Full Title: “The inequality for Aboriginal Birthing Mothers, living in remote communities in Australia”
Submitted by Kate Gorman, Co-Director/Producer The Face of Birth: Are you looking to do a fundraiser for your group or to gather all your friends and colleagues together around a new birth film? Starting March 8th you can host a screening in your living room, community theater, or wherever you choose of the much anticipated Documentary, The Face of Birth Documentary (87 minutes 2012, Australia).
It was a life changing experience while filming The Face of Birth to spend time ‘on community’ in the remote areas of the Northern Territory in Australia.
We visited Darwin, the Northern Territory’s capital city, the small community of Yirrkala in remote East Arnhem Land and several of the communities of Utopia in the Red Centre, the desert in the very middle of Australia.
Visiting these communities it is easy to forget that you are in fact, in a first world country. Every Aboriginal community is of course different and facing slightly different issues; though I believe they all suffer from racism and lack of understanding of the peoples’ needs and wishes.
Many of the women I spoke with expressed their desire to be able to birth ‘on country’, essentially home birth. The policy for pregnant Aboriginal women living in remote communities is this: at 36-week gestation they are flown (or driven if distances aren’t to great i.e. less than 300 kilometres) to the nearest hospital. Here they will be accommodated in a hostel until they go into labour. Health professionals call this “confinement”. If they are over 18 they have to go alone – without husband, partner, mother or friend also having leaving behind any other children for up to 4 weeks! The women often don’t speak English and no one at the hostel or hospital speaks their language.
I interviewed a midwife who works in a remote community at the very top of Australia that is inaccessible by car for 8 months of the year. Many women in this community, desperately unhappy with the ‘confinement’ maternity policy, are absconding from antenatal care completely in order to be outside of the system and not removed from their families. As a result they have a very high home birth rate. However many times women wanting support will come into the medical clinic during labour. The on call Midwife may never have met these women before. The midwife’s official procedure is to contact the main city hospital. If the woman is 7 centimetres, or less, dilated, she is to administer medication to halt her labour and put her on an aeroplane. The midwife I interviewed (who did not wish to be named), says she would much rather deliver the baby herself there in the clinic. And some time does just that, if she believe it is better for the mother. An act, for which she could get into serious trouble.
Many people are trying to get midwives and General Practitioners in clinics in these communities to give the option to low risk women to birth on country. However despite more than a decade of trying, they have not so far been successful in getting even a trial in any community.
When I asked the women from Utopia and Yirrkala why birthing ‘on country’ was important, the reasons they gave were: they wanted to be surrounded by their families, they wanted to have a midwife (traditional aboriginal as well as western trained) that they knew and trusted to deliver their baby. And they wanted to be on their country, connected to their land, to have their children be born part of the land as is the strong part of their culture and beliefs.
It struck me that these were the same reasons that I a middle class white woman from the big city chose to have a home birth. I wanted to have my family with me. I wanted continuity of care with my known midwife, and although I don’t have the same spiritual connection to my home, I wanted to be in my home environment. Maybe it would be truer to say I absolutely didn’t want to be in the clinical environment of a hospital.
20 mins of The Face Of Birth is presenting the fascinating women of Darwin, Yirrkala and Utopia – sharing the stories from both mothers and traditional midwives. It is a section of the film that always evokes great emotion at screenings. I feel that everything that is wrong with Australian maternity policies is compounded and clearly drawn out in these remote communities.
Another Birth film called Birth Rights made 10 years earlier drew a comparison between Australian remote communities and Inuit communities in remote Canada, although the terrain could not be more different – the snow in Canada and the red hot dust in Australia – the issue is the same. However in Canada due to great training and change in policy they were able to get birth back into their community with fantastic results. I sincerely hope one day soon Australia can do the same.