Karen community ‘mother’s club’ making life easier for refugee mums-to-be


An Australian-first program is easing the burden of new motherhood and helping to educate refugee women.

Pregnancy can be a daunting time especially for first-time mothers.

For refugees also starting their new lives in another country, preparing for their new role, while learning a new language, can be overwhelming.

But a mother's group, specifically for Melbourne's Karen community, aims to dispel feelings of isolation, and help the women better understand the Australian health care system.

First time mum, Sakura Toke, is among those who attend the fortnightly 'Happy Healthy Beginnings' sessions.

She's preparing to give birth in an entirely strange, new setting.

“I'm not sure of what happens in the hospital, I've never been there,” Ms Toke told SBS.

“For all our siblings, my mum had home births.”

Like most of the women at Happy Health Beginnings, Ms Toke was born in a refugee camp along the Thai-Myanmar border.

Group leader Waan Tardif said they had few services available to them in the camp.


“The midwife, the assistance, or aunty or uncle, they will be there, except there is no resources for the equipment in case there's a complicated situation, like a caesarean.”

“I'm not sure of what happens in the hospital, I've never been there.”

Pregnancy and motherhood, in a new land, with a new language, can mean a steep learning curve for the refugee women.

But these pilot sessions are not only helping guide them, they're also breaking down feelings of isolation, giving new mums a chance to share their first-hand experiences.

In its discussions with the community, the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute discovered a gap in the women's understanding of the health care system.

Researcher Dr Elisha Riggs told SBS she established the program to help educate the women in a safe and comfortable setting, in their own language.

“When you've come from a country that hasn't had a lot of these services, even calling an ambulance to take you to the hospital to have your baby, can be quite a foreign, new experience.”

The sessions also involve a group Yoga class.

According to Dr Riggs, the Yoga helps the women relax and focus on themselves. It also acts as a remedy, helping them recover from traumatic experiences.

Consultations with midwives are organised too, all accompanied by an interpreter.

Midwife Claire McAteer sees between six to eight women every fortnight.

“We cover anything, from the very beginning of pregnancy, right the way through to the various ailments women can have through pregnancy, through to birth and thereafter.”

The program's success has resulted in a funding boost from the Victorian government for 2017.

Dr Riggs and her team hope that will help them expand it to other refugee communities too.

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