They say everything changes overnight.
All of a sudden there’s a new person in the world. Your person. A little boy or girl that makes your every other care melt away.
It’s supposed to be one of the happiest times in your life, and for most new mothers the experience is exactly that.
But what of those women in the UK’s asylum system? How does motherhood treat them?
“Now is a very struggling time for me,” said mother-of-two Meera. “I am asking for food bank and any service to provide milk, nappies, anything for the baby.
“Last month the credit card bill was more than the money I had coming in.”
Meera is one of many women supported by our Glasgow new mum’s project. Red Cross workers are seeing a lot of women who are left destitute because of delays to their asylum support.
What are pregnant women entitled to?
In addition to the £36.95 a week and accommodation offered to asylum seekers by the state, pregnant women are entitled to additional support.
They are eligible to receive an additional £3 a week from the twentieth week of pregnancy until the baby is born.
After 32 weeks they are eligible to apply for a one-off maternity grant of £300, to put towards the cost of pushchairs, nappies and other baby supplies.
When the baby arrives, they receive an extra £36.95 (they get this for each member of the family) and an additional £5 for the first year of the child’s life.
In practice however, many experience significant delays in receiving some or all of this support. Women who do not receive cash payments cannot prepare properly for their new arrival.
These delays are leaving women in an extremely vulnerable position. Red Cross volunteers and staff often see women in a state of crisis as a result of late payment.
No peace of mind
Geysa Salih, a Red Cross casework coordinator, has worked at our Glasgow new mum’s project since 2013.
The project makes sure the women are aware of what they are entitled to, and provides help throughout the application process.
One of Geysa’s clients had recently given birth to twins – they came a month early due to stress. The mother’s maternity grant had not arrived.
“It’s impossible to provide for these two babies without this money,” said Geysa.
“It affects them emotionally every day. Chasing [the money] is too much work for us as well.
“It’s hard to be honest. We can never give them an idea of when [their money might get paid]. We can’t give them any hope.”
Meera’s pregnancy was also affected by the precariousness of her position.
“My pregnancy was not good. The stress [of the family’s asylum case] caused some bleeding. It was very painful,” she said.
“It was my second C-section. I am living on the third floor. It’s very hard to get out. Even to go to the doctor is difficult.”
Meera gave birth on 1 April. Six weeks later, her state support for the baby has still not kicked in.
Financial worries are continuing to have a profound effect on her after the birth of her son.
“You know I have post natal depression. There is nobody there to listen. It’s all about what the Home Office do but they don’t want to listen,” Meera said.
“I feel most of the time suicidal. I’m not able to manage anything anymore. It makes looking after the baby more difficult. Going out into the community is very difficult. Not like it used to be.”
‘Without the Red Cross I’d have been stuck’
Grace is another new mum from Glasgow.
“My maternity grant didn’t come on time,” she said. “I applied in January – but it didn’t come until after the baby was born [March].
“[You need to] get clothes, shoes, a buggy – there’s a lot to think about with a baby. A lot to worry about.”
Between January and March, the Red Cross gave nearly 100 baby packs to women in Grace’s position. In some cases, we also provide small amounts of cash to cover food and other essential living costs.
Grace added: “Thank god. I was all alone with these two kids. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy.”
“[The Red Cross] reminded me of what I was entitled to. They were really wonderful.
“They showed me what to do, the documents I needed at every point in time.”
We also gave Grace a car seat and some money for a taxi to get to the hospital if she went into labour during the night.
“Babies cannot leave the hospital without a car seat,” explained Geysa.
“[Grace] has to be very aware of her weekly spend in order to survive.
“£36 [a week] is not enough to have proper food while you need it, to have suitable clothes, to travel to a doctor’s appointment.
“We just have to help them somehow while they are in a financial crisis. We help them in difficult circumstances to be the best mums they can be.”
As well as supporting with paperwork, Geysa keeps a pile of second-hand clothes for mums and babies.
“Whenever I get a call about this I never say no,” she said. “I know what a difficult situation my clients are in.”
For women in Meera and Grace’s position, Geysa’s help makes all the difference.
“Without the Red Cross I’d have been stuck,” said Grace. “If you are left expecting, waiting, you can’t plan.”
She hopes, as any mother does, that her children are able to live happily without worrying about their next meal.
“My children. I hope they will do what they want to do. I want to give them the choice,” she said.
“I thank god they are doing well in school – I’m just happy about that.
“Children, they mix so easy. They already have little Scottish accents – they already have that advantage.”
- For more on our work with new mums seeking asylum see our Healthy Start report.
- Pregnant women and new mothers were among thousands of destitute refugees and asylum seekers supported by the British Red Cross this year.
- Watch – Ending Destitution: Challenges for pregnant asylum seekers.
- Find out more about our Refugee Week teaching resources.