Many of the women who are referred to Bromley Brighter Beginnings are survivors of domestic abuse, but there are many other circumstances in which our help is requested. One case with which we dealt that I will never forget involved a young woman who had applied for asylum in the UK.
She spoke no English and had just given birth at the PRUH. We rarely know much about the background of the people referred to us, but we were advised that all this mum had was £35 and a small bag of personal items that she had brought with her to the hospital. She had a friend in the area, who spoke her language and with whom she had been staying, but she would not be allowed to stay there once the baby was born. We were also told that the Home Office was arranging emergency accommodation for her and the baby, but that nobody knew when, or where it would be.
The midwives were trying their best to help this young woman. They had barely been able to communicate with her while she was in labour, as the translation service offered was over the telephone by appointment only. The midwives were also in the frustrating position of having lots of their own items that they were willing to donate, such as clothes for the newborn baby, but they were not allowed to under “conflict of interest” rules.
Fortunately BBB was able to help, because we were an outside agency and not restricted by the same regulations. Within a few hours of receiving the referral, we delivered various items to the young woman on the ward: clothes, nappies and toiletries for the baby, a Moses basket and some bedding, some formula and some longlife groceries. The baby had been born with some physical problems, which made me wonder what had happened to that young woman while she was pregnant, and why she had ended up in such a desperate situation.
Two days later, we heard that staff from the Home Office had arrived at the hospital and taken the mum and her newborn baby to a hostel in another borough. They were now out of our area, and the woman was effectively removed from the only friend she had, and the only person who could translate for her. Living in poverty with a newborn baby is isolating enough, but to be unable to communicate with other people must have made that isolation intense. One of the hardest things about volunteering for BBB is wishing that we could do more to help. But at least we were able to do something to make her feel, in that moment of crisis, just a few hours after giving birth, that she was not completely alone.