There are many challenges in becoming a first-time parent and new mum Laura Corrall has had her fair share. She talks to Emma Harrowing about how her experiences led her to help others face parenthood.

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Laura Corrall took her newborn daughter from her pram in her Norwich home and shut the front door. Her heart raced as she peeped through the blinds out to the street outside. Feeling hot and slightly sick she laid her daughter Charlotte down in the safety of her cot and made a cup of tea. She felt safe now and would remain safe as she wouldn’t ever have to go out again.

“That was what it was like ever since I gave birth,” says 23-year-old Laura. “I would panic that my baby would cry when I was out somewhere and I wouldn’t be able to stop her and I would get embarrassed. The thought not only filled me with dread it made me feel physically sick. The easiest option was to not go out and just stay in the house.”

It was when a health visitor questioned the new mum about the last time she had gone out that Laura was sent to see her GP and after some tests was diagnosed with agoraphobia.

“Agoraphobia is not just a fear of open spaces, it is also a fear of feeling like you cannot escape any given situation,” says Laura. “Many people with agoraphobia find that the best way to deal with their condition is to not get into any situation that will cause them anxiety. For me this meant not leaving the house.”

Laura also went online to seek some advice and discovered a forum for parents. She joined in with the online chat and discovered that many mums felt the same way as her when it comes to fearing that their baby would cry in a public place.

“Finding out that it was normal to feel embarrassed when your baby cried in public was the best tonic for me,” says Laura. “Being a new parent you just don’t know what is normal and what is not so the fear can manifest itself in different ways. Sharing your experience with other parents makes you feel like you are not alone.”

Discovering that the experiences of other parents could help her agoraphobia, Laura volunteered to be the chair-mum of the newly formed Norwich branch of online parent forum Netmums Meetups. The group meets at least once a month so that along with email and forums new parents can meet face-to-face to share experiences and forge friendships.

Laura says: “I know from experience that the best source of advice and support come from other mums and dads. Many people do not live near their families and so when they do have children they are faced with starting to build a whole new set of friends. This often happens when your child starts school and you meet other parents at the school gates, but what do you do in the meantime?”

Netmums Meetups provides this social network for parents and the local group makes it easier for new parents to make like-minded friends sooner.

“The group has had two meet-ups so far so it is still in its early stages,” says Laura.

“It’s a place where anyone can come along, get advice, join in the chatter and make friends.

“It is also a group that encourages dads to come along too.

“I want to give new parents the help and support I got when I was first staring out into motherhood. Finding out that other people have experienced what you are going through and have survived is the best medicine.”

Netmums Meetups meet monthly in locations throughout Norwich. The next meeting is on Sunday, July 29 at midday in Eaton Park. Mums and dads can just turn up or you can email Laura first norwich.meetups@gmail.com

The group also has an online support network at www.netmums.com/coffeehouse/groups/south-norfolk-central-norwich.html

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