Sarah is the voice at the end of the phone when struggling Mums and Dads contact Perinatal Wellbeing Canterbury.
As our Support Coordinator Sarah contacts all new referrals, delivers our support programme and runs our Wellbeing Groups.
An after-school job nurse aiding for older people led her into a career in nursing until the birth of her first daughter. Working in a geriatric hospital and later in general practice she finds it satisfying making people comfortable and liked the variety of being a practice nurse.
“I had my own bouts of postnatal anxiety after the births of my girls” says Sarah. “Having been through this experience where there was not much support on offer other than pills, I always knew that I’d like to go back to work in this area.” Sarah wishes there had been groups like Perinatal Wellbeing available when she had her children. “I understand what the women I work with are going through from my own lived experience.”
Sarah volunteered for Plunket and Presbyterian Support when her girls were young. After they went to school she was offered a role with Presbyterian Support as Volunteer Mentor Coordinator and did that for 11 years, alongside a group working with parents. Ready for a change, and having gained lots of experience, she saw the role at Perinatal Wellbeing Canterbury as a chance to fulfil her earlier wish to help in the field of perinatal mental health.
“When I first talk with a woman I can hear their need for some hope, that it’s going to get better”, says Sarah. “I hear their despair that their parenting experience is not what they hoped for, what she sees in others and on social media. I tell them that they’re not alone, and yet they probably feel the most alone they’ve ever been.”
One thing Sarah encourages is for women to prioritise their own mental wellbeing, giving them permission to put themselves first. “It’s almost a competition these days to get to baby classes and activities, but what their babies really need is a happy, healthy Mum and Dad.” She enjoys seeing the progress Mums make once they start engaging with the Wellbeing Groups or participating in the Support Programme. “The talking and sharing of experiences with others makes a difference. I think the tools we give them and the work we do with other organisations are a big part of the journey they make to wellbeing. I love seeing the lightbulb moments when a Mum gains understanding of what she is experiencing.”
It’s challenging for Sarah when she is talking with a new Mum who is just treading water and knowing that it might take some time before the mother feels more hopeful and better able to cope. “It took me a while to feel comfortable in the role,” says Sarah. It’s worrying for her when a Mum is not ready or able to make change as the wait for clinical support can be long for those who need it. “Now I feel confident that while we might not always be the right door for someone, I can help them find what they need.”
With her nursing background Sarah likes structure and systems. She has worked as part of the Perinatal Wellbeing Team contributing to the streamlining of systems and processes. “It makes for safe practice for us as workers and gives our Mums confidence in us as an organisation.”
Sarah has the support of Pedro, the Perinatal Wellbeing Canterbury Board’s Clinical Advisor. She coordinates a great team of volunteers. “They are amazing people who, because of their own personal journey, and possibly some further training, have so much to offer our mums. We need more people working in perinatal wellbeing as there is so much need out there”’ she says.
Sarah is disappointed that Perinatal Wellbeing Canterbury must work so hard for funding. “I could work 50 hours a week, and there is always one more woman to ring. It’s about having the resources, if people understand the difference we can make to Mums and Dads and families they will want to be part of making that happen” she says.