Amma Birth Companions was co-founded by Helen MacDonald and Sarah Zadik—two people with a shared understanding of the challenges facing vulnerable parents in Glasgow.
For many years, Helen volunteered as a doula in partnership with the British Red Cross Mums Project. Through the Mums Project, Helen supported large numbers of vulnerable women—mostly working alone, without the assistance of other doulas.
Despite the intensity of the role, Helen could see that the people she was supporting were benefitting greatly from having a birth companion—so she persisted and vowed to find a way to bring more doulas to the project.
But Helen was met with a shortage of ready-trained and available doulas in Glasgow. Facing limited options and knowing (rightly so) that there must be women out there who would love to help in this way, the initial idea behind Amma was born.
She approached Sarah at the Red Cross and pitched her idea—by this time, already envisaging a new, separate organisation that would be able to train a network of volunteer birth companions. After careful consideration, Sarah eventually approached Helen with an offer to help bring the organisation to life. From that point on, there was no turning back.
The pair's commitment to their cause—combined with their acute understanding of the scale and scope of the unmet needs of vulnerable mothers in Scotland—propelled the idea forward. And, with a lot of preparation and hard work, in 2018, Amma became a registered charity.
Helen has since retired from the organisation, but her legacy lives on.
What's in a name? A lot.
While Amma can't be found in the English dictionary, it means 'mother' in Urdu, Sinhalese and Hindi.
Its warm, childlike sound—and its letters an anagram of Mama itself—is evocative of its motherly meanings in other languages as well: ‘wet nurse/nanny’ in Finnish; ‘to kiss’ in Cornish; ‘mother’ in Tamil and, in Sanskrit, ‘mother goddess’.
Even the Urban Dictionary has a say, describing 'amma' as follows:
"...the strongest person that you will ever meet—and if you are sick and afraid, being with her makes all your fears disappear.”