The Backstory

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Do you know how Suffolk Babies came about? It became clear to us this week that actually most people don’t really know the history of Suffolk Babies and what made us create this fine organisation.

Well… this is a story all about how my life got flip turned upside down. I’d like to take a minute so sit right there, and I’ll tell you how I became a Director of Suffolk Babies. (If you aren’t singing the tune were you even alive in the 90s?)

It all started at a baby fair. Jo and I were running antenatal and baby classes for rival organisations. I say “rival”, I thought they were complementary, but there was certainly no love lost between the head offices of either of them.

We found ourselves on stands next to each other, both hating the hard-sell nature of the fair, both hiding behind our banners hoping we wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. We got to chatting about how much money was being wasted at these events and how things could be done better.

Fast forward a year or so and I had virtually given up teaching as I was looking after my second baby. Meanwhile, Jo’s business had gone from strength to strength. I got a call from her out of the blue asking if I would be interested in doing the website for a charity she wanted to set up, to improve antenatal education. I said OK, as I had enjoyed running a website previously – funnily enough, called Suffolk Babies!

Jo had this amazing idea about using capitalism as a force for good, taking the profits from her successful pregnancy and baby classes and using them to provide free antenatal education. Both of us had experienced the fallout from women having had birth experiences that they were upset about, with new mothers feeling like they had “failed” or that the whole birth experience had been completely out of their control. Having a healthy baby is only part of the story – it is also hugely important that the parents have a positive birth experience. It helps with mental health post-birth and encourages bonding between parents and baby.

We know that preparation for birth is key – it’s not about every woman having a vaginal birth with no intervention. What is important is that women and their partners have the knowledge of what is happening to them, what their choices are, and that they feel safe and confident. This wasn’t happening with the antenatal education options that were open to them at that time.

We had a fateful meeting at the Black Tiles pub in Martlesham with Emily, who Jo knew through the Daisy Foundation, and who is a Midwife at Ipswich Hospital. We needed Emily on board so we gave her the irresistible offer of becoming our third Director in exchange for her writing our new antenatal workshop. Thankfully, she said yes!

Katie, Jo and Emily at the first meeting of Suffolk Babies
So by this point we had a Management Team, with Jo as CEO, Emily as Director of Antenatal Education, and me as the Director of Operations. My role had grown slightly from just creating a website! With Emily on board and the antenatal workshop written we approached Ipswich Hospital about potentially running our workshop alongside their current offer. The antenatal education run by the hospital at that time was a Friday class, run by Midwives in Children’s Centres. Attendance rates were not that great, as it is difficult for many people to attend during normal work hours. We could offer to run workshops at evenings and weekends.

In the meantime we formed the Community Interest Company and opened our centre in Kesgrave. We spent a fortune on a beautiful new floor and starting running classes. I spent hours setting up the website and booking system.

At the beginning of last year we met the Head of Midwifery again, and she agreed that we could go ahead with our new antenatal workshop. Instead of running alongside their classes, she was happy for us to take over the whole lot from April 2017. At this point it is worth saying that we do not receive any funding from the NHS to run these classes. None at all. Most people look at us like this when we tell them:

The NHS has no separate budget for antenatal education. The Maternity Service’s money comes in one big pot, which they have to split between all the different areas they cover, including caesarean sections, inductions, life or death emergencies etc. Funding antenatal education is understandably rather low on this list. However, from our point of view antenatal education is vital, and because our culture has moved so far away from how humans naturally give birth, we feel it is worth spending money on decent education. So we fund it all ourselves. As a Management Team we have invested a huge amount in this service, and continue to invest, making sure that our free antenatal education is the very best it can be.

To date we have had over 860 bookings onto the Essential Preparation for Birth Workshop, which is an astounding result for a new service that has only been up and running for 10 months.

The amount of work that Jo, Emily and I have put in over the last 18 months doesn’t bear thinking about, but we now have a packed out centre in Kesgrave, with our own classes and our partners’. We are an independent organisation running our own baby classes from newborn right through to preschool, including workshops for parents to help them with their newborn or toddler. We have built a popular Facebook page, website, and of course this newsletter. We are introducing two new weekly antenatal classes after Easter. We have launched a new coaching service to provide additional support. As I write this, we are four days into training 5 new teachers who are going to take the Suffolk Babies vision around the county. We do all this out of love and passion, certainly not for financial gain!

We have been nominated as the Suffolk Coastal New Business of the Year, and the winners are being announced at a ceremony at Kesgrave Hall on 15th March. Our little team are really excited about getting together and celebrating all we have achieved in the last year. It hasn’t been plain sailing, there have been a few hiccups behind the scenes that we have had to overcome. Whether we win the award or not, we are truly proud of how far we have come and all we have achieved. People tell us we have changed their lives. I’d like to finish this article with some recent (unprompted!) feedback from a client, who totally sums up what we are all about:

I wanted to thank you and your team so much for the last year or so. Katie helped me when I first made a hash of the booking system for the pregnancy relaxation classes, then Josi took the first set of pregnancy classes I attended and gave me the confidence to feel like I could birth my baby. Emily took my next set of pregnancy classes during which I found out [my baby] was breech. I tried everything under the sun to turn him but was unsuccessful and she sent me an email that made me cry and helped me acknowledge that by having a caesarean I was still birthing my baby and that was ok. Once [my baby] arrived we attended your classes, Jo. It was such a lifeline to meet other mums in a welcoming and supportive setting. Whilst trying to build some sort of routine with [my baby’s] naps I had to throw out the rule book a little to fit your classes around when he slept because he just loved them so much. It will also always be a very special memory for me seeing him crawl for the first time in your class. He just had to see what was in the pink spotty box!! I have loved everything about Suffolk Babies, including the Latch Patch and the first aid course, so thank you thank you thank you.

Thank you all for your support over the last 18 months, it’s what keeps us going! xxx

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