Project Activator, Jen, writes for People’s Health Trust on International Women's Day 2022 about the experience of becoming a mum and how their project has supported people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Becoming a mum is a time of massive upheaval, it’s wondrous and daunting and exciting and lonely and awe inspiring and stressful and so many other emotions all at once.

In the space of a year your body goes through some pretty extreme changes, your hormones take on a life of their own and then you are handed a tiny fragile human whose continuing existence depends on you, add in the fact that for most women a large part of their daily life and social scene is centred on work - which suddenly disappears - and it’s no wonder that many mums can find it all a bit overwhelming.

Motherhood is not something we are supposed to do on our own – they say it takes a village, but it’s not just practical help we need like someone to hold the baby while we grab a quick shower, or do some cooking or cleaning to lighten the load, (though that’s a massive help so please do those things if you know someone with a baby!) emotional support is just as important, and often the best emotional support comes from chatting with other mums who are going through the same things and having the same worries. So, we go to Children’s Centres, sensory classes, and messy play to meet other mums and find our village… unless of course you happen to give birth just before or during a pandemic!

Mums SOCIAL launched just seven weeks before the UK went into lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, in that short time we saw how much the project was needed by local mums, each week our numbers increased, we saw mums swapping phone numbers, making plans to meet up on other days too, sharing tips, commiserating and consoling each other and realising that they were all feeling the same insecurities, worrying the same worries, and crucially, that they and their baby were ‘normal’. Very quickly they had started to build a supportive and welcoming community over walks in the park followed by a brew.

When the lockdown hit, we knew we needed to adapt to continue to support the mums we had already met, and those women who became mums in the following weeks and months. Like the rest of the world, we turned to online and digital solutions, weekly Zoom meet-ups recreated the ‘chat over a cuppa’ aspect of our in person sessions, and after feedback from the mums we were engaging we introduced a weekly quiz for some lighthearted fun and a diversion from the often worrying news that dominated papers, TV, and social media.

We set up a text group chat and Facebook group so the mums had somewhere they could post questions or just have chat with each other if they were feeling lonely. Sometimes the conversation was about the pandemic and peoples worries but often the mums just talked about all the usual stuff mums talk about at baby groups – weaning, birth stories, good bargains they’ve found, and of course the biggie – sleep, or perhaps more accurately the lack of it!

And we also ventured into Facebook live broadcasts, focusing on a different baby and/or parenting topic each week and inviting discussion and questions in the comments.

We had lots of positive feedback from mums during the lockdown, they commented on our lives that they had found the content “really useful” and “really helpful”, talking about the group chat one mum said “It’s so helpful to be able to talk to other mums with all this going on”, another that the group “has meant I have felt connected while not being able to get out as usual”. All the usual places mums access for casual peer support like children’s centre groups, baby classes and even chatting to other mums in the waiting room at baby clinic had been taken away, along with very limited contact from midwifery and health visiting services many mums felt extremely isolated and had few places to turn to ask questions or air concerns; after asking for, and receiving advice in the group chat one reassured mum said “Thank you ladies, I’m so glad to have your support you’re all amazing”

As restrictions started to ease, we adapted once again, as indoor locations were still heavily restricted we moved the focus of our sessions to buggy walks in parks, and sought out additional locations to provide a local meet-up to as many mums as possible. Through changing legislation, tiers and a partial lockdown we were fortunate to be permitted to continue our Walk and Talk meet-ups, despite some pretty dreadful weather at times our sessions were consistently attended by mums who were desperate for contact and conversation with other adults!

The meet-ups have been described by many mums as “a lifeline” and “a godsend” they told us they have felt less isolated and rely on the regularity of the group to give structure to their week, for some it was the only time they socialised with others and that consistent contact enabled them to build friendships and feel more confident in their new role as a mum.

We have continued to adapt and evolve through a second period of online delivery in the 2021 lockdown and then back out in the parks and green spaces in our community, welcoming new mums as well as mums who have been with us from the start. We can even go for a brew after our walks again now!

It’s been an extraordinarily tough time for mums over the last couple of years and it’s been a real privilege to be able to support so many, to see their friendships flourish, watch them become self assured mums and see their gorgeous babies grow, their resilience and strength has been awe inspiring.”

About Mum’s SOCIAL

Mum's SOCIAL is a a two-year project run by community interest company Diverse Active. They run weekly social meet ups and online support for new and expectant mums of all ages across St Helens in Merseyside. The project brings mums together to connect, share experiences, provide support and reassurance, develop friendships and improve mental wellbeing.

Funded by People's Health Trust using money raised by Health Lottery North West.

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