We love catching up with interesting parents and putting cool mums and dads in our interview hot seat, so when we got the chance to hang out with Jani Combrink, the founder and guru behind Stork’s Nest Singapore, we leapt at the chance. We’re sure we’re not the only parents who have turned to Stork’s Nest at 3am when our baby has been awake for what feels like eight days straight, or been alone when it comes to asking for advice at feeding time when our toddler has refused dinner for the fourth night in a row. Stork’s Nest has been beyond useful to so many, so we thought it was about time we spoke to Chief Stork, Jani, about how it all began, and how it’s now gone global!
Hi Jani! Before we kick off, tell us a about yourself
I am a South African qualified nurse and IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). I lived in Singapore for 10 years, where I founded the Stork’s Nest network of support groups. We have raised almost $90 000 for charity through our network, and I am still running and working on the groups from my home in Kent, UK, where we moved to about two years ago. In between, I am trying to raise three boys to become good humans, and I do some volunteering in my local community too.
Stork’s Nest has been a lifeline for many a new and experienced mum in Singapore. What inspired you to create it, and how did it come about?
Just after the birth of my youngest son (he is almost 10 years old now), I started working at the Mother & Child centre. I quickly realised how little I knew about breastfeeding, and I decided to to enrol for the IBCLC exams. Suddenly I had access to a wealth of information and knowledge, and it occurred to me that this should be available to every mother out there! I started Stork’s Nest Singapore with about 20 friends, as a way to spread incredible sources of information, but also to find my own village as I was feeling desperately alone with three babies under the age of three. The group grew beyond my wildest expectations, and we quickly started new sub-groups on specific topics. We now have a network of 14 groups, with around 24 000 members across those groups. All of our groups are really active and supportive and (hopefully) helpful to every single parent who joins.
Tell us about your team of Stork’s Nest Angels, and how they became part of the SN family
Ah, the Angels. They really are the most incredible team of people ever. These are women (and now men too!) who all volunteer their time and effort and knowledge to make sure the group runs safely, smoothly and kindly. Each one brings their own set of skills, their own way of doing things and their own way of parenting. Somehow, it all works, and they are all amazing. I still learn something new every day from this amazing group of people, and somehow they still put up with me and every weird idea I come up with, despite me now living so far away.
Most of the admin team are actually people I noticed on the group who were always interacting and trying to help. The ones that stood out for always being kind and thoughtful in their questions and responses. I approached each one to ask whether they would consider getting involved as an admin on the group, and they actually agreed. I’m pretty sure there are days when they wish they hadn’t, but so far so good! Without the team of Angels, Stork’s Nest wouldn’t exist.
We hear you’re going global! Tell us all about it
I was approached by Facebook last year, and invited to participate in a new product called Subscription Groups. I had been toying with an idea for a while, but had never quite been able to figure out how to implement it. This invitation gave me the opportunity to see it come to fruition, and Stork’s Nest Global was born! We are different from SNS, in that we provide evidence based, scientific information about all aspects of parenting (from pre-conception and fertility, all the way until empty nesting, plus everything in between), directly from experts in the field. We are taking things slow, and working very, very hard to build this new community with similar ethics from SNS, and we are working on creating content to be proud of. Members have the opportunity to request topics, and the team will source the answers and information directly from experts. We are also working on implementing opportunities for members to interact directly with the experts on their given topic, and we run special give-aways from time to time too. We don’t accept any advertising, nor do we allow any marketing from external sources. Our ethics are paramount, and we want to help parents make informed decisions – whatever that may be.
What are the issues parents tend to seek help with the most through Stork’s Nest?
Usually, parents want to know where to find or buy a service or an item in Singapore. Sometimes members want to know what other parents would do around a specific situation with their children. At times, they simply want to feel heard. We get anonymous post requests too, when a parent is feeling particularly vulnerable. Our community has never failed to support and show kindness, whatever the question. It is so lovely that our group is representative of all walks of life in Singapore: we have local members, expats, even people who have left Singapore but still value the information and kindness on the group. It is an invaluable peer-support group, and I still learn new things when I read through the posts and comments.
Do you have any standout posts over your years that have really made an impact on you?
There have been so many! One particular post that I will never forget was from a mummy who delivered her first baby at 24 weeks. We followed her journey for six long months, while her little boy was in the NICU and then when he went home. Sadly, he passed away at the age of six months, on Christmas Day. Some of us on SNS still light candles for him every Christmas Day, because we will never forget what a little warrior he was, and what an amazing mother she is. His mummy had a little girl in the years following her loss, and she is still a valued member of our group.
How does parenting in Singapore differ from parenting in other parts of the world do you think?
I think all parents try their very best, wherever they live, and wherever they’re from. I actually think there are less differences than we think, and more kindness than we can possibly imagine. Once people feel informed, and if they don’t feel judged, they are more likely to open their minds to alternative parenting experiences. There are definite cultural practices that influence the way we parent. In Singapore, there seems to be a lot of emphasis placed on academic achievements. I don’t think that is unique to Singapore, but it is noticeable. Lately I have also noticed a shift in thinking, with more questions around holistic development and play vs learning and achievement for young children. Where we live now in the UK, the emphasis seems to be on fostering independence in children. It’s truly fascinating.
And finally, tell us a funny/cute parenting story about your own tribe of three
As most parents of three (or more!) can attest, life is never dull! A recent incident that springs to mind: my youngest refuses to sing alone where he can be heard. I don’t know why, but he just won’t sing. A few days ago, he put on sunglasses, a face mask and a hoodie, connected his earphones to his iPad, and sat in the middle of the lawn. He then proceeded to belt out a tune that he was listening to for the entire neighbourhood to hear! When I asked him later why he had changed his mind about singing in public, he told me that he was ‘anonymous’ with his disguise!
Thanks Jani not only for speaking to us, but for the real connection you have forged for mums all over Singapore and beyond through your fabulous groups.
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