Robyn Jones has two beautiful sons and is eternally grateful for the doctors who helped bring them safely into the world. Birth can be transformative in many ways … and her experience inspired a career change and the creation of a company focused on helping less fortunate women get the safe pregnancy and childbirth they deserve. In a few short years, Robyn’s organic muslin wrap label, Mama Maya, has changed the lives of thousands of expectant mothers around the world. The Delivery speaks to her about her mission to improve maternal health in developing countries, her style of parenting and the importance of raising generous children in a world of consumerism.
How was Mama Maya born?
I spent the first 15 years of my career working in advertising and media, though I’ve always had a passion for businesses for good. I’d read books about philanthropic businesses like TOMS and The Body Shop searching for inspiration, and it finally appeared a few years ago. I remember I took a look around my youngest son’s nursery one day as I sat feeding him. My eyes landed on a pile of muslin wraps, and as any mum knows, a muslin wrap is a newborn essential. Whether you swaddle your baby or not, you’ll likely go through several a day as you use it as a pram cover, feeding cover, light blanket, burp cloth, change mat, towel … the list of uses is endless! I’d also begun to hear more about the work of the Birthing Kit Foundation Australia (BKFA) who provide clean birthing kits to women in remote areas of the world. In Australia, six out of every 100, 000 women die each year during pregnancy or childbirth. But in a country like Nigeria, the figure is more than 800 in every 100,000 women. Many of these deaths are from preventable infections like sepsis. Having just recently given birth myself, it was quite a humbling realisation that I was one of the luckiest women in the world. It was in that moment that I began to explore creating a brand of beautiful muslin baby wraps, that at the same time could raise funds and awareness of maternal health worldwide.
What is your vision for Mama Maya?
I want Mama Maya to be your favourite muslin wrap, and your favourite gift to give a new baby. Our goal is to help more women around the world have a safer pregnancy and birth, so for every swaddle purchased we fund at least one birthing kit and caregiver training through BKFA. I’m so thrilled that in two short years we’ve been able to fund over 5,000 birthing kits for women in developing countries. Expectant mothers in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, India and DR Congo have been able to access a cleaner, safer pregnancy and childbirth thanks to Mama Maya, with many more to come!
Was there a particular story that moved you to try use your brand to make a difference?
A young mother, 22-year-old Joan from Uganda, made her way to her closest birthing centre only to be chastised for not bringing her own gloves, and then charged an exorbitant fee to use a birthing kit. Joan now has her own birthing kit to deliver her third baby and it was provided for free by BKFA. It is just the most simple thing and it makes a world of difference to women all over the world, and it made perfect sense for me to produce a beautiful and useful product that supported this worthy cause. For mums to know that their purchase has helped another mother give birth safely is really special.
“In that moment, I didn’t even give a second thought to the gravity of the situation as he had the best of care … had I been birthing my son in a remote area of a developing country, then this fairly common event could have meant life or death for me or my baby.”
What do the birthing kits involve?
Birthing kits contain six items; a plastic sheet, gauze, gloves, soap, a sterile scalpel blade, and some string to tie off the umbilical cord. The items in the kits are so basic, but they are essential in enabling a mother to deliver her baby in a safer, cleaner environment, significantly reducing the chances of infection. Unbelievably, there are many stories of women who are not even welcome to give birth in their local hospital unless they bring along their own birthing kit! The kits are assembled by volunteers in Australia and distributed to over 40 organisations in around 20 countries. They are then given to women living in remote areas with limited or no access to birthing support. BKFA also fund local community programs to train birth attendants and community health workers, empowering women through education.
Tell us a little about your personal journey into motherhood…
My husband Lachlan and I have two sons, three-year-old Remy and six-year-old Hugo. Both pregnancies and births were fairly textbook, both were induced between 41 and 42 weeks (my boys were pretty comfy) and both delivered in a private hospital in Sydney by an obstetrician who had just celebrated a huge milestone, delivering his 10,000th baby. Hugo was born with the nuchal cord wrapped around his neck, but after a quick episiotomy (thank goodness for that epidural!), my little blueish baby was out and receiving oxygen in no time at all. In that moment, I didn’t even give a second thought to the gravity of the situation as he had the best of care, my doctor and midwife were both calm and incredibly experienced and we had all the equipment necessary to get him oxygenated and on my chest for his first feed. But on later reflection, had I been birthing my son in a remote area of a developing country, then this fairly common event could have meant life or death for me or my baby.
How do you perform the great balancing act between family life and growing your Mama Maya startup?
There is no balance, and sometimes I do feel like I’m completely failing at one or the other. Hugo is at school and Remy is in childcare three days a week, so those days are dedicated work days and then I work around the boys on the other days. Mama Maya has finally grown to the stage where we are able to take on some help. In the last few months I’ve employed two people (also mums) to work part-time in some of the areas I am not so skilled at, leaving me more time to focus on other areas of the business and take the pressure off my work impacting family time.
“One of our biggest challenges right now is curbing the consumerism. Our children, like many, are obsessed with new… buying new toys, getting new things … we try to encourage experiences over things.”
Describe your parenting style?
Ever-evolving. Very loving. I like to have routines around things like meals, bath time and bed time, and we are very insistent on manners. I think I’m getting a lot stricter as they get older. We used to give our children a lot more leeway on things like screen time, but in seeing how badly it often impacts their behaviour we have become a lot stricter with when and for how long they can watch. We try to empower the boys to make their own decisions, but will step in when they aren’t appropriate. And while I try not to be, I can often be easily manipulated by two small children working together.
What’s the greatest lesson motherhood has taught you?
You have to go with the flow because no amount of planning can prepare you for the little personalities you will deal with as your children grow. For example, all of my hopes and dreams for a healthy child thriving on loads of veggies like his parents went out the window when my son decided he only ever wanted to eat vegemite sandwiches and plain pasta. It’s definitely taught me to be more understanding and have more patience. I know he won’t eat like that forever, and in the meantime I’ll just chip away at his aversion to fruit and veggies whenever I can!
What has been your biggest challenge as a mother?
One of our biggest challenges right now is curbing the consumerism. Our children, like many, are obsessed with “new”… buying new toys, getting new things. I can’t stand clutter, and I hate buying toys that will only get lost or broken (sometimes within minutes), or turfed aside for the next shiny thing. Even a quick trip to the supermarket results in a child having a meltdown because I won’t buy them a toy they have just seen (aren’t I just awful?!), and I don’t like being the mum who is saying no all the time. Regular screen-free periods helps them reconnect with the toys they do own, and we try to encourage experiences over things, but it’s still a challenging period we are working through!
“As women and mothers we can tend to let everything fall on our shoulders, and I used to regularly reach a point of overwhelm before I asked for help.”
What does the first hour of your day look like?
Most weekday mornings I get up at about 5am to fit in a good hour of work before the house starts to rise. That could be packing orders from the evening beforehand (it’s surprising how many orders come through from mums up with their little ones in the middle of the night), responding to emails, paying invoices etc. At about 6am my husband brings me in a cup of peppermint tea, and then not long afterwards the boys start waking up, and then it’s making breakfasts and lunches and getting everyone ready to get out of the door to school and preschool with as little stress as possible.
Do you have an evening ritual?
I spray Dear Dream by Courtney + The Babes on my pillow every night before I go to sleep, and Remy loves it too, we say it’s our “magic sleeping spray” that helps us to fall asleep. I’ve also recently started leaving my phone in another room at night to charge on weekends (when I don’t need to wake early), and changed it to flight mode at night during the week when I need to use it as an alarm. It means I don’t fall down an online rabbit hole at night anymore when I’m supposed to be sleeping, and I do seem to sleep so much better!
Time management tip for busy mothers?
Be an early riser, most mornings I am up at about 5am and this enables me to have at least a good hour to myself before the rest of the house awakes (this only works though when your children are past the age where they are keeping you up all night!). On a day where the boys wake before I do, I feel like I’m always playing catch up. Also, delegate and outsource! As women and mothers we can tend to let everything fall on our shoulders, and I used to regularly reach a point of overwhelm before I asked for help. I also would sometimes forget that my husband was a perfectly capable and functioning human being who can do lots of things, often a lot faster/easier than me, so one thing that we make sure we do every week now is to both go through our diaries for the week ahead and work out what family/personal tasks need to be done and divide them all up where possible.
“I’m so thrilled that in two short years we’ve been able to fund over 5,000 birthing kits for women in developing countries. Expectant mothers have been able to access a cleaner, safer pregnancy and childbirth thanks to Mama Maya, with many more to come!”
What values or character traits do you want to instil in your children and how do you plan on doing so?
Empathy, honesty, and generosity. We encourage emotion in our boys and are always talking about our feelings. We love travel and talking with the boys about different cultures. Generosity is really important to us, we have a number of charities we support each month, and we buy lots of toys to donate to charity appeals at Christmas time. The boys are so fortunate to grow up where they do and if they grow up as kind, inclusive and worldly people, I will be a very happy mama.
Drink of choice?
Peppermint Tea all day, and in summer I’m loving a vodka soda in the evening
I have just finished reading Meshel Laurie’s Buddhism for the Unbelievably Busy and it was full of lightbulb moments. She opened my eyes up to just how much “busyness” I create in my own life, and helped me realise it’s ok to say no in a quest for a bit more inner peace. I’ve recommended it to so many of my friends.
Ted Talk recommendation?
Two Ted Talks in particular that have been life-changing for me. Simon Sinek’s ‘How great leaders inspire action’, his concept of “start with why” was the basis for how I launched Mama Maya. Both of Brene Brown’s talks about shame and the power of vulnerability completely changed my outlook on life, and I’ve since seen her speak in person, and completely devoured everything she’s written. My relationships and parenting are better for it.