Pregnant women fear for the future after feeling abandoned by the hospital system

Pregnant Sunshine Coast women say they are fearful they will be left to fend for themselves after the region’s health service announced it would be suspending support services.

Key points:

  • The Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service has indefinitely suspended support for pregnant women due to staffing shortages and COVID restrictions 
  • An Indigenous Australian researcher warns the cancellations could impact the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community for decades
  • The women say the system has left them to fend for themselves

First-time mother-to-be Amber Seggie said she was three days from starting psychological support program Mindful Mums to help with her perinatal anxiety and depression when it was suspended indefinitely.

“It was a real kick in the gut,” Ms Seggie said.

“I emailed the hospital straight away, asking why this was happening and how they could just take it away without offering any sort of alternative support or direction.”

The Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service (SCHHS) has cited COVID-19 for the suspension, but the “desperate” expectant mother said the only response she received was that her concerns had been passed onto the department.

She said she was left to battle her depression on her own, with support from family, social media and literature resources.

The “scary” experience has her fearful for the future.

“I’m sort of doubtful for when we go down there [for birthing]. Will we be OK? Will we even be allowed in the door? Will we get turned away? Will they have the space for us to have our baby?” Ms Seggie said.

Not alone

First Nations mothers are also worried after the SCHHS’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander birthing support program, Birawan, was axed.

Instead, Yindjibarndi mum and social worker Rose Raymond will have to use the general system for her third baby, due in April.

Rose Raymond had been looking forward to using the Birawan program for the birth of her third child.(Supplied: Rose Raymond)

“I think having a culturally appropriate service actually invites more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and families in, because I do know a lot of the time our families don’t want to use services because of potential discrimination,” Ms Raymond said.

The Birawan program pairs pregnant women with the same midwife for the entire pregnancy and post-birth period.

“I was able to make contact with my midwife when I needed, or if I was worried, if I thought I was having contractions or I just needed some medical advice,” Ms Raymond said.

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A SCHHS spokesperson said the Birawan program had been suspended because several staff were on sick leave.

Mandandanji woman and research assistant Carly Forrest said it was a “devastating blow” for First Nations women and the health system overall.

“The health service across the state, and across the nation, make so many commitments under the Closing the Gap [framework] to closing that health outcome between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians,” Ms Forrest said.

“It’s such a dangerous area to play into because it has lifelong ramifications for both the mothers and potentially for their children as well and can create a continual cycle of trauma.”

Testing times

The cancellations come at a difficult time, with a 51 per cent increase in calls to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia’s national hotline recorded in the past 12 months.

Clinical psychologist Carla Anderson, from the Sunshine Coast Centre for Perinatal Psychology, said up to 15 per cent of mothers were usually diagnosed with perinatal anxiety and depression, but numbers were skyrocketing amid COVID-19.

woman smiles sitting on chair Carla Anderson says supporting pregnant women is crucial.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Meg Bolton)

“Postnatally, we know that one in seven mums and one in 10 dads or non-birthing partners will experience some form of perinatal depression and anxiety,” Ms Anderson said.

“The stressors that we’re hearing a lot of the families talk about are things like increased isolation, being even more separated from their families and friends.

“Then things like getting to appointments where there might be limits on the number of people that can go.”

A SCHHS spokesperson said antenatal classes had been moved online and women requiring mental health support could receive care through its consultation liaison psychiatry team.

They said the Mindful Mums program was expected to recommence in 2022, pending COVID-19 protocols.

But it will be too late for Ms Seggie, who is due early in the new year.

“Even in a state that’s got hardly any COVID cases, we still can’t do it. This is the sort of scenario I’d expect if we were still down in Sydney,” she said.

Parents in need of support are urged to visit

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