Topic: Support for mums and tots Jean's mission

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Hauraki Herald reporter meets a woman who is moving on after two decades of being there for new mums. This story was published in the Hauraki Herald on April 5, 2011.

JEAN O’Brien is specially trained in one of the most valuable arts in the world – mothercraft. As a Plunket community Karitane nurse, she has been a helping hand and a supportive voice for hundreds of mums across the Coromandel Peninsula for the past 20 years.

Having trained as a Karitane nurse in Auckland in 1970, Jean first came to Plunket in 1990. Working alongside the Plunket nurse, her role has varied over the years as new mums and their families faced new issues. She has worked in Thames, Whangamata, Waihi and Paeroa and now lives in Hikutaia.

‘‘When I first started, there really wasn’t much assistance for new mums and they suddenly had this baby to look after and no clue what to do, and they were often terrified,’’ she recalled. ‘‘My role was to go in and see how everyone was coping, dad as well. ‘‘Often it was just those basic skills of bathing and feeding the baby or cooking a meal. I’ve often thought you need a licence if you want to drive a car but you can go out and become a parent and no-one prepares you at all,’’ Jean said.

In more recent times her work has focused on areas like nutrition, breast feeding support and helping new mums, dads and family members access information and services. ‘‘There have been a lot of changes. We see a lot of grandparents bringing up children now, a lot of blended families as well so these are all new challenges,’’ Jean said.

‘‘Today’s transient lifestyles often mean a mum is living quite a distance away from her family and may not have any support network. That’s also a major factor for the many immigrants in the community as well.

‘‘The Coromandel is now a very diverse place so I’ve worked with Chinese, Thai, Indian, Cambodian and South African families. Many of them have their own cultures and customs too which we have to respect so that’s been a new challenge for me, helping them find ways of combining their traditions with how we do things in New Zealand.’’

Immigration is a subject that is close to Jean’s heart. Her grandmother was from an Irish Protestant family who sailed out to New Zealand in what Jean imagines must have been a tortuous boat journey. ‘‘It was incredible to think of them setting off, not really knowing what was ahead of them. My grandmother had some amazing stories to tell. It was quite hard for them as Protestants growing up in Ireland back then. Of course, I wish now that I’d listened more and written it all down,’’ she said.

‘‘I’m sure my poor Gran is very unimpressed now because my husband Michael comes from an Irish Catholic family. We are a blended family. We both had two children when we met and then had our youngest Rory who is 23 now. I think that helped me a lot to understand the specific challenges facing people in that situation, it isn’t always that easy.’’

Although she will miss her role as community Karitane nurse, Jean said the time was right to make a change. ‘‘I think sometimes you just know when it’s right. I’ve absolutely loved the job. I loved meeting all the people, the way they just stop you in the street or come up to you in the supermarket and say ‘Jean, what do you think about this or that’, it’s been wonderful.’’

But far from putting her feet up, Jean will be putting her wealth of knowledge and experience to good use in a new role, as nanny to triplets and their big sister toddler. ‘‘They are gorgeous, they are nine weeks now so they are really developing nicely. They are all girls,’’ she said. ‘‘The older girl is a lovely child as well. I’m enjoying it so far although I really wouldn’t advise anyone to have triplets. People say it’s just like twins but it’s not, believe me, having three is much harder.’’

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Support for mums and tots Jean's mission

First Names:Jean
Last Name:O'Brien