2 months ago I shared a fantastic Independent News article about the Scottish Government following the 80 year Finnish tradition of giving all babies born (from 1st January 2017 onwards) in Scotland a ‘Baby Box’.
As a first time mum, I thought this was a fantastic idea. Yes, the 3 ‘Bounty Bags’ are great and full of useful products, vouchers and booklets but the ‘Baby Box’ is more than a material incentive – Finland, once an impoverished nation of poor health is now known for having one of the best maternity care systems in the world.
BBC audiences have been sharing their experiences about how they cope.
Gavin D’Souza, Mumbai, India
“I worked as a sound engineer for six or seven days-a-week for ten years, with no specific work times, no overtime and no extra pay. That’s just how the industry works.
“On top of that I had to get home early so my wife Kim could go to work in the evenings, she had to work so we could pay the rent on the house.
“A couple of months ago I had to quit my job because I was asked to to work evenings too, and evenings are the only time I get with my family.
“I quickly got another job but things are even worse. This new job has no holidays and no regular working hours at all.
“I have had numerous opportunities to work abroad but I declined them so I could be a part of my daughter’s life as she grows up.
“I’ve decided to quit my new job, and today after just two months I’m leaving.
“Now I’m looking to start a business where I can spend more time with my family.”
Jessica and Dan Shuttleworth, Coventry, UK
Jessica: “My husband and I made the decision when our son was born that I should work full time and he would work part time and be the stay-at-home parent. This is because, as a woman, I get far more rights as a working mother than he would as a working father.
“I am entitled to flexible working and have more legal rights. I work 36 hours a week and he works between 16 and 18, split over a Friday afternoon and Sunday afternoon which means we are at home together on a Saturday and our son only has to go to a nursery for one afternoon a week.
“It’s been eight months and it’s working so far. Dan is happy because he is at home with our son and also has a job so he feels like he is contributing to our income and Louis (our son) is happy because he has a parent at home during the week.
“We earn enough to get by and get no help from the state with our son other than child benefit.”
Tamas, Szekesfehervar, Hungary
“In my role, it’s really hard to find a healthy work-life-balance. In a lot of companies you will get benefits, such as salary increase based on the effort you invest into your job. If you are not focused on your career, then you will get no increase or not the amount that would be needed.
“If you are focused just on your career you will miss beautiful moments with your child.
“If you would like to spend more time taking care of your child, you have to work hard. Then it becomes a circle, like an infinite loop, that you cannot close.
“Some people advise to either not work that hard or to move to another company, but this is nonsense. Why? Because your family needs money. More money comes from higher appreciation at work. This comes from more hard work. However, it will also reduce the time you have for your family.
“In addition, the parental leave we have here in Hungary is near to nothing. We get two days of parental leave per year per child, which is not enough. Salary increases are also not a trend here, at least not in my case.”
Sean Fleming, Reading, UK
“I jumped off the career ladder about five or six years ago – a decision taken with my wife to effectively swap roles; she’d worked part-time since the first of our two sons was born.
“She wanted to get back to her career, and I was painfully aware of missing out on being around my boys. We had enough cash to fall back on that my not working for a while wouldn’t cause problems and then I started working part-time from home as a writer.
“There are a lot of unexpected barriers and challenges when you’re a stay-at-home dad – they almost all boil down to other people’s attitudes.
“When the time came that I wanted to get back to work I met some almost hostile responses. Many people struggled to accept that a man would want to spend more time at home with his kids for a while.
“I asked a few of them ‘would you be so negative in the face of a woman returning to work after a prolonged child-related career break?’ The answer was always ‘no’ and was often followed by an uncomfortable acceptance that they were regarding me differently solely because of my gender.
“It’s a real eye-opener into tacit acceptance of gender-defined roles in society. That’s something facing both men and women and it needs to change.
“These days I work as a copywriter for a marketing agency. I spend three days in the office and two days at home. It feels like a good balance. But it’s important to accept that balance comes at a cost.
“I earn about a third less than I did about six years ago and half what I might be earning had I stayed on the career ladder. But it’s definitely been worth it.”
Julian Wallond, Surrey, UK
“Nearly three years ago I changed jobs. I took a pay cut purely for the reason of getting a better work-life balance and importantly to spend more time with my two kids. It is a move that I have not regretted.
“Previously the stress levels I was working under were making me ill. The previous job also was further away from home, so I was spending between three-and-a-half to four hours travelling every day.
“My wife and I both still work full time – we could not afford the mortgage otherwise. Life is still a struggle, but we get by.
“The family have breakfast together every morning now. I can now see that my kids leave home to get on the bus to school before I travel to work. I work one day a week from home and that also is invaluable.
“It means I can help with things like getting the kids to and from after-school activities – both my children are members of the local swimming club and train for around 10 hours a week.
“Family is so much more important than a career. My new employer, Virgin Media, has been good to me.”
Casey Kelso, Berlin, Germany
“I have struggled with this for many years, choosing to be paid at 80% while working 100%. I forego a larger salary for the right to look my colleagues in the eye when I’m leaving early two afternoons a week to meet the school bus.
“Yet as a manager, my commitment and my ability to manage has been called into question a few times. ‘Why don’t you get an au pair?’ I’ve been asked. Or ‘why don’t you ask your wife to work less?’
“As a man, I know the expectations on men can be tough when we want to step out of a stereotype.”
Graham Bevan, Dursley, UK, formerly of Halifax, Canada
“I think this is a very important area for the UK to improve. My daughter was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Canadian law is much more even-handed.
“At the time my wife was self-employed and so I was able to take our entire allocation of parental leave. This allowed me to be there full time for my daughter for the first eight months of her life.
“I also had the great fortune to be working for a very enlightened employer whose policy topped up my state allowance to 95% of my salary.
“To say this was the most important and precious time of my life is an understatement. It allowed my wife and I to fully share the role of parenting and I feel we are much stronger as a family as a result.
“As a middle manager I was the first man to take advantage of this at my job and contrary to complaining and worrying about how they would cope, my bosses were more concerned with baby showers. I felt totally supported.
“What did the employer get out of this? A whole lot of loyalty and an employee that worked hard happily, who dealt with personnel issues with compassion and empathy and a very low staff turnover rate. All intangible I know, but as an employer, if you go to bat for your employees, they will do the same for you.”
Anonymous, Middle East
“Living and working in the Middle East has posed even larger issues with work-life balance.
“With the constant drive to meet deadlines, as well as meeting client expectations, work-life balance is generally not taken into account by bosses.
“Due to ensuring that the clients are kept happy and that revenue is maximised, it is rare that I and a lot of others in this part of the world are allowed to take more than two weeks leave at a time, even though by law we are entitled to four weeks a year paid vacation.
“Due to the excessive client expectations, six-day working weeks are the norm so getting time to spend with your family is far and few between, to the extent that I will pull a sickie if I know my kid, wife or both have an impromptu day off (my wife is a teacher and my kid is in nursery).
“I’m constantly looking for work outside the Middle East that offers a better working schedule so I can spend time with my family.”
For the past few years, my husband and I have donated food to the local Food Bank rather than spend money sending Christmas cards. It’s our way of doing an extra bit for charity. It’s criminal that in this day and age we have so many people using AND relying on Food Banks to survive. I’ve never actually thought about what families with newborn babies do until I read this article on the STV News website today. To warn you it’s a heart breaking read, but equally it’s heart warming to know that there are some extremely kind and generous people out there. Devastatingly though, they have 2 weeks to move out of their premises with nowhere to go! With nowhere to go, they will be forced to close. It doesn’t bear thinking about those poor babies with no nappies or milk, or the worry and anxiety that their parents will go through. What can we do? Do you know anyone who can help? Please share this article and tag anyone who you think could help.
Last plea: Scotland’s Baby Bank faces closure. STV/Laura Piper
It’s snowing and a wintry cold January day when the call comes through.
A young father, just 19 years old, is in crisis. His little baby boy is hungry but he has no more milk to give him.
Desperate, he has already gone without food himself to feed his son. He’s given up every penny he has but now he has nothing more to give.
On the other end of the line, Bernadette Murphy is already packing everything she can find into a bag for him.
Nappies are put in, milk and extra food for them both. Warm clothes are added for the father, too.
“That’s what we always do,” she says. “We make sure they have a warm coat and a good pair of shoes.”
It’s the first few weeks of a new year in Scotland, 2017, and Bernadette listens while yet another call comes through from a family at breaking point.
On Tuesday, the grandmother had ten emergency cases. Today she has taken on five and it has not even hit lunchtime.
“It breaks my heart,” she says. “Nearly every day I take a call about a parent who has reached rock bottom, trying to feed their child. Can you imagine what that desperation must feel like?”
Over the last year, Bernadette has heard from more than 1500 desperate voices which she says is something she can never get used to.
Every call comes from a social worker, or another professional agency, each representing a family in need.
Lanarkshire Baby Bank, which she founded in a large industrial unit in Coatbridge, is a lifeline for parents who have nowhere else to turn.
Now though, with just two weeks to go until they lose their premises, Bernadette is anxious for their future and for the welfare of those she and her volunteers support.
“We were given notice to quit the unit but we have nowhere else to go,” she says.
“We receive no funding and totally rely on kind donors and our amazing team of dedicated, hard-working and selfless volunteers.”
If a new home cannot be found, Scotland’s only baby bank will be forced to close.
“I cannot think about it, I can’t,” says Bernadette. “I have hope. If I didn’t, my heart would break.”
“I have hope. If I didn’t, my heart would break.”
At the age of 55, Bernadette works 18 hours a day to operate the baby bank she founded, posting emotional pleas for donations when emergency cases come through, even answering calls at 3am from parents in need.
A whirlwind of efficiency, she is most often found in the unit, dressed in baggy jumpers with her blonde hair swept up in a bouncy pony tail, dishing out hugs and orders for nappies in equal measure.
“I started Lanarkshire Baby Bank after my little granddaughter was born,” she says.
“It’s amazing how much your life changes when a child comes into it.
“I live in a small village and I started noticing real poverty. We have a lot of good food banks but I felt more needed to be done for babies and mothers.”
Every donation she gets is carefully stored in the industrial estate in towering racks holding plastic boxes.
The room is icy cold and the volunteers’ hands are numb as they come each day to sort through the items.
The labels on the boxes show the range of children they help, with cases of booties, socks and shoes sized from birth to primary school.
There are prams, baskets, formula milk and canned food. Clothes for children and adults, with baskets of toys to make little faces smile.
For the mothers, there are handbags, special gifts filled with toiletries.
“We give away 120 packets of sanitary towels a week,” says Bernadette. Her smile is grim.
One mother Bernadette remembers was a 26-year-old in October, who was hit with four months of benefits sanctions. She had a little boy who was only two years old.
“She was just a poor soul,” says Bernadette. “She’d left her house at 7.30am that morning and had been walking around from agency to agency pleading for help.
“She was running low on nappies and had very little food and didn’t know what to do. As a last resort she came to me after the Citizens Advice Bureau told her to call me.”
The 26-year-old mother’s situation was so desperate, says Bernadette, that she had gone without sanitary towels to buy what she could to feed her son.
“She had gone to a public bathroom to get a wad of toilet roll instead,” she says. “I remember crying when the call came through.”
The last few months have been an urgent search by Bernadette and her team for a new home but so far nothing has been found.
With no guaranteed income and a project run entirely on kindness and the goodwill of others, they are relying, as Bernadette says, “on a huge miracle”.
“Time is running out,” she says. “Everywhere I look, the rooms just seem so expensive.”
With the amount of stock they have, the team estimate they need a new unit measuring around 3500sq ft. They have until January 27 to find one.
Over the last few weeks, Bernadette has taken to social media to beg for help, to ask if anyone knows of a unit to spare that they could afford.
What she did not expect in reply, was the many mothers she has supported over the year stepping forward to offer their help.
“I want to share my story,” says Karen McGuire, 37.
“Bernadette was there for me and my kids when no one else was and my heart is breaking for her.
“They get no funding whatsoever and it’s just so, so sad that they’re in this situation.”
Single mother Karen approached the baby bank after her daughter’s school suggested she ask Bernadette for help.
“My eldest daughter, Jenna, was due to go on a school trip but my partner had just left me,” says Karen.
“The school had sent out a list of things she would need for camping but I simply couldn’t afford it.
“I was panicking and worried sick, I didn’t want her to feel left out or tell her that she couldn’t go anymore just because of the financial situation we were in.”
Anxious to not let her daughter feel excluded, Karen left a message on the baby bank Facebook page.
Bernadette, she says, phoned her straight away and asked what it was Jenna required. Within a few hours, the team had sourced everything the 11-year-old would need.
“They got her a suitcase, a sleeping bag, they even got her a Superdry outdoor jacket,” says Karen.
“I was in tears when everything came. They even thought of my little three-year-old and gave her her own torch so she could play at camping with her big sister.”
The team had even packed a bag for Heather too, understanding that life for the family could be tough. They gave her a new warm jacket, some books, and a special gift for Christmas.
Most importantly, though, Karen says it made her daughter feel just like everyone else, as she deserved.
“She went and made some great memories with her classmates,” says Karen.
“Bernadette is an absolute angel. I cannot thank her enough.”
“I was in tears when everything came.”
Like Karen, more mothers have come forward, anxious to share their own stories of how Bernadette has helped them in the hope it might help draw attention to how vital the baby bank is in Scotland.
One mother, Lisa, took in her brother’s two young boys after he passed away but struggled to afford clothes and bedding for them on top of providing for her own three daughters.
The baby bank got them everything they needed and offered to get beds for the boys once the family moved to a bigger house.
“We’ve had to go on a council waiting list for one,” says Lisa. “I had to leave my job to take the two boys on and it’s been a bit of struggle.
“My husband and I are sleeping on the couch at the moment while we wait for something bigger.”
Heather Underwood, 33, was desperately struggling to afford food for her baby son when she was encouraged to ask Bernadette for help.
“I was in a situation of domestic violence and I was moved into homeless accommodation until they found a new place for me and my children,” says Heather.
“It was just so hard to get everything together for them during that time, and Bernadette helped me get clothing and food for them when times were hard.
“Sometimes others don’t understand how hard it can be to be in a situation where families struggle and feel bad that they may not be able to provide things for their kids. The baby bank takes so much pressure off the family.”
Even more mothers call including Sandy, 36, a single parent whose benefits got stopped in error and took longer than she could budget for to sort out.
“I spilt up with the father of my children, I’ve got four and a wee baby and simply didn’t have enough food to last us until the benefits were sorted,” she says.
“I had no nappies yet for my youngest daughter and I was in tears when the volunteers came with baby milk, wipes, everything I could need for her.
“They even brought toys for all my kids, they were there within two hours. It was incredible.”
The quick response the baby bank always seems to provide is a common theme mentioned among the mothers.
All say they receive the emergency food or nappies they need, allwithin a few hours. They also all mention the genuine kindness that is delivered with them.
Many say Bernadette keeps in touch with them, checking up to see they are safe and provided for.
She also sends them messages and inspirational quotes, making them feel they are not alone.
“As a single parent it is really hard. I was in tears when they came,” says Sandy.
“They go over and beyond to help you. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know what I’d do.
“I don’t really talk to my family but these absolute strangers who don’t even know me helped me.”
Sandy and many others now donate their old baby items in turn to give back what they can to help.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, so anything I can do to help I will,” says Sandy.
It is the prospect this situation could land on anybody that Bernadette says is key to the baby bank’s future.
“People need to understand that these women could be anyone – your daughter, a next door neighbour, the lawyer at the end of the street,” she says.
“Loads of people come to me who are working but they’re on zero-hour contracts and they’re struggling.
“It really is a case of them being faced each day with the choice of either heating their homes or buying food for their children.”
Bernadette describes several families she knows of who have taken donated sleeping bags.
“They pretend to their children that it’s a big camping adventure,” says Bernadette.
“They’re pretending to go camping with their kids to keep them warm.”
One of the worst cases, she says, was a young mother and her baby who a health visitor called her about.
“She found the little baby sleeping in a drawer on a pillow, covered in a thin sheet,” says Bernadette.
“She came back to the unit and cried in my arms. That’s the reality in Scotland right now and it’s despicable.”
Bernadette says almost all of her referrals come from social services, who are unable to offer support and says tough benefits sanctions are partly to blame.
“Some people get sanctioned because they’re 15 minutes late to an interview because their bus broke down,” she says.
“It’s ridiculous but this happens.”
Marie Paterson, 35, is one single parent who understands the difficulties that can sometimes face those on the benefits system.
A mother of five, with baby number six on the way, she can remember the first time she called Bernadette to ask for help.
“It was a hard thing to do,” she says. “I’d never asked for anything from anyone before but I just didn’t know what to do.
“When you’re a single parent it can be so hard to stretch the budget and I needed clothes for my children.
“My ex-partner had assaulted me and I was going through a right bad time. It is hard being on your own and I don’t have any family.”
Within hours, Bernadette had rallied the volunteers and bags of clothes, food and even a new pram for the unborn baby were sent to Marie’s door.
“I can’t thank her enough,” says Marie. “I don’t know what I would have done without her.
“All I had was Bernadette. She’s an amazing woman and I want to help her.
“I’m not ashamed of asking for help. My children are my priority and I don’t mind asking for help now.”
The perceived shame of asking for help is something, perhaps one of the few things, those that know Bernadette say she gets angry about.
Baby bank volunteer Jillian Thompson says she often sees Bernadette cry when the stories behind the emergency calls come through, but it’s a tougher side that comes out when the grandmother speaks of the stigma of mothers on benefits.
“These are poor souls, beautiful women who could be any one of us when times get tough,” says Bernadette angrily.
“How can anyone deny a child in need or not help a mother desperately trying to provide for her child?”
The grandmother is thankful, though, for the sheer amount of support she gets from the public and her local community.
“People have been so kind,” says Bernadette. “They have donated so much and it restores your faith in humanity.”
Now though, she knows the entire future of her project rests on that one person out there who might be able to keep her work going.
“I must just stay positive,” she says. “Someone must know of one place somewhere.”
The women and others she has dedicated her life to helping are wishing just as much as she is that an answer will be found soon.
Not just for the families in need of her help, but, as many admit, for Bernadette’s sake as well.
“It would break Bernadette’s heart if she couldn’t keep this place going,” says Marie.
“She must be absolutely shattered but she has a set of wings and a halo on her head.
“I’m wishing with all my heart that someone can help her as much as she’s helped us.”