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How Becky went from being supported to supporter

11 April 2023

Better Start Bradford’s Perinatal Support Service  provides emotional support for expectant mums and mums with babies up to the age of one, via perinatal peer support volunteers and group sessions called My Baby and Me.

We caught up with Rebecca Mcilvenny (Becky), who is the Perinatal Group Work and Engagement Coordinator. In this interview, she shares the wonderful work of the service and how she called on it herself when her anxiety in pregnancy went into overload.

Becky, how would you simply describe the Perinatal Support Service?

Our team works with mums who are pregnant or have a baby under the age of one. Our job is to help those mums feel good about themselves and remind them what a great job they’re doing.

We help mums who may be feeling a bit lonely by giving them someone to talk to, and we also let them know about lots of fun groups and activities they can go to with their children, close to where they live, to encourage them to get out and meet other people. We listen to their problems and then we help them to feel better about themselves.

Describe your role as Perinatal Group Work and Engagement Co-ordinator in under 30 words

I support our Community and Engagement Team to be visible in the community, spreading awareness and information about the Perinatal Support Service and referring mums into the service who need our help.

 

Initially it was a shock when I found out I was pregnant as it was not part of my ‘time-specific plan’. This threw me into a bit of a panic, as I didn’t know if I was ready, and I wasn’t sure if I knew what I was doing!

How did you end up working with the Perinatal Support Service?

My journey into this role is fairly unique. I had previously worked within other Better Start Bradford project teams – I worked for BHT Early Education on the Talking Together programme. I also trained as a HENRY facilitator when it first came out and completed the infant mental health training with Little Minds Matter.

I’d always wanted to be a mother, but felt it wasn’t going to happen for me for one reason or another. At 28 – while everything was going swimmingly and I was doing well in my career – I found out I was pregnant. Initially this was a shock as it was not part of my ‘time-specific plan’. This threw me into a bit of a panic, as I didn’t know if I was ready, and I wasn’t sure if I knew what I was doing!

But, actually sharing the news and saying the words to those who were most important to me, felt amazing. I was quickly overthrown with feelings of joy, disbelief, excitement. It was like saying it aloud made it real and opened up a door to this new pathway which I knew then I was more than ready for and all the initial worry I had disappeared (at least for a while).

Despite suffering with sickness all the way through my pregnancy and having lots of back and pelvis pain, my pregnancy was amazing. I was very in-tune with and attached to my bump and felt I became maternal overnight.

But, due to some issues with my placenta, I did worry that I would have to have a caesarean, which was my worst nightmare. It began to consume my thoughts. It started impacting on my relationship with others and I found myself relentlessly researching, asking questions and worrying, which in turn made me feel guilty as I didn’t want my baby to feel my stress.

So, I decided to refer myself into the Perinatal Support Service and received peer support for a short period of time. This was so effective for me. I had a safe space and free rein to tell my ‘listener’ exactly what I was thinking, feeling, and hoping for, and where my frustrations lay. She was helpful, calm, soothing and a voice of reason. I felt like I could freely feel ‘drastic’ about being worried I would die if had a caesarean without feeling silly, and talking about it made me feel better. I then had news that my placenta had moved and so planned a natural birth and felt I no longer needed the peer support. (In the end I did have an emergency caesarean and quite a traumatic birth.)

Despite finishing the peer support, I still wanted to do the My Baby and Me group, which is a group for parents to discover the benefits play can have on their baby’s development. I wanted to make sure I developed the best bond possible with my baby, even though I was confident our attachment was great.

Admittedly, at the first session, I felt a bit different to other mums and that maybe I shouldn’t be there as I was thinking with my professional hat on. Lynne, the group facilitator, encouraged me to give it a go and promised me that even though I had the knowledge and skills, I would still learn something… and I did.

I loved the group and this sparked an interest in joining the service, and initially considered becoming a volunteer. Little did I know that a job vacancy would soon arise! I applied for the role and was thankfully successful. I feel it’s given me an opportunity to develop in this area and is a perfect fit for the skills I have been wanting to use and consolidate.

For some mums, the emotional support is a life changer. Becoming a perinatal peer support volunteer is a brilliant opportunity to be involved in that and impact on someone’s life so positively.

What has been your biggest ‘wow’ moment so far?

My colleague and I had a massive ‘wow’ moment at a volunteer fair last year. We connected with 56 people who all asked for volunteer packs and had an interest in potentially becoming volunteers for our service.

We were amazed and really pleased that we managed to share the information about our support with so many people. We felt really empowered that it was having such an impact that so many people wanted to be involved.

Can you tell us a bit more about the role of a perinatal peer support volunteer?

The core element of our service is volunteer peer support and our coordinators are looking for volunteers to work directly with mums to provide listening support to them, offer emotional support and help them to build resilience.

Volunteers are matched with a mum who the team feels is best-suited to them, to amplify the success of the support given. They receive lots of close supervision and are guided by a highly-skilled coordinator who will oversee the case, so they know they have professional support and a team member to assist them should they need it.

Each volunteer is trained to a high standard over a period of six sessions. This training is unique to our service and demonstrates the specialism in the role.

For some mums, the emotional support is a life changer. Becoming a perinatal peer support volunteer is a brilliant opportunity to be involved in that and impact on someone’s life so positively.

Everything we do as mums is for our babies, and often we naturally give up a lot of things for them, but our physical and mental health should never ever be sacrificed.

What would you say to a mum to encourage them to use the service?

From having my own personal experience of how the service helped me, I would really recommend it and tell other mums to ‘give it a go’ and that there is absolutely no shame in seeking or accepting help. Everything we do as mums is for our babies, and often we naturally give up a lot of things for them, but our physical and mental health should never ever be sacrificed.

We are one of the most important tools for our babies to learn, develop and thrive. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves and meeting our own basic needs, it can become a struggle to meet the needs of others including our children. Anxiety, depression, low mood, and hormonal changes can be a real battle – so why fight it alone?

Everything we do with our children shapes their future and our service gives mums the support they need to pave the way to better days. The group really helped me even as a professional woman with two degrees and tonnes of experience in early years! I felt like I had walked into a world of unknowns and was winging parts of motherhood which I had never anticipated.

Give it a go, small steps forward are better than standing still!

About the Perinatal Support Service

The Perinatal Support Service provides emotional support to families where a parent is struggling with their emotional health or well-being during pregnancy and the first year after birth. It is aimed at pregnant women who have, or are at risk of developing, mild to moderate mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

It supports parents through a dedicated trained volunteer ‘befriender’ who will offer emotional support and support to access other services in the community. It helps women through their pregnancy and up until their baby’s first birthday.

The service is delivered by Family Action.

 

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