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5 Questions with Pieta Shakes


On what it's like to coordinate one of MHPN's newest Online Networks.


We interviewed Pieta Shakes, coordinator of the Online Prenatal Diagnosis Mental Health network, on what it's like to lead a newly established network within the 'Online Networks' stream of MHPN's national networks program. As the coordinator of an exclusively online network, Pieta joins a growing number of coordinators supported by MHPN in their leadership of special interest networks that connect practitioners across the nation through meeting online. 

Alongside her contributions to MHPN's Online Networks, Pieta is the Executive Director of Through the Unexpected and a mental health nurse with experience across diverse settings including acute and conmunity care, crisis and triage and private practice. Pieta is undertaking her PhD into the maternal lived experience of receiving a prenatal diagnosis of agenesis of the corpus callosum and works as a casual academic.

1. As one of MHPN’s recently launched Online Networks; what motivated you to establish + coordinate the Online Prenatal Diagnosis Mental Health network?

PIETA SHAKES: Of the one in 22 parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis of a major congenital anomaly many experience distress, anxiety and the unexpected news and decisions that follow are often traumatic. While advances in screening technologies have forged ahead, the mental health and wellbeing of this group of parents has not received the same attention. Parents can find it difficult to find support at this time-sensitive period.

I had hoped to start a local MHPN network to bring the topic out of the shadows and forge better support pathways for parents, however there were concerns that we may not have enough interested local providers. The online network solved this problem by widening the geographical area.


2. In your view, what are the benefits to coordinating an online only network?

PIETA SHAKES: While the motivation for an online network was built by the need to expand the [network's membership], there are many advantages to being online. Firstly, in general online networks are typically more accessible for providers who have caring responsibilities, disability or difficulty with travel. Beyond that, the online network will allow us to draw upon the expertise of national and international guest speakers and our many wonderful network members - no matter their location. This pool of experience and knowledge, whether rural, remote, metropolitan will bring additional context, ideas and solutions to the table.


3. In your view, what are the challenges of coordinating an online only network?

PIETA SHAKES: I am particularly interested in nurturing connections within the network, as I see these as essential for developing patient pathways of support and support for each other. The topic of prenatal diagnosis can surface many emotions and ethical dilemmas for both people with lived experience of receiving a diagnosis and those who support parents through that time. Online networks and meetings can present greater challenges in forging these connections that otherwise may have been built over a cuppa and a biscuit. I hope through break out groups (as tacky as they can feel) providers have the chance to start to know each other and can feel empowered to help steer the network.


4. How does the online only format of this network shape your coordination role?

PIETA SHAKES: As a coordinator of an online network, I don’t need to purchase food, scout a location or familiarise myself with [local] COVID-19 policy. Otherwise, I’m not too sure that my role as a coordinator will be much different to another format. I invited some wonderful speakers to the first meeting and have scheduled time specifically to break into smaller manageable groups where providers will feel they have a chance to connect, rather than just listen to a webinar. Through this process I’m hoping to identify the needs and ideas within our network.


5. Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, what are your hopes/plans/ideas for the Online Prenatal Diagnosis Mental Health network?

PIETA SHAKES: If we reach the end of 2021 having held four meetings with steady or growing attendance, then I will have reached my aim for the network this year. That goal of steady or growing attendance will only be achieved by working closely with providers within the network to plan our direction, topics and way forward as a group.

Some topics I would personally like to see discussed may relate to different cultural or religious considerations when working with people who receive a prenatal diagnosis, supporting parents in non-heteronormative relationships, lived experiences of the pregnant person and partner, supporting families, future pregnancies, decision making, advocacy for equitable and timely support, language, finding hope, perinatal palliative care, provider wellbeing…

Can we plan for 2022 yet too? I look forward to all the ideas the network members bring.


If like Pieta, you are interested in establishing an Online Network, contact Jeanne Triol at 

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