Summer Gwynne is one of those people with a special vibe. Step inside her front door in the tiny hamlet of Richmond, and you’ll find a warm welcome complete with a hug, a cup of tea and a beaming smile. She’s one of those people who radiates a natural warmth and makes you feel you can just be yourself.
Sitting on her lounge she launches into a description of her journey. It’s a little like organised chaos, with her passion for her work spilling readily across into family life. And with six children in tow, a menagerie of animals sharing the lounge room and a stunning garden spilling down to the river’s edge, there’s no place she’d rather be.
Summer’s background as a paediatric neonatal and intensive care nurse has given rise to what’s become a true calling. “What I’ve learnt is that there is not enough practical home help in the early stages of parenthood. I’m talking about the real skills that nurses today unfortunately just don’t have the time to teach you.”
Those skills have become lost due to changes in our modern society. “Many women leave hospital after just 24 hours now,” explains Summer. “But it’s when you get home that things really change. Your milk comes in and your hormones are all over the place… that’s when the isolation can really settle in.” She continues on, “It’s also common these days not to have family support close at hand, so it can be a truly overwhelming time for new mums.”
Summer openly recalls her own experience with young children. “For me, those early days of parenting were a struggle. My family lived interstate and my husband worked away a lot…it was really hard. There was also a period where my dad lived with us and I also cared for my grandmother who was just down the road. I almost came to a soul breaking point before I learnt to manage everyone’s needs.”
“Back then I reached out for help myself and quickly found it hard to find,” says Summer. “There didn’t seem to be anything available to suit my needs. I realised that there was a huge number of women in rural areas who must feel like this. They’re in isolated locations and also trying to manage the rise in depression that we’re seeing right across our country. Women are often the heart of families and holding it together for everyone else. It’s crucial they get the support they need so that the backbone remains strong.”
Summer explains how her skill set soon made her a magnet for those around her going through similar experiences. “People I knew recognised that I would understand…and that I had skills and experience that they were desperate for. They started ringing me for help, and over time those cries for help got louder and more intense. I became the go to person.”
It’s hard to hear Summer describe the tipping point. “A good friend of mine rang one Sunday morning. She was distraught and I knew she was at breaking point. She couldn’t get herself out of bed nor could she get the baby to attach. She was really hurting. I rushed over there to her aid and calmed the situation down.” Summer pauses before adding softly, “Three days later her husband called me and said I’d saved her life…it had been that bad.”
“Whilst that incident made me realise things for Tasmanian mums need to change, it also made me aware of the impact my response was having on my own family,” says Summer. “I was dropping everything, including them, for these crisis responses. It just wasn’t fair on our family life.”
The result was the creation of Summer Breeze Consulting and a step away from formal nursing. “I was confident in what I had to offer, it was just a matter of stepping out there for myself,” recalls Summer. “My service is about caring and nurturing parents at home when everything feels too overwhelming. I’m here for the times when nothing’s going to plan and you need someone to turn to. I’ve got practical advice and can quickly help with sleep, feeding, task management and working through fears and expectations.”
“Basically, I drive to wherever you are and sit with you. I listen, I help you feed your baby, I help you find strategies that work for you…each visit and each family is different. It’s a holistic approach, and a personal one. What I offer is very tailored, flexible and it’s driven by the family concerned. What works for one, wont’ work for another, but I am here to support you to find out what works for you when you need it the most.”
Summer speaks openly about the impact this support is having on Tasmanian families. “When you’re seen, heard and valued…it gives you hope and strength. If you wake up with hope…it’s so powerful…it gives you strength to get through the day.”
Describing her services Summer explains, “It’s really what we’ve lost over a couple of generations. That really practical skill of a mothercraft nurse who is able to slow things down and spend time with you. Women are craving that and I’m so glad I have put together a team who are experts in what they do. They have all those old tricks that just seemed to work, all the latest nursing knowledge and a huge bank of experience to draw from.”
“Most people find it interesting when I tell them just how supportive men are. There are so many good men out there who value and celebrate women, and I think sometimes that’s overlooked. The women I work with sometimes ask their partners for permission to invest in their health and wellbeing, perhaps because in this stage of life the man is often the provider. I find everyone is supportive of their partner investing in health and wellbeing.”
“It’s a real honour and a privilege to be welcomed into someone’s family and share their most vulnerable stories. The connections I have made with so many people are priceless,” smiles Summer. “My work is very much about relationships and I’m always passing on the message to mums that ‘everyone is enough.’ Women often tell me they’re not enjoying motherhood like they ‘should’. Well, I say we need to get rid of that word, should…that’s a real issue.”
“In those times when everything is too much, women just want some time alone and to get out. On the other hand, they can’t bear to be away from their baby. Most of us feel that at one point…and worse. Working through things like that…that’s where I can really help.”
“If we fail mothers, we fail families,” states Summer decisively. “It’s up to us to make a change and to address these issues. I’ve been through this stuff myself, so I feel I need to give back because…if we don’t invest in people then nothing will change.”
Summer explains how she is determined to make quality health care accessible to all Tasmanian women. “As well as my consultancy, I also run free baby clubs where women can just call in and ask me anything. And I mean anything. It’s so important that women have educated options.” Summer states, “I’m the biggest formula champion there is. Breastfeeding? Wonderful! But if you’re not, that’s absolutely fine too. We often shame women by not talking about it…everyone needs to talk about this stuff and access accurate information.”
It’s not just all about those first few weeks either. “I work with families at all sorts of stages,” says Summer. “Sometimes it’s about returning to work, improving communication, practical home help…it can be all sorts of different things.”
“My vision is to support more families when things fall over.”
Summer’s vision for the future recently took her to the nation’s capital. The National Rural Women’s Coalition ‘RRR Canberra Muster’ saw her complete a leadership program specifically designed to support rural, regional and remote (hence the ‘RRR’) women. “I’ve returned so energised…and grateful that my message was so well received by some of our country’s leaders. It reassured me that more support is to come and that this issue is on the national agenda.”
“I gained support to establish a Parent and Baby Clinic here in Richmond, providing a much needed drop in service for parents to connect with health professionals. I’d really encourage everyone to come in and meet our nurses and access support in those early days of parenting. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, my team is here for you…breast and bottle feeding, sleep, settling, recognising an unwell baby, returning to work…we are here for you.”
Over the past two years Summer Breeze Consultancy has grown to include a team of professionals. “It didn’t take long before I needed other nurses to join me,” says Summer. “We each have our own areas of speciality so it’s great to be able to meet a really wide range of needs. We’re all about providing calm and clarity in times of distress and have seen a huge range of different situations…no one should think twice about reaching out.”
“They say in life that things happen for you, not to you,” says Summer. “I just hope I can channel my experience into positive change for others. Like every other mother out there, you just do the best job you can,” says Summer.
You can contact Summer via the Summer Breeze Consultancy website. Drop in to the Elizabeth Hope Baby Club at Priceline Glenorchy each Tuesday and Thursday morning from 10am – 12 noon, or catch her at the Richmond Pharmacy on a Wednesday from 10am – 12 noon. Summer and her team share tips and advice regularly via their Facebook page.