Gemma McCaw wants all Kiwi mums to know they’re not alone

Gemma McCaw speaks to UNICEF NZ about the joys of motherhood and why looking out for others is so important during the COVID-19 crisis.

Mother's Day has a whole new meaning when you are lucky enough to have children.

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives but it’s a reminder that all mums need a little support, wherever they are in the world.

I grew up in Tauranga and my mum and nana had a wedding hire business. I will always remember the rows of wedding dresses hanging up and spending hours playing dress ups while my mum and nana sewed.

When I look back on my childhood, it was the quality time we spent together that was so special. It wasn’t about the newest toys or doing anything fancy.

I’m grateful that my mum taught me to how to sew. Although I haven’t made anything for years, I've just started sewing again while we've been in isolation. Mum is teaching me how to make polar fleece tops for my fifteen-month-old daughter Charlotte.

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Charlotte has definitely got a cheeky wee personality. She’s happy and smiley and has a real zest for life. She’s a little bit of a daredevil, quite adventurous and loves going full noise on the bike! She loves people too and I think she’s inherited that from me.

Charlotte is also a real sweetheart, she’s very caring and I think she gets that from her dad!

The thing that's surprised me most about parenting is the worry. As mothers, we all carry some form of worry with us and we hope that we are doing absolutely everything we can for our babies. If I’m not there in body with my daughter, I’m always there in mind.

On Mother’s Day last year, I went to pick up Charlotte from her bassinet and discovered that Richard had placed a little card beside her with ‘Mum’ written on it along with the book ‘Why I love my Mummy'. It was really sweet.

My focus this year was to represent New Zealand in hockey at the Tokyo Olympics but everything has changed because of COVID-19. The games have been postponed and Richard's work has also been impacted. A little bit of the future is up in the air, but as long as we've got each other and we're healthy and happy, that's what really matters.

Richard and I have both travelled quite extensively throughout the Pacific and to developing countries. Our number one priority when we travel is hygiene – washing our hands and having safe drinking water. Before the Olympics in Rio, my team had a green bag for everything that was clean. Anything that touched another surface was put into another bag to be washed. Hygiene protocols are really important to prevent contamination because if your immunity or your health is compromised, it can cost you your performance on the field.

As a teenager I went to Brazil with my parents and two older brothers. I vividly remember stepping into the cramped favelas, where 12 people would be living in a two bedroom slum. They were missing basic clean water and it was quite harrowing to see.

There are a lot of people around the world that are really struggling to get the basics in life. According to UNICEF, there are around 2.4 billion people who don’t have access to a basic toilet, and 663 million people who don’t have access to safe drinking water.

In 2010 I went to India for the Commonwealth games. As we were driving to the hockey turf I saw parents with small toddlers surrounded by piles of rubbish. Now that I have a child myself, my heart hurts when I think about it. I just can't imagine how hard it would be not having the basics of food, water, shelter and medical care readily available. These children are exposed to so many diseases which can spread rapidly and many are missing out on life-saving vaccines.

In New Zealand, children are immunised against a lot of deadly diseases. Even Charlotte was able to be vaccinated during lockdown which we are really grateful for. We’ve also taught Charlotte how to wash her hands properly for 20 seconds and she loves pouring soap out of the dispenser. Hygiene is one of the most important things we can control and it’s the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

I really believe that we’re born and bred to help others. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of giving back and it’s a spiral effect – the next person will probably be more likely to help someone else down the track. It's very special knowing that you've helped someone and you’re not expecting anything else in return.

Early on, when I was out walking laps in the park with Charlotte and trying to get her to sleep in the pram, there were little things that people did that made a huge difference, like someone looking up and smiling or holding a door open at the local coffee shop.

My nana always says “Walk a mile in someone's shoes before you judge them” because you never know what they’re going through and we all need help some days. We’re a lot stronger together than we are alone.

Being a parent is one of the hardest yet most rewarding things to do in the world and you don’t fully understand this until you have a baby of your own. I want all mothers to know that they are loved and that they're all doing a good job. It’s important to know that you're not alone and help is there if you need it.


According to UNICEF, an estimated 116 million babies around the world will be born under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of them will  be born in countries with overburdened health systems. Because of Covid-19, life-saving health services could be disrupted, putting millions of pregnant mothers and their babies at risk.

Donate now to support other Mums around the world with soap and water this Mother’s Day.