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11th April 2014

We often talk about clients who are isolated, but you may be surprised at the number of women our Pregnancy Outreach Workers support who are alone during pregnancy. Many even face giving birth alone.

Living alone

Pregnant womanThere are many reasons that a person becomes isolated.

A lot of the women our POWs work with have recently arrived in Birmingham and have become removed from their family or friends. Many are fleeing war or violence in their home country and are obliged to take whatever housing they are given.

A large number of asylum seekers and refugees find themselves living with people they don’t know, and with whom they don’t share a language or culture. Anyone would find it isolating, but for those who are pregnant, it can be a particularly difficult time.

We have previously written about the ways in which pregnant asylum seekers and refugees are more at risk. The report When Maternity Doesn’t Matter concludes that social isolation, on top of the already complex social factors that women arrive with, means that they are at greater risk of perinatal death. So our support for vulnerable newcomers isn’t just a reaction to seeing people who need help – it’s proven that the right kind of support can prevent complications and even save lives.

For many women, the first thing POWs can do to help is often practical: making phonecalls and speaking to authorities and other professionals on their behalf.

Language is a big issue, but also understanding bureaucratic processes and systems, so it’s understandable that many people, especially those who’ve recently arrived, lack confidence, especially on the phone.

Catherine, one of the POWs, says, “the benefits system is hard to understand at the best of times, but with a language barrier it can be virtually impossible. It’s often a lot easier for the ladies to speak to us, face to face, and then for us to make the phonecalls or be there at meetings”.

When isolation is less obvious

For others, the isolation is not as immediately apparent. Catherine says: “many women I see are isolated despite living with other people. They may even live with their husband and extended family, but if they don’t have a bond and don’t feel that there’s anyone they can talk to about their pregnancy, they might as well be alone.”

Other factors that could cause someone to feel socially isolated also include mental health issues, or substance misuse. It is possible to be surrounded by people, but have no-one to rely on for impartial support.

Blossom’s client Baljit is from Pakistan and lives with her husband. During her pregnancy, the family had other distractions – they were going through the immigration process and looking for somewhere to live – so she relied on Blossom’s visits.

On the Impact Assessment App, Baljit said:

Because I am not from this country, I feel, although I have my husband, I can share problems with you. You help me, I am grateful, I don’t feel alone, I have a friend I can talk to.

Alone during the birth

POW Shazia has been a birthing partner for three of the women she’s worked with so far. All of them were alone or isolated in some way.

Kelly* was a drug user and, although she was in touch with her parents, they found it difficult to support her during her pregnancy, so her POW was an important influence. “Her mum found Kelly’s drug abuse very difficult, so their meetings were often very emotional,” explains Shazia. “It’s important to have some non-judgemental, honest, practical support at such a crucial time, and it’s not always possible for family to do that, however well meaning.”

In hospital and during birth Kelly was very emotional and often panicked, which could lead to her becoming violent. Shazia said, “I stayed with her at the birth because she found me to be a calming influence for her.”

On the day of the birth, Kelly gave this statement to our Impact Assessment App:

My POW was my birthing partner, she helped me through each stage. When I started to panic and think I could not go on she supported me and helped me through it.

Social isolation is hard for everyone who experiences it, but it’s especially hard for pregnant women. Most people have friends and family that they can turn to but, unfortunately, it’s not the case for all. At least for women in Birmingham who find themselves in this situation, we can go some way towards filling the gap.

*Names have been changed

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