The infant and maternal mortality rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities are unacceptably high. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies are two and a half times more likely to die in their first year and their mothers are two to five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, compared with non-Indigenous women and babies.
Currently in Australia, maternity services often do not respond to culturally specific wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who wish to birth on their own terms, surrounded by family and support people, in a culturally appropriate environment, close to or in their own communities. More often than not care providers are non-Indigenous and not always skilled in providing the type of care that meets the cultural, spiritual and social needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and families. Some Aboriginal women identify giving birth in hospital as the cause of their infant’s mortality. Some believe that their babies ‘get sick’ because of a ‘weakened spirit’ and that they were not ‘welcomed’ into the world with the appropriate ceremonies, as is the custom within traditional communities.
As a result of fear and previous poor experience when attending hospitals, some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women do not access mainstream antenatal care until late in pregnancy, if at all. They might attend irregularly and are rarely active partners in their care. Some describe how their relationship with the land, established through the birthing experience, is vitally important to the survival of their culture; and that birthing in hospitals, where they do not feel culturally ‘safe’ may compromise this. The subsequent poor birth outcomes are often associated with inadequate or compromised antenatal, labour or birth care.
In 2009 the Federal Government’s Maternity Services Review recognised the need to provide more culturally appropriate care for Indigenous women through an expansion of the maternity services workforce with particular focus to supporting an increased number of Indigenous people as members of the maternity workforce.
By providing funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to become midwives we will enable more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to access community based, culturally appropriate care.
There are many barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people entering tertiary education, including: family commitments and community expectations; geographical remoteness; reduced access to transport; literacy issues; lowered self-esteem and a lack of confidence in their own abilities. Whilst there are some government scholarships available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for study, these do not go far enough in meeting the ongoing expenses associated with studying an intensive three-year Tertiary program which is often delivered far away from family and community.
Your support is needed to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to become midwives and provide culturally appropriate, accessible maternity care which contributes towards better maternal and infant health outcomes for women and babies.
For more information about why establishing the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Fund is so important please read the Statement of Need.