Charity calls for more 'maternity mates'Volunteers are paired with a vulnerable parent from the fifth month of pregnancy until six weeks after the birth
While the physical strain of pregnancy is hard enough on its own, for an asylum seeker, particularly one not fluent in English, it is an even harder experience.
Yvonne Sulola, a 38-year-old doula and mother of three, recalls supporting a woman in exactly that position as part of her volunteer work for the borough’s Maternity Mates scheme.
Yvonne has volunteered for the scheme, run by charity Women’s Health and Family Services (WHFS) in Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Newham, since last November. The programme pairs vulnerable expecting parents with a trained volunteer from the fifth month of their pregnancy until six weeks after birth.
As the charity calls for more volunteers to sign up for training, Yvonne told the Echo about her experience in the role and what made her want to sign up.
“Being the oldest of five girls, I have always gravitated toward supporting my sisters when they were pregnant,” she said, “And, as a mother, I know having a child can be a daunting experience, especially for those who have little to no support systems.
“A common thing is that mothers don't feel listened to or that their choices are limited. Even if it is advice, they often feel like they are being told they have to do something by health care professionals.
“A lot of the women we support have trauma in their past. We don't want to make their pregnancy and birth another traumatic experience.”
Yvonne saw this pattern repeat first-hand while supporting the expecting asylum seeker, explaining: “The mother did not have the best understanding of English and no one really took the time to explain all her options regarding her baby. She believed she had to go along with whatever the medical team said.
“Even when she had general doubts and concerns, she did not feel she could voice them. I had to assist her with finding leaflets and information on other methods of treatment and would sometimes advocate on her behalf and ask questions to healthcare professionals.”
The Maternity Mate role entails attending doctor’s appointments and weekly meetings with the expecting parent, as well as providing general emotional support.
While Yvonne is able to draw on her experiences as a doula, particularly when it comes to supporting pregnant women from ethnic minority groups, no such experience is required and all volunteers are given full training.
She added: “Even if you think you have nothing to offer the woman you are supporting, anything you can do is appreciated. It is a really rewarding experience.”
Karen Wint, CEO of WHFS, said: “Every day, our Maternity Mates support women to have an empowering and healthy pregnancy and birth. It’s an incredibly rewarding volunteer opportunity that will enable you to make a genuine difference in your local community.
“But the reality right now is there are many women across East London who are very isolated and without a support system – many more than we are currently able to support. This is why we’re encouraging any woman who wants to have a positive impact on the lives of women to join us and train as a Maternity Mate.”
You can apply to be a Maternity Mate here. Full training will be provided.