Amma Birth Companions has been awarded Maternity Service of Sanctuary status, recognising its support and welcome for people seeking sanctuary. The title, the first of its kind in Scotland, was awarded by City of Sanctuary UK, a nationally coordinated network of organisations and services, including councils, universities, theatres and libraries that welcome and support refugees and people seeking asylum.
At the birth of my father, Elena Zadik (better known to me as Granny), certainly wasn’t afraid to challenge the medical staff with her progressive approach. But she also felt vulnerable and alone.
My aunt recently stumbled across an article that my grandmother wrote which really hit home for me. I was delighted to find that 78 years before Amma’s conception, my Granny effectively wrote our strapline: ‘It should be a rule that women in labour should not be left alone’. It felt like some sort of ancestral stamp of approval.
Reading the article, we are transported back to a Sheffield labour suite in 1942. My Jewish-Lithuanian grandmother had arrived in the UK, alone, a few years earlier—a 16-year-old refugee from Nazi Germany. We would now call her an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child.
At the age of 23 she was expecting her first child, with the Second World War raging around her and her family unsafe, far away and soon to be taken permanently from her. My Grandfather was supportive but not present during much of the war. She later wrote about the isolation she felt in those times.
Granny dedicated herself to becoming a doctor in the “man’s world” of medicine and her fortitude comes across even in this article written when she was a student. She loved babies and was passionate about birth, but back then it wasn’t possible to specialise as an obstetrician—especially with four children. Instead, she became a GP and also the matriarch of a strong extended family.
A lot has changed and relaxation in labour is no longer such a radical idea, even if the medicalised birthing environment doesn’t ordinarily lend itself to it. I’m sure any hypnobirthing teachers reading this will now be jumping to add ‘ear nose and throat’ textbooks to their resources. While I know that having such a painless and intervention free labour isn’t realistic for everyone, I share many of Granny’s hopes.
Every person should be given the opportunity to relax and trust their body’s natural ability to give birth. No one should have to go through birth alone. People should be believed by medical staff—not thought to be ‘telling stories’. These ideas are at the very core of our work.
My aunts have since told me how Granny was a brilliant ‘mother companion’ for them:
“She stayed with us for three weeks, teaching me gently how to breastfeed and how to bathe and look after [my baby]. She taught me how to get to know him and his needs, while looking after me and making sure I was okay.”
Perhaps Granny could have done with Amma, and perhaps Amma could have done with her.
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Ten years of nannying and nursery school teaching stood Sam Morgan-Hutchings in good stead for supporting people as they become new parents. The essential skills remain the same; nurturing, caring, cheering people on and helping them to find their own way knowing that one day they will no longer be there to hold hands.