• Cassandra Nest. (Supplied.)Source: Supplied.
On International Day of the Midwife, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are being supported by our midwives across the country, one team of all-Indigenous midwives on the Gold Coast is hoping to make a difference for our mums and bubs.
Keira Jenkins

5 May 2020 - 7:50 PM  UPDATED 6 May 2020 - 11:59 AM

Cassandra Nest's calling is midwifery. It always has been.

For her, it's not a 9-5. It's her life, and she has spent the past year developing a service focused solely on getting the best outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mums and bubs. 

So Waijungbah Jarjums was born, within the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service Women's Newborn and Children's Service. 

The service uses a maternal and infant continuity of care model, which means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are linked with one Indigenous midwife for support throughout the entire pregnancy and into their baby's infancy.

The service has been set up by funding from the Office of the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer and the Queensland Nursing and Midwifery Union for Nursing and Midwifery Innovation fund.

The Ms Nest now leads a team of 10 Indigenous midwives, health workers and administration staff through supporting women and families all the way through their pregnancy until the first 1000 days of their new baby's life.

The Ngunnawal woman told NITV News that she can already see the difference Waijungbah Jarjums is making.

"We're making a service that is by mob, for mob," Ms Nest said.

"We're providing culturally safe care and equity of access, which is really important and this is then going to lead to better health outcomes and mob being cared for in culturally safe ways.

"Non-Indigenous people really want to hear that we're closing the gap, producing babies that are born at term and fatter, and we are doing all of these things and that's a major positive.

"But my main focus is producing a service that is culturally safe because I know as soon as you do that, that's how you contribute to closing the gap and improving experiences. "

Ms Nest is a finalist for HESTA's annual 'Midwife of the Year' award. 

She said she doesn't expect to be rewarded for the work she's doing, but credits the service's unique approach, Griffith University, especially their midwifery team, the First People's Health Unit and the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service for their determination to improving maternal outcomes.

Ms Nest also thanked Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service co-ordinator for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, Melissa Browning for nominating her for the award.

"To my knowledge there are no services across Australia that offer continuity of care from conception to the first 1000 days that is led by an all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff including management," she said.

“Winning would mean so much to me, my family and the service we are developing alongside the community, but I really am so honoured to be acknowledged.

"I want the money to go towards something that will contribute to increasing the amount of First Peoples midwives, in order to improve the experiences of First Peoples women and families they need to be provided with culturally safe care from mob.”

Tayla Smith has been working for Waijungbah Jarjums since January.

The Kaurna and Narungga woman has been a midwife for a few years now but said knowing that she's making a difference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mums and their families gives her the most job satisfaction she's ever had.

"The women feel like they're being heard, the women feel safe in our care and they feel like they have someone who will be able to go and bat for them and advocate for them and what they want for themselves and their families," she said.

"I think that's a really important part of what we're doing at the moment - empowering women and empowering families - that's our job.

"Our job isn't to take the lead and to tell women and families what they need to do but to consult with them and yarn with them about what health outcomes they want for themselves and their babies and how we can support them and empower them to do that."

It was this support and empowerment that Jaimee Horne, who gave birth to her second son in January, is grateful for.

The Yawuru woman was linked up with one of Waijungbah Jarjums' midwives for her entire pregnancy. 

She said the support she got through the service was a stark contrast to how she felt during her pregnancy with her first son two years ago.

"I felt like she cared a lot more, I felt like she really wanted to help," Ms Horne said.

"With the midwives before, I felt like they didn't really want to help me. Megan [my midwife at Waijungbah Jarjums] during the whole birth was like 'breathe through it' but the midwives before were like 'I can't really help but I can give you morphine'.

"That's why it was such a bad experience. Megan was encouraging me to stay at home, to stay calm, it was a lot better because you don't have everyone at the hospital telling you what to do."

Ms Horne gave birth in late January and while she was concerned about the Coronavirus, her midwife kept her calm.

She said despite the current pandemic, she's much more relaxed with her second baby than she was with her first because of the support she's had.

"About two weeks before he was born, it was kind of getting big so I was very scared about the hospital but Megan assured me that it was alright, that it was safe and no one goes into the birthing wards. It was a bit scary but we got through it," she said.

"We're a lot more calm this time round."

Ms Horne's birth was just before social distancing restrictions took place.

Now the team of midwives has had to think creatively about how to go about their daily work.

Ms Smith said there's limits on how many people can be in the birthing suites. All the antenatal classes have gone online and home visits have been restricted.

"We've had to limit home visits to 15 minutes," she said.

"That's been quite challenging because as we know, our people, we like to sit down. We like to have a yarn and talk things out.

"That's been a little bit tricky but we've kind of navigated through that with telehealth, so contacting the women before we see them and home and having that conversation before we get face to face. 

"We're also doing antenatal education over tele-health. It's also changed things in terms of support people during birth. 

"For our families, we have very complex kinship and families so that has been one of the other barriers because you're only allowed to have two people at the hospital during labour and birth.

"That's been a little bit challenging but we've been able to advocate in certain circumstances where we've had surrogacy or inter-family adoption for extra family members to come in and be part of that labour and birth process. 

"We've just been having to give lots of reassurance to the women and screening them effectively over the phone to make sure that they are safe and that we're safe so that we're not spreading anything on to the other women that we're caring for."

But life keeps going on, and so do the births.

Ms Nest said it's now important to look after the women, in any extra ways required as well as looking after the team.

Ms Nest is also the inaugural First People's Midwifery lecturer at Griffith University, and the Waijungbah Jarjums team includes two cadets who are studying midwifery.

This week the team have held a smoking ceremony to welcome the students, and the team to the Gold Coast, led by Yugembeh man Luther Cora. 

Ms Nest said it's also a good time for cleansing.

"We need cleansing right now, it's a tough time with all the restrictions that are put in place and with COVID-19 being around," she said.

"I think we really need that reconnection to culture for our mental health as well. We need to be strong and deadly so that we can bring our future ancestors into the world."

One of the newest members of the Waijungbah Jarjums team is Latisha Miller.

The Gungalu woman has been the service's executive support officer for just a week. 

But she's had a long history with Waijungbah Jarjums, being on their community working group when the service was just beginning.

She also gave birth to her fourth baby through the service, 18 months ago.

She said the experience was so positive, she had to take the opportunity to join the team.

"The experience of birthing was so much different compared to the other three children because you feel like them old people are there, my aunties, uncles, my grandmother, great-grandmother were there just pushing me through and it was all coming through them women, them midwives," she said.

"It was something really special and I still get teary over it."

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