For a cohort of Canberra’s women, pregnancy and early motherhood is not the time of joy, nesting and love we all expect, according to Lavinia Tyrrel.
The CEO of Karinya House, an organisation providing safety, shelter and a positive support network for women who are pregnant or parenting in Canberra and the surrounding region, said for many it was the opposite.
For this vulnerable cohort, pregnancy and parenting is a time of increased exposure to multiple risk factors from housing insecurity to mental ill health and domestic and family violence.
But it’s also a time when a woman is more likely to make a positive change.
“In our position we see some of the darkest aspects of our society, but also most powerful examples of the human experience,” Ms Tyrrel said.
“The research demonstrates for example, women who may be experiencing homelessness are more likely to reach out to services or engage with the services that are in contact with them during this period.
“For some, this period changes their calculus on life – they’re either caring or will be caring for someone else. They’re thinking of the future and the environment they want to create in their parenting journey for that child. It’s a powerful motivator.”
She said the increased risks were due in large part to the many “structural inequities that are heightened at that time of pregnancy or caring for a newborn”.
“In terms of the brave women Karinya House supports, what’s common in their experience is all of them face significant structural inequities, in most cases outside their control,” she said.
But when a woman is supported in this critical stage of their life, whether through individuals in their lives or organisations such as Karinya House, it can have a life-changing impact.
Ms Tyrrel said as a result, Karinya House had witnessed “incredible examples” of women exercising their agency in extreme adversity to make positive changes in their lives for themselves and their children, and some forging a new trajectory for future generations.
“We’ve seen women go to school and complete qualifications, some returning to work. Some go on to manage their own private rentals, and if your experience has sent you through the public housing system, that’s an incredible feat in a tight rental market,” she said.
“One woman I know recently started volunteering to give back to the community that had supported her at a time when she was vulnerable and facing several challenges.
“There are also some really powerful personal changes we observe taking place in the women we walk alongside – greater confidence and defining how they want to parent.”
Karinya House acts as the “scaffolding” around a woman to support her goals.
For many who seek this support, a safe environment for her and her child is often the immediate priority.
After that comes wraparound support, which can include access to counselling, maternal and child health services, referrals to other services such as legal or financial as well as certain material needs including baby and white goods.
“Women during their experience with Karinya House often remark that this is the first time in their life they have had a positive support network – and they have seen a village around them that believes in their strength as a woman and a parent,” Ms Tyrell said.
“They’re shown love, compassion and care from our staff but also the community around us, our volunteers and commercial and government partners who donate in various ways.”
September is a big month for community support for Karinya House with two signature events – its Mercy Walk for Women and Gala Ball – and its September Appeal.
All donations made this month will be matched dollar for dollar by community partners such as Monarch Building Solutions, up to $60,000.
“The common thing that unites our supporters – the village around Karinya House – is that we all share the belief that no woman should navigate this incredibly complex and vulnerable period in their life alone,” Ms Tyrrel said.
“Together we can work to support women to make incredible changes in their lives, and the lives of their children.”
Register here for the 2023 Mercy Walk for Women on 1 September, purchase tickets here for the 2023 Gala Dinner or have your contribution matched dollar for dollar this September by donating here, and become part of the Karinya House village.