When you’ve got low self esteem and you’re trying to face lots of problems, giving up control of your life can be a tempting option – you just want someone to come in and make it all OK. But, unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. It’s rare that things go away or get resolved without making changes to your lifestyle… but to do this, you need to believe in yourself – and there we are, right back at the beginning, as self belief is something that you don’t have.
So how can Gateway’s Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service help people to break this cycle?
Admitting that you need help is a really positive step, but you have to be prepared to work towards the life you want, too. So our POWs are trained not just to give practical advice, but to help women take control of their own lives in order to move forward.
Saira was referred to the POW service by her midwife. She and her husband were living in a flat above a shop after having to move out of a shared house. But the flat was full of mice and cockroaches and its only access was via slippery fire escape steps.
Saira was clearly suffering from depression and low self esteem. In a recording made by her POW, Maria, it’s clear she didn’t believe she had any control over her situation. She says: “I’m pregnant; I have no family support. I don’t know what’s going to happen right now. It’s dangerous living here, but what can I do?” In a quiet voice, she asks, “Is there anyone out there who can help me?”
During Maria’s first visit, she explained to the couple how they would need to work together to sort things out. “I took them aside separately and said ‘we all need to work at this, and you will need a lot of patience, because it’s going to take time’,” Maria says. “No-one has a magic wand.”
Like many clients, Saira says she liked Maria because she felt that she wasn’t judging her. Maria’s help was practical and without prejudice.
“On the first visit, I phoned around and we started to apply for the various things that they were entitled to and needed to sort out,” Maria says. “For example, Saira had put off applying for income support because she thought it would affect her partner’s finances, so we worked that out, and got him to apply for working tax credit.”
But, as they unravelled some of the financial issues, Maria was also working towards raising Saira’s self-esteem.
For example, Saira was so self-conscious that she didn’t want to go to antenatal classes. She said she felt fat and didn’t want people to see her. Maria’s approach was to try and make her feel better about her body image in other ways. “I asked her to send me photos of herself on the days that I didn’t visit her – just for my benefit, so I could she she was OK,” she explains. “In the first few photos she sent, she’s looking down at the floor, but after a few weeks she’s smiling and looking into the camera. She’s starting to feel better about herself; she doesn’t mind the idea so much.”
They talked about the future. “I asked her to think about what she wants to achieve in life,” says Maria. “It’s something that many women forget to think about when so much else is going on. She told me lots of things, but I helped her to see that what it boils down to is taking more control. So we talked about that. I got her to realise that she is already very powerful – after all, she had carried a baby! – and we discussed how she must make sure to retain that feeling of power when she deals with everyday situations.”
Since Maria’s first visit, which was almost six months ago, Saira’s depression has started to lift. Now that they have split the practical issues into more manageable chunks, she is finding the confidence to ask for help with the things she needs. She asked a friend to help with the deposit on a better home – something she hadn’t wanted to do before. She’s making phonecalls herself. She takes her baby out and about to clubs and support groups and is even talking about going back to work.
“She doesn’t wait for permission as much as she used to,” Maria says; “she speaks out a bit more. And she’s gone from feeling tired, exhausted – and even threatened, worrying that her baby will be taken away – to realising that she is a good mom.”
In this audio clip, you can hear how Saira’s language has changed from where she was at the start. Rather than hoping that someone will step in, she talks about specific issues and sounds far more active. There’s still a lot to sort out, but she’s in control and – with support – she’s prepared to work for it.