Women from migrant backgrounds trying to navigate Australia's maternal health system can find it difficult. That's where birth doula, Habiba steps in, to make the experience the best it can be.
Video above: Téa explains the difficulties of suffering a prolapse - something she knew nothing about. Insight's ep. Giving Birth Better, available to watch here.
When I tell people what my profession is, a doula and birth educator, most people don’t really know what that is. So I explain to them that a doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting, is experiencing labour, or has recently given birth.
My journey as a doula began after I witnessed the dismissive treatment my sister received when she gave birth. She had a high-risk pregnancy and was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix which resulted in her giving birth at just five months gestation. Knowing your baby has a low chance of survival is something I wish for no human to go through. I remember during my sister’s labour, there were moments when her fear became unbearable for her, it led to her muscles twitching uncontrollably, making her shake as she contemplated the possibility of losing her child. I remember right in that moment looking over to the midwife as I cradled my sister, I asked the woman if there were any extra blankets. The midwife was completely oblivious to my sister’s state and was on her phone sifting through her Instagram feed. I couldn’t believe the lack of human compassion and unprofessionalism. I requested another midwife.
Women during childbirth are at their most vulnerable. They are often unable to speak for themselves and they trust that their caregivers will take care of them. But sadly, this isn’t always a reality. During my sister’s labour this same midwife, as protocol, asked my sister to announce when she felt a contraction coming, so she could time them. There were times when the midwife said abruptly, "No, that one is a fake contraction," with no other explanation provided. That might not seem like a big deal, but to me it was clear how those words can sound in a birthing women’s ear. Saying something like that with no follow up information can cripple a woman from trusting in her body to birth her baby.
And so, I held my sister’s hands and repeatedly told her, “You know your body better than any one of us. Keep speaking up, every time and never stop!”
Encouraging women to make informed decisions and speak their mind gives them back control.
I’ve worked with many women who have limited English. When they go to their appointments, they are afraid to ask questions and they don’t always fully understand their options, or seemingly lack of options. One woman I worked with, who had previously had a caesarean, wanted to try for a vaginal birth. Initially she was told she’d need to have a caesarean. She asked me to come to her next appointment to support her. When I came along and explained that she wanted to at least try for a vaginal birth, the midwife’s tone completely changed and this woman was given a range of other birthing options. Having me as her support person empowered her to speak up and ask questions, as well as ask the midwife to explain things whenever she didn’t understand. In the end she had a vaginal birth and welcomed a beautiful, healthy girl into the world.
The maternal health system in Australia can be overwhelming to mothers, especially those from migrant backgrounds. There are many women who give birth feeling alone, unsupported and frightened. When women aren’t given proper guidance and information this can lead to birth trauma that could have been avoided. Encouraging women to make informed decisions and speak their mind gives them back control. This is why I do what I do.