Pregnant women needing extra support have been given a lifeline with a free ride-share service launched in Melbourne by charity group Birth for Humankind.
The not-for-profit organisation has teamed-up with the all-women ride-share company Shebah to help pregnant women in need safely access health care, services and essential appointments during COVID-19 restrictions.
Birth for Humankind CEO Ruth Dearnley said current restrictions were making it even more difficult for pregnant women already struggling due to a range of reasons, including language and economic barriers.
"Over the past weeks, we've seen an increase in barriers preventing our clients from going to antenatal and postnatal appointments due to COVID-19," said Ms Dearnley.
"One of these new barriers includes a fear of using public transport and lack of access to alternative transport options. We've seen fewer clients accessing clinical care and attending appointments due to these unfamiliar settings and protocols, a lack of personal support and concerns about being in public settings.
"Partnering with Shebah allows our clients to be comfortable, confident and able to overcome transportation barriers during this pandemic so they can access the essential services and care that they and their baby need."
Birth for Humankind programs manager Natalie Kondzic said although the service has only been going for a short time there have been a number of positive stories to come out of it.
"Our first trip through Shebah helped us to support a first-time mother, from the western suburbs of Melbourne, and her newborn baby to attend a GP appointment," Ms Kondzic said.
"As with many of our clients, she lives in an area with limited transport connections, and experiences a high level of social isolation, having only recently arrived in Australia, and speaking limited English.
"She has been extremely nervous about leaving the house with her baby, particularly taking such a young baby on public transport during the current pandemic."
The driver helped the new mum to get her baby into the car seat and was very compassionate on seeing her anxiety and concerns. She then helped the woman, and her baby, inside to the doctor's clinic and waited for her until the appointment was finished.
"On the way home, the driver took her to the pharmacy and helped her fill her prescription, which she had not done before in Australia," she said.
"The driver then dropped our client and her baby home and made sure they got inside safely and settled."
Liz, a doula who worked with another recipient of the service, said the ride home from the hospital with a newborn was so much easier for her Melbourne-based client because of their Shebah driver's compassionate nature.
"It was a beautiful service – a spotlessly clean car, newborn baby seat that was correctly installed, and most importantly the driver was really lovely," Liz said.
"She had lots of positive things to say to our client about what a perfect baby she had and wished her well with early parenting. It was so much nicer than any taxi driver I've come across, or public transport ride.
"I'm sure it made a significant difference to her first day at home."
Shebah CEO Georgina McEnroe said they were honoured to be an integral part of the service.
"To offer this comfort to another woman is an honour, it's a joy and one we absolutely relish," Ms McEnroe said.
"Birth for Humankind is an extraordinary organisation."
For more information about the service or to make a donation visit www.birthforhumankind.org.