by Jo Moulton, Content Creator DCF.
As a race, us humans have long been of the common yet equivocal opinion that women talk.
There are jokes about it; it has long been a subject of throw away-satire that we are used to, it’s a subject matter for a comical commentary that we are used to throwing away with laughter, men and women, because we know, for the most part, there is a truth to be found in it.
Take my best friend and I. I remember meeting up with her in the street with two of my male friends present. We barely took time for breath as we nattered and gabbled, ten-to-the-dozen at each other for about 10 minutes. Then on realisation that we had left our two other friends standing there, silent and slightly gawking at our ability to relay so much information in so little time, we reacted thus… “What?…. Sorry….we haven’t spoken to each other since this morning….!”
I consider myself lucky to have lots of friends, male and female, with whom I am able to chat and share my feelings with. But there is something about chatting with a female friend, because there are things with which only another women can really relate because we share, well, the same design of bodies.
What I’m about to talk about now may again, evoke some gawking and awkward response. This is a reaction that the group I’m going to talk about, who are at the heart of these issues, want to change too, when they refer to ‘healing the shame’ surrounding them.
I remember clearly, when I was in my early secondary school days, talks held in the girls’ toilets about periods. Having to ask a mate for a tampon wasn’t an embarrassment because for me at least, it represented a sort of talisman to womanhood. Yes, its true, hiding them up our sleeves was a skill we mastered quickly for the sake of others but among us, we would have been proud to hold them aloft in honour and pride for what was a really very important transition in our lives.
Now I come of a time that my periods are reaching their end, I feel exactly the same sense of camaraderie with my fellow females as we discuss our varying symptoms and experiences of peri-menopause.
At The Nest, this positive response is something they endorse; using their own professional and life experiences to make it available, more formally, to every woman, at every stage of her biological life.
Our vision is to live in a world where women and girls feel empowered and fulfilled at each stage of their life.
Our mission is to provide emotional & educational support, improving well-being & self-esteem to enable peer mentoring and increased wellbeing. We aim to support women and girls from pre-puberty, through menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth, to post-menopause.
The Nest is a CIC (Community Interest Company) that was formed by three women. Hazel, a doula, childbirth and educator; Jodie, a breastfeeding and antenatal educator; and Nancy, physiotherapist, yoga teacher and massage therapist.
They believe that these natural milestones in a woman’s life are cause for celebration (Hazel hosts ceremonies relating to each of the four events) and events that its highly important to support: both emotionally, with other women, but also by education and the passing on of skills and knowledge needed to deal with their various outcomes confidently. They also believe that support should be available to all women, and as a result of their research, particularly wanted to reach out and offer free services to those who would otherwise be excluded from this kind of help by financial constraints.
The Nest approached Devon Community Foundation earlier this year. Their company was in its infancy, but their vision clearly was not. They had strong plans for a future, telling us what they wanted to achieve, and when. The first phase of this forecast, what they wholly refer to as ‘their dream’ was a focus on pregnancy, offering antenatal services and peer support to women in and around the area of Exeter.
We believe having comprehensive antenatal education and peer-support will have a long-lasting positive effect on women and their babies for years to come. Research shows that increased well-being in pregnancy and birth means less mental health problems, better birth outcomes, less unnecessary interventions, lower rates of postnatal depression, higher breastfeeding rates and long term positive effects for both mother & baby.
Our project will work to build confidence through education, reduce stress through social connection, increase mental well-being through self-esteem, develop parenting competence and create long-lasting friendships and peer support.
They later went on to ask us
Did you know that the number one cause of death for new mums is suicide?
Birth Trauma has such a profound effect on mental health. More information, more emotional support and more peer networking is our way of making a small change that can have big consequences.
And their view is one that was echoed by a stakeholder at ESSENCE of Exeter, who cited the possible long-term effects of a negative pregnancy or birth in their support of Nest’s application.
The ripple effects that their offering has cannot be under-estimated. Taking care of a mother’s birthing experience and wellbeing in early motherhood has huge effects beyond that time, and beyond herself (most directly: the newborn, other children in the family, partners). Potential impact on reduction of use of services, and positive participation in their community is significant: when we feel more supported, we have more to give to others.
At Devon Community Foundation, we have been in the privileged position many times to see the potential of small acorns to turn into huge, strong oak trees. We are proud to have been at the beginning of many a journey, when we were able to give a group the financial push they needed to make their ideas come to life. Ideas concerned only with the welfare of our local communities, and driven with a selfless desire to improve the lives of others.
In this case we were ready to give The Nest the wings it needed to metaphorically fly. To support women in that uncertain time of pregnancy to thrive, where they might have faltered. Our panel agreed with the endorsements our assessors gave their application, and we were delighted to share news of their success in securing a grant of £1,820 from our Community Grants Fund on the 11th March 2020.
Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Two working days after that Devon Community Foundation imposed working-from-home measures in response to the coronavirus outbreak and a week later the entire country was placed into lockdown by the UK government.
Since then, the affects of the pandemic and the resulting lockdown have been widely published. Among those dealing not only with the practical and financial implications of the situation, but with the emotional stress it is causing, are of course, those who are currently pregnant.
As The Nest have identified and as I can back up from my own personal experience, carrying a child is a time during which you already face an untold amount of uncertainty. Your emotional state is fragile due to the surge in hormones and the physical strains on your body are all new and also take their toll.
Add the two scenarios together and The Nest did what only they felt they could do, an echo of what we are hearing time and time again from the groups we support: they are carrying on.
The lockdown made us realise that we needed to do something now, as women were locked in their homes, all antenatal classes stopped and they faced a lot of uncertainty about what to expect for their births.
And we at Devon Community Foundation, as representatives of our kind and generous donors and supporters, were able to facilitate that.
We redirected some of the funds you gave to provide weekly Zoom video sessions and host a private Facebook support for ongoing support. We are also building our networks with the local NHS maternity services who have welcomed our initiative, calling it a ‘valuable resource.’ We will continue to grow our community building networks to be able to reach those families most in need of support, especially at this time. Thank you again for your flexibility with how we’ve used fund to adapt to this situation. It has been really appreciated.
In order to be able to carry on offering financial support to groups like The Nest on the 26th March we launched the Devon Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund. To date it has received 88 grant applications and paid out over £200,000 in grants, each to organisations reacting to the crisis and supporting members, new and old through these most difficult and unprecedented times.
The work of charities and voluntary organisations has never been more important than now, and during these times we at Devon Community Foundation we will continue to do what we were ultimately designed to do, to support that in every which way that we can.
A massive thank you and best of luck for the immediate and long term future of The Nest.
If you would like to find out about donating to the Devon Coronavirus Response & Recovery Fund please click here.
To find out more about support available from groups like The Nest in your community please visit our Help & Support pages here.
To find out more about The Nest and how they could support you or someone you know, please visit their Facebook page here.
Hazel Acland has written two books: A Doula’s Journey – a novel (2013) & A Birth Path – stages & states of consciousness (2016) Both written under the name Hazel Tree.