At around 4am Sarah Carpenter heard the bedroom door creak. Through the sliver of light coming from the hallway she saw a hand slip the baby alarm into her room. The door closed and another 15-hour day would start.
“My hours were officially 7am until 7pm, but as my employers were high-flying professionals, they’d be a lot longer than that,” recalls the 32-year-old maternity nurse/nanny who is based in Edinburgh. “On more than one occasion I’d get a call on a Friday saying they’d gone away for the weekend so I was pretty much on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week…but I loved it!”
The reason Sarah is made of such stern stuff is that she’s a Norlander. Rather like the SAS of the nanny world, this elite group of women (and some men) beloved of royals and celebrities have trained at the prestigious Norland College in Bath – an institution that’s been producing professional nannies and maternity nurses for over 110 years. Thanks to their rigorous training (which, in Sarah’s time there saw students work with children for up to 20 hours and even covered how to make a hand-smocked garment), this means they are equipped for the kind of gruelling days that would have even the most loving mother reaching for the gin.
“We don’t have a job description as such, but in a nutshell, we’re there to offer families support at a time in their lives when everything can be daunting,” she explains. “No-one can ever prepare you for the feelings and experiences you encounter after having a baby, but we can make things easier by offering emotional support and practical help. We can be employed on a 24-hour basis, for nights or for days and we take on the responsibility of the baby for the whole of that time.”
Modern day Mary Poppinses, Baby Whisperers, Super Nannies – whatever you call them, despite these recession-hardened times, it would appear that demand for their help is higher than ever.
“In the past 12 months, we’ve noticed a gradual increase in the number of maternity enquiries we are receiving,” says Lindsey Doe, Director at Tinies Childcare – one of Britain’s largest nanny and childcare agencies which, in the last two years, has opened two new offices in Scotland.
The breakdown of the traditional family unit and mothers returning to work earlier and earlier have both been cited as possible factors driving the demand for high-quality nanny services. Whatever the reason, Sarah is currently working around the clock.
“I often go from my day job – looking after three brothers – into working a night shift for a new mummy and then straight on to working an early-morning shift for another family,” she says. “I literally get hundreds of emails a day and often field calls in the middle of the night from parents at their wits’ end.” People even stop her at the school gates or in the GP’s waiting room desperate for a slice of her advice.
However, after having her own son last February (who, she quietly admits, was sleeping through the night at nine weeks), Sarah realised that she wanted to do something more. “I don’t have enough hours in the day to help everyone, and knowing that some people who would really benefit from my support feel that a maternity nurse is a luxury so aren’t asking for it is frustrating,” she says. “Having now been an emotional and sleep-deprived new mother myself, I’m even more passionate about making support available to those who need it,” she says.
To this end she has recently started a parenting blog – themummyyears.com With “cheat sheets” compiled on sleep, routine and kit as well as regular posts full of expert advice it’s an easily accessible – and more importantly free – resource for mums and dads trying to navigate parenthood. “There are a lot of books and a few other sites out there but I wanted to break down my expertise by writing it from a mummy’s point of view. I also don’t subscribe to the one-size-fits-all approach to parenting so I wanted a way of delivering advice that parents could then adapt to their days and their babies.”
She certainly has a wealth of experience to draw from. “Over the years I’ve worked for a number of different families and my jobs have taken me from London to France and Italy as well as a long-haul flight to Australia with a 16-week-old. I’ve worked everywhere from one-bedroom flats to five-star hotels,” says Sarah, recalling the children she has cared for since those first early morning starts 13 years ago.
“There’s no such thing as an average day or night. I could face anything from a peaceful shift with a contented child to an emergency trip to A&E or a night of pacing the floor with an unsettled premature baby suffering from reflux. You just do not know what you might encounter and I will never get fed up of this never-ending set of challenges.
“This is more than a job. Walking out of the door leaving a mummy and daddy smiling when I have walked in with them crying is the best feeling. It’s about being a part of those special moments that only come with having a baby.”
For more information on Sarah or to read her blog go to themummyyears.com