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Creating a community . . . Gemma Douglas says her time in Oamaru taught her the value of family. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

In 2018, Gemma Douglas created The Motherhood Project as a way of bringing all of the mothers she knew in her life together. It is now a support and empowerment community for mothers in New Zealand and around the world. Ashley Smyth finds out more.

Q What are your links with Oamaru and how would you say it has helped shape you as a person, and where you are at now?

I spent most of my toddler years in Oamaru and started school at St Joseph’s. I remember it so well. We moved away that year, but my parents then moved back to Oamaru in my first year at Otago University. I would come home and spend my university holidays there for the next four years. I loved coming home to Oamaru, and it really felt like home. We lived in the Redcastle at St Kevin’s College, as my dad was the principal there. It was an incredible place to live. My holiday jobs included working as a motel cleaner and briefly at Whitestone Cheese Cafe, but my favourite holiday job was working at a local rest-home. I learnt the value of looking after our elderly, and also our health. I learnt the value of family – and if family isn’t around you, treat everyone around you like family. Oamaru has such a community and family feel to it – something I have always appreciated, and something I value highly.

Q What have you been doing between then and now?

I studied music and singing at Otago University. In my first year of university I also travelled to Invercargill twice a week to practise and play for Southern Sting. I moved to Christchurch to complete my teaching training, then headed up to Auckland, where I stayed for the next 10 years. I worked as a teacher for a few years and moved on to work a number of different jobs, including working at GrabOne as business development manager. I was also a musician up there, singing at weddings, singing anthems for events and writing my own music. This is also where I met my husband. When we became pregnant with our first child, we moved to Hawke’s Bay.

Motherhood . . . Gemma Douglas with her three children – Samantha, Connor and Madeleine. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Q Where are you living now, and what is keeping you busy?

We are still living in Hawke’s Bay six years later. We now have three children – Madeleine (6), Samantha (5) and Connor (2). We live rural and own an apple orchard.

Q Tell me how The Motherhood Project began. Was it a conscious business decision? Or did it just organically evolve from your Instagram page and your own experiences as a mother?

The Motherhood Project (TMP) was never meant to be a business venture and the community is still a huge focus. It was an outlet/resource I craved as a new mum moving to Hawke’s Bay. I didn’t launch TMP until my third child was 6 months old, in June 2018, but I had thought about it for the past three and a-half years – I wanted an online space that brought all the mothers together that I knew in one place. I started there and it grew.

Our move to Hawke’s Bay meant I had to completely start over. I knew only my parents-in-law (who are amazing) and was still adjusting to a life as a mother and shared parenthood. We became pregnant again soon after we moved down with number two and had our daughters just over 15 months apart.

Our second daughter became very ill with pertussis (whooping cough) as a newborn baby at 8 weeks old. The illness lasted for three months with ambulance trips and hospital stays. I learnt so much about myself through this journey that our daughter went through.

I looked inward for strength and guidance and rediscovered the immense power of mindfulness and meditation – something I have always loved and continued to study. This experience has shaped my journey from then on. It greatly influenced my dream to create TMP as a support and empowerment community for mothers in New Zealand and the world. I will always be grateful to my daughter for that, and also for her incredible strength of spirit. I can’t believe the community across Facebook and Instagram has now passed 100,000.

Q What prompted the next step to The Village? Tell me more about that.

The Village came out of my motivation to make more of a difference for mothers. I met some incredible women/mothers through TMP and reached out to them to discuss creating a resource for mothers – something easily accessible with impact. I reached out to nutritionist Gina Urlich, psychologist Linee van der Meer and physiotherapist/fitness coach Jennifer Mackie. We created the resource online; I created the meditations. The response has been beautiful. The feedback we have received from the hundreds of mothers that have joined has been worth all the hard work and long hours.

Q How did you and your family fare during lockdown?

Overall we were very fortunate during lockdown. Lockdown occurred during harvest so my husband was working pretty much seven days a week. I remember thinking at the start this on my own?’, but I did, and we did it. With one school-age child, it certainly helped being a trained primary school teacher. We simplified everything during that time incredibly important to us all for our sanity. Bike rides, movies, baking, orchard walks and Zoom calls with our family were a daily occurrence.

Q What has motherhood taught you? Do you have a new appreciation for your own mother?

Motherhood has taught me what unconditional love truly means. Not only for my children, but for myself , too. It has taught me the importance of striving to be the best version of myself because these little people are watching, copying and learning every moment of every day. I have learnt the value of being vulnerable, and have tried to help my children to value and acknowledge the way they feel.

I remember idolising my mum as I grew up. She had four kids within five years. I remember her working and being tired. But I also remember her stroking my forehead and the songs she sang to me, a cuddle every time I couldn’t sleep and the way she was always there to talk. Sometimes I try to overcomplicate my motherhood journey with trying to be perfect when all my kids need are connection, love and to feel heard.

For more information about The Motherhood Project, visit themotherhoodproject.co.nz.