• The marchers celebrating the work of Indigenous midwives in Redfern. (University of Sydney, Centre for Cultural Competence) (Supplied)
Geographical isolation is not only a major challenge for Indigenous women giving birth, but also for those studying to be their midwives.
By
Ellebana Tyson

7 May 2018 - 6:24 PM  UPDATED 7 May 2018 - 6:33 PM

Midwifery student Renee Bani is passionate about appropriate healthcare options being available for Indigenous women in remote communities.

Proud Kaanju and Wagadagam woman, Ms Bani is studying to be a midwife at the University of Technology Sydney - but it is a long way from home.

"My ultimate dream goal is to head back home to the Torres Strait Islands to help my people and give back to the community," she told NITV News.

Many Indigenous women in remote and rural communities have to travel hundreds of kilometres to see health professionals. In the Torres Strait, some of the pregnant women have to get on a boat to get to the main island or mainland to see a midwife.

“They do great work up there but a lot of our women have to travel far and we want to keep them home as long as possible," Ms Bani said.

“We need more of our mob, to train and go back to country and communities to help, its so very urgent."

CEO of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, Janine Mohamed, told NITV News there is still a large gap between graduation rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous nursing and midwifery students.

“Figures show that we have a large cohort of Indigenous nursing and midwifery students going through to university. However, compared to non-Indigenous nursing and midwifery students who have 64 per cent graduation rate, we actually only have around 34 per cent of Indigenous graduates,” she said.

“There is a 30 per cent gap there which would show that more initiatives are required to support Indigenous nursing and midwifery students to stay at university."

Ms Mohamed said that some students found it very daunting and stressful to be the first person in their families to attend university.

“Also, there can be very few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to attend their university so they don’t have that cultural revival and connection with other students,” she said.

To mark this year's International Day of the Midwife, around 40 students and health professionals marched in Redfern on Friday to help raise awareness for the disparities in maternity health outcomes faced by Indigenous women and babies compared to non-Indigenous people. 

Ms Bani said she thought it was important to highlight the need for Indigenous midwives, especially the role they can play in helping to facilitate birthing on country.

“There’s a lot of registered midwives that are pushing for birthing on country programs and other Indigenous midwife students that I study with are all for that as well, and understand that we need to push for it and make sure it's safe for our people.”

"That’s what we want, a place for our women to feel most comfortable while birthing.”

Birthing on Country

Arrernte woman and registered midwife Cherisse Buzzacott is the Midwife Project Officer for the Birthing On Country program run through the Australian College of Midwives.

She said access to "culturally safe maternity care within their own communities" was key.

"A lot of Indigenous women are travelling hours to give birth to their babies, sometimes in non-culturally safe environments and experiencing racism," she said.

“Having birthing on country programs it provides more of a relationship for the community and the health care provider. With some of our birthing on country programs we are seeing things like smoking in pregnancy and diabetes decreasing.” 

Dr Donna Hartz, from the National Centre of Cultural Competence, told NITV News it is important to listen to Elders when it comes to birthing on country.

“Our Elders have said birth on country is about holistic care, driven by the community for the community, with the mothers and families at the centre,” she said.

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