husband is baffled. “But the only time we do clean up is when we’re expecting visitors!”)
At first even that rule seems daunting, but then I realise it just really means I don’t have to be freaking out that the floor still has breakfast crumbs on it and there are dishes in the sink. YAWN is all about giving mothers time to breathe. And that time is 100% judgment free.
The first week she comes, Margaret brings me a mud mask – just because I deserve it for being a mum! – which I retreat to the shower to use with glee. It’s awesome. As it dries, I can’t move my face. I feel like I’m experiencing the magic of botox without needles or lasting effects. I wash it off and my face is smooth and firm. Wunderbar!
What strikes me about Margaret is how genuinely happy she is to be here and how much she loves hanging out with my baby. I think neoliberal capitalist society and popular culture have conditioned me too deeply to think everything is transactional, every moment a rat race and that everyone has an agenda, because I have to temper my surprise at Margaret’s love of hanging with my bubbly, roly-poly baby and getting nothing material in return. Margaret is a lovely person and they have a lovely time together. And that fact makes me relax even more.
The first couple of times, mostly we just hang out and chat over tea while I feed the baby. For all my stupid niggling doubts about welcoming a complete stranger into my house, Margaret and I get along really well, and I’m totally relaxed. It’s nice to talk to a fellow adult about something other than googoogaga baby stuff.
Sometimes I take the opportunity to shower, wash/brush my hair, hang out some washing or do some reading or writing. It’s totally up to me, and there is zero judgment from Margaret or the YAWN team. YAWN provides mothers with a space to reclaim their time, identity, body and/or brain in whatever way they deem necessary, even just for two hours, while a trained volunteer looks after their cherub.
YAWN has been running locally for a few years now and is funded mostly by fundraising and partly through some small grants. (Connect also run Heatherbrae, the Parental Mecca of the Mountains at Lawson, but I’ll go on about that in another
Christy has been working with student interns to document the program and everything they do. She’s not sure if it’ll expand or what funding in the near future will be like, but after only a few weeks of this golden service, the answer seems pretty clear to me: Fund this. Everywhere. Now.
This bubba is my third, so I mostly feel like I’ve got everything figured out when it comes to babies. But with each child, little parts of your time and brain slowly
seep away get monopolised by immediate, pressing agendas. Frequently I find myself folding washing with a tired, crying baby yelling for me from her spot on the bed (or folding half the washing and dumping it all back in the basket to do later). Or I’ll go days without washing my hair, because someone needs me for something. Or any number of important but mundane things that would be way easier to get done if there was someone to hold the baby while I did them. (Don’t even get me started on the PhD I’m meant to be doing, yikes.)
Humans aren’t meant to parent alone. We’re meant to do it in groups. That’s how we evolved – supporting and being supported by one another. So even if it’s only for two hours a week, having Margaret come over and hold the baby so I can get stuff done goes a small way to restoring that keystone of evolution (not to mention my sanity).
I do have two older
germ vectors children, so if there is any sickness, Marg and I reschedule or take a rain cheque via text message. (That’s another cool thing about YAWN – the volunteer can even play with your older kids while you hang out with the baby, if that’s what you want.)
At the end of our two hour period each week, we go our separate ways. Margaret hops back in her car, takes off the sunshade and drives away. Baby and I close the door and chat about what fun we’ve had. And we can’t wait for next week.
Wanna do your bit to help new mums? Donate to the YAWN program today.