This podcast has been created to provide a platform for and sharing stories of rural Australian women birthing. Rural women can be isolated from pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, birthing and postpartum care models available to women living in urban environments and city centres. I want to record and share stories from the many rural women who have birthed, to allow them to voice their experience and learn from them. I want rural women who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant or entering their postpartum period to feel supported and know that, although care may be via distance, there are options.
Caity Atkinson lives in Yallingup in Western Australia with her husband and two daughters, Grace and Sage. She moved to the Margaret River for a change of scenery and met her husband, as they both worked in the wine industry. Caity’s first pregnancy was a surprise but as she was living in Margaret River and low risk she was able to locally access GP /midwife shared care as fortunately this town has a maternity facility.
Caity shared that during her first pregnancy her knowledge of birth options and different care patterns was not broad. When she found out she was pregnant, Caity luckily knew a woman who had received maternity care locally and followed suit. Prenatally things went well with the run of the mill check ups all being accessible through this small, local hospital. However, when Caity’s waters broke she was pulled in a few different directions and experienced what many would call the ‘care lottery’.
The Margaret River maternity facility has one birthing suite and had another induction booked in the following day at 9am. This led to a lottery as different midwives had different opinions on what should happen now that Caity’s waters had broken. The first midwife Caity spoke to when she called in instructed her that she better come in today, at 4pm, for induction so they could “get her over with” before tomorrow’s induction. This did not feel comfortable for Caity but being a first-time birthing woman, she was tentative and uncertain about how to assert her feeling about this induction being unnecessary. Caity shared with her partner that it didn’t feel right and so, when they returned to the hospital around 4pm, she told him to leave the bags in the car. The wheel span and lo and behold now that there was another midwife on duty they received different advice. She told them there was no need for induction and it was okay to go home and wait, which felt like a relief. Caity went into active labour naturally later that night, at home and birthed her daughter without needing to be induced. This experience stuck with Caity – the fact that she’d narrowly missed what was now quite evidently an unnecessary intervention for the sake of a schedule.
This experience imprinted upon Caity. Also, in between birthing her first daughter and her second she had started a midwifery degree and discovered the ‘Gold Standard of Care’ (working with a known midwife). Caity knew from her experience and her studies that this is what she wanted. Again, quite fortunately there are two home birthing midwives accessible from the Margaret River Region and so Caity received personalised and in home (occasionally even outdoors/at the beach) care from a known midwife (@loraleemamamidwife). This care experience and the birth of her second daughter was quite different. She was honoured by her midwives and able to birth within her home, with a beautiful sense of calm and peace. This experience has formed the foundation of what Caity hopes to offer to women as she enters the field of midwifery herself.
Caity also runs prenatal yoga and her offerings can be accessed via www.cjyoga.com.au and you can keep up to date with her life on the land in Yallingup WA on Instagram @gunyulgupfarm
Alecia Staines was born rurally. She continued to grow up in rural Queensland and so she always had a keen interest in ensuring equity in maternity service delivery. She grew up on ‘wheat country’ in a rural community called The Gums on the Darling Downs. Birthing options were available locally but not on Christmas Day so when Alecia’s mother went into labour she was shipped off in an ambulance, 2 hours away, during labour to birth Alecia in the city hospital. Whilst personally being born outside of her rural town was the path Alecia trod upon her own entrance into the world she saw a different side of birth when growing up. In her rural community and environment, she was exposed to a localised maternity care as the ‘norm’ with in town access to midwife led care and GP obstetric back-up model.
Alecia’s first birth was a rural birth. She was living in Goondiwindi in rural Queensland. This birthing experience was positive. Here she encountered the potential and possibilities of a community maternity practice. Alecia could walk from her rural home to her maternity appointments. She paints quite a different and beautifully calm image of ease. When I compare this to the other stories there is a stark contrast. I’m saddened that the connectedness, localised care model and standard of care seen in Alecia’s first birth seems inaccessible to rural women living in communities with closed ‘historic’ maternity facilities and I’m not the only one.
Alecia has been a maternity advocate for 9 years. Alecia’s passion for local services developed from a young age and as it gestated over time it grew into this vibrant passion for equity and local access to quality care for rural women. Alecia’s own experiences sparked something as she was directly exposed to quality care and she was further spurred as she heard of the inequities in other communities and the removal/closure of maternal health centres servicing small communities due to numbers. From a very early age Alecia was acutely aware of the contradiction between systematic birth and birth in nature. Seeing animals’ birth unassisted did not fit with the ‘obstetric specialist’ definition of care model availability that people are sold.
Her experiences have supported her high standard for rural care birthing models and through her strength and ability as a generator/advocator Alecia has made her standard known. She united and connected with other like-minded women through the ‘Maternity Consumer Network’. She ignited passionate, research-based debate and cultivated positive relationships with boards, politicians, journalists and care providers to see that the “Bush Baby Crisis” gained attention and traction. The “Baby Bush Crisis” movement did not happen overnight but through positive and persistent data and anecdotal journalism the stories and needs of pre and postnatal women were heard and the health minister made a commitment to pilot four rural maternal health services and not make further closures of rural birthing facilities.
In this interview you will hear how empowering a local maternity service can be and why “it makes no sense at all that having no service at all is safer”. Alecia also provides sage and actionable advice to women in rural centres and invites them to make contact with the Maternity Consumer Network.
Alecia now has 5 kids and juggles advocacy with child birth education (hypnobirthing), pre and postnatal yoga and has a keen interest in ongoing learning.
If you would like to advocate for maternity care and services in your own community there is guidance available through the maternity consumer network.
Myfanwy Bryant lives in Mudgee in NSW. She grew up between the worlds of regional and rural access, living south of Sydney in Nowra. After studying Myfanwy continued to live in Sydney and so many of the birth experiences she had heard and been exposed to were from the perspective of metro access women. When Myfanwy became pregnant she was already living and working as an occupational therapist in Mudgee in NSW. Having not heard many stories of rural women birthing she quickly had many of her previous maternity care expectations subverted as she explored her care options. In Mudgee pregnancy care is available at their public hospital in town or can be accessed out of area in larger rural cities like Dubbo. Mudgee hospital is serviced by GP obstetricians and so (not wanting to leave Mudgee for pregnancy and birth care, and being a public health worker herself) Myfanwy began GP shared care for the duration of her pregnancy.
Myfanwy had a lovely pregnancy and experienced quality care. She found the collegial knowledge she had, having worked with the people caring for her really comforting. She also discovered that being a health care worker gave her the confidence and a strong foundation to advocate for her needs. She felt heard, supported and respected by her GP obstetrician and was able to discuss her concerns and express her desires openly. Myfanwy waited for the onset of natural labour but at 41 weeks, 2 days gestation she opted for induction as she has had personal experience with neonatal death when her sister died and was acutely aware of the potential risks associated with late term/overdue birthing.
Myfanwy was induced through breaking of her waters and the syntocin drip; however, after several hours of labouring and not increasing in dilation she accepted the doctor’s offer of c-section and it was not long at all before her daughter Lucy was lying on her chest. Myfanwy did experience a post-partum haemorrhage and Lucy spent the first little while with her Dad instead but this did not minimise how elated she felt. Myfanwy was overwhelmed with a sense of love and achievement and was ecstatic to finally meet her daughter Lucy. There were some additional postpartum recovery challenges post c-section but Myfanwy and Lucy were well supported by helpful visitors and the proactive Mudgee MatCH nurse team who started a mother’s group and prompted the creation of supportive local connection with other mothers of young children.
Thank you to Myfanwy for sharing her birth story and highlighting how much can be made available locally with a dedicated rural maternity facility and quality rural care professionals.
Simone Stuart lives in Majors Creek near Braidwood in NSW. She is from ‘old stock’ and has a family history that goes back generations in this historical town. She is mother to six children (Leilani, Ariana, Sophia, Ava, Lucas and Hudson) and has had four births. Her first birth, the birth of her third daughter Sophia was not a rural birth. At this time Simone was living in Darwin, as was her sister Holly. She gave birth at the public hospital in Darwin and experienced midwife led care, as is common place there. Sophia’s birth was long and difficult and led Simone to believe that her subsequent births were likely to also be long labours. This was far from the truth. During the third trimester of Simone’s second pregnancy, with her fourth daughter Ava, Simone left the Northern Territory and moved home to Majors Creek in NSW, to create a home near family for her own growing household. Simone transferred from the close proximity urban based care model to a distance care model of GP shared care. Majors Creek is a small rural village close to the NSW / A.C.T boarder. Simone had anticipated using the facilities of the larger ‘Canberra Hospital’ but found that the atmosphere and regimented ‘take a ticket’ care systems weren’t offering what she desired. So approximately 4 weeks off her the due date of her second birth Simone transferred care to Queanbeyan hospital. Ava wasn’t planning on waiting or on slowly entering the world and so at 39 weeks gestation Simone was transferred from Braidwood’s small country hospital facility to Queanbeyan hospital with approximately 45 minutes to spare before Ava was born. Ava’s birth was a quick birth, as was her brother, Lucas’s birth who followed a few years after – proving that births have their own rhythm. Simone’s last birth, the birth of her sixth child Hudson, was exciting too. Hudson was born at 35 weeks gestation. Simone went into labour at home but once her and her partner were on the road they realised they needed fuel and so her partner dropped her off at Braidwood hospital to be assessed. Braidwood hospital doesn’t have an active maternity ward anymore but as with many rural and remote emergency units, this hospital does have the capacity to assist a birthing woman. Simone had the doctor on duty, 2 nurses, the on-duty paramedic, an offduty paramedic who was called in all present as she was assessed. Additional support was called in from both another paramedic team and the neonatal support unit drove into Braidwood for transfer as Hudson was premature. Simone has had a variety of different birthing experiences and her knowledge from these experiences is really powerful. I am grateful to Simone for sharing her stories and helping to inform others of the support that can be made available by both paramedics and rural emergency departments if needed. I hope you enjoy listening to her stories.
Emma Munnings is from Mongarlowe near Braidwood NSW. She is a mother to five children’ Lily, Louis, Gus, Marlo and Theodore. I met Emma through teaching at the local school and we quickly became fast friends. Emma has supported me in numerous ways throughout my time in Braidwood and a year ago she attended my son’s birth, to support my husband Lloyd and myself. I was not the first woman Emma supported during labour, she was also present at the birth of another dear friend’s son and her sister-in-law’s daughter’s birth. Emma is a giving woman and as she shares her story with us she gifts her experiences both as a birthing woman and a birth support person; not every one of these births was a ‘rural birth’ but discussing the variety of Emma’s experiences gave us the opportunity to contrast the availability of prenatal and postpartum care in urban centres compared with rural townships.
In my opinion Emma is an unofficial ‘birth expert’, she has given birth in a multitude of different ways and not one of her 5 births had a similar run or rhythm. Emma’s first born, her daughter Lily, was born in Melbourne CBD at the Royal Women’s Hospital Birth Centre and after this first experience Emma intended to use the birth centre again for her second birth but due to a late-term, large-scale bleed, Emma’s plans shifted quickly and she gave birth to her first son Louis via caesarean. Her second son Gus was born via VBAC and his birth was blissful under the guidance of a highly experienced midwife at the Canberra Hospital Birth Centre. Her third son, Marlo, was also born via caesarean; however, this was a planned caesarean as he was born early (at 36 weeks) and at a low birth weight. With her fifth and last birth came Theodore. During his birth Emma, her husband Nick and their growing family were living on a rural property in Mongarlowe. Again, Theodore’s birth moved at a slightly different rhythm again as Emma’s waters were broken by the obstetrician on duty in order to induce labour. This was Emma’s first rural birth; however, with the close proximity between Braidwood and Canberra (and as she had family living close to the birth centre) Emma didn’t have to do a last-minute dash. She began labouring in Braidwood but travelled to her brother’s home while she waited to go into hospital.
Emma’s stories are broad and highlight how every birth is different. Some of the themes in this podcast may be confronting for women dealing with birth trauma and I wish to highlight that the themes of emergency caesarean, preterm birth and induction are discussed.
It was thoroughly enjoyable to chat to Emma. Together we celebrated my son, Shanley’s birth (as we come up to the one year anniversary of his birth) and got to reflect again on her own birth stories and how much support she has offered to other women, giving of her own energies to be with women as they birth their first children and begin their journey into motherhood.
Dorothy Cross lives in Charleys Forest, a little over 20 minutes out of Braidwood NSW. I met Dorothy when my son was about a month old at Playgroup. We were really fortunate, as parents of young children, that someone took the initiative to organise this weekly group and give us all the opportunity to come together for chats and a play. Dorothy has also been regularly involved in the local parkrun at the Braidwood Showground and was instrumental in encouraging me to get out and about again, once those postpartum aches subsided. Dorothy is mum to three children, two born prior to moving to her rural property at Charleys Forest and then Bastien (her youngest) who was born in 2018. Bastien’s birth was a quick one. Dorothy went into labour as Anamae got off the school bus. Bastien was born a short while later at Queanbeyan hospital around quarter to 7 and Dorothy was driving her family home by 9.30pm. Living rurally makes you no stranger to travel but Dorothy definitely took the travel and distance in her stride, as she travelled to the maternity ward and back home in a single evening. Dorothy shares how, as a member of the Queanbeyan hospital’s ‘Aboriginal Maternal and Infant Health Service’ program, she was offered in home appointments with her midwife before and after Bastien’s birth. She believes that it would be phenomenal if in the future this community practice could become available to all rural birthing women and that minimising travel for pregnant women during that tight maternity check-up schedule could be achieved. I hope you enjoy listening to Dorothy’s rural birth story. I had a lot of fun talking to her. Dorothy is fantastic to chat to and I just felt like we bounced so easily as we shared in what it was like to be pregnant, birth and experience the postpartum period as rural women.
Rosie Rick lives in Majors Creek, a rural village, near Braidwood in NSW. I met Rose through our shared passion for theatre, as we collectively supported young people in Braidwood to devise performances for a local festival in 2017, but I truly got to know Rose when we met again through motherhood and shared in the first year of raising our children.
I was really lucky in my postpartum period to be with Rose, as she activated opportunities for women in town to gather together for yoga, women’s circles and would always welcome myself and others to be a part of her and Sunny’s days. Rose created the community and resources we wish were available. She was offering alternatives to the limited care options available in the postpartum period for rural women.
I hope you enjoy listening to Rose’s story. She weaves ideas together beautifully like a tapestry. During her postpartum period Rose gave expression to this new stage of life and her journey into matrescence through journaling. She studied and explored the teachings of doulas and used online communities to connect with women and their wisdoms across this distance divide.
Rose is now a Doula and Mentor. You can work with Rose through preconception, pregnancy and motherhood. She can offer support through exploring birth options and planning, and birth debriefing and postpartum.
You can connect with Rose via Instagram (@_rosierick_) and her website, where Rose shares wholeheartedly as she expresses her daily journey through motherhood with Sunny and herself:
“My mission is for all mothers to remember our innate medicine, and regard it as the most valuable resource on the planet. Through personal one-on-one coaching, I work with women from pre-conception through to postpartum to assist in the profound spiritual transition that is the birth of the mother.
How do you want to feel when you are in service of others? Do you give of yourself until empty? Does the assumption that you have an endless ability to be accommodating to the needs of others, make you rebel against it in destructive and addictive behaviours? Do you feel trapped?
I want you to feel EMPOWERED in your giving, in your love, and to learn how to give only when it feels good, not just because its ‘expected of you’, but because you love doing it.
Your love is your medicine.
I believe the birth of a mother is the birth of the healer. The healer the we all need. And how do we rise as the women the planet needs now? We have to know our own medicine, to own our own story, and to value our huge contribution. I am here to be a guide on this journey.
I work with women who are interested in using the rite of passage that is motherhood to remember her medicine, and her innate power. “
An introduction to the 'Rural Births' podcast and me. In this podcast I share some parts of my story as a rural birthing woman from the birth of my first child. I explain why I believe it's important to share stories of rural birthing woman and the culture of learning and support I hope to further cultivate for women who are hoping to become pregnant, are pregnant or in their postpartum period.