9 months pregnant and Aboriginal

10 Jun 2021

Dr Cammi Murrup-Stewars says that her identity as an Aboriginal woman existing within a settler-colonial world means that her child will always be at risk. That no reconciliation action plan can ensure her daughter's safety. This is what it means to live in the colony as an Indigenous parent.

I’m a 9-month pregnant, highly educated, employed, married cis-woman who has a few disabilities. I am also a white-passing Aboriginal woman. 

I am due to give birth to my daughter in the next few weeks. Despite the burdensome (and frankly exploitative) costs, due to my health conditions, I have, out of necessity, held private health insurance my entire life. This means I was able to choose to use the private system and an obstetrician to have the best possible care for my array of complicated medical needs. I fully acknowledge the privilege I hold in being able to utilise private healthcare. 

I am confident in navigating the healthcare system, having many family members being medical professionals and a well-developed and informed knowledge of my own health and medical needs. I have a PhD and am articulate, well-educated and very experienced in advocating for my health and wellbeing in an often difficult healthcare system. 

Although my health conditions bring with them their own set of concerns, my biggest anxiety stems from something else entirely. You see, my mum is a member of the Stolen Generations. As a bub in the 60s, with the passing of her white mother, her Aboriginal father was deemed unfit to raise her. An array of Aunts and Uncles were not permitted to take her into their families. She was placed in an orphanage. She was not an orphan. She was not unwanted. Multiple family members petitioned to raise her. Instead, she was removed from her family, community and culture. She was adopted and raised in a non-Indigenous family of European heritage, and zero understanding or connection with Aboriginal community. 

She still deals with the trauma of being removed from her family and culture today. We are still searching for family and community connection. My sister and I also work through this same intergenerational trauma and the effects it has on our identity, our sense of belonging, our experiences with ongoing racism and discrimination. We are working hard to reconnect with our community and culture, but colonisation doesn’t make it easy and some wounds will never heal. 

Which leads to what many might think is an irrational fear. One that I needn’t have. Essentially, it comes down to being terrified to the core of my being that this little being growing inside me will be taken. That someone in the hospital who knows of my Aboriginality, will find some reason, some cause, some excuse to rip this child from my arms. To declare that my identity makes me unfit to mother. To jump straight to harmful and false stereotypes of black motherhood.  Perhaps it will be my disabilities as the stated reason that my child will be unsafe. My mind imagines all kinds of scenarios. That I may need a caesarean or there will be a medical emergency and that my daughter has been taken by welfare whilst I’m unconscious or recovering. That I don’t even get a chance to give her a name, to welcome her to this land with smoke, ochre and the scent of eucalyptus. That she may not ever be held in the arms of her grandmother who cannot wait to cherish and spoil her with love and laughter.

This fear pulsates at such a depth, it is so dark that I can barely bring myself to voice it. I haven’t shared any of these thoughts with my mother out of concern that it may cause her more grief and trauma. My husband just wouldn’t understand. How could he? It feels inappropriate and far too vulnerable to share this anxiety with my non-Indigenous friends, even those who are parents or have had their own traumas. I just don’t think they would be able to connect with where these feelings come from. And then the Aboriginal mums I know, I don’t want to add to their fear, to their trauma, to the memories and experiences that they’ve had to endure. 

The midwives I have worked with have either been entirely encouraging of bringing my culture into the birthing experience, or they’ve been dismissive of what culture means, of what being Aboriginal and birthing a new generation means. There’s been no direct racism, but a lot of indirect racism and microaggressions, of ignorant comments that hurt and stay with me for months. A lot of “what part is Aboriginal?”, of strange looks that re-evaluate my skin colour, of the expectation for me to divulge all of my personal family details to satisfy a stranger’s curiosity. I have a friend who’s recent experience sheds further light on this situation. She’s a young Aboriginal medical professional who, this past week, had a white colleague approach her and wish her a ‘happy Sorry Day’. Yes, that’s right. When this year’s Reconciliation Week theme is ‘More than a word’, apparently we are still having to deal with a lack of real understanding of the word ‘sorry’. It makes me so angry, and so tired. 

My journey through my health and disability has been a litany of gaslighting, misdiagnosis and lack of care. I often find myself second-guessing if the pain and fatigue in my body is real or just imagined. These experiences now are crossing over into my experiences of motherhood. Am I being irrational to hold concern about how the health-“care” system will treat me as an Aboriginal mother? Am pre-judging the midwives without cause? Is my imagination running away into an abyss of depression and anxiety when I dream of a welfare woman stealing my baby while I sleep?

I know the answer to these questions lies in the deep spiritual wounds that my people have and continue to endure at the hands of white institutions. My work and knowledge of Aboriginal wellbeing, intergenerational trauma and the genetic effects of putrid racism, the ongoing abuses towards Aboriginal children all, provide me with the difficult answer. My fears may sound irrational. It may appear as if my situation holds no cause for concern. My appearance, my title, my words, my career, even the whiteness of my white husband should be plenty of justification for my child to be safe. But none of these things is. They do afford me more protection than my darker-skinned sisters. Then my sisters who have not had the same opportunities as me, who need to rely on government ‘support’ (and enforced compliance) to get by, who have had to battle the justice system. 

But still, my identity as an Aboriginal woman existing within a settler-colonial world means that my child will always be at risk. That no reconciliation action plan can ensure my daughter’s safety. That even those well-meaning midwives are still a threat to my family which I must guard against. That my fears are justified in the experiences of thousands of Aboriginal families today. Justified in the disturbing statistics of more Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care now than when my mum was taken. In the devastating impacts to culture that these statistics represent. That myself and my community continue to hold a deep fear and a profound anger for our wellbeing, while non-Indigenous settlers and whitefellas sit in apathy, disinterest, wilful misunderstanding and, still, blatant racism. 

We still have to face the daily trauma of a well-meaning whitefella won’t put in the work to understand that Sorry Day isn’t a day for celebration. Reconciliation week isn’t for Aboriginal people, it’s for settler-colonisers to do the work of reflection, of change, of truth-telling and actual action. Not of thoughts and prayers. Of action, paying the rent, addressing those core racial beliefs that lie at the heart of Australia’s systems and institutions. Facing up to the fact that the comforts of living as a white person in Australia is built on the death, theft and oppression of my people. I don’t want this trauma to continue on through to my daughter. I don’t want her to be celebrated for being resilient, I want her to not have the need for resilience. But for that to happen, it’s not my family that needs to reconcile with the truth. We do not exist to appease white guilt. To make someone feel better because they were kind to their Aboriginal colleague on Sorry Day. I shouldn’t have to write in my birth plan that it’s not my responsibility to educate medical staff about Aboriginal identity. And I definitely shouldn’t still be living with the same fear for my children that my mother and the generation before her did. 

UPDATE: Since writing this piece, I have welcomed my deadly little boorai, Arinya. I can already see her presence as a healing force for my family. My fears for her remain, but I now also can see the embodiment of the strength and hope of my ancestors. 

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