Watching my baby sister in hospital started me on a path to improving healthcare for our mob

11 Dec 2020

There is almost no research that is privileging the voices of Aboriginal women and communities in neonatal care

Growing up, I spent many years of my childhood off country around a large tertiary hospital setting for the care of one of my younger sisters. I was six years old when my sister had her first open heart surgery four days after birth. Over the many years to come, I stood by my parents’ side and watched and observed. I understood the words that were whispered by the doctors behind my parents’ back about my sisters’ condition. I knew what it meant when the nurses ran the corridors to the deep, pounding alarm to the mother crying “Help my baby”.

During this time, I developed a passion, an instinct to help, to care and to advocate for those who could not find their voices for themselves or others in the healthcare journey. I had a fire in my belly to make sure our mob, who have already been through 200 years of unjust government policies and lack of healthcare, could be cared for properly.

In my HSC years, I commenced a school-based traineeship in Assistance in Nursing. I then moved to Awabakal country to live in Newcastle to start my Bachelor of Nursing. After graduation I trained in the Children’s hospital where I fell in love with the work of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

I have nursed hundreds of families from one day to 150 days of care, in what they often describe as one of the most stressful and fearful times of their lives. I must add that this job has its highs and lows. However, I have always felt so privileged and honoured to be able to play a part in the care of families’ journeys in the NICU setting. As a health professional, it is so important that we keep up to date with all current research that can inform the way we care for our patients and the way we can do this in the most effective way, which led me to complete my masters in clinical nursing. I wanted to explore more about how my mob were being represented in the speciality and what culturally safe care looked like in the neonatal settings.

I felt quite an overwhelming rage when I discovered that there is almost no research that is privileging the voices of our women and communities that are overrepresented in the neonatal space. Our women’s voices and experiences are not being recorded or reported past the deficit statistics on maternal and infant health outcomes. If we don’t know what is happening for our mothers and babies in NICU, how can we provide culturally safe care? If we don’t understand the experiences of our women and families, how can we address social and emotional wellbeing and the right support?

The use of the NICUs and special care nurseries are an unspoken reality for our brothers and sisters. It is time we have a yarn and understand what happens when our babies need medical attention in the period after birth, in a distinctive environment and in a timeframe that is vulnerable and crucial in our babies lives.

Over the past 12 months I embarked on the journey of an academic and recently enrolled in a PhD. I am sick of reading and watching bad research be done with community. I’ve had enough of the colonial focus and the lack of cultural understanding and acknowledgment of colonisation as the context and cause of our current poor health. This PhD is going to be guided by Aboriginal communities and women who have found gaps in the system and have stories that have not been heard by the organisation that are delivering and coordinating their care.

I understand the raw and persistent challenges that a family faces in the cold, bright lights of a hospital room and the relentless challenges that are then faced in the outside world.

I want to connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and communities across our lands and waterways to understand their experiences and how they may be the same or different across our nations. Please reach out to me if you want to yarn and stand with me to tell your story.

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