"Just like sister joists in carpentry are used to strengthen weakened structures, we provide extra structural support to help families in the immediate months after birth.” from SisteringCU.org
I moved here in 2007 because of my husband’s job. We had our first kid in 2011 and second in 2015. At one point we agreed we’d move back home to Kentucky before our first kid turned five because we wanted the family support, but we found it too hard to turn our back on our lives here. So, we stayed. I can tell you first hand that not having family support with little kids is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. No quick call to my mom to rescue me when the kids are driving me crazy. No relief when both my husband and I are sick. No one to take them overnight to catch up on housework or do projects. It was an especially trying time when our second came into this world screaming, without end, without reason.
My story is not unique. I’ve heard it innumerable times, ‘I came here for the university and never left.’ This is great for the growth of Champaign-Urbana but could have a negative impact on new families who have to decide between a town they’ve come to love and family support. There was need for post-partum support, and Sistering CU stepped in to help fulfill that need.
Founders Erin Murphy and Dorie Geissler went to the U of I to study sociology, so not only do they bring a great idea to the community they also bring a host of knowledge in terms of culture and relationships with people. After about a year of brainstorming on how to help post-partum moms and dads, they got their 501c3 and board of directors together. In May of last year, they started their home visit program. Sistering CU trains volunteers in four-hour sessions. The training includes baby care, lactation resources, depression awareness, and more.
Murphy explains that for two hours a week for first 12 weeks of the baby’s life the volunteer will take care of the baby while the mom or dad takes a nap, showers, pay bills, or even calls a friend. “A nap can be a cure-all,” says Murphy. She goes on to explain that “the research states that if a mom can get 1 hour a week of self-care the rate of post-partum depression can go down” and that “isolation is one of the predictors for post-partum depression.” Erin stresses that “it’s not just about post-partum depression, that’s high on our radar, but we just wanted a post-partum care community.”
So much time is spent on preparing for the baby to arrive: Setting up the baby’s room, going to doctors’ appointments, learning and preparing to birth if you are pregnant, etc. Time is spent on the physical component for preparing for a baby, but not much time is given to preparing for the part after, even past six weeks. Whether you’ve fostered, adopted or given birth to a baby, Murphy explains that it’s a “transition time of the 4th trimester…you don’t have to have a difficulty, we are here for everyone. Everyone deserves support.” Since May they have helped serve 13 families, with two new families joining soon.
Along with the home visit program they also have a great resource guide on their website. “We have so many resources in this community but have to do so much research to find it all. [The resource guide has information about] lactation, mental health, where to play inside with your kid, early intervention support…basically anything that would be helpful for new babies.” You can find their resource guide here.
Sistering CU also hosts events and trainings, and one coming up April 25-26th. They are co-hosting with the Universtiy of Illinois School of Social Work to bring a MotherWoman training program to C-U. This training focuses on starting and running a post-partum group that is “culturally centered.” Murphy explains that it’s “intersectional; across race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, etc.” The training can count as Continuing Education Units for teachers and doulas, and 12 hours for licensed Social Workers”. You can find out more about this training on their website.
Last May Sistering CU screened a showing of Dark Side of the Full Moon, a documentary about post-partum depression and the lack of care new moms get. May is Prenatal Mental Health Month, so they will be hosting another film screening, this time it will be When the Bough Breaks. Brooke Shields narrates this documentary about post-partum depression and psychosis that follows a woman’s six-year struggle with it. They are planning it for May 16th at the Champaign Public Library.
For the future Sistering CU hopes to develop a post-partum Planning Guide to help post-partum moms plan for the time after birth or acquiring a new baby.
Photos from the Sistering CU website and Facebook page.