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The mental health and wellbeing of First Nations mums and their newborns has been prioritised as a result of the global pandemic, thanks to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led liaison team at Mater Hospital Brisbane.
The number of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women accessing help through the Mater liaison team has increased during the global pandemic.
The culturally appropriate health support team has assisted hundreds of mothers experiencing traumatic pregnancies, including Wynnum’s Shemaiah Meredith who gave birth to her daughter, Taesha-Maree, 11 weeks early at Mater Mothers’ Hospital last year.
For four months, the 18-year-old first-time mum anxiously watched little Taesha-Maree, who was born with cerebral palsy, fight for her life so she could eventually come home.
“I just felt emotionally and mentally drained from the birth,” Ms Meredith said.
“Taesha-Maree was due on June 24. I thought I had plenty of time before her arrival. I just wasn’t prepared.”
Ms Meredith said she experienced suicidal thoughts after giving birth to a premature baby with a disability.
“I was feeling really low and didn’t know what to do. I had a baby and no real connection with her at the time,” she said.
“Depression kicked in - something we don’t tend to talk about much in our culture. My partner left when Taesha-Maree was born and I am learning to cope as a single mum.
“I have family support and I would have been lost without the support of Mater’s team to help me learn how to establish a connection with my baby and cope after giving birth.”
Mental health is responsible for 10 per cent of the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians, according to the Australian Government Department of Health.
Mater Health Services Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Liaison officer Gwen Williams said her team of three liaison officers provided state-wide care for women experiencing difficulties during pregnancy and birth.
“There is no shame in asking for help. We help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in so many situations, including those who have had miscarriages, traumatic births, or mums with babies who are seriously ill and need to spend a long time in hospital,” she said.
“We also look after victims of domestic violence, and mums who are struggling financially and emotionally.
“A mother’s mental health is extremely important, and we want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to know that support is available during pregnancy and birth, and after.”
She said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often experienced higher rates of disease and lower life expectancy because many left hospital before they were well, leading to further deterioration of their health.
“With cultural support, women are encouraged to make informed choices for themselves and their family’s health, therefore helping to close the gap for women and their baby’s health outcomes.”
Woorabinda mum Mariah Sue was flown to Mater Mothers’ Hospital by the Royal Flying Doctors service when a routine scan found her daughter Laurina had stopped growing in-utero earlier this year.
“I was so worried about losing my baby and was all alone. I am so glad the team was there to help me when my she was born,” she said.
Laurina was born in February, weighing a tiny 1190grams.
“All my family was back home. I felt so isolated,” Ms Sue said. “I was shocked when doctors revealed I needed to be transported to Mater Mothers’ immediately.
“I went in for a scan one day and they said I needed to get to Brisbane immediately. I had no bag, no clothes packed.”
Ms Sue said leaving her six-year-old son behind in Woorabinda was difficult.
“For two months I was in Brisbane, looking after Laurina, making sure she was putting on enough weight to come home,” she said. “The liaison team was with me every step of the way.”
Ms Meredith, who was diagnosed with post-natal depression following the birth of her daughter, said she had not realised her contractions had started 24 hours earlier.
“I thought the cramping was normal,” she said.
“By the time the ambulance was called I was in so much pain. When I laid down in the ambulance, I could feel her coming out, feet first. When we arrived at Mater Mothers’ she was born, still in the sac, and was immediately rushed to the Neonatal Critical Care Unit.
“I didn’t hear her cry and that was really difficult.”
The Mater Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison team has provided support and assistance to more than 50 mothers so far in 2022.
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