Page 3854 - Week 11 - Thursday, 24 November 2022

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Health—Canberra Birth Centre

MS CLAY (Ginninderra) (5.50): Two weeks ago, I had the immense privilege of attending the 30th birthday dinner of the Canberra Birth Centre. I learnt so much from the speakers, Bernadette Miller, Alison Chandra, Alice Cotter and Bek Bowman.

While I knew that Ngunnawal people have lived and birthed on this land since time immemorial, I was fascinated to learn that Ngunnawal women also traditionally birthed in the rock pools at Ginninderra Falls, experiencing the same benefits from birthing in water that women experience in the Canberra Birth Centre baths. I learnt that midwives are yarwun bullan, which is Ngunnawal language for “strong woman”. It was incredible to hear the stories about all of the hard work by so many yarwun bullan who came together to create the Canberra Birth Centre.

Birth and midwifery care is a deeply feminist issue because woman’s bodies matter. Every woman should be able to choose where and how she gives birth. The Birth Centre is a place where women can birth naturally in a home-like environment, supported by a known midwife, who has provided them with continuity of care for their pregnancy, and who will continue to provide care for them and their newborn in the post-partum period.

Canberra women have only been able to choose low intervention births through the Birth Centre for 30 years. It was midwives and women consumers, yarwun bullan, who fought the system to bring about the changes that we take for granted today.

My absolutely favourite quote on the night was from one of the speakers, Bek Bowman, who said: “Midwives are the granddaughters of the witches they forgot to burn.” If this seems to be an extreme statement, it is really not. In my own lifetime, and in the lifetime of most of us here, women were not recognised as having any control over their own bodies while they were birthing.

There are so many things in birth that we now take for granted that midwives fought for and made normal practice in the Canberra Birth Centre—things like being able to choose your own birthing partner, not being separated from your baby after birth, being able to leave the bed, move around and deliver where you are comfortable, whether that is in a bath, in a shower or on a chair. Women used to be required to be on a bed, on their back, so that the doctor could have easier access. Women were routinely given a shave and an enema, and often an episiotomy—a cut to widen the birth canal—whether they wanted it, needed it or not. Women’s bodies have literally been cut open for the convenience of doctors.

Midwives fought because women’s bodies matter. It was midwives who fought to be able to use minimalist interventions like a hot towel compress during delivery, which reduces tearing. Whether you have given birth or not, most of us can understand that a hot towel will generally be better than a scalpel.

We also heard some interesting statistics that night. Australian women who receive midwife-led continuity of care, the kind of care that is offered at the Birth Centre, are 16 per cent less likely to lose their baby. If that was a pill, we would hand it out to

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