IT IS no surprise that Winchester attracts a tide of couples
that are leaving London to start a family. The heritage city is
within commuting distance of the capital; levels of deprivation are
generally low; housing is good, if expensive; and unemployment
stands at just 1.5 per cent.
So the place is positively bristling with new mothers. But,
however pleasant their environment, many of them are unprepared for
just how life-changing the experience of having a baby will prove
Ante-natal and post-natal care tends to be focused on
childbirth, and the physical health of the baby - something
recognised in a report in March this year from the Department of
Health, Giving All Children a Healthy Start in Life.
The report included a commitment to recruit an extra 4500 health
visitors - nurses or midwives with specialist training in helping
families - over the period 2010 to 2015.
The emphasis is to be not just on the baby, but on monitoring
the mental health of the mother, too, particularly to detect any
signs of post-natal depression, estimated to affect 90,000 women
Organisations such as the Pandas Foundation (Pre and Postnatal
Depression Advice and Support) advise that family and friends can
play a big part in helping recovery. "Don't bottle up your emotions
as this can cause tension," their website advises. "The most
important support you can have is being able to talk to someone and
be honest about your feelings and emotions."
A lay chaplain with the ecumenical Winchester City Centre
Chaplaincy, Jemima Thackray, saw an opportunity to provide that at
the community clinic session run by the city's health-visitors
team, and hosted by the United Church, a Methodist/URC place of
THE way in which mothers used the building's incorporated café
before or after the baby weigh-in set her thinking. A comparatively
new mother herself - her son, Louis, is now 16 months old - she
approached the lead chaplain, Howard Rowe, a Methodist minister,
with the suggestion of a chaplaincy specifically to mothers.
"The chaplaincy has always gone out to offices and shops and
places of work, offering a pastoral support and listening service
underpinned by the Christian faith," she says. "The service exists
for people who are working, but mums are working, too. It might not
be in an office, but they're making a valuable contribution, and
need supporting in what they are doing. They have so many
challenges. I just thought they could do with a listening ear."
She already had some experience of working as a volunteer at
breastfeeding workshops run by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
"I've seen a lot of mums in a lot of distress, wanting to do it
[breastfeeding] but being in pain or difficulty, and giving
themselves such a hard time," she says. "I've travelled quite a bit
in Sudan and Uganda, and seen how women support each other much
more, and how children seem to be brought up by the village; and
while I'm not being naïve about how hard their lives are, they seem
to have this right.
"We seem to live isolated lives behind our own front doors,
often quite distant from our families. That's no longer a feature
of our culture, and we can't bring it back, but there's a gap that
Mr Rowe was enthusiastic, and she embarked on a trial year,
based in the café at the health visitors' clinic session. "The
health visitors are very much aware of me, and we have a good
relationship; but I'm the Church, and not the NHS, and everyone is
clear about that," she says.
"When we advertise the service, we emphasise that I'm there for
the mums rather than for the children. Mums know I'm there, and
come and chat, or I might just get into conversation with women on
THE conversation can be about anything from feeding problems to
how tired they are, and to the pressures that come when maternity
leave is ending, and work must be faced again. "Sometimes they're
just looking for affirmation in their parenting," Mrs Thackray
"They want to talk about their own health problems sometimes, or
grief after a bereavement, or the problems of childcare and the
difficulty of balancing children and work.
"Parents are under massive financial pressure these days, and
needing two incomes, and they want to have it both ways: be a
natural parent on hand for their children, but to be seen also
contributing to the workplace. They face negotiating with bosses
over how much they can work, and feel guilty at the prospect of
leaving the baby with childminders.
"My priority is their well-being. I try to stay away from cooing
over the child, although that might be a way in, sometimes. The
mum's mental and spiritual help is a constant need; so I ask how
she is, is she getting enough sleep.
"I'm not a counsellor, and I don't give advice; I'm a sounding
board. Mums talk it out and come to their own conclusions. I try
not to self-reference, either. It's not a conversation with
friends, it's a sharing with a chaplain, so it's not the best
approach to say: 'Oh, my Louis was just like that.'"
Mrs Thackray is also based at a mother-and-baby group at Christ
Church, Winchester. The trial year has gone well, and she would
like to expand the service, train more volunteers, and perhaps be
able to offer talks or discussions on well-being at the clinic, to
complement those on child welfare.
Flyers on the health visitors' front desk are frank about this
listening service being part of the city-centre chaplaincy. "It
might be off-putting for some; but most appreciate that we're not
the State," she says.
"They know we've got this spiritual underpinning to why we're
there, and, generally, people are quite accepting of it. They're
curious sometimes, but chaplaincy is a well-known term. They look
at my badge and think, 'OK, I know what that is.'"