Volunteer Profile: Maureen Gallagher

When retired trauma nurse Maureen Gallagher trained as an Amma volunteer she looked around the room and felt like the odd one out.

She said: “I was the only white Scottish older woman. I’m from the east end of Glasgow and I’d describe myself as very down to earth. But it actually opened my eyes and after the training, I had so much admiration for all these young people. I learned so much.”

After retiring from the NHS last year, Maureen always knew she would spend time volunteering, possibly abroad, but with three adult sons in Glasgow, she found herself staying closer to home.

Choosing to work with pregnant people and new parents was a conscious choice for Maureen, whose career was spent working with older people and specialising in orthopedics.

“I’ve seen a lot in my working life and seen a lot of trauma, adversity and death. I wasn’t born yesterday and I’m pretty streetwise. I didn’t feel I was ready to spend my time in a chair, drooling away but I also didn’t want to continue in quite a stressful job.”

The training she received as an Amma volunteer was “fantastic” and opened her eyes to the realities of navigating the NHS as a Black or brown person, which was challenging at times as s former NHS nurse.

Through the conversations we had over that fortnight and coming home at night thinking things through, [it triggered] personal growth. I spent 40 years in NHS, and know its faults. I had to work through some stuff because people had these experiences, who was I to say their expectations were too high? I had to work through that.”

After signing up as a postnatal companion, Maureen volunteered to support a birth which turned out to be an incredibly positive induction: “It was wonderful, we both had a great experience. I got to know the mother pretty well and we just clicked. Being at her birth was absolutely beautiful.”

“I think that birth is just magical. And because I know the hospital process, I know how to work the system and I feel I’m a good advocate. As a former senior charge nurse, I know how to get things done if people are not happy.”

Maureen doesn’t consider herself an activist but she “feels strongly about lots of things and when I do, I pipe up.”

Since being involved with Amma, she has reflected on her own internal biases and helped others face their own limited understanding of wider issues that marginalised people face.

“I probably was a bit passive when I would hear racist comments or anything negative about immigrants and refugees and I wouldn’t get involved but now I do. It’s just about educating people.”

“I came to Amma thinking ‘I’m not racist’ but I did have some inherent views and I’ve changed them. I had never looked at it in another way. It’s still a learning curve and I’ll always be learning.

“When anybody says they haven’t got a racist bone in their body – well, hopefully they haven’t, but we all have to look at ourselves honestly.”

She has even influenced members of her extended family to reexamine entrenched habits of thought: “Because I speak about it now, if anything comes on the telly, my brothers will ask me about issues and I will make sure they know the facts. A lot of people are pretty ignorant but it just takes talking about it.”

Seeing parallels with her previous career, Maureen enjoys building trust with the people she supports: “It’s all about relationships and that’s quite hard because you have to say cheerio at the end. It’s about establishing that relationship and confidence and knowing when to speak up and when to button it.”

Maureen feels very supported by Amma, especially perinatal services manager, Helen Sheriff, and sees herself continuing to volunteer for as long as she can.

“It’s been great and I’ve learned so much. It’s been a wonderful year and I’ve no plans to stop.”