Bringing Up Baby

Mapping And Understanding Mothers Social-Networks

April 05, 2022 Ashley Season 2 Episode 15
Bringing Up Baby
Mapping And Understanding Mothers Social-Networks
Show Notes Transcript

To participate in the MUMS research study, email Research Coordinator, Kathryn Stone at


Halifax Perinatal Support Network
Facebook group

Ashley Cooley,
Birth Baby & Sleep Specialist

MUMs Research
Ashley Cooley: [00:00:00] Dr. Aston, Dr. Price. Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really excited to get to talk to you both about this amazing research that you're doing. So I wonder if you, maybe we could just start there. Can you give us a little synopsis of what this research is about and, and why it's so.

Dr. Megan Aston: Yeah, no. Thank you so much for having us, we love talking about parenting and new parents and our research, so wonderful opportunity. Yeah, just give you a little bit of a background and how we came to do our research. Sheri and I have been conducting our research together for almost twenty years.

And it's something we're so passionate about and like 20 years in Nova Scotia. So it's really focused. So we know that becoming a new parent, that transition can be really emotionally and physically challenging.

So parents are looking for that information and support. So over the years, we've actually interviewed and collected stories from over a hundred mothers. Across Nova Scotia. And one of the huge findings [00:01:00] is that they really are looking for supportive social networks. 

And so our website is called mapping and understanding mother social networks. 
of course we're looking at parents, but, it's often mothers who come forward to, participate in our studies. So, while mothers do say that they want the in-person support, they also want online and offline. So last year we did a COVID study and that really came to the forefront because that opened up a whole new world of online everything.

So that's where we decided it would be really important to do a research study. That focused on the experiences of parents, how they experience online postpartum support groups. And so we've got a large team of researchers now in Nova Scotia, as well as across Canada, but I'll let Sheri jump in. I know she'll have lots to say too.

Dr. Sheri Price: Yeah, no, I mean, yeah, I think you did a great job, Megan. I think the, the big, I think progression of our research, the most significant [00:02:00] progression is that when we have findings, so our last study told us that new moms needed support and we knew that, and we've known that for years, in the context of COVID what we found, but is that new moms, parents are turning to online because they're, they're very isolated and alienated and, Well, then our question became, well, how do they experience that space?

Because we have done some work in the past that showed that certain blogs or certain forums, some moms and parents didn't feel safe in those spaces to express themselves. They felt that there was a lot of judgment, which there can be when you have a new baby and. I remember being in the, in the grocery store with my son and he was in a baby Bjorn and, and someone came out to you and told me that he must be freezing and I should put a blanket over the front of him.

And , it was, I mean, it's just the minute you're a parent. I think it welcomes, you know, all that parental advice. So Megan and I were really curious, and that's what our research really is. It's curiosity, [00:03:00] but for a purpose, which is, well, how do we ensure that new moms, parents have a safe space? How are they gonna use this?

What is gonna make it supportive? You know, that's the thing. It doesn't automatically become a support system just because you go there. Mm-hmm what is go, what is going to make it supportive? What about it is supportive? What could be, I mean, Megan and I are really concerned about how we deliver healthcare.

And in the community, in the context of public health, we need to go to the public and say, you know, how can we best reach you? I mean, I'm sure we can all remember a time when our physicians may have said you, we need to see you in person. Well, I have a call. You know, later this morning with my physician to get a prescription refilled that is going to be on the phone so we can do things different.

I think that COVID like, there's lots of bad. There's a lot of challenges, but there's also a lot of creativity and how we [00:04:00] connect and think the way that we can do things, including if we can't get they're at the coffee shop with their friends, you know, how can we do it and how can we meet other new people?

Ashley Cooley: Yeah. So what have you been finding so far cuz this research has been, you started this a little while ago, right? I think before COVID which is interesting because now, like you said, there is so much that's going online, but what have you been finding so far in the research that is helping moms or parents be comfortable in, in those settings?

Dr. Megan Aston: Yeah. Well we've only done three focus groups and we want to do 10, so we can't. Share any definitive findings at this point, but what we can tell you is what we're looking at and sort of what is starting to emerge and what we want to continue to look at as we go forward. So it's qualitative research, which means we want to listen to what the parents are saying.

Like, what is your experience? So when they're [00:05:00] coming to our groups, we are focusing on. Yeah, the technology. So that's a piece of it. So we are videotaping and we are looking at how people engage. So. How do you share something online? How do you talk about your postpartum experience with a camera? You're not in person, you know, that microphone, the muting, there's those pieces of what's going on.

So there's the technical bit. So those are starting to come out and we will have some interesting findings there also it's it's the topic it's about where you are at as a parent. So we wanna try and. Tap into the feelings. How do you feel about being online? So, you know, beyond the technical so we can observe and I'm there facilitating with our research coordinator.

So it's the conversation, it's the topic. It's how are, how [00:06:00] are, how are parents supporting each other in the moment? Which is really important. And then afterwards, we interview two parents, who participated. So that's when you can really go deep into what was that experience really like? Cause we can observe.

But we really don't always know what's going on in people's heads. Right? Mm-hmm mm-hmm uh, and so taking those moments in those times. So yeah, our parents feeling supported because as she said, like this is serious stuff. We want parents to be. , you know, feel great about their, their times and know how difficult it can be.
So if this is one way, the parents can come together, support each other, feel empowered. Uh, what does that look like? And what does that mean? 

Dr. Sheri Price: Well, and I mean, I think that Ashley, we can all, and I'm sure a lot of people have watched that video the whole first follower, like it's about leadership and about the first person that, that, um, kind of ventures off to do something.

If [00:07:00] someone else follows that first follower position, either you choose not to follow them. I think it's. Person dancing on a hill at a, at a music festival, but it's quite fascinating if the next person gets up and starts dancing wildly, then maybe you have a chance for everybody to dance wildly. But if so, we're watching things like that, you know, does someone put their video on, when do they put their video on, at what, at what juncture do they like?

What. What creates that environment? I mean, this is the thing about our research. It has the ability to not just inform public health and how we support new parents, but also how we engage with one another right now. I mean, I was in a zoom meeting with somebody yesterday and they insisted we have zoom.

It's almost like people have forgotten. There's a phone. People had like said let's do zoom. And then we were on a zoom and there was just the two of us and they didn't have their camera on. I was like, why, why are we doing this? Like, [00:08:00] I'm staring at like your profile, but you know, Megan and I are watching the sea, you know, do people feel comfortable?

Do they blur their screen? What do they share? Do they show their babies? Here's the thing. Would you ever go? And this, these are good questions that we're asking ourselves. Like if you were having a parent group. And you're like, let's meet at the church basement and someone showed up without their baby.

Right. That would, and we've heard, we've heard the participants use the word creepy so, you know, they're like, would that be creepy? Like, where's your baby, you know? And, but yet in an online. Right. People are not holding their babies up necessarily. Now some people are holding their babies. Some people are nursing their babies, but we really wanna understand, like, does it take two meetings for people to be able to do that?

Does it mean like at the end of the hour, like maybe your baby's at the back of the church, but then you bring them into the group, you know? So we're trying to understand what is this gonna look like? I bring up the church basement example because when I had my [00:09:00] son, that's where the public health nurse was to weigh your baby every week.
And that's where like, all these women would just gather. We're trying to understand, like, where are you gonna gather? And where do you find those places to, to come together? Yeah. Because has to happen. Yeah. Yeah, 

Ashley Cooley: yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. 

Dr. Megan Aston: And if you're able to, you know, go online, you know, what is your access?
And then who else is home with you? If that's where you're doing this? Oh, sorry. Mm-hmm um, where else, who, who else is in the home? So can they take care of your baby while you're doing that? So these are all the questions that are just being raised for us, and it's an explore to study. That's really coming out.

And so we've had also had, mothers in the past tell us that they're nervous about going online. So what's that all about, like, we hope that, participants will come and maybe share some of those past experiences, until you talk about mommy shaming. And so there's that fear of [00:10:00] going online? So we wanted to go and explore that a little bit more.

We also did a study number of years ago that looked at a chat space. So it wasn't real time, but it was postings. And again, In our research, some mothers would say, no, I'm never gonna go there. I've seen that mommy shaming and the judgment. And there is a lot of judgment about parenting. We know that. Mm. So they wouldn't go to those spaces.

But the one space that we went to that was Nova Scotia led, it was actually a really supportive, empowering experience for them because of the way they interacted. So someone would post a, quite someone would respond and someone would say, Hey, great job. So that was fascinating just to see how that space could work.

So that's what we are doing too. Like, this is meant to be a one hour postpartum support time together. And it's only one, like they, they don't keep meeting afterwards, but during that one hour that we're doing, it's just like what happens. And, and we are finding the things happen pretty quickly. And, the parents [00:11:00] are connecting in a quite positive way.
So, I mean, that's sort of just an initial, general comment that we can make. 

Ashley Cooley: I just find it so fascinating cuz I I'm not, I'm not doing official research but I've been running groups, both in person and online for several years now. And I, I find it fascinating how, whether it's in person or online, the, it.

Really, it depends on the other people in the group. Like if, if something I've noticed, this is something I've noticed over the years of prenatal classes, if there happens to be, and this is totally anecdotal, like by me, cuz again, it's not sound research here, but if there happens to be a partner of. A pregnant woman who's in the class.

If the partner is a little more outgoing and vocal and puts that out there, kind of towards the beginning of the class, I usually find that the rest of the class and other people will open up as well. So I, I kind of make it. Part of [00:12:00] my presentation and, and the way that I put stuff out there is I'm, I'm an open book and I'll share lots of things.

And I find that that helps people to open up. But then I find if there's one or two other people in the group that also jumps in, then it can be a free. And then it's like, You know, we're just, we're going and we'll never stop for everybody. So it's interesting that I've, I've noticed that. I wonder if you, I mean, in the little bit that you've done as well, that you've noticed those same things.

Dr. Sheri Price: the facilitation as educators, I mean, Megan and I are both professors at Dalhousie and we've been teaching for years and that facilit. That is so key. So as you said, Ashley, it it's, it's, it's how you set the stage and what environment is set and, you know, who's in the room and who's speaking, it all really matters.

And so. You say it's anecdotal yet. Megan and I can validate that is what we hear from people all the time. It's who [00:13:00] is facilitating the discussion, how comfortable do they make you feel? Here's the other thing. And I think you can see that I just did it is that we tell stories to generate stories. I can say to you, you know, a woman and like approached me in a grocery store and told me a, my baby was freezing and, you know, right away that unites.

People because they might go, oh, I remember one time when someone approached me and gave unsolicited advice and so the giving of stories that sharing of stories is, is something that really does connect us, something me and I really believe in that we learned so much from those stories that you tell, we just learned from you.

And it's very interesting that you say sometimes it's that partner because that's a dynamic, right. That individual. And there may be that the two of them have spoken, but the mom has, or, you know, maybe it's, it's a mom, but the, the one per partner might feel like, oh, I I'm here. And I have a. But when the other person [00:14:00] speaks, the partnered person speaks, it opens up this space that it's, it's just not about that one person.

And so other people can talk. And that is, and sometimes that takes all the pressure off of, off of the mother. Who's thinking, oh, well this is a mother's space. Or, you know, a and I need to be the one that asks the questions and that can take the pressure off you to be the, the first one that opens that's all of those intricacies.

That's what we're trying to understand. And we're not trying to understand just because we're curious, we're trying to understand so that we can create something that is mindful of those, those little, like those little nuances that make a big difference about how people can feel that they can receive from and share information new moms.

Largely have told us that they want to feel that their experience is normal. That is this normal. And, and even [00:15:00] though Megan and I resist though, well, what, nothing's normal, you know, everything's unique, there's this real and, and Megan, especially, I feel like she wants to have a t-shirt made that says there is, is no normal and yet that's, it doesn't matter.

We could open with, there is no normal and every mom we speak to says. At some point they wonder, is my baby normal? Are they eating normal? Are they, are there elimination patterns? Normal is the poop normal, you know, is, is the way that I feel normal. And so we wanna make sure that we can create that space, that they can have that dialogue and that reassurance that the validation that they really do need.

Ashley Cooley: Oh, that's so important. So actually that was gonna be my next question was what, what do we do with this knowledge? So of course, you're, you're still working on this, but the idea is to, I think, create something that can be useful for parents as they have babies and can support each other. 

Dr. Megan Aston: Yeah. Go ahead, [00:16:00] Sheri.

Dr. Sheri Price: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that Megan and I have so much fun with in our research is though, so what do we do with it? So we've created videos. I mean, I'm of the MTV generation. So I'll make a video of every everything. And it's not really said to music and they're not gonna win any awards, but they are health.

And Megan and I can give you examples of, we find out that there's a need. In the system and we find out through the moms that there's a need for something, and we create it. Maybe it's a video. Maybe it's a podcast. Like our last research, we created this cafe conversation starter so that any moms that gather in a cafe can actually have a toolkit that they can use to.
To talk about the topics that moms always tell us, they wanna talk about sleep. Amazing. Yeah. 

So we have these available and we create these resources and we put them out. We have so many community and partnered organizations. If we find, for instance, that it's healthcare [00:17:00] providers that need to have the education, we create workshops for student in the health professions or public health nurses, so that they actually have those tools that they can then take into their practice.
Megan, if you have something else to add. 

Dr. Megan Aston: Yeah, no. And with all our research, we go to the parents at the end of the day, they need to tell us what's going on and what they need. So with the qualitative research, it is about storytelling and listening to experience, but then it's like, what do you do with that?
And we learn, and it's really important to. Listen and sort of connect, not that social connection. So parents talking to each other, and so we can facilitate that, but from a research perspective, we need to take that information and look across and see what are some of the similarities, but also what are the unique pieces too?

Because oftentimes. Parenting is a little bit invisible. We don't know what goes on. And so that's been, 

Ashley Cooley: it's a lot invisible. It's a lot invisible. Let's be honest. Yeah. 

Dr. Megan Aston: Yeah. Thank you for saying that. So like you, you know, as a facilitator and working with parents, see that, and my whole career, like 30 years of research, I mean, it's still very similar.

So how do we bring the voices of parents out and. Be a real force. So that's our job as researchers to be able to do that. And so when we share, as Sherry has said, How can facilitators, whether that's healthcare professionals yourself, mm-hmm, doulas, people at family resource centers, people in the community, how can we facilitate and, and other parents, I mean, parents create their own groups too.

And to be able to do this, and at the end of the day, it needs to be supportive and empowering. So with our qualitative lens and yeah, I'll bring that in.[00:19:00] you know, there's that gender and feminist and, those relations of power. So I can. Totally go down that theoretical, road, but that's what guides us and makes sure that we do really rigorous research.
Cause you know, people's stories are precious and we need to, handle them, very carefully. So that's why we love our research. 

Ashley Cooley: Amazing. I mean, as you know, I love it too, because I think it's such an important piece. It's always been an important piece to me when I started having kids, but then certainly when COVID happened, it came even more important.

And I think the online stuff is really here to stay. And so how can we make this. really helpful and supportive for families as we move forward. So I think it's so important to engage and, and participate in research like this so that voices can be heard so that you can help inform these things.

So you, you mentioned briefly that when it comes to participating in your research, participants are, are, they're doing a one hour, group with you, and then you ask if anybody [00:20:00] wants to do kind of a one-on-one interview afterwards, is that right? That's it. Okay. So how can somebody need more people? we need more people.

I know. And I want, let's do that. So how can somebody, if they are interested in helping out or wanting to participate, how, how do they do that? What would that look like?

Dr. Megan Aston: You can go to our website, which is mums, M Ms. M U M S CA. And has all the instructions there, who to contact. To participate.

Ashley Cooley: Perfect. Well, I'll definitely put that in the show notes and you're also on Instagram, right. That's where I noticed that you've been putting up a few things up there and when you do find some, Results and you've been posting that. Knowledge translation of actually getting that information and putting it back out there, for parents thinking is this normal is what I'm feeling normal is what I'm doing normal? 

So it's just really helpful to share all of those things. Yeah. 

I love it. I love it so [00:21:00] much. And I'll, I'll talk about this every day if I can. So thank you're. We're so excited 

Dr. Megan Aston: we're just so excited about the work that you're doing too. 

Ashley Cooley: So. Oh, I mean, it, it definitely compliments each other in the Halifax perinatal support group that we have on Facebook. We meet monthly in that group. 

So I really appreciate all that you're doing and I hope you get lots more participants after this. This will be great. Thank you.

Awesome. Thanks so much. And we'll talk to you again. Thanks. Great. Okay. Bye. Bye.