Blog: Peer based support for socially marginalised pregnant women
Published: 23 May 2018
In the UK today, some 7,000 women each year give birth without the emotional support of a birth partner. The effects of this can be profound and long-lasting, with negative outcomes in relation to physical and mental health, maternal-infant attachment and empowerment.
The groups of women who most frequently give birth without birth partners are those who have experienced domestic violence or human trafficking, recently left care, or are asylum seekers or refugees. The personal stories of these women often involve recurrent experiences of abuse, trauma and isolation. Yet their journey through pregnancy and birth is often alone, with high risks of accentuating trauma. This situation needs to change.
The focus of my Churchill Fellowship is to confront this need for change, to address the trajectory of experience of the most marginalised pregnant women in our society. Visiting Australia and the USA in 2016 and 2017, I had the opportunity to gain an insight into the effects of peer-based support initiatives for such women, particularly focusing on doula support.
Doula support is essentially about ‘having someone there’. It is about providing informal support that is both practical and emotionally focused, to complement the support provided by health and social care professionals. This role extends from the later months of pregnancy, during labour and postnatally.
Watch Emma's film 'Take Her Hand'
My travels enabled me to learn about the diverse range of experiences of women who don’t have birth partners, and I witnessed the enormous difference that informal peer-based support makes.
One woman I encountered in New York had experience of the care system and lived in an area of deprivation. She said of herself that she was “used to being alone”. Accessing pre-natal care alone when pregnant with her first child had only exacerbated her sense of isolation and she experienced both physical and mental health problems following the birth. When pregnant with her second child, she was given peer-based support, and had a very different experience, with none of the health issues she had faced previously. “Having someone there made such a difference,” she said.
On my return to the UK I gained funding from Lloyds Bank School of Social Entrepreneurs to transform the findings of my Fellowship into a short film. 'Take Her Hand' (poster pictured right) provides an insight into the work of some of the projects I visited on my travels and presents inspiring case studies of women’s experiences of doula support. I hope the film will offer an effective platform for the voices of socially marginalised pregnant women, while sharing practical approaches to transforming the perinatal outcomes for the most vulnerable families.
The film also documents a pilot project that I have been involved with, providing peer-based support to socially marginalised women within my local community in Bournemouth. Coincidentally, one of the places we have been working in is an area of deprivation called Churchill Gardens.
‘Take Her Hand’ premiered on Wednesday 2 May as part of Bournemouth Emerging Arts Fringe festival. A second screening will take place tonight in Southampton, as part of an event to mark International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, a serious and tragic injury that can occur during childbirth due to a lack of proper treatment. The event will also feature an art exhibition and the screening of another film on women’s experiences of Obstetric Fistula in Ethiopia. ‘Take Her Hand’ will also be screened at ‘Churchill’s Babies’, a one-day conference showcasing Churchill Fellows’ global insights into infant mental health. We’d love you to join us at one of these events.