New Nonprofit Gives Expectant Moms Early Bundle of Joy
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In a way, expectant mothers in Berkshire County owe some thanks to Donald Trump.
During the long presidential campaign, South Egremont resident Hinda Bodinger was feeling sad about the tone of the campaign, particularly in regards to inflammatory remarks about minorities and women. Not one just to sit back, Bodinger decided she had to do something.
"I really felt very strongly that I wanted to counteract that, at least in my community," she said. "If there was something I could do to counterbalance that, I wanted to do it."
What she ended up doing was conceiving an new nonprofit organization called Berkshire Baby Box. During an afternoon luncheon on Thursday, several dozen pregnant Berkshire County women were among the first to receive these "baby boxes" — a sturdy cardboard box that can double as a safe bed and filled with all sorts of useful items for new mothers, including clothing like a onesie with a "413" on it, safety items like outlet covers, board books to encourage early literacy, and diapers, caps and bibs. It even has some tea and a snack for the mom, to make sure she takes care of herself.
Bodinger told the 75 people assembled at the Country Club of Pittsfield on Thursday that the idea came to her after hearing about an initiative in Finland to provide women with a baby box to help reduce the country's high rate of infant mortality. It worked, Bodinger said, and now Finland has the lowest mortality rate in the world.
"It's a treasured rite of passage in Finland, and I hope it's going to be here in Berkshire County, as well," she said.
It's getting a good start. A company in California that makes the boxes themselves has donated 1,500 to the local cause, and Bodinger was able to team up with myriad agencies in the Berkshires to fill the boxes with cute and useful goodies and find the women to whom to distribute them.
"Thankfully, we have a community who have embraced the idea," she said.
And that idea of community is driving the entire project — from the community of agencies helping support the boxes to the community of new moms who are finding help and support as they undertake the daunting task of parenthood.
"There's a lot of people here who can help you when you get stuck," Bodinger told the moms — and some dads — at the event on Thursday. "And you will get stuck.
"There are times you'll need to reach out to someone and I hope you will. You don't have to do it all by yourself."
Those sentiments were echoed by guest speaker Ilana Siegal, founder and owner of LifeWorks Studio in Great Barrington, which offers yoga, pilates and Zumba classes for both adults and babies. Accompanied by her own infant son, Siegal talked about how important making community connections is for moms.
"It was surprising how lonely-making becoming a parent was," Siegal said, recalling her first winter in the Berkshires with her first of three sons. "It was incredibly isolating."
Maintaining relationships — and making new ones — is key to the health and well-being of new mothers, who need to know someone is there to help them through the many challenges that come with parenting.
"The babies who come into our lives are so overwhelming you forget that you had relationships before," she said.
Siegal also said many women have this ideal of what a perfect mom should look like and strive for that, only to feel guilty when they inevitably fall short.
"It's not possible to do it perfectly. It's not even probable. It's probably not even optimal," she said. "We think that it's supposed to be perfect. It's not perfect for anyone."
And that's why she supports the idea of the baby box, not only to provide tangible items that someone else might have found useful — like little mittens to cover a baby's sharp fingernails to prevent them from scratching their faces, an item that some people use and some people don't — but also to provide those social connections to help navigate parenthood.
"My wish for you, my blessing for you, my challenge for you, is — before you need something, ask for it," she said, encouraging expectant moms to ask questions and share experiences. "If we all talked more about what was happening for real behind the scenes, we would feel better about what comes next."
What comes next for Berkshire Baby Box, Bodinger said, is continuing to make the boxes available around the county. There are two ways for expectant mothers to get a box now: sign up for a workshop or go to Baby Box University online. In both instances, moms will get some advice about sleeping, eating and other common questions new parents have and get connected to a larger community who can help support them.
"It's a way to bring resources to a family," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield, who spoke briefly on Thursday. "There's where the great power and the great potential is."
Adams Hinds, newly elected to the position of state senator, replacing Sen. Benjamin Downing, echoed those sentiments.
"It's very tangible It's meaningful for a parent to know ‘I'm not alone in this,'" he said, drawing on a thought he had while meeting with some special needs parents before coming to Thursday's events. "It's often just that little support that makes the difference. It's that extra help."
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