Launching just before the pandemic, Glasgow-based Amma Birth Companions had a difficult delivery itself. But coronavirus has made its work all the more vital
Alvina was 29 weeks pregnant, homeless in a foreign city and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when her midwife referred her to Amma Birth Companions, a Glasgow-based charity that supports vulnerable women during pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood.
“I was in a nightmare situation,” Alvina told Positive News. “Amma was the support system that carried me through.”
Alvina, who is from Zimbabwe, finds it too difficult to talk about how she ended up seeking asylum in Scotland, but she recalls having a deep distrust of people and institutions, including social services. “I thought if I put a foot wrong, they might take my baby,” she said.
But when she was visited by volunteers from Amma, who came bearing friendly smiles rather than official files, she felt at ease. “I thought, ‘oh my goodness, where did you guys come from?’ I was overwhelmed.”
Founded by Helen MacDonald, a former midwife, and Sarah Zadik, who previously helped people go through the asylum process, Amma has 30 volunteer birth companions and has so far supported 45 vulnerable women, many of them refugees.
The charity also helps mothers find support for housing and asylum applications, and organises social activities to help them form friendships.
As Amma celebrates its first birthday, which has coincided with a resurgence in coronavirus-related challenges, the team has been reflecting on its own difficult deliveries.
Having a constant source of support and having someone non-judgmental that they can talk to openly makes a world of difference
“It has been challenging,” said Amanda Purdie, the charity’s manager. “We were allowed to be at the births [during the lockdown], but only when [mums] were in established labour.”
During the pandemic Amma has given vulnerable mums phones with internet data, and set up Zoom calls to ensure support continued online. “Until you start working with them, it’s hard to fathom just how isolated they are,” said Purdie. “Having a constant source of support and having someone non-judgmental that they can talk to openly makes a world of difference.”
Alvina’s baby girl, Imani, arrived prematurely and therefore Alvina didn’t have a companion for the birth. However, she says the postnatal support she and Imani, who is doing well, received was “a lifeline”. She has since become a volunteer herself. “It has been so empowering,” she said.
Image: Solen Feyissa