One woman’s story of two different birthing systems

When we walk in, Olive, 25, is cradling baby Zion in her arms. Vara Duisokosoko, 27, her partner, is sitting closely, his arm around her. 

“He’s so beautiful’ Olive says softly. ‘And it’s so beautiful and peaceful here.’

This is a very different birth to the one Olive had three years ago in Waitakere Hospital, Olive and Vara tell me. It was Olive’s first baby, and she wanted a natural birth. She assumed that after the birth, the next few days would be sleep deprived but wonderous.

They arrived in hospital and at 12.17am, little Lusia was born.

‘I don’t remember much about the birth. I know I tore,’ says Olive. ‘I asked if Vara could stay over to support me, but they said no.’ Vara wanted to stay over:

‘She was exhausted and found it hard to walk after tearing. I wanted to be there and support her with Lusia. She could barely walk to the bathroom,’ he says.

But both accepted it was hospital policy, and Vara went back to the car and slept as much as possible until official visiting time.

In the meantime, Olive had been taken to a room that was shared with other new mothers. It was noisy and she could see that staff were very busy. When she woke up, a nurse came to see her.

‘She checked the stitches and said to me, you look ok to leave now.’ Olive, still in pain from the episiotomy, was surprised that she was being asked to leave so soon after the birth. There had been no internal check. However, because the nurse was a medical professional and ‘bound to know best’. When Vara came in from his ‘sleep’ in the car early that morning, they packed up and left.

A few days later, the pain was excruciating. Olive’s midwife checked her internally. She found pieces of the placenta still inside. She called an ambulance, and Olive was immediately admitted to North Shore hospital. An infection was also found, and Olive stayed for several days.

‘You should complain about that’ said a doctor. But neither she nor Vara complained. They were too busy trying to cope her health issues and the new baby. It was hardly a time to bond. The first week of their lives had been filled with stress, pain, uncomfortable sleeps, hospital admissions and driving between medical professionals.

When Olive fell pregnant with Zion, she was living in Papatoetoe and determined not to birth at Middlemore. ‘I’d heard too many stories. I didn’t want a repeat of my last experience.’ Through family, she heard about a non-intervention, no-cost to mum birthing centre named Nga Hau in the Mangere town centre. There, dads could stay over, and women were encouraged to stay for 48 hours post-birth. It sounded like everything she wanted.

When she visited, she found it ‘beautiful, peaceful and calm’. Nga Hau Birthing Centre offered private rooms with a personal birthing bath, queen beds, a policy of inviting partners to stay over if mum wants, and friendly, highly trained staff.

Months later, she went into labour and arrived at Nga Hau. During labour there was a complication that required an intervention and she was transferred to Middlemore. There, she was ‘treated very well’ and birthed there. She was transferred back to Nga Hau to recover for her legal entitlement of 48 hours postnatal care.

Right now, Olive and Vara are sitting in their Nga Hau room. The sun streams in, there’s no rush or noise from the corridor.

“It has been everything we wanted,’ she smiles. ‘Vara stayed over both nights in this bed. We’ve all been bonding.’

‘It’s been amazing to be here for my wife and for my son. It’s so different to the first time, trying to sleep in the car, says Vara. ‘Instead, I’ve been here to support Olive, and we’ve all had the time to bond.’

Nga Hau was built at the edge of Mangere Town Centre to give easy accessibility to families in South Auckland, whose needs of equitable care and support are the greatest.

The rub is that government bulk funds DHBs for all births and then 48 hours of postnatal care. And the DHB consistently maintains Middlemore can provide all birthing women’s appropriate care.

Bulk-funded for all its area’s births, Counties Manukau DHB refuses to discuss a funding contract for non-intervention births and postnatal care. Instead, the Wright Family Foundation, which built the Birthing Centre, has totally funding the facility since it opened two years ago.

‘Local women are not given the choice to have funded births here.’ says Chloe Wright, Chief Executive of the Wright Family Foundation. ‘Birthing here is free because the Foundation solely funds it. Sadly, the story of Olive and Vara is common. The New Zealand birthing system needs serious change. We need to put mum front and centre, right now. That’s what this birthing centre does.’

In the hospital setting, mothers sometimes choose to leave before their legal right to 48 hours. This is because the environment is often rushed, noisy or they feel obligated to go home.

Says Wright, ‘If a birthing woman were given the option, where would she prefer to birth and recover? In a hospital setting or a purpose-built, primary birthing facility that provides parents the ability to stay together with their baby.

‘Birth begins the journey for well women, well child and well family.  Anything less than the best care can be a strong predictor for ongoing physical or mental health issues.

‘Women should be given the choice of where they birth. The District Health Boards’ first concern should always be the health and welfare of its population.’