Keeping your finger on the pulse

Learning about birthing on country

Date - 21 November 2022

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Did you know that out of the 30,000 midwives we have working across Australia, 300 of them are Indigenous?

Did you know that Indigenous people have the highest rate of preterm births in Australia?

These were hard truths Midwifery Clinical Educator Telia came to learn at the Best Start to Life conference held in Alice Springs a few weeks ago in October.

The conference was an opportunity for around 270 health professionals, researchers, academics and delegates from across Australia to showcase new research and ideas, and to network and invest in a shared vision to address inequities in birthing services for First Nations mothers and babies.

Having worked in Alice Springs in 2006 as an operating theatre nurse, Telia said she was really excited to return to this special place.

“The landscape is so rugged and there is something about it that just grabs at you. It’s a very unique place to be,” Telia said.

“On arrival to Alice Springs, we were greeted at the airport and taken to Jessie Gap, a significant place for Aboriginal women.

“We were given a special welcome to Arrernte Country with Aboriginal elders performing a traditional smoking ceremony with leaves from the local area.

“From the East MacDonnell ranges, we travelled back to the Charles Darwin University campus and saw the outdoor screening of ‘Djakamirr’, a documentary which showcases a project undertaken by Yolngu elders, Charles Darwin University and the Australian Doula College to reclaim 60,000 years of birthing culture from the stronghold of Western medicine.

“The documentary detailed the childbirths that happened on country with skilled djakamirr – midwifery caretakers – using ancestral wisdom and bush technologies for many thousands of years before the recent arrival of Western missionaries and the removal of childbirth to hospital.

“The film highlighted the profound health inequalities including the highest rate of preterm births in Australia. We learned how disconnected women are from their support systems in the current model and that if we work together, positive change and community empowerment is possible.

“The next two days were filled with presentations showcasing examples of health services that have been designed to make a significant impact on the second goal of the National Agreement (Closing the Gap) which is that First Nations children are born healthy and strong.

“It was great to communicate with many different professionals from across the country and to discover some really innovative programs.

“I really enjoyed learning about the different organisations that are out there and how they work, including some who assist Indigenous mothers to navigate the health systems, and another in Darwin who offer free childcare while encouraging and supporting young mothers to participate in education. These are systems we could utilise locally.

“We were also privileged to be invited to witness a smoking ceremony of a baby, where leaves from the local area are smouldered to strengthen the mother and baby’s spirit and wellbeing.

“One of the biggest messages of the conference was around how Indigenous women want Indigenous midwives who will provide culturally safe care with traditional techniques and wisdom used.

“The low birth weight, preterm, stillbirth, maternal and neonatal death rates were described as bigger than a gap – it’s more like a chasm.

“As a midwife, I understand that trauma is multifaceted. There is never just one issue causing something, there is so much to it.

“There are a lot of moving parts to reach these goals. But I and many others left the conference feeling like there was real momentum in closing the gap.

“It was a very valuable learning experience with a lot of hope.”

Telia took on the role with SQRH only a few months ago and said she is excited by the opportunities this position will give her to make a difference around midwifery in rural health.

“I am hoping to support the Indigenous midwifery students of University of Southern Queensland and the University of Queensland to complete their studies, alongside Indigenous Health Clinic Educator Lee Lingwoodock,” Telia said.

“At the moment, we are looking into how we can attract more students to the programs and at retention.

“If we want to be able to reach the national aim of 900 Indigenous midwives rather than our current 300, then these students need to be supported to become midwives.

“I’m looking forward to implementing the learnings and the inspiration I left Alice Springs with.”

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