The Power of Listening

Raham Project

Our birth stories stay with us throughout our lives. So, what happens when the experience leaves us feeling isolated or unsupported? Raham Project, based in Peterborough, is helping ethnic minority families get their voices heard. The Moment speaks to Faiza Rehman, midwife and founder of the not-for-profit organisation, to discover more.

Faiza Rehman

Faiza Rehman

In our day-to-day lives, most of us can spot when things aren’t quite right and where improvements need to be made. However, not many people go so far as to dedicate years of their lives towards setting up and running a community interest company to try and develop solutions for long-term, institutional change.

When we meet midwife, mother-of- two, and Raham Project founder Faiza Rehman, we discover she is a force to be reckoned with. On a mission to make sure everyone’s voice gets
heard, Faiza started the grassroots organisation in July 2020, with the aim of supporting parents from ethnic families through pregnancy, birth and the first years of parenting.

There is a very real need for change. It is estimated that up to 30,000 women a year develop post-traumatic stress disorder after giving birth. The UK has experienced persistent disparities in birth outcomes for women, depending on their ethnicity. For example, maternal mortality for Black women is almost four times higher than for White women, and South Asian mortality is nearly two times higher.

Raham Project has grown and adapted to meet this need for improved birth experiences and outcomes. Registered as a community interest company in 2021, the project aims to create a safe and non-judgmental space for mothers and their partners too. What was once a Peterborough-based project now also provides information, signposting to other support services, and a peer support group across the UK too.

So, what exactly does the project do? In the first instance, it provides a maternity support network for ethnic communities and links families back to maternity care providers to help improve processes in the future. It also raises awareness of the perinatal period with a focus on mental wellbeing and provides cultural awareness training for healthcare professionals. The online hub offers a wealth of midwife-led information and support, covering everything parents need to know from conception to birth and beyond.

Raham ProjectFaiza explains: ‘The project is there to handhold, advocate, support, provide information, and connect people back to services. Ultimately, we’re passionate about raising the voice of ethnic communities in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and across the UK. And, what we’re finding is we’re constantly learning and adapting to what those families need.’

‘The word ‘Raham’ is rich with meaning,’ explains Faiza. ‘Rooted in Arabic, it carries the core idea of mercy. Whilst there are various interpretations amongst different communities, interestingly, in Islam, it shares a connection to the word for womb and The Creator. It felt like a beautiful word to use.’

It is a perfect description of the project, which is there to provide help and kindness to new mothers, above and beyond the conveyor belt of care that might be experienced elsewhere.

Raising seldom-heard voices
Raham Project founder, Faiza, was born and raised in Peterborough in a tight-knit South Asian family. She is a mother of two young children and a midwife. After she qualified in 2011, she ended up getting her first job at a birth centre that was renowned for its forward-thinking ethos and for providing a ‘home-from-home’ setting for birthing mothers.

Faiza credits the position with evolving her practice as a midwife: ‘I picked up so many skills there around working holistically and actually listening to families. I’m so grateful for that. It really helped me to fine-tune my skills and to recognise when something is genuinely normal and when something is not and needs the offer of potential intervention. But most importantly, it made me think more about what mothers want. Because, you know what? They were telling me what the answers were. If you just listen, they absolutely know, even if they can’t use medical terminology to explain it.’

Raham ProjectWhen Faiza married she moved location again. Working in different environments taught her that modern maternity systems are not always designed in the best way to support families. Notably, she also started to experience discrimination while working as a midwife.

‘I remember, for the first time, being exposed to racial slurs,’ says Faiza. ‘It showed to me the differences in culture according to how these incidents were dealt with. In my previous role everybody had been very proactive, and we’d openly and curiously challenge and have conversations to learn about each other.’

Raham Project came from Faiza’s personal experiences and frustrations as a midwife and then as a new mother. Feeling that she was working in a system that did not allow her to practice and develop herself in a meaningful way, she also witnessed first-hand the disparities and unconscious biases towards people from diverse communities, which affected both birthing mothers and colleagues.

Wanting to support the communities and raise those seldom-heard voices, Faiza decided to start proactively reaching out to families. She wanted to listen to them, learn about their culture, and collect their stories. These voices and opinions could then be shared back to the hospital and the Integrated Care System (ICS) to make changes for the better.

Raham ProjectAnd so, Raham Project was born. ‘Really, it’s about just listening to people. It’s so simple,’ says Faiza. ‘And actually, through listening, I am empowering them and giving them the confidence to make a choice that feels right for them. It’s about giving them the tools to trust their instinct, because we all know motherhood is hard. And if you start with a complicated and traumatised birth experience, it’s only going to feel harder.’

She continues: ‘And all I kept hearing over and over was that these communities are hard to reach. Actually, my experience has been completely opposite. I found it very easy to reach them. I just felt perhaps people were not attempting to engage them in a way that was meaningful and that worked for the communities.’

Growing the reach
When the project first started, it was just Faiza. She says, ‘I remember thinking, I don’t really know what I’m doing, I just know in my heart that something isn’t quite right. I want to help more people and I want to educate our communities because it’s one of the biggest barriers that women from diverse backgrounds experience.’

Raham Project grew rapidly in the space of just a few years and now has a team of staff, contractors, and volunteers that bring diverse skills to the table: midwifery, community outreach, volunteer coordination, finances, digital content and leadership. With over 14 passionate individuals on the team, guided by a steering group, together they make a real difference.

Raham Project was initially funded by Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Integrated Care System to improve maternity services by gathering feedback from diverse communities, and since has worked to create safe spaces for diverse communities to join.

Now Raham Project provides engaging events and Central Park ‘walk and talks’, which are attracting a growing community. The network is key and has led to a partnership with Barnardo’s and CPSL MIND to create MUMMA Hub. MUMMA offers practical help, emotional support and candid advice for Black, Asian and mixed-ethnicity mothers and mothers-to-be. Through this partnership, Raham Project provides culturally sensitive birth preparation classes, led by experienced midwives.

Raham Project‘Maternity care has gaps, especially for diverse families,’ says Faiza. ‘After talking to lots of families and taking on board our own experiences, we decided to provide these antenatal classes. The beauty of the course is it’s not generic. These classes guide women on their unique journeys, empowering them with honest information about their bodies and choices, and speaking openly about our experiences. We don’t stop educating at birth; we extend
the knowledge of early parenthood, ensuring families feel confident navigating this special time.’

As well as the local services, Raham Project also reaches families further afield through informative online resources provided in English and languages such as Urdu. There is also a peer support group on Facebook, which is growing daily. Increasing digital reach enables parents to share their experiences in a safe space, wherever they live in the UK.

All about motherhood
Faiza explains how one occasion was pivotal in shaping her views about the importance of positive birth experiences. Prior to midwifery, she was caring for an elderly lady who was nearing 100 years old, who shared with Faiza her own experience of giving birth. The other women in the ward joined in the conversation too. Interestingly, even after all the years that had passed by, they remembered exactly how their experiences made them feel.

Faiza says, ‘I think that’s something that never left me. We remember certain smells. We remember how somebody made us feel. We remember either feeling safe or unsafe. Women don’t forget their own unique birth experiences and how they’re treated.’

Raham Project‘Motherhood transcends cultures and is a universal language, which means people from all over the world recognise how pivotal motherhood is and can relate to one another based on the experience.’

Faiza continues: ‘It’s important that women are treated well and feel heard. I guess that’s the ethos I’ve replicated in the Raham project: help mothers feel safe, build a relationship, listen to them, and trust them – because we all know what we want as women. And the experience needs to be free from discrimination and prejudices, both conscious and unconscious.’

When asked about the future, Faiza talks about the need to achieve sustainability with their funding to enable Raham Project to continue to reduce health inequalities for the long term. She says, ‘I’m hoping that maybe Raham Project wouldn’t be needed one day and that everything would be integrated within the maternity services. And, that women would get the care, support, hand-holding, and everything they need from their midwives and maternity services. But the reality is it will take a huge amount of investment and drive to achieve this.’

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Raham Project

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