Leading Indigenous midwife group supports Aboriginal families


Helen Stubbs | July 4, 2022

Taneeka Thomas with daughter Pippa

The Waijungbah Jarjums Group Practice at Gold Coast University Hospital is providing culturally-safe birth services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women on the Gold Coast.

Becoming a new mother through pregnancy and birth is a challenging yet wonderful experience for many women. It’s important that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women feel safe and understood, that they can access the information they need, and receive medical care, throughout this journey.

Gold Coast University Hospital Waijungbah Jarjums Group Practice is providing this support for local Indigenous women.

“Waijungbah Jarjums means ‘place of mother and children’ in traditional Yugambeh language,” says midwife Megan Jenkins. The midwifery group practice offers a comprehensive birth service to pregnant Indigenous women and their children.

“We’re providing continuity of care over the first 1000 days from conception to two years of age,” says Jenkins. “We’ve also been approved for the deadly five, which means our service will soon be taking families until the children are five years old, in preparation for school.

“Continuity of care has been shown to be the gold standard of care. Through our midwives, child health nurses, social workers and health workers, we’re providing a holistic and supportive service.

“Our support for families and babies includes playgroups, positive parenting courses, swimming lessons for jarjums, and antenatal aqua aerobics.

 artwork by the Waijungbah Jarjums
Artwork by the Waijungbah Jarjums

“Some of our midwives have been studying to prescribe medications, and our health workers will soon be able to do bloods and gestational diabetes tests in our clinic, which will make us a holistic service for antenatal and postnatal support.”

Jenkins’s young daughter benefits from Waijungbah Jarjums, too.

“I bring her along to many programs run for jarjums, which has been amazing to connect her to her culture, and connect with other mothers,” says Jenkins.

Midwife and Southern Cross University lecturer, Taneeka Thomas, was also integral in setting up Waijungbah Jarjums.

“Waijungbah Jarjums is special because it’s run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. “It’s by mob, for mob,” says Thomas.

“It’s very important for Indigenous women to have access to an Indigenous midwife,” she says. “Being an Aboriginal midwife comes with a known, lived experience of being an Aboriginal person in the community.

“It gives women culturally-safe care and empowers them in the health space, allowing them to overcome many barriers they face when accessing maternity care. This enables them to get the right care not only for themselves but for their families and their babies as well, creating better health outcomes in the community.”

“Midwives are a huge pillar in the health of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, because we’re right there at the beginning, from conception. We have a much bigger role than people think, because everything starts in utero.”

The service’s great results include overcoming women’s barriers to accessing prenatal and birth care such as traumatic past experiences and costs.

Educating midwives at SCU, Thomas teaches cultural awareness.

“If women are aware of their own values, beliefs, and possibly religion, they can safely care for other women, especially of colour. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, you can have an awareness of what their culture means to them, so you can provide optimal care. In pregnancy that’s a really big thing. It’s women’s business. I talk to a lot of students about having an awareness of what that is.

“We need to find out what’s important to women in the birth space. We know that if you feel confident, empowered, and you know you have choices, you’ll have a more empowered and impactful birth and that carries on into parenting.”

Thomas also supports students to complete the degree.

“It’s a tough degree and a very emotionally taxing roll. Midwifery is a demanding and rewarding job.”

Melanie Darcy from the benevolent society in the Waijungbah Jarjums shirt with little girl
Melanie Darcy from the Benevolent Society with Audrey Wallace

Waijungbah Jarjums is a co-designed mode of care, built with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families through partnerships with the local community and organisations.

“The program was community driven. It was what the community on the Gold Coast wanted, so that’s what we put into the program,” says Thomas.

Wiajungbah Jarjums was developed in partnership with Kalwun Health Services and the Yugambeh Region Aboriginal Corporation Alliance.

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