Here, go to Auntie Sarah, Lucy said, as she thrust her four-month-old baby into my arms not leaving me any time to panic or protest. Ive never felt particularly maternal. I wasnt even sure if I wanted to have kids of my own, and other peoples babies make me nervous. Like sharks, they can usually sense my fear, and scream for their mother as soon as they come into contact with me. But with Tom it was different. Neither of us cried or screamed in terror; instead, I looked down at this little boy and fell head over heels in love.
It was March 2016 and I was six months into my communications role at Women for Refugee Women (WRW), which I left earlier this year. Id travelled 100 miles to interview a case study as part of our research on the detention of pregnant asylum seekers in Yarls Wood. But Lucy was already so much more than just a case study and I knew from that moment that Auntie Sarah was a job for life.
Tom and I were sitting on the bed in Lucys dark, cramped asylum accommodation, while she microwaved the lunch Id bought for the two of us. It was only the second time Id ever met him in the flesh, but Id never before felt so invested in someones future.
I had first met Lucy the previous October, when she was eight months pregnant and homeless. After coming to the UK from Ghana to seek asylum, shed been detained in Yarls Wood for a month, before being released with nowhere to go, and left to rely on the kindness of strangers for the remaining three months of her pregnancy.
Lucy was 23 when we met in McDonalds on Tottenham High Road, north London, and I felt a connection with her immediately. She was only two years my junior, but seemed much younger and more fragile. I felt angry for her, and protective; she was clearly both traumatised and terrified by everything that had happened to her and everything that was still to come.
At WRW unlike larger charities we didnt have clients or service users, we had sisters and friends. The refugee women we worked with talked about the charity as home, because it feels like a big, loving family, full of community, sisterhood, compassion and support. But I had no idea back then that Lucy, and her unborn baby, would become such an important part of my own family.
We spent a couple of hours together, talking about her past, her current situation, and what names she had in mind. At 35 weeks pregnant she still lacked so many essentials for the baby and, in mid-October, was wandering around north London without a jumper or coat.
WRWs supporters responded overwhelmingly to the donation request I put out on our Facebook and Twitter pages. For several weeks the space around my desk resembled a branch of Mothercare, with people sending in blankets, bottles, clothes, toys, nursing bras, and all sorts of things that I, as a total baby novice, had never even considered.
Two weeks later I accompanied her to an appointment with the midwife, and sat listening to Toms heartbeat thudding away over the heart monitor one of the most surreal and magical moments of my life. And, as she gradually relaxed into my company, I realised how much we had in common: our anxieties, sense of humour, shyness and quiet strength.
Tom was born the weekend of the Paris terror attacks, and his new life felt to me like a light in the darkness. We met in the Whittington hospital when he was three days old, and Im now the proud godmother of that gorgeous 19-month-old boy.
Im sure neither he nor his mother realise quite how much theyve changed my life but, despite the awful circumstances under which I met her, Lucy has taught me the power of hope and love against all the odds.
My husband and I visit Lucy and Tom every few months, and they recently came to stay for a summer holiday in London with us. Its been a pleasure to watch them flourish in their new lives, but more than that its been a real honour to share so much of each others cultures and experiences. Her jollof rice is out of this world, but so too is her ability to create such a positive and loving future out of something so bleak.
Campaigning for refugee rights, particularly in the current political climate, can make you feel jaded and pessimistic pretty quickly. But I am constantly inspired by Lucys hope and faith that everything will work out for the best. She gives me the strength to keep fighting for a better world and her son gives me the reason.
Lucy and Toms names have been changed