Cherisse Buzzacott is an Arrernte/Arabunna woman raised in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), NT. A mother and a midwife, she works directly with Aboriginal women from Central Australia and remote communities through Alice Springs hospital. As a midwife, Cherisse advocates for the rights of Aboriginal women to have autonomy and choice over their maternity care. Cherisse is a mum to Dylan and Douglas, and to Senna (living in memory). She lives 30km west of Alice Springs on her traditional country, known as Iwupataka Outstation. She lives with her partner of five years, Micha, her close family and a flurry of dogs and chickens.
Synopsis: Mparntwe (Alice Springs) midwife Cherisse Buzzacott has achieved a number of firsts. She was first in her family to graduate from university, and the first ever graduate of the Australian Catholic University’s Bachelor of Midwifery Indigenous course. To Cherisse, though, firsts are about opening the door for others. She’s passionate about supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwives and health workers, and advocating for birthing on Country and culturally safe care for women in her community and from Central Australia. [Content warning: This episode contains conversations about miscarriage and stillbirth.]
Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Trust
Read her article in Indigenous X: I said ‘I’m in labour’ but no one listened
Link to Cherisse’s article in the Guardian: I supported other women to have babies but faced my own battle alone
Music in this episode includes ‘Salientia’ by REW<<, ‘Prevailing Truths’ by Ketsa, ‘Groove’ by Xylo-Ziko and ‘Can We Be Friends’ by Lobo Loco, used under a Creative Commons license from Free Music Archive.
INTRO — Welcome back to season three of Birthing and Justice. If you’re new to the show, I’m Ruth De Souza, and this podcast is all about changing the way people experience birth—especially people who experience health systems from disadvantaged or prejudiced positions. This season I’m really excited about bringing you a whole new set of knowledges and experiences from our remarkable guests. And today, I’m delighted to kick things off with Cherisse Buzzacott. Cherisse is a Central Arrernte woman from Alice Springs, Northern Territory. She’s a midwife, and she was the very first graduate of the Australian Catholic University’s Bachelor of Midwifery (Indigenous) course: a program that offers students from the Northern Territory the opportunity to undertake study blocks in Brisbane while otherwise remaining in their communities. She’s a passionate advocate for Birthing on Country, and she joins us today to talk about her work, and the life experiences that underpin it. Just a content warning that we will be talking about miscarriage and stillbirth in this episode.
RUTH DE SOUZA (host) — So Cherisse, why do you care about birthing?
CHERISSE BUZZACOTT (guest) — So I care about birthing because I feel like as a woman, in particular an Aboriginal woman, I feel like it’s very central to who I am. So as an Aboriginal woman, I’m, you know, expected to have a family one day. And so part of that is, you know, having a good experience of birthing, ‘cause I feel like it all comes down to your birthing experience, and that’s the way that you’ll bond with your baby, and how your partner will then bond with you and your baby as well. And, you know, it’s an experience that stays with you as a woman, as a person who gives birth, you know—that’s an experience that will stay with you. Every time, you know, I think of my son and I think about the experience, it wasn’t the best experience that some people would say—you know, it wasn’t the greatest experience—but for me it was my birthing experience. So I care about birthing as a midwife. It’s very important to me to ensure that women have a very positive birthing experience, and also what they deem to be a good experience for themselves. So yeah, as a midwife, it’s central to who I am and what I do.
Awesome Cherisse. I’m kind of also conscious that we haven’t talked about where you’re based, and I think that’s also a really important part of this conversation—place.
Yeah. So I’m based up in Alice Springs, so Mparntwe is its traditional name. I live on Arrernte Country; I’m an Arrernte woman, so on my traditional Country. I work at the Alice Springs hospital here. It’s the only hospital sort of within the central Australian region and we get women birthing, you know, coming to birth and come through the service through, you know, as far as WA [Western Australia], South Australia, even women from Queensland coming to birth in Alice. So, you know, it’s a marginally small hospital, but it is a teaching hospital. So we do get a lot of people coming up from down south to train here. And I work in Alice Springs on the maternity ward. So, you know, there’s a nice little group of us midwives that work there. I’ve been there since I was a student. I’ve had my interactions with the hospital since student days. So I feel very much at home in Alice Springs, and in particular working with the hospital.
It sounds like you’ve got a really nice crew that you’re working with, a good team. And you also do some mentoring. Can you tell us about how the needs of Aboriginal midwifery students might be different from other students?
Yeah, so I guess the different needs are… you know, I mean a lot of people could probably relate to having a larger family, you know, not being able to study on your own Country. So, you know, Aboriginal people, we have a very strong connection to the Country. So I feel like that plays a huge part in our ability to be able to be focused and be grounded, is to be able to study in a location that’s familiar to us. And it’s almost like there is this kind of invisible line, or this invisible rope that kind of pulls us back to Country, ‘cause you know, I feel that every time I leave home. Even if I’m away for a week, I still feel that, you know, instant almost relief, everything lifts as soon as I spot those hills coming over Alice Springs and I spot the ranges, I almost feel grounded. So, you know, there is that, I guess support that is needed for people that are off Country that are studying. And being able to provide that sort of support or relief for them to be able to go back to Country from time to time. So, you know, in and away from base model, that’s perfect. A student can study at their location where they live and just come to uni[versity] or have a lecturer or someone travel out to them. You know, the ability to embed a lot of, you know, our cultural knowledge and the things that we’re shown and a lot of the traditions and things—strategies that we use in our everyday life when we’re at home—those are the kinds of things that have to be thought about in the process of when you are supporting students. Because Aboriginal students… you know, I guess our outlook is a lot more different. It’s a lot more broader than just, you know, someone who’s an inner city, that they kind of, you know, they’re able to focus. They have a smaller sort of reach of where they’re living, where their friends are, where their families are, their social connections, you know. Whereas us as Aboriginal people have quite a broader outlook, because I have families and connections, and I have kinship to people that are living further distances from me. I also have connection through stories to other lands. So being able to, I guess support Aboriginal people and having a worldly sort of view of, this is what their day-to-day looks like. It’s not just get up in the morning, have breakfast, catch the bus and go to school. You know, there are a lot of different things that impact our day-to-day and how it’s going to work. And although I might be physically present in class and, you know, I am listening attentive, you know, my mind is elsewhere. I could be thinking about, you know, potentially I have, you know, not a close family member, but in my kinship I have a connection to this person where there’s a life lost, so my mind is there. Or there’s some, you know, travel that’s coming up, that’s needing to be done, ‘cause I have to travel out to attend to some other business at this other community. So, you know, there needs to be some sort of leeway and support for Aboriginal students to be able to, I guess be flexible, you know. ‘Cause that was the thing with me, I couldn’t fit in a box when I was studying, I needed to be able to be supported to, you know, take some time off from school to come back. You know, how can you facilitate that student missing out on two weeks when you have to have like ninety-eight percent attendance? You know? So there’s different things that have to be thought about. And that only comes from talking to the Aboriginal person involved, you know—that comes from the student. I can’t be the one to say, you know, that this Aboriginal student needs this kind of support. I need to be able to ask them and say, ‘Look, what kind of support do you need? You know, is it family, is it children, is it other social commitments or sort of commitments within your community?’ Because you know, as Aboriginal people, we have, not delegation, but we kind of have a responsibility to our Elders and people within our kinship. We have a responsibility to them to ensure that they’re okay, so that we’re able to then go on and look after ourself and do what we have to do. So being able to mentor an Aboriginal student, for me, you know, that’s all… I kind of touch on everything else before we begin to focus on the studies at hand. I’ll go through everything, ‘How is everything else traveling in your life?’ Because I know that if you have a clear mind, you’re then able to take on some of the advice that hopefully I can give you. You know, as being a mentor, not just a midwife, but also as an Aboriginal woman, you know, as a mum. And as someone who kind of… I’ve got a little bit of experience around doing certain things. So if I can help someone in that way, I will. Otherwise I always just go to the person and say, ‘What do you, you know, what do you need from me? And you kind of give me the direction and we’re kind of learning together, I guess.’ ‘Cause I like to, you know, learn from the person who I’m supporting as well.
I love that Cherisse. And I kind of think, you know, your whole attitude to students is seeing them in their wholeness, in the context of Country and kinship. And I was kind of wondering what it was like for you to be the first in your family to go to university? But also, what it was like to be doing a specific midwifery Indigenous course?
Yeah, so I guess being the first one to go away for uni[versity] was a massive accomplishment, for not just me, but my whole family. You know, I put it… my parents can take credit. Most of my close family and a lot of my friends as well can take credit because they were the ones that helped to support me. So, you know, they’re [the] ones that are there when I felt like I couldn’t do it any longer, and when I wanted to give up, you know, when things became too hard. And, you know, in my eyes they’re too hard, but these people, they obviously believed, you know, ‘No, you can do it, just keep on going.’ So, you know, it was a massive accomplishment. I was always directed to, ‘You’re gonna study something, you’re gonna be a doctor or a lawyer.’ You know, my mum wanted to do nursing so she kind of… I kind of got that health view, but I focused on midwifery. But for my family, it was just a massive accomplishment because they… you know, finish year twelve, that’s great. They both… I think my dad finished year nine, my mum graduated year ten. And so to even finish year twelve, that wasn’t a normal thing, even when I was growing up. Because a lot of the kids my age were going off getting school-based apprenticeships and starting working. So, you know, there was no sort of further education. And the people that did go on to get higher education, they kind of left town and never came back. And, you know, since started life elsewhere interstate. I was gonna focus on getting my degree and come back to Alice and work. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be based in my hometown. ‘Cause I wanna help my mob, I wanna help the community that I live [in]. And so to be, you know, the first one to uni[versity], it was just a massive accomplishment for all of us. And even just… you know, I feel like the university as well—being we were kind of like the lab rats—so, you know, we were the first group to come through the Away from Base model, which is the Bachelor of Midwifery (Indigenous) course at ACU [Australian Catholic University]. And so, you know, for them it was a major accomplishment because that first year we definitely struggled. You know, we had to do a lot of firsts. And so we had to kind of iron out a lot of the kinks for everyone else. And, you know, by the time we got to the second year, you know, we were still doing a lot of firsts, ‘cause we were the first in the second year. And then when we were in our third year, we were the first in the third year. So, you know, it was definitely a struggle. And the university supported us. Like there was literally nothing that they couldn’t do for us at that time, but also, they didn’t want to make it easy. You know, like we still had to abide by… you know, the university has strict rules and regulations and they couldn’t bend the rules just for us. But they did support us and they did show, you know, a lot of, I guess empathy towards us, knowing that we were studying away from community, you know, those few weeks that we did travel to Brisbane. So being the first from the Away from Base model, I was… that didn’t cross my mind. I still remember the day when I was actually told by my lecturer, ‘Yeah, you’ve finished.’ Like I handed my clinical prac[tical] book over and she said to me, ‘Yep, you’re done.’ She marked it in front of me. And I remember just sort of being like, ‘Oh’—I don’t think it really hit me. And then sort of having a bit of a cry and then kind of overwhelmed walking to my other lecturer’s office, you know, shaking. She’s an Aboriginal midwife and a lecturer, and walking into her office, Machellee Kosiak. And just being like, ‘I finished, I’m done.’ And then we both just hugged and broke down and slowly through the day more and more of the students came through. And I feel like, for them it was a relief, because those students that were struggling, I feel like for them, that was a relief because they were like, ‘Okay, we can do it, ‘cause someone, one of us, has done it. So, you know, I know I can finish because Cherisse has done it.’ You know, I didn’t want any gratitude or anything for completing it. I just did it for myself and my family. But knowing that the other students were looking at me and they were feeling like, ‘Okay, this is gonna push me to finish because I wanna feel what Cherisse feels,’ which was an instant relief that finally this is all over. And, you know, I can begin to have a career in doing what I love doing. So, yeah.
Wow. And I love how you talked about, you’ve come home because you wanna help your mob. And that a lot of people who get educated decide that, you know, they’re gonna work away from home. I’m kind of wondering about how you manage all your different commitments, because you’ve worked in a large inner city, tertiary hospital, now you’re at Alice Springs Hospital, but you also work as an outreach midwife. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to birth in a remote community, and what kind of skills and capabilities a midwife would need to do that kind of work?
Yeah, so, you know, we started this small group called Midwives Outbush (MOB), just a couple of us midwives. We were doing some outreach out to some of the communities around Central Australia. And, you know, I was going out for a few days a week, you know, once a month. And just seeing the women, getting to see them out in the bush, and then to see me again back at the hospital, when they came into town for sit down, they would come in and they would… I would see them in clinic. And then when they come into birth a couple weeks later, you know, I would be on hand or available, mostly for their birth care. But if not I would definitely pop in, you know, afterwards and on the postnatal ward and see them with their new baby. And then, you know, again when going back out for outreach, I’d see them back out in community with their baby, and I’d always make sure to catch up with them.
And so, you know, that sort of continuity, you know, not a complete continuity of care model, but it’s definitely there that I’ve developed a relationship with these women and being able to see them along different intervals of their pregnancy, their birth, and also with having their new baby. Traveling out bush, it really is a one of a kind experience. Like, if you don’t get the opportunity, I really feel like you are missing out, because it’s such a humbling experience going out bush. And you’re seeing, you know, these Aboriginal people that are living off the Country, you know, they’re very much still living mostly traditional lives. And I just love to see just the happiness and the joy. Like they don’t need very much, they don’t need to be in town. You know, I guess the internet and phone stuff is important to them, but at the end of the day, it’s being on Country, and it’s being, you know, close to the community and the… I guess what they’ve grown up and what they’ve known. For me going out bush has been a really good experience. I’ve loved traveling out bush. I took a bit of a break with moving away and having a baby and I’m just getting ready to gear up to go back out to a different community next year. So in January I plan to do some more outreach, through the MOB clinics that we run here. You know I’m a big advocate for Birthing on Country, but I definitely know there are a lot of issues for a lot of women in regards to birthing out bush. But it is doable. Like we have fully functioning clinics, we just need the manpower and the support to be able to do it. We’ve come close to having a few babies when I’ve been out in community. Women, they just know that you’re gonna be there and they just… what they do is they just don’t come into clinic, they really wait until the last minute. And then I guess it’s up to the discretion of the hospital, the evacuating doctor and the team to say whether the woman will stay, if they feel like she’s close to giving birth, or whether she’ll go into town. And there’s been a couple of occasions where women have given birth and everything’s gone pretty straightforward and, shamefully enough, they do have to come into town. They then get sent into town with their baby and, you know, then they have the added stress of being in there for a week or two, and then having to come back [to] community.
So I feel for the women because, you know, I had the opportunity to have my partner with me, so, you know, to have someone to be on their own and have no support people—and there is very little support for support persons. So even, you know, mothers and sisters and aunties to be able to come in, and those families are meeting babies when they’re one or two weeks old, you know? So I couldn’t imagine having that, that my baby would not be able to meet its father or meet its grandmother or, you know, I just, I feel a lot. And so I wanna be able to give women the opportunity, if all the dots connect and everything is well, and, you know, we have a fully staffed clinic and we have the access to emergency equipment if needed, then, you know, why can’t these women have that experience of being able to birth? And, you know, women will go with their intuition, and if they feel like they’re well enough, there’s definitely a few babies born a year in Alice Springs that are, you know, BBA—born before arrival. So, you know, with those women, I commend them because I feel like, you know, it is your body. You have the ability to know if something’s going wrong. We can give you the advice, you know, we can inform you and say, ‘This is what we feel is best for you.’ But those women, I wanna be able to support them, you know, a hundred percent. And I wanna work with them to be able to give them an experience that stays with them. It’s important for babies to be born on Country, so they do have that connection.
You know, I’ve been imagining this world that you’re talking about as you’ve been speaking. And I was wondering how you brought that world to your role as a project officer, when you were in Canberra for the Birthing on Country project that you did for the college of midwives? How did you enjoy that role, or how did you embody it?
I kind of went in with it with an open mind and, you know, that was kind of from the get-go from when I got there. It was like, anything is possible, you know, we need to dream big. And what I wanted to do was, I wanted to represent the women from the remote communities, from the women that I had seen, and I had met and spoken to about birthing, and the feelings that they have about birthing away from Country. And so I wanted to represent them in everything that I did because at that point I hadn’t had a baby. So in my mind, I thought if I can set this up, this will be something that, you know, even though I’m only 40 Ks [kilometres] down the road, the opportunity for me to birth on my traditional Country where I’ve grown up, you know, that for me would be the best experience for me. So I wanted to get things going. I wanted to help, and I wanted to be the voice for those women. And I think when it came to the Birthing on Country project, there was so much happening. People in the project and even now the people that are involved in Birthing on Country, they’re so passionate and there really isn’t impossible, you know, options—everything is doable. You really have to dream big and you really have to want to have women and babies at the center, ‘cause you really wanna make an improvement. You know, if you come in with bad intention, you know, things are just not gonna go the way that we felt that it was gonna go. We honestly felt like ‘Yes, we’re gonna get it done.’ Even now I feel like it’s gonna happen. I’m a bit more open minded about the timeframe. Like, you know, we were thinking two to five years down the track, I’m a bit more open-minded. I know that there are a lot of issues, levels of issues that are ongoing, you know. It’s not just one or two things that can be fixed overnight. So I definitely feel like it is doable and I really want the Birthing on Country to work where it is at the moment, you know, interstate where it’s working in a larger sort of regional areas, or even in the inner city areas, to have that experience, of women to be able to facilitate Birthing on Country the way that they feel, the way that they know best for themselves. ‘Cause I know that it’ll filter down to the remote communities. So it might take us a bit longer, but it’ll definitely filter down here. And we need to be able to talk to women out bush and tell them, you know, ‘This can happen, this is an option for you.’ We’re just so used to being, you know, the yes men. ‘Yes this is a great service, yes I’ll take it.’ Where this is really good information for you. ‘Yes I’ll take, you know, I’ll take this advice.’ We need to be able to empower women to be able to speak up and say what it is that they want in their birthing experience. And you know, that’s what Birthing on Country was all about. It was about talking to people, talking to communities and saying, ‘What is it that you want?’ Because so many times services are put together and, you know, other services that have come from, you know, even overseas, they’re great services and they work very well for Indigenous people or the particular group in which they’re designed for. And then people think, ‘Oh, I’ll adapt it to an Aboriginal community or an Aboriginal lifestyle’ and it just, it doesn’t work too successful as something that we created would’ve worked. So, you know, I’m an advocate for making improvements, but it needs to be with our involvement and our say so. And that’s what the Birthing on Country project was for me. I needed to be able to be a voice. You know, I had some experience because I’d been working out bush and I’d been working in Alice Springs. So part of that was, you know, being a midwife and being Aboriginal, I definitely was more closely connected to the project than other people, say, that are non-Indigenous. Because I’m an Aboriginal woman; this affects me one hundred percent. You know, it needs to work because I need my future and, you know, potentially my sons or, you know, my daughter’s futures to be able to birth on Country, if that’s what they choose to do. So yeah, I’m very passionate about it even now. And I’ll still speak up and advocate it and be involved if I can. If I’m invited, I’m more than happy to be involved. But yeah, I’m just kind of in the background, just cheering everyone else on. Like, we wanna make this happen. Yeah.
Cherisse, you’re involved in so many things, it’s amazing. And I’m so impressed with the range of activities that you’re doing. But you’re also a mum—a very busy mum—and I wondered if you could tell us a bit about being a mum, and also your experience of miscarriage and stillbirth, and the kind of cultural issues that health professionals or hospitals or institutions should understand?
Yeah. So as it is I’m a mum of three boys, and three boys living and one daughter who’s passed. My sons Dylan and Douglas, they’re twins. They’re gonna be seven in about three months’ time. They’re just a ball of energy, as twins go. And I’ve got my son who’s gonna be two, his name’s Angus. And he’s just like the light of our lives. Like he just can do no wrong. And yeah, they’re just amazing. They just keep me busy. You know, I love being a mum. I’m at the point of trying to balance returning to work as well as being a mum, because I’m sort of one of those, I’m not a helicopter mum, but I’m involved in a lot of everything, you know, I’m involved in their healthcare. I go to every appointment and so even my partner says, ‘Oh, if you can’t come then we won’t… you know, we’ll change the appointment.’ I just wanna be, you know, involved in every aspect of their life while I can. And being able to work part-time, that’s helpful. And doing shift work is also really helpful, because I can kind of pick and choose my hours. And at least a month ahead, I know what my plans are for myself and the boys.
And, you know, I feel supported by my family to raise these three boys into men. And I feel really blessed because the boys came to us when they were three, at the very same time that I was pregnant with Angus. And so I thought, you know, I was gonna… I enrolled in uni[versity] at the same time. I don’t know why, I thought I was gonna do all of this with just taking on two twins. Yeah with twin boys and with being pregnant. But, you know, I definitely stepped up and I’ve enjoyed every minute of being their mum. Being a midwife I feel like, you know, we can juggle, you know, I can juggle seven or eight patients. And so I’m able to juggle things a bit more better than most people ‘cause I, you know, I need to be able to organise my time over the shift. So it is very much like, I’ll organise my day. I’ve got a calendar on the wall and that’s how I kind of set things out. And my partner’s very visual, so if I put things on a calendar, he knows what’s going on. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening. And he goes ahead and makes other plans. And then he kind of just picks up the slack wherever he can, where he’s doing, you know, drop offs and pick up. But before I had my son Angus, I had a bit of a rough go. I had issues with miscarriage. I’d had a missed miscarriage when I was living in Melbourne. I was separated from my then-partner. I never really had kids in my mind until I was thirty. I thought once I get to thirty I’ll try for a family. I really wanted to focus on my career, that was my main thing. So, you know, when I got to thirty, that was my thing. I had a miscarriage. I had another miscarriage following. I think I was further along the second time—I think I was about fourteen or fifteen weeks. That to me was a bit more of a, I guess, a bit more of a hit than the missed miscarriage cause I wasn’t expecting at that time. And then when I moved to Canberra, I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter. And so my current partner, he’d just moved. We’d kind of just gotten together within a few months. We went to Canberra, he moved with me and I’d just told everyone at work, yep, you know, I’m expecting. And ‘cause I’d had an incident where I actually fainted at work, so people were asking questions. So I told my boss, ‘Oh, you know, I’m pregnant and it’s happening right at the beginning of the project.’ And I worried about how that would go with my job ‘cause I’d just started and you know, it was gonna be over two years. So I thought, you know having a baby, that’s gonna consume a lot of time. But anyway I was dedicated. Yeah. Unfortunately I was traveling a lot. I can’t say that that was the cause of losing my daughter. But you know, I do think about it all the time. Whether I should have… could have done things differently. But I had my partner with me and yeah, I went into early labour. I didn’t know it was labour at the time. I knew that something was wrong because I’d had those experiences before. And then it kind of was over a day that things were happening. It was within a day of having an ultrasound. So the ultrasound showed that everything was fine. And then I think I was about twenty weeks and four or five days when I woke up my partner, called the ambulance, he came to get me, took me to the hospital. And I had said to them, ‘Look, I think I’m in labour. I feel like this isn’t stopping, the pain’s getting stronger.’ And being a midwife, I thought I knew what I was going through. So, you know, I expressed myself to the best that I could in that moment and I just, I didn’t feel like I was being heard at all. You know, my partner was there. He was pretty much in the background. He didn’t wanna say anything, ‘cause you know, we come from growing up an experience of, you know, his darker skin—him and I are about the same skin colour—but being Aboriginal people, we feel like being strong or being outspoken is gonna be seen in a negative way. So for him, he’s quite a tall bloke. So for him it was more, ‘If I say something, am I gonna be perceived to be a bad person, or am I gonna be perceived to be attacking or argumentative?’ So he didn’t feel comfortable at all to speak up in that space. And so we called a friend of ours to come and support us through that time, and she’s a beautiful midwife. And she came and she sat with us and she, you know, spoke for me and she’s a lady who’s non-Indigenous. So for us it was, you know, we called this other person to come and support us because we, I felt like I wasn’t being heard, my partner’s too afraid to speak up. And you know, as the day progressed, things started to get a bit better. I started to feel a bit heard, but at that point I think it was, you kind of take it in the moment. So you’re just kind of dealing with things as they happen. So progressively my waters broke. I’d had an ultrasound, it showed the cervix was open. We were expecting, there was what they call expectant management, that she would be born. There was a huge turnaround in our care once there was a changeover of staff and we were moved into this nice big family room. And we were in that room. We had our own little kitchenette, you know, it was a beautiful room. It had a little bathroom and a nice big double bed. And so yeah, we just kind of hunkered down for the night and I managed to get a few hours’ sleep, partner didn’t sleep. And then the next day the pain started again and we thought, we knew that she, yeah, my daughter would be born. And we’d known for a couple of days that I was gonna have a girl and my partner, he’d always said from the minute I told him that I was having a baby, he knew like that, yeah, she’s a girl. He’d already named her and everything. And yeah, my daughter was born just after two o’clock that day. And I remember the midwife who was with us, she was just amazing, just the loveliest, kindest person in that moment. And the kind of midwife that you, you know, that you wanna be for someone. I remember trying to prepare my partner, because I’d seen a few babies that were born that were this, you know, very, very small sort of early gestation babies. And I tried to warn my partner and I was trying to say, you know, she’ll look different, she’ll be small. And you know, I remember trying to comfort him in that time. And when she was born, it was just, I still remember, you know, she was born and up on my chest and my partner and I were just there just sitting with her, and it was just the most beautiful experience. Every day afterwards, although sad, you know, I feel really lucky and blessed to be able to have had that experience, to be with her for those few days. And leaving definitely was the hardest thing. So, you know, Sena is my daughter’s name and she’s very much a part of our life, even now. Like we had her, I guess, her birthday anniversary on the eleventh of this month. And we went out to the cemetery, we spent the day, you know. My partner’s mum came, which was really lovely because previously she’d lost a baby, you know, around the same gestation. So it was really lovely for her to be able to come and have that time with us as well. And you know, clean the headstone and she raked around the headstone. And we just laid some fresh flowers and brought some toys and things like we do. We’re always buying gifts for Sena and taking them there. And we took the boys and we had some cake, sang happy birthday. And you know, my youngest son, he loves happy birthday. So re-lighting the candles and blowing them out three or four times. So I’m really lucky. I’ve got three boys and I’ve got a beautiful daughter, and you know, she’s never too far from my mind. And so part of what I do is, you know, I’m definitely a huge advocate and supporter for women that have had miscarriage and women that have been through stillbirth because, you know, that’s very personal to me. That’s an experience that so many of us have had, but not a lot of women like to talk about it as much. But as time goes on, I feel stronger and stronger to be able to talk about my experiences, you know, and to share with my sons. And they’re always making comments, they’re always saying things like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a baby sister and she died.’ So, and I feel like, you know what, and that’s the truth. Why hide the truth from kids? They need to understand these things. And I’ve got photos of Sena around my house. And so they’re always looking at Sena and, you know, other people, I usually give, you know, warnings about what she might… you know, if I share photos with friends about what she looks like. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me because, you know, she’s my daughter, you know, my son’s acknowledge how she is and how she was. And, you know, we just love talking about her all the time. And yeah, they’re always saying, even now close to Christmas, ‘I wonder what Santa’s gonna bring for Sena for her birthday.’ So, you know, we’ll have a little present, we’ll wrap it under the tree and we’ll get the boys to open it on Christmas day. And then hopefully get time that day, if not the next day, to go out and lay it at the gravestone. So yeah, I feel really lucky. And I think it’s kind of, bittersweet I guess, that I’ve had this experience and I’ve been a midwife and, you know, I’ve been involved in looking after women that have had similar experiences to me. So, you know, it is more that personal connection that I have with these women, as well as being a midwife. And, you know, part of my role is supporting them through some of the saddest times that, yeah, that we’ll have experienced is loss of a child, no matter how old. I always say, you know, miscarriage, if you lose a baby under ten weeks, it’s… a loss is a loss, you know, all babies should be treated equally.
Cherisse, I just really wanna acknowledge, you know, how generous you are and how generous you have been in talking about your own experiences of miscarriage and stillbirth. And I also think that, you know, these incredible experiences that you’ve talked about, of being first in your family to go to university, the work you’ve done on Birthing on Country, just makes you a very, very precious resource for us. And I just really wanna thank you for this conversation.
So Cherisse, my final question for you is, where can listeners find out more about your work?
Yeah, so, I’m on social media, I’m on Twitter. So I have a Twitter handle, which is @sistercherisse. So if anyone wants to follow me, you know, I’ll sometimes share from time to time, you know, things that I’m doing, or even just my thoughts on different things. But also just sharing lots of really silly things about what my kids are doing. You know, just normal, real life stuff. And I’m on LinkedIn as well. So I’m happy to make connections on LinkedIn. I’m not as active on there as I could be. And also I do have a Facebook page, which is mostly personal, but I do have a bit of involvement with the Indigenous Midwives for Tomorrow. We are a trust that gives Aboriginal student midwives and midwives scholarships to continue studying or further their education. So I’m the chair of the committee. And so we do have a Facebook page, I guess our trading name is the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Trust, or Charitable Fund. We have a website and, you know, we have a MyCause. Support the Indigenous Midwives for Tomorrow because, you know, we need those Aboriginal midwives to be looking after Aboriginal community, ‘cause we know how to look after them best.
You know, Aboriginal women will thrive from seeing Aboriginal midwives taking part in their healthcare. So, you know, LinkedIn, Twitter, I’m wholly accessible. I also have a large network. So you know, all of us midwives, we all know each other—midwives and nurses, we all talk and we make connections. So if it’s not specific to my area, I, you know, guarantee I’ll probably know someone who’s connected to that area and hopefully can put you guys in touch.
Cherisse, it’s been a privilege to hear about your experiences of being a midwife and a consumer of perinatal services. What you’ve shared about receiving care and being vulnerable was moving, instructive, and sometimes infuriating! It’s especially painful to know—and I’m sure listeners will have felt this too—that despite your knowledge, you still needed an ally in order to be heard. That makes me so mad. Thank you so much for spending time with us today.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a blast.
OUTRO — You can find more episodes, transcripts and links at ruthdesouza.com/podcast. I’ll add links to Cherisse and her work there too, as well as resources for people who’ve had experiences of miscarriage and stillbirth. If you enjoyed the first episode of season three, please subscribe to the show, leave us a rating or a review and share it with your friends or colleagues.
Next time on Birthing and Justice:
LUCINDA CANTY (guest) — I think I just turned twenty-one and I realised how naive I was, that I believed that nurses couldn’t be racist. You could be racist in your home, but once you came into the hospital, it is like you’re supposed to turn that off.
I’ll speak with Lucinda Canty, a mother, nurse midwife, nurse researcher, nursing professor, historian, black feminist, reproductive health justice activist, artist and poet based in Connecticut. Birthing and Justice with Doctor Ruth De Souza is written and hosted by me, and recorded at my home on the traditional lands of the Boonwurrung people of the Eastern Kulin Nations. Our sound design and mix is by Jon Tjhia who is our producer and editor, artwork for the show comes from Atong Atem, with design by Ethan Tsang, and Raquel Solier composed our theme music. This podcast is supported by funding from the RMIT University Vice-Chancellor’s Fellowship Program. Thanks for listening, we’ll catch up again soon.
END NOTES — Audio transcript edited and designed by Abbra Kotlarczyk, 2022. Note: the purpose of this audio transcript is to provide a record and pathway towards accessing all Birthing and Justice conversations. Editorial decisions around the omission of certain words and non-verbal utterances have been made purely for stylistic purposes towards greater legibility, and do not infer a desired ethics of speech.