5 Jul 2019

College of Midwives elects first Māori president

6:21 pm on 5 July 2019

The New Zealand College of Midwives has elected its first Māori president, Nicole Pihema.

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Photo: 123RF

Ms Pihema has been a registered midwife since 2009, and is the Lead Maternity Carer midwife in the Bay of Islands.

But her admiration and passion for midwifery began many years earlier, when she became a mother.

"I became a young mother when I was in my teens and I had a positive experience working with community midwives," she said.

"It was quite a challenging time. I mean, it's a challenging time having a baby regardless of your age, but in particular when you're faced with social norms when you're having a child so young. That pulled at the heart strings and that's where I needed to lead my life towards. That's the foundation of why I wanted to become a midwife."

The issues facing the industry hadn't changed much since her early years working in the profession, she said.

"The issues are very similar which is why midwives are still putting their arms up and saying, 'look at us, we're working really hard, we're trying to meet the needs of women and babies in Aotearoa, and we're really struggling to keep up with the demands of that'.

"Even back then when I first started practicing it was the same. You still love working in the environment that you're working in but there are additional demands placed on the profession and placed on midwives.

"It comes to a point where many midwives are having to choose to continue in the profession that they love. The struggle is having to choose between the lifestyle of their families, and the lifestyle of other people's families."

She said midwifery needed greater resources and support to meet those demands.

"We have to remember, it's not about 'more pay', it's just about being fair and reasonable and ensuring they are compensated for the mahi that they do.

"A lot of midwives are doing mahi on their own backs. They're paying for food to put on women's tables, they're paying for petrol to get the scans, they're paying for scripts and that's invisible work."

Among the many other changes she hoped to see while president was more wāhine Māori entering the midwifery profession.

"Māori women are looking for Māori midwives. It's not just about the DNA that runs through our veins. We do have that path down to us from our tūpuna. We have an understanding about how our whānau works.

"There's not a lot of us and a lot of it comes down to barriers of access to education. I'd like to see more of a wānanga-based education process."

College Chief Executive, Alison Eddy, said Ms Pihema's appointment recognises the College's ambition to realise its commitments under the Treaty of Waitangi.

"Nicole brings a depth of experience, the support of her peers and the personal qualities needed to lead the profession, and it is a significant step forward for the College to elect its first ever Māori president," she said.

Ms Pihema replaces Deb Pittam who has worked as the College's president since 2014.

The role will officially be handed over on 24 July.