Marama’s number 5 child, Horouta was born in 2007 in the East Coast small hospital Te Puia Springs. This birth and the hospital setting were similar to a homebirth and far removed from the hospital births she had had up until that stage. So that is why for her final number six child born 2008 (little Teina) she had decided on a homebirth. In her own words – “It was magnificent”
Marama (Te Rarawa/Ngapuhi/Ngati Porou) is a powerful Maori woman with a strong political voice on all issues concerning Tangata Whenua and social justice. Marama is often in the parenting sphere offering her views and visions towards a better Aotearoa for all people. She is the Green Party candidate in Tāmaki Makaurau and is an active advocate for the wellbeing of whānau, hapu and iwi from a kaupapa Māori perspective. Her lens is from a wāhine Māori viewpoint that seeks to reclaim collective caring of our planet and our people. Marama has contributed to a huge body of social and cultural work and she also fronts indigenous rights movement, Idle no more.
“My kaupapa or birthing philosophy I guess is that I wish more and more women could be supported to have good births and that we are empowered by as much information as we can before pregnancy, to allow our bodies to help us have as natural a birthing process as is possible. Give and take the various birth histories of different families and that things just don’t always go as planned, I still believe that we have been led to far away from knowing our own power to work with our bodies and our babies. This is where I see homebirths and homebirth midwives being important. Also there is a lot of traditional Te Ao Maori knowledge that we have lost due to colonisation but we are slowly claiming back the benefits of this. Homebirth is a good way to infuse our traditional knowledge with birthing our babies.”
What brought you to homebirth?
It was the birth of our second to last child that ensured I would birth my last child at home. In Oct 2007 I gave birth to our 5th child Horouta – at Te Puia Springs hospital on the East Coast. I was living in Ruatoria at the time. The environment and approach of that hospital was like nothing I’d ever experienced with my other children who were all born in city hospitals. It is a small hospital with room for only 2 birthing women at a time. I was the only one there at the time. It was more like being at home than in a hospital. Small and intimate environment, and a double bed! My husband was able to stay with me for the whole time. They fed us and looked after us. My two midwives had a great approach and I was fortunate to have a worry free birth which they could just ‘let happen’, they gave me lots of assurances along the way. I gave birth to my son in the bath after a short labour. I got good follow up care and breastfeeding help. My eldest daughter even came and stayed with us for a night, which was fantastic.
Aside from that I guess I had been harbouring an organic interest in less intervention particularly because all my births had been relatively hassle free and I had amassed some confidence from that.
Tell us about your home birth experience.
…So when I found out I was pregnant again not long after my son’s birth at Te Puia hospital (he was just over 4 months old when I got pregnant) I knew straight away that I wanted the next birth to be at home.
We had moved back to Auckland by then. I went into labour in the morning, but it took a while for the real pains to come along. Both my mum and my stepmum were able to come over and be with me. They are both healers in (one in ninshinjitsu and the other is a bowen therapist) so I had them both working their magic on me to ease my labour pains when they got intense. Our other children were all at school and daycare, so during the daytime hours we just chilled out. I slept and ate while I was in less intense pain. Then I moved upstairs to my room as it got heavy, and eventually got into our bathtub. I knew I wanted another bathtub birth because that went so well for my son born just the year before.
By the time I got into the bath a few more family had come over. When baby was born I had several people crowding my bathroom. Haha. My little girl was born into the bath and we just lay in there together for a while. My midwives kept the water warm while we waited for my placenta to come. Little Teina, as she came to be named, just nuzzled her way onto a breast pretty soon while we were in the bath.
After the placenta was birthed they moved baby and I into my room. They had sorted my bed with plastic lining so I felt safe to get in it, haha. They just let Teina lie on my skin after checking she was fine, while they sorted a slight vaginal tear from delivery and sorted out my bleeding to make sure things were all normal. I had a laugh at my mum and stepmum at this stage who were doing their best to stuff a big giant black placenta into small a clay pot (ipu whenua) that I had made to bury the afterbirth in! The midwives remarked on how huge and dark it was! I think my mum and stepmum in the end had to find extra bagging to put around the ipu whenua because the placenta was spilling out over the sides, Oh dear.
And no wonder. They weighed the baby and she was a rocking 10 pounds 2 ounces! I knew something big had happened when I saw that she had come out with wrist and ankle fat rolls – so gorgeous and huge!
She did some feeding but mostly wanted to sleep. No one was very panicky about anything, we were all happy to let things happen because things were going well. Once they had checked we were all doing well I had a glorious shower and then my traditional tea and toast recovery food .
All children were home just as the baby was being born so by now I was all clean, baby was all warm and wrapped and had fed a wee bit so was content just sleeping on whoever won the fight to hold her. I was able to go downstairs and have a wonderful pasta dinner with everyone including the midwives who had been asked to stay for tea. They loved that.
My homebirth was gorgeous. I wish I had done it for all my other children but I’m glad I got to experience that for my last.
What does birth mean to you – at a more global or spiritual level?
Birth is one of the most physically and spiritually challenging things I have ever had the privilege of doing. Birth is simple and raw and also hugely complex at the same time. In general I have had only good positive experiences of giving birth and feel privileged in that.
I rremember after the first time I gave birth, I had this huge thought going through my mind which was “YOU MEAN TO TELL ME THAT EVERY ONE WHO HAS GIVEN BIRTH HAS DONE THAT?!?!?!”
I could not believe the upheaval that my body had just been through – and my first birth was a sweet little number of a few hours of labour, and then out she came.
And for my first child I was a young strong healthy and fit woman who recovered really quickly – but even with all that favouring me birth was just a phenomenal achievement in my eyes.
Birth is ‘sorta nothing much’ because we do it every second of the day around the world. But it is also everything. The biggest thing ever.
“Birth is ‘sorta nothing much’ because we do it every second of the day around the world. But it is also everything. The biggest thing ever.”
The right to continuity of care and our midwifery system was something we fought for, how valuable do you think this is for birthing women in NZ?
I think we owe those fighters a lot. I know things have changed from the time when my mother had us kids in the 70’s but I think we do mostly well here in Aotearoa. I really wanted to have a relationship with my midwives right through my pregnancy and for after the birth as well. Pregnancy and birth and then the challenge of a newborn really can make us feel inadequate the second any little thing goes wrong. So continuity of care and people who can champion our wellbeing is essential.
With regards to birth rights in New Zealand, it’s been a long journey. Our feeling is that we are not there yet. Do you agree? What are your thoughts on birth rights in NZ.
I know we have done heaps of work. Mostly I talk on our achievements in terms of being a Maori woman. I think it is now widely known that most Maori will want to take charge of our whenua (placenta) for symbolic burial. This is an example of knowledge that we’ve had to fight for to get broadly known. We’ve made some gains but we have plenty more to make.
What does it mean to you, to be Maori and to give birth in New Zealand?
Many Maori, probably most, are not aware of some of our cultural birthing practices. There are plenty of wisdoms that we are still recalling and reclaiming. The burial of our placenta as a practice stayed around mostly but many other practices have not weathered as well.
Aside from birth practice – the broader implication of being Maori and giving birth in Aotearoa is about reaffirming our connection to this land, among many other things. Whenua is the word for our land and is the word for our placenta and we return our whenua to our whenua. And it is a profound connection to our tupuna and our whakapapa. The word ‘whanau’ refers to family connection and also refers to giving birth. Birth is a connecting act.
In your mind, how can we protect traditional Maori Birth practices?
I love what local marae and communities do to reclaim our practices and restore our knowledge. My ipu whenua for my homebirth was from a workshop held in Manurewa Marae. I also was able to source and prepare muka (flax fibre) for my last three births to be used to tie the cord off. I noticed that many non-Maori midwives are in the habit of using muka as an option because it is kinder than a big nobbly piece of plastic peg that we normally use. So we just have to keep using these approaches so they spread. We should be resourcing training and research and specialisms for Maori midwives to maintain our practices.
Do you think we do enough for our maori and pasifika birthing mothers?
How can we do better?
We just need more of things that are Maori and Pacific centered so we are at least providing that option. Many of our Maori people use generic services so there is probably a responsibility for all service providers to step up their own capacity in terms of better provision for Maori and Pacific mothers. The investment into relevant services would benefit all of us. If we get it right from the start we save money and pain in the long run. If we get it wrong at the start we can ruin generations thereafter.