Eye On

Alison Bishop's
'Boot Camp for New Moms'

“Everyone is feeling increasingly isolated,” says Alison Bishop, founder of the Irvine, CA-based non-profit organisation 'Boot Camp for New Moms'. “I feel like it’s a product of our schedules. We’re trying to do so much.”

While almost everyone on the planet would agree with Alison’s sentiment, she is specifically referring to mothers of very young children. Recent studies from all corners of the world show evidence of the same thing: motherhood isn’t always as joyful as all of the expected clichés. A German study released late last year, which surveyed 2,300 new parents, found that having a child may actually decrease happiness, similar to how one feels going through a divorce. Another study, from Britain, also enforced this point by stating more than 37% of new parents ages 18-34 reported feeling cut off from friends and support.

Between the stresses of work, managing a household, and raising children, social interaction with other parents is often the first thing to go. Ironically, it’s the one thing that women who are experiencing one of life’s more joyful, and difficult, transitions need most.

Alison’s lightbulb concept? To organise a low-cost, easily accessible forum for parents-to-be to interact with more experienced peers who share their insights about child rearing and maintaining a healthy marriage when a newborn enters the picture. Alison and her small group of four colleagues created 'Boot Camp For New Moms', a network of seminars, typically held on a Saturday at hospitals or community centres across the country. These casual gatherings offer a safe place to open up an organised, honest dialogue between pregnant mothers and trained facilitators.

“There is so much information out there about childbirth, but there isn’t much available to tell you what happens emotionally when you take the baby home—or what happens between the mum and the dad when they have an infant,” she says. “Compared to how hard that can be, childbirth seems like the easy part. It’s like focusing on the wedding and forgetting about the marriage. Not a good idea.”

Conversations among the women who participate in 'Boot Camp for New Moms' go deeper than just nappy changing and colic, and so does the connection the women feel to one another. “I always love to see people who attended the Boot Camps as new parents come back once their children are a little older to share their experiences,” says Alison. “That feels like success to me.”

“There is so much information out there about childbirth, but there isn’t much available to tell you what happens emotionally when you take the baby home."

Alison, who has four children, ranging in age from 22-35, with her husband Greg, a hospital administrator and a trauma care centre specialist, seems far younger than her years. In a white t-shirt and black blazer, she projects the aura of an enthusiastic and nurturing mother and aspiring grandmother. (“None of our kids have children yet, and it drives my husband crazy!” she admits.) Almost everything about her communicates, ‘It’s OK. You’ve got this.’ She is the obvious mother hen in the small office she shares with her staff, which does community outreach, facilitator training, and has published a series of handbooks.

What makes Alison’s work unique is that 'Boot Camp for New Moms' focuses on strengthening the family unit, talking about the issues that matter most—emotions of fear, isolation, pressure, stress—yet are seldom discussed. They encourage compassion between spouses and within a community, not just improving parenting skills.

“It can be tough on a marriage, when you feel like you are having physical contact with a baby all day, and then you see your spouse and you can’t imagine being intimate and feeling like an adult again,” she says.  Anyone who is feeling adrift, or could use a safe, friendly environment to ask questions that they may not feel comfortable asking their friends, is welcome.

“Almost everyone we meet through these Boot Camps wants to know, ‘Are my feelings normal?’ Whatever they’re experiencing, they just want to know if other people are going through the same thing, whatever it may be,” says Alison, with her signature broad smile, which rarely fades. “And what we try to tell them is that almost everything is considered normal. The definition of normal is really, really broad.”

Alison’s local success for 'Boot Camp for New Moms' is inspiring—and now, as the winner of Clinique’s Smart Ideas competition, in partnership with TED, she’ll have the opportunity to make an even bigger impact. Awarded with $20,000 in funding to build her business, Alison plans to make her forums accessible for mums-to-be around the world. “The beauty of 'Boot Camp for New Moms' is that it can be incorporated into any community, in any culture,” says Alison. “By expanding globally, we can learn from other cultures and exchange more smart ideas while creating a community of confident mums.”

The Clinique Smart Ideas competition in partnership with TED is inspired by Clinique Smart Custom Serum and Eye Treatment, multitasking skin care that understands your skin's past and changes its future.

Photos: Katrina Dickson | Words: Christine Lennon