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Support ME Maternal Project: Culturally-aligned postnatal support

We are sadly becoming more aware of the trauma some women experience after birth. But what about those from more culturally diverse backgrounds? Illustrating with her personal story Manisha Sheth, Support ME Maternal Project CIC Director, explains why more needs to be offered and the background to the charity.

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My journey into perinatal wellbeing and maternity care started after my own lived experience of having three high risk pregnancies with Gestational Diabetes. All of them led to me being induced and I ended up having a traumatic birth with my first. I also had Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) with all three, with my last pregnancy resulting in me having to walk with crutches from 3 months, in a wheelchair from 5 months and bedridden from 8 months pregnant. I can see now these difficult pregnancies, birth and being immobile during my 3rd, triggered perinatal depression and anxiety.

Unfortunately, it took nearly 2 years of suffering before accessing clinical support, and this was only because my symptoms became physically unbearable with chronic migraines. This experience is what fuelled my passion to help others going through similar struggles, so during my healing process, I trained as a Doula, Antenatal & Hypnobirthing Teacher as well started my training as a Counsellor. I wanted to be able to offer the support I didn’t have. I wanted to remove the stigma of mental health from my own community and others alike. I wanted to raise awareness and help prevent birth trauma and perinatal mental health conditions.

When I first started practising as a doula, I realised I wasn’t helping the families that I believed needed this support the most; and I quickly became aware of the disparities in NHS maternity care. I reflected on the reasons why I didn’t access support when I was struggling: at the core of it was that I didn’t find anything that was culturally-aligned. I didn’t think health professionals would understand, and I also carried shame and guilt due to the stigma that exists in my communities, both South Asian and Muslim.

I joined the local Maternity Voices Partnership (MVP) as a volunteer hoping to listen to and hear people’s voices, and in turn, help influence positive change. Again, the lack of engagement and trust from diverse ethnic communities became increasingly apparent to me, especially after being involved in the Minority Ethnic Working Group. This caused me to consider what else I could do to support the families I wanted, and that’s when I was grateful to have met my business partner and dear friend, Anna Rutkowska.

After having similar discussions of the challenges we were both facing, Anna being Polish, we founded Support Me Maternal Project CIC in 2021. Support Me is a non-for-profit organisation with the aim to bridge the gap between diverse ethnic communities as well as improve breastfeeding rates, birth experiences and engagement in maternity/perinatal services. As well as supporting families, we also train healthcare professionals on how to offer culturally-safe maternity care.

3 years on, we are proud to have established 2 main projects for families, Polish Village and Muslim Village, offering culturally safe perinatal support online and in-person.

We have also developed our 12-month funded Doula Training programme with cultural safety embedded within it, encouraging bi-lingual Polish and Muslim doulas to support their communities. This not only gives them an opportunity to support those with similar experiences and cultural needs, but it gives our doulas an opportunity to develop their skills and build their confidence. We are proud to open the doors to everyone for our next cohort!

Finally, to help families receive safer and more compassionate maternity care, we have developed training for Healthcare Professionals, which we deliver in-house and online. We deliver reflective workshops on Culturally-safe and Responsive Care, Supporting Muslim Families, Supporting Families where English is their second language as well as bespoke training on organisation’s needs. Although there is a lot of online, self-paced training out there; it will not have the impact to make a true difference without brave self-reflection and awareness.

More information on family support and training for Doulas and Healthcare Professionals is accessible via our website at Who We Are – Support Me Maternal Project (supportmecic.com)

Manisha Sheth, Support ME Maternal Project CIC Director & Trainer

June 2024

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Manisha is speaking on 18 June at our Northern Maternity and Midwifery Festival:

10:10am Culturally-safe Maternity Care

Manisha Sheth, Co-founder & trainer, Support Me Maternal Project CIC; Counsellor; NHS Maternity & Neonatal Independent Senior Advocate; Maternity Staff Cultural Safety Trainer

Register your free place here

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