25 Aug 2021

Community rallies to save Hutt birthing centre

7:32 am on 25 August 2021

A treasured birthing centre in the Hutt Valley is poised to close its doors only three years after opening, leaving midwives and parents fearful about post natal care in the region.

Photo of newborn baby feet

File photo. Photo: 123RF

Te Awakairangi Birthing Centre has 12 rooms for women who have had low-risk pregnancies and plan on having a natural birth.

The free service is owned by a charitable trust which recently announced it would close at the end of next month due to a lack of funding.

Pregnant with baby number three last year, Natalie Horspool knew she needed something better when it came time to give birth.

"I found hospital a very traumatic and medicalised experience, I found there was unnecessary interventions and I wasn't fully involved in decision making. So, after that experience, I was really looking to other settings that I could safely have my baby.

She said Te Awakairangi Birthing Centre gave her exactly what she needed.

"I felt like I could just birth my baby in a way that felt right and it was on my timeframes and in a way that worked for me."

Horspool belongs to the advocacy group Hutt Families for Midwives and, as soon as she heard that the Wright Family Foundation was looking at closing the centre, began a petition.

"It was a short and sharp petition, only open for a week, because of the imminent timeframes of the closure decision so after a week we've had over 6000 signatures. Which is a fantastic outcome and shows how strongly the community opposes the closure of this birthing centre."

That petition, along with an evidence paper citing studies to do with positive outcomes for people who birthed at similar centres, was handed over yesterday ahead of a final decision on the closure expected this week.

Wellington-based midwife Suzi Hume said the evidence was there, but you did not have to go far to understand the benefits of giving birth in a comforting and homely environment.

"You don't even need the research stats that show that it's good for outcomes, but just to see how good people feel.

"And that's an important part of health, it's what we're recognising more and more is how important it is to feel good and feel empowered and feel in control."

She said the dire shortage of midwives in the region was also harming that choice as, without a community midwife, women were forced to use the hospital.

She said this was particularly inequitable for Māori women who preferred a birthing centre over the hospital.

Hume said the birthing centre would help keep midwives around.

"It feeds their soul, it makes going to work really satisfying because they see what should be happening, they see women-centred care happening instead of in the hospital, as much as people are trying ... it's really system-centred care."

Orapai Porter-Samuels worked as a midwife and now runs antenatal classes in the region. She said if people had a positive birthing experience, it would flow on for them and their children for the rest of their lives.

She said this was why choice, and keeping the birthing centre open, was so important.

"What's our village? Our village is our community. And what's part of that community? It's where ever we birth.

"If you've got a stretched system, you've got far more comebacks coming back into this... health and mental health issues, the statistics out there say it all. If a mother doesn't feel safe and there's a traumatic birth, then the breastfeeding's a problem and so many other things that have not been taken care of.

"So when you say, we'll just take away this one because we can't afford it - it actually comes back on us, the whānau."

She said the birthing centre was especially necessary for cultural reasons.

"Because [the hospital] is often stretched and operate out of those circumstances, the birthing centre actually has time to do it, because it's a calmer place. That sounds wishy-washy, but for those women that want to do something differently with their birth plan ... they have a better chance of being able to."

The Wright Family Foundation runs similar birthing units in Tauranga, Palmerston North and South Auckland.

MidCentral DHB took over the running of the Palmerston North service last year, the Tauranga centre also received some money but the Hutt Valley and the Māngere ones do not.

The foundation did not respond to requests for an interview and has given no details about the nature of the funding problems or discussions it might have had with the DHB.

The Hutt Valley DHB would not tell RNZ if it would provide any money but the Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall was more direct, saying the closure was a privately run operation, and the decision to close was theirs to make.

She said $9.47 million had been invested into the refurbishment of the Hutt Hospital maternity facility.

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