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Mother Matters and the social workers of the Reproductive Life Stages Program

December  1, 2014

Maura O’Keefe and Greer Slyfield CookSocial workers Maura O’Keefe and Greer Slyfield Cook want every new mom to know that, in parenthood, there isn’t always a right answer.

“There isn’t always one perfect way to help a newborn sleep or eat,” said O’Keefe, a social worker with the Reproductive Life Stages Program at Women’s College Hospital (WCH). “New parents often feel that they are losing control or are taking the wrong approach. It is common to feel this way and an expected part of adjusting to parenthood.”

O’Keefe and her colleague Slyfield Cook are spreading this message – and other useful information – through Mother Matters, an online support group for new moms experiencing mood or adjustment challenges.

The forum supports women, across Ontario, raising at least one child younger than one year. To be accepted into a Mother Matters session, new moms must complete a few short questionnaires and agree to share their insights and experiences over the course of 10 weeks.  

“Mother Matters is unique in that we put the focus on the mother’s experience. Other online parenting forums tend to offer tips on baby care,” explained Slyfield Cook. “We want to be sure that new moms have the support and information they need to look after themselves.”

In the new year, O’Keefe and Slyfield Cook will be recruiting new moms for their next session of Mother Matters – which kicks off in late winter.

For each Mother Matters group, the WCH social workers start off weekly discussions by posting information and links on a specific topic. Weekly topics include: emotional health, sleeping, body image and sexuality, the motherhood model, maintaining a relationship with a partner and other key issues relevant to women transitioning into motherhood.

From there, participants are free to elaborate on the week’s chosen topic or start discussions about their current challenges or experiences. What’s more, the forum – which is moderated regularly by the WCH social workers – is accessible to new moms 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This group is particularly appealing to women living in remote regions of the province, who might not have regular opportunities to meet with other new mothers. As well, participants who live in smaller communities can maintain some privacy by participating in online discussions.

“The forum offers new moms a chance to connect with other moms and reduce isolation,” explained O’Keefe. “As the women in the group start to open up and share their stories, we find the information and posts become more personalized – and that can be very reassuring for new moms.”

Both Slyfield Cook and O’Keefe have years of experience leading groups and guiding women through difficult transitions. As social workers with WCH’s Mental Health Program, they often work with women experiencing mood and anxiety issues associated with pregnancy, menopause, and other reproductive life stages.

In fact, it was their experiences working with these women that led the social workers to expand their reach and start Mother Matters.

“Ultimately, our goal is to guide women through complicated decisions and to make sure women know that they are not alone,” said Slyfield Cook.

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