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The Best Kept Secret of Message: Professional Support for Mothers

By Sophie Wallace-Hadrill


We all know that parenthood is a challenging time, but parenting away from your home culture, your connections and networks, and navigating life in a different language…? It’s not easy. 

And that’s exactly why Message has always had maternal mental health and well-being as one of its key areas of support. You may have heard of the Maternal Wellbeing group meetings which take place twice a week when school is in session. Perhaps you thought, "oh, that’s not for me, I wouldn’t want to take up someone else’s space in the group..." We are here to tell you that the Maternal Wellbeing Group meetings are for everyone.


Licensed Therapists

Our support team consists of professional, licensed therapists who also happen to be parenting in a foreign country. I’m Dr. Sophie Wallace-Hadrill, a clinical psychologist from the UK and I’ve lived in Paris for just over a year now. Larissa Reidy, a psychotherapist from Ireland, is also on our team and has navigated Parisian life for over a decade. We also have Dr. Jennifer Kane, a clinical psychologist from the United States, who facilitated the group for over 6 years and is still on the team to guide and advise. 


Although all the facilitators have training in psychotherapy, the groups themselves are peer support and the facilitator’s role is to host the group rather than to provide group therapy. Of course, if you need information about how to get additional psychological support, we are here to signpost you as best we can.


What's the meeting like?

You may be wondering what it is like to attend the group meetings. An important thing to know is that they are drop-in – this means that you don’t have to sign up to attend every week, or even have to let us know you are coming. We want to make sure that the space is there if you need it. 


Another thing you might be wondering is whether the group is for you if you don’t have an “official’ diagnosis. And the answer is a resounding YES! When the group was initially set up, there was a focus on post-natal depression as this is a condition that affects many women but has been traditionally overlooked and under-supported.  However, over time and with Dr. Kane's leadership we have expanded to include other extremely common experiences such as anxiety.


Dr. Kane really saw the need for a space where women could authentically share what is happening in their lives. She noticed that with motherhood, it didn’t always seem safe for mothers to say they were having a hard time, or, "I don’t think I’m good at this!". When I joined, we spoke as a team about how we might increase the remit of the group still further, to reflect the fact that looking after our mental health proactively is important for all. All of us – with diagnoses or without – have difficulties in our parenting journeys at some point. 


We see the group as a safe place to come and share your challenges and support others at the same time. It’s a confidential space, which means that whatever is talked about in any given group session isn’t shared outside.

Reduce Isolation

Another important part of the group’s usefulness, we hope, is to reduce isolation. Feeling isolated is a very common experience, especially in early parenthood, but as we know, living abroad is potentially an extremely isolating time for mothers.  Living away from your usual structures of support, away from the culture(s) you grew up in and/or are familiar with means that accessing the resources to help is much harder. As Larissa Reidy puts it so well, "it doesn’t have to be as difficult if you reach out. "

 

A couple of attendees kindly shared their thoughts about what their experiences of the group have been. One member told us that “it was the single best thing I did for myself during my pregnancy, and because of the conversations I had, I felt prepared as a person to become a mum.” She reflected on how good it was to be able to speak freely in a safe space, with other mums who can offer real-world, empathetic, emotional support but with a trained mental health professional facilitating the conversation.


Another member spoke about how the group has been “a great source of comfort for me in my first months of motherhood in Paris.”  For her, having the space to share her thoughts and experiences with other mums in the group has been a great relief, and a sounding board for understanding this new role of motherhood.

Our favorite things about facilitating the group include getting to witness how positive and beneficial it can be for mothers who attend and seeing the enormous empathy people show. It’s a real privilege to witness the generosity of spirit that the group shows, the kind words, the wry laughs of recognition, the encouraging words. Although the group attendance changes from week to week, the attitude from all the mums is consistently warm, non-judgmental and good-humored.


Is this group right for you?

We hope we have convinced you that the groups are for all mums, at any stage of their parenting journey (including pregnancy!), to come and connect with other mums who can share experiences; it’s a positive space to share challenges. 



Find out when the next Message Maternal Well-being Support Group is being held on the Message Member's Calendar.


 

This article was originally published in Winter 2022 Message Magazine Print Edition.


The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message. Message cannot be held responsible for any information contained in or omitted from this article.



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