Being with people who respect me and understand me, I feel safe and listened to
Trauma-informed from the very beginning
Birth Companions began as a group of volunteers supporting women in Holloway prison. The harsh environment and previous trauma of so many of the women there shaped our ethos and our services from the outset. We realised that we needed to build trust and help women to feel safe in all our interactions with them. We found ways to alleviate the high levels of anxiety women experienced by listening, respecting their confidentiality and being kind, non-judgmental, reliable and trustworthy.
The women we were supporting had been let down so many times before, by family and by services, but they told us that we were different. That is why we have kept this approach as we have grown, extending our work into more prisons and into the community. We've continued to refine this model, drawing on the ever-growing base of best practice and evidence around trauma-informed care.
Understanding trauma in all its forms
Many women are survivors and victims of domestic violence and abuse. Some have left areas of conflict or are fleeing political violence. Many have had very difficult early childhood experiences. Trauma, in many forms, is highly prevalent and cannot be overlooked or ignored.
Racism is one of the starkest structural inequalities affecting the lives of many women and children. It should be recognised as a form of trauma that directly impacts on the physical and mental health of pregnant women and mothers. Around half of the women supported by Birth Companions every year are Black, Asian or from other groups who experience racism. We are committed to recognising and validating women’s experiences of racism and challenging it in every form, including the silence that allows it to continue.
Trauma in the perinatal period
The perinatal period can be a particularly difficult time for women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and other forms of violence. Pain, loss of control, lack of privacy and involvement with authority figures during pregnancy, birth and early parenting can trigger past traumas. We listen to what women say will be helpful for them and try to support them in a way that minimises the risk of re-traumatisation.
Separation from a baby
Working in a trauma-informed way is particularly important when mothers may be separating from their baby after giving birth. Mothers who have experienced this without our support have said that after their baby was taken they felt they became invisible. We focus on making sure this doesn't happen and that mothers and babies feel supported and cared for in this incredibly traumatic situation.
Our staff and volunteers
Being trauma-informed is important not only for the women we work with but also for our volunteers, staff and sessional workers. Our training covers boundaries, self-care, lone-working and safeguarding and we encourage debriefing and reflection. Without looking after our staff and volunteers, the work of Birth Companions would not be sustainable.