'Mum' at Mothercraft to tend to a different cry

Mountain climbing and a pilgrimage are now on the "to-do" list

NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA
Last updated 16:00 19/11/2012
MUM TO MANY: Mothercraft manager Alison Williams, holding 5-month-old Paige O’Connor, has just retired after 24 years in the job.
BEN CURRAN
MUM TO MANY: Mothercraft manager Alison Williams, holding 5-month-old Paige O’Connor, has just retired after 24 years in the job.

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Last Friday a Hamilton part-time mother to thousands said goodbye to a job she spent almost 24 years doing.

Alison Williams was manager of Waikato District Health Board's Mothercraft unit and those years were filled with babies cries, but also their laughs and smiles.

And she doesn't yet know what impact not being around babies every day is going to have on her.

"That's a question mark at the moment," she says.

On Friday Mrs Williams retired after helping about 7000 women learn to cope with being a mother and deal with difficult babies.

When the Times caught up with her during her final shifts it was clear, even after all those years, she took pleasure from spending her time around babies.

Little Paige O'Connor, 5-months-old, took an immediately liking to her, nuzzling up to her - completely relaxed as Mrs Williams gave her reassuring hugs.

Making a living out of caring for babies was a job Mrs Williams kind of stumbled upon.

She trained as a registered nurse "because my mum actually told me girls need a career".

"There wasn't really much discussion about it and I guess the career options were a lot fewer then."

She spent several years working as a midwife before finally going for the Mothercraft position in 1989.

"I'd worked mainly in the maternity area up until then. I did my Plunket training and after that I wanted to work more in the area called Well Child and focus on that.

"Then this job was advertised - I didn't think I'd ever get this job. I just thought there'd be people more qualified than me that would get it.

"I was quite shocked when I got it and asked myself if I really wanted it."

But 24 years after the fact, she doesn't regret a moment.

"I've always had great staff to work with, really neat people.

"And I've had a really nice environment to work in," referring to the eight-bedroom Lockwood house which sits on Waikato Hospital grounds. But it's the impact on the mums and their babies that's kept her going.

Mothers go to Mothercraft, a short-stay live-in house, for a variety of reasons including if they are having breastfeeding problems, need parenting skills, are adopting infants, are exhausted and/or overloaded, or have post-natal depression.

Some babies are brought in if they have feeding problems, suffer infant colic or have poor weight gains - or if they have been in the newborn intensive care unit and aren't ready to go home.

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So Mrs Williams has seen her fair share of mothers at their wits end.

But what kept her going was seeing them leave on a Friday afternoon in a "completely different [head] space to what they came in with".

Just the other day a woman who had stayed at Mothercraft about 11 years ago dropped in a pram she did not need any longer.

"She wanted to give it to someone who helped her at a time when she needed it," Mrs Williams says smiling.

As well as all the babies that have gone through Mothercraft, Mrs Williams also raised her own four children, allowing her to become something of a baby-crying expert.

"Although I barely even hear it now. But some babies do have more urgent cries than others and I can pick up the type of cry it is.

"But for some babies it is just their temperament. They go from zero to a hundred like that."

Mrs Williams has noticed a lot of changes over the years and has met women from all walks of life.

Two of the most notable changes have been the changes in family structure and dynamics, and the age of babies coming through.

Advances in medical care has meant more premature babies now survive and need to spend time at Mothercare before heading home.

One of the biggest challenges for Mrs Williams has been "knowing what you can provide and what you can't".

"You can't always fix things completely - but you can make it somewhat better. As nurses we always want to fix things and make them perfect, but we can't always."

Mrs Williams says retirement hasn't come because she no longer likes the job.

"I do still enjoy it, But I sort of feel it's time for me to do what I'd like to do - and there's lots of things I want to do."

The lists includes a 6200-metre climb to Island Peak in the Himalayas, followed by a 30-day France-Spain Camino pilgrimage trek with her husband, who luckily shares Alison's fitness drive.

"I'm sort of a fitness nut - that's what's helped me manage the stress of the job. I've always gone to the gym before work."

Mothercraft is unique in the New Zealand health scene, the only one of its kind, with its territory expanded to provide the service for all of the Midlands Health area.

nicola.brennan@waikatotimes.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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