Newly launched group looks to help parents with newborns
WESTPORT—When Westport resident Jessica Hill had her first child she was living in London. Midwives and nurses came by her house after her delivery to make sure she and her baby were doing alright. And in the early months of life with her newborn son, she would call or meet up with other mothers living close by with newborns at nearly the exact same age. She had a level of support that, she said, simply does not seem to exist for new mothers stateside.
The group of new moms developed out of her enrollment during her third trimester in National Childbirth Trust classes, a United Kingdom staple for expectant first-time mothers and their partners that helped Hill find a support network with women going through the same major life changes that she was at the time.
Now Hill is working with fellow Westport resident Melissa Griffin - who also found support through NCT classes when she had her first child - to launch The Parent Collective. The venture will offer prenatal courses in Westport, Fairfield and New Canaan inspired by National Childbirth Trust classes and aimed at providing expectant parents with both education and community in an open, social, non-judgmental setting. Registration opened recently for the first wave of courses, starting in October.
“I really feel strongly that I would’ve felt so isolated if I didn’t have this group of friends in the exact same boat as I was,” Hill said. “I can’t speak highly enough of how important this was for me, so that’s why we decided to do it.”
The bonds Hill formed during her NCT course continue to be a significant part of her life. She said she continues to talk to one of her NCT classmates, British dramatherapist Juliette Oakshett, every day. While Hill and Oakshett lived near each other in London, they never met until their December 2008 class.
“I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without Jess and the NCT girls,” Oakshett said. “Jess was a lifeline to me in those first few months.”
In the U.K., NCT classes are the standard for new expectant mothers, she said. In Oakshett’s experience, the classes were at once serious, allowing parents to express real fears, while fun and light at other moments.
Jessica Hill and Melissa Griffin met at their children’s Westport preschool. Originally from the U.S., Hill lived in England for a decade with her husband before moving to Westport. She gave birth to two sons while living in the U.K., now ages five and seven. For Hill, The Parent Collective is her second British-inspired venture. She also founded The Dish & Spoon Vintage, a service that offers British tea china for rent.
Griffin is originally from the U.K. but moved to town three years ago. She had her now five-year-old daughter while in England and now has a 20-month-old son as well.
First-time parent class topics
Breast and bottle feeding
Pain management and relaxation options
Delivery and newborn care
Adjustment for older children
Strategies for forming family and sibling bonds
Magic Beans toy and baby store at 1530 Post Road in Fairfield
Go Figure Barre Studios at 18 Elm Street in New Canaan
INTENSITY fitness studio at 506-508 Westport Avenue adjacent to the Westport border in Norwalk
The Parent Collective was born out of Hill and Griffin’s shared sense that new moms in Fairfield County should have access to the type of support network that helped them through early motherhood and prevented them from feeling isolated, along with a shared eagerness to forge their own career paths.
“I’ve always wanted to create my own story,” Hill said.
Unlike many standard prenatal classes, The Parent Collective’s courses will aim to form a support network of families in an expectant couple’s area. The classes will sort enrollees by due date and location.
In addition to a course for first-timer parents, Hill and Griffin added classes for second and third-time parents because many families move to Fairfield County after having their first child, Hill said.
The classes, she explained, will be “very judgment free” and offer information on numerous options for childbirth, pain management, feeding and other aspects of having a baby without urging expectant mothers toward any particular options.
During each class, a facilitator will give about an hour of instruction mixed with 30 to 45 minutes of discussion time. Each session will also have a 20-minute break for expectant parents to socialize over tea and biscuits. After the fourth and final class, the facilitator will schedule a dinner for the group before all due dates and a time to get coffee after all due dates to encourage relationships formed during the course to continue, Hill said.
To facilitate the classes, Hill and Griffin have hired women - many of them mothers themselves - with specialties in various parts of the childbirth and early motherhood processes. Among them are a number of nurses and nurse practitioners from St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport and Yale University.
Yale Health Center nurse practitioner Chloe Quinn, who will be facilitating first-timer classes, began her career as a labor and delivery nurse and became a women’s health nurse practitioner because she enjoyed working with pregnant women.
“This is what I know and love,” she said, of what she will be teaching for The Parent Collective.
Quinn said she believes the most significant aspect of the courses is their potential to help prevent post-partum depression because new mothers will have support, honest preparation and social bonds to help avoid the seclusion that can come with new motherhood. Post-partum depression, she said, is common. And she believes The Parent Collective’s approach could be the best way to prevent and treat it.
While hospital classes in the area can be good for some women, the generally two to six hour classes involve more lecture than discussion or social opportunities and tend to be sterile, Quinn said. The Parent Collective will offer can allow stressed women to open up in an inclusive, social environment, she said.
“I think there’s a need for that in this area,” Quinn said.
Since the class will also involve four weekly sessions - unlike many current prenatal class options - parents have the chance to gain “another level of comfort” with facilitators over time and become comfortable enough to address deeper anxieties, she added.
Obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Vasu Tummala, who practices at the Norwalk Community Health Center and works part-time as a laborist at St. Vincent’s, met Griffin and Hill as a fellow preschool parent. Tummala said she will be recommended The Parent Collective courses to her patients because she believes the education, expert advice and chance to ask questions in a relaxed setting is important to patient well-being.
“That social network,” Tummala added. “That is invaluable.”
She said she has not heard of a model like The Parent Collective’s before and knows of no similar classes in Fairfield County.
Other classes are “not designed with this double intention in mind,” Tummala said. “They’re not designed to give continuity to families the way their program is.”