Fatima’s story

“Explain more about what maternal mental health means because some people didn’t really care about their mental health until things started getting out of hand… I know most of us in our country, we don’t really care about mental health when you’re pregnant. So I think this is gonna be really helpful.”

In this series of audio clips, Fatima* shares how her living situation and a lack of respect for her autonomy impacted her maternal mental health as a newly single mother seeking asylum with a two-year-old and another baby on the way. Fatima also talks about her positive interactions with midwives, health visitors, and community support workers from Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) member organisation, Refugee Women Connect.

Please note: It is vital that we listen to the experiences of women, babies, and families from across our society if we are to ensure the system works for all. However, these stories can be difficult to hear and listener discretion is advised. If the contents of Fatima’s audio clips cause you to think of anything that has happened to you or someone you know and you feel upset, worried or uncomfortable, please see our support page for a list of services that may be able to help.

What maternal mental health difficulties did you face during and after pregnancy?

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The main challenge I had when I was pregnant was low mood, anxiety and depression because at that time I wasn’t together with my husband. We just kind of reconciled for two days and that is how I ended up pregnant and it didn’t work out with us. So at that time, I was living in a hostel with mixed men and women, which is really not good.

It’s gonna affect you, especially if you’re not used to that kind of situation and you’re pregnant and living with strangers. So it really affected my mood because at that time I was always in the room, I didn’t want to come out because they always invite men like them in the kitchen like two, four, seven. So sometimes you couldn’t be able to get that comfortable to come out to cook something and be comfortable because there are always people. Busy men all the time, in and out of the building.

So, yeah, it was really not good for me at that time but I kept going and whenever I felt my mood was low I took my Quran and read. So yeah at that time I was trying to do some activities with my daughter because I was thinking, “She doesn’t deserve that, to live in that kind of situation.” That was the worst experience I have ever had in my life. I don’t wish anybody to live in the situation that I lived in at the hostel.

So even just that, without your issues with your partner, and at last you just end up living on your own with no family. So apart from that, just the situation that you are in the hostel is something else. I was pregnant and we got the bunk. My daughter was two years at that time and we got the bunk, like up and down. So she can’t slip off she has to sleep down so I had to sleep on the floor at that time and the room was really dirty, smell everywhere. Even just that it can affect you mentally. So the situation of the accommodation with a mix of ladies and men, it’s really something terrible to live in.

It really affects me. Even now, if I remember what happened at those times I have to just sit down crying. I mean like whenever I remember I just sit down crying and my daughter says, “Mummy what happened?” But I know she’s not gonna understand what was the reason for the crying that I was doing but I know the thing that I’ve been through, the situation was not… I don’t even wanna remember it because I wasn’t happy at all.

What did your midwife do to support you?

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My midwife was really an amazing lady and she did really an amazing job, especially when it came to my appointments.

Because I’m a single mum with no family in the UK, I was just alone with my daughter at that time and pregnant with the unborn baby. I couldn’t attend my hospital appointments at that time because they were not allowing kids in the hospital, so it was really hard for me to cope with the situation but I’m glad my midwife saw this and stuck by me and always help me out by sometimes visiting me at home to do some check-ups. And also she spoke to the hospital to give me a suitable time that is a bit quiet so that I can come with my daughter to my appointment. So it was really helpful. She was always asking me about my mood and my mental health.

Yeah it was really helpful because I knew at that time I was really affected and I needed help but at that time I didn’t want to take any medicine you know. I didn’t want any medication I just trusted in my God that everything was going to be okay and whenever I read my Quran, I found it really helpful and, so yeah, so that is how I coped with my mental health issues.

Did you find your health visitor helpful?

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Yes. The health visiting service to me was positive to be honest because I got to know each and everything that I was supposed to know and I had that support from them. They used to call me to check on me, to help me out with the school… everything. They were really trying hard to help me out because of the situation they found me in, so their service was really helpful.

My health visitor did a really good job. She knew what she was doing.

What other support were you offered in your community?

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The service that was offered to me was the phone call from Refugee Women Connect. There were some ladies that used to call me to comfort me. I had three different people that used to call me – Anna, Julia and Sarah – at that time. They were always trying to make me comfortable and trying to help me out if there was anything that I needed or that I didn’t know. They were trying to explain to me and to help me out, so that phone call was really helpful.

And the other things that I used to do is whenever I felt in a low mood I would read my Quran and try to be optimistic, to just hope for the best and to see the future.

What are the main challenges facing pregnant asylum seekers?

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When it comes to understanding English, to communicate and understand people and also to be able to express their feelings, their mood. When it comes to that, it’s really hard for them, especially for those who don’t speak English like even a little bit of English. It’s really hard. I can tell because I used to live together with them, so I can tell how stressed they were especially when they are trying to explain what is happening to them, what kind of help they really need. They really found it so hard to explain, to express their feelings and to make people have that patience to listen to them because sometimes when you don’t speak you know you don’t need to be perfect to express yourself but sometimes when people are trying to express themselves and some people they really found it so annoying to be able to concentrate and to give them that attention to listen to them.

So it’s really hard for the asylum-seeking pregnant women because they have a lot to say about their situation and maybe they are not feeling good in their mental health but they aren’t able to explain. Sometimes they don’t even have people that are going to have the patience to listen to them and what they were saying, to have that patience to concentrate and give them that chance to try to understand what they were saying because sometimes they are always like trying to use this translator to try to make people understand their circumstances, their feelings. But sometimes with the translator, people found it really stressful and really hard to just sit down waiting you have to use translator to type and get the answers or to use the translator to speak. Sometimes what you said is not the exact thing that the translator is going to say to tell the person that you are communicating with so it’s really stressful for them.

And also I can really remember one of the pregnant ladies I know in our hostel she got around six appointments from the hospital that she never got a chance to attend because of the language barrier. So I had to help her to reschedule the appointment and also let my midwife know about the lady’s situation so that she can help her to speak to the doctors and help her with the translator whenever she had that appointment to be able to understand each other. For the lady and the nurses the doctor to be able to communicate and understand what is her problems.

How can maternal mental health support for asylum seekers be improved?

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What I can say needs to improve maternal mental health for pregnant asylum seekers is maybe to have people that they can speak to and explain. Explain more about what maternal mental health means because some people didn’t really care about their mental health until things start getting out of hand. So that is when they realise they’re gonna need help. So if like you just keep advocating and making people aware of what maternal mental health means it’s gonna be really helpful for especially asylum seekers.

I know most of us in our country, we don’t really care about mental health when you’re pregnant. So I think this is gonna be really helpful. And to provide the interpreter so that the asylum seekers can be able to explain their situation, to understand and to be understandable. That’s it, thank you so much.

How could you have been better supported with your mental health?

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What I can say could have been done differently to support me is respect the decision that I made. It was really complicated when I was pregnant.

I really wanted to try to have a VBAC (vaginal delivery after c-section) because I had a c-section before. I didn’t really get that support and encouragement and the respect for my decision that I made. It’s normal you can try so I wish they allowed me to try because I just kept being told: “You can’t since you already had one c-section you’re gonna have the second one.”

It was really complicated at that time. People were not letting me decide what I wanted to do, they just rather say, “Okay this is what we think. This is what you’re gonna do”. At that time, I was alone I didn’t have that support to just keep going to make sure that I made it a ‘normal’ delivery but I couldn’t get that support and it really affected me. In the end, I had no choice because there were not a lot of people encouraging me to go ahead with my ‘normal’ delivery. Everybody was talking about c-section, c-section, c-section. I was really confused at that time I didn’t know what to do, I was just like, “Okay… I’m just gonna go ahead with the c-section”. But it was really not what I planned at that time. I couldn’t do anything. If I got that encouragement and support from them I know I could have been able to make it a normal delivery but this is what I can say… maybe if they did it differently they can be able to help me with my decision that I already made.

The MMHA is hugely grateful to Fatima for sharing her unique experience to help raise awareness of perinatal mental health in the refugee and asylum-seeking community, reduce stigma and influence positive system change. We would also like to thank Refugee Women Connect for facilitating this conversation and for everything they do to support refugee and asylum-seeking women in the UK.

Read more about maternal mental health in the refugee and asylum seeker community.

 


*To protect her anonymity, Fatima is a pseudonym.