Learning Routines Of Motherhood
Nicole Richardson was in despair, she describes it as rock bottom, when her plunket nurse told her she should go to Waikato Hospital's Mothercraft Unit.
"I just really wasn't able to care for my two children," the 37-year-old Tauranga mum said last week as she read a book in the sprawling Mothercraft Unit lounge while waiting for three-month-old Holly to wake. "Now I feel like I've got some tools to cope."
It took less than a day for Nicole and Holly to turn their lives around in the Hamilton unit that has helped thousands of mothers and children since it opened in 1972.
"I think every mother should come here whether they think they need to or not," said Nicole.
Mothercraft is a department of the Child Health Unit at Waikato Hospital. The unit is in the hospital grounds but separate from the main hospital environment and serves the Midland region. Community service groups built it after a massive fund-raising effort in the early 1970s. It provides live-in residential help in a homelike, supportive environment for parents experiencing problems.
The unit operates as a communal living situation with assistance from experienced nursing staff. It caters for mothers with breast-feeding problems, parenting skills for young mothers and those adopting new infants, exhausted and/or overloaded mothers and those with postnatal depression.
Babies with feeding problems are cared for as are wakeful crying babies, infant colic, poor weight gains, halfway between newborn intensive care unit and home.
The unit only caters for infants up to one year with only one parent/caregiver. Male primary caregivers can be cared for. The unit has helped fathers too.
Attached to the unit is paediatrician Eleanor Carmichael while there is also support from social workers and mental health services. Nicole had postnatal depression and then got sick and ended up in hospital. Her doctor recommended Mothercraft but Nicole felt guilty and wondered how she could get someone to care for her two-year-old son for a week.
However, she tucked the information away in her head. Holly was suffering from reflux so when the plunket nurse also mentioned Mothercraft, Nicole was convinced.
"It's such a controlled environment here. It's all about routines. They showed me ways to encourage Holly to have more at feeding time so that she slept for longer. I've learned that just because she's crying doesn't always mean she's hungry. Where else do you learn this stuff today?"
Clinical nurse leader Alison Williams said the unit gets referrals from midwives, Plunket, GPs, paediatricians and other social agencies. Most babies admitted have feeding and sleeping issues.
"Some people think it's Draconian what we do here. It's not rocket science. Some of the kids that come here are over tired, over handled and over stimulated. We're not here to give women a break. We ask them to set goals and to learn to read their baby."
Collectively the staff of the unit has more than 100 years nursing experience working with infants and their families. "These are well children we see, it's the mothers who need support," said Mrs Williams.
The unit houses eight mothers and their babies with two nurses on each shift and one on at night.
Alison says Mondays are always the worst days. "They can be diabolical, the noise can be deafening. Some kids have a more urgent cry than others do too.
"The reality is a newborn baby needs to be fed well and given the right encouragement to sleep. Mothers need support to become confident with mothering; this is much of what we do. That's what routines are all about."