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I supported other women to have babies but faced my own battle alone

13 May 2021

As an Aboriginal woman, I felt the expectation to have children. All the while, I was in a battle which many face alone

I told myself once I had my career, I would start a family. In my experience, in the Aboriginal context, there is the silent expectation to raise children. Culture relies on the expansion of our families to carry on our practices, our obligation to care for land and to care for our elders and ourselves when we grow old. I come from a relatively small family, in comparison to most, with a larger extended family. My grandparents had more than 10 siblings.

There is no question whether we will have kids, it’s more the matter of when. So often there is no consideration as to how.

Society tells us that women should feel the urge to conceive, give birth (blissfully!) then spend the rest of their lives caring for a child. They then spend the next 10 years waiting for their child to make babies of their own.

Having a baby is easy, right? I hear this often. Someone told me, “My husband just had to look at me and I was pregnant.” I suppressed rolling my eyes and laughed; she was not aware of my problems becoming pregnant.

I experienced two miscarriages before losing my daughter, who was born too early for life. I had accepted the idea that I was not going to get pregnant anytime soon. Then it happened again.

In September 2018 I was attending a gala dinner where I was awarded the “Sister Alison Bush award for individual midwifery excellence”, presented by Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives. Only two people knew that while I was onstage receiving my award, I was miscarrying. I remember being elated at receiving such a prestigious award but there was the overhanging guilt about not being able to carry another pregnancy.

I was living my biggest high and biggest low all at the same time. I was proud that my efforts to advocate for birthing on country and Aboriginal women’s birthing rights were being noticed. So I buried my feelings about the miscarriage until the end of the conference. When I got home I broke the news to my partner. This was made more difficult after the heartache of losing my daughter.

Here I stood, midwife, supporting mothers and families through a major event in their lives. An Aboriginal woman, the eldest in my family , expected to bear children, to fulfil my societal and communal duties. Yet I was struggling with a battle we often face alone.

But I’m not alone in my struggle. Countless people endure these same pressures when faced with the challenging question: “When are you going to have a baby?” I often recall thinking when being asked such questions, what is the big deal and why is it anyone else’s business but my own?

There’s a negative vibe that surrounds this question for many of us as our internal clock ticks and the pressure builds so much that I believe trying for a baby can sometimes be the cause of the problem to conceive. We are so wound up about it that we cannot relax enough to take the time out to nurture ourselves.

Some people may never have nor want children, and that’s OK too. Some may choose IVF, surrogacy or adoption. With the growing number of Aboriginal children being removed from families, others may choose to foster children through kinship care, to ensure our kids aren’t lost in the system.

Who are we to judge?

We can have these conversations about having children with each other, or not. It’s our choice. Erase the stigma of childless adults – it should all be on our own terms. People without children are not failures, nor are they selfish. They’re not lacking in the nurturing qualities of a parent. People may choose to love a cat, love another person or travel – their life is what they make it.

I am a midwife. I am a mother to three boys, my nieces and nephews. I don’t need validation from anyone or to be judged whether my life is complete or incomplete because of what another person deems necessary.

I have my son who was born through hardships and many fears. Now I face a new question: “When are you having another one?”

I understand the adversity others may experience to get to this moment when you are forced to contemplate these new questions, and I get it. I want you to know I see you.

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