Feeling at home in the birthing suite

Image via breatheinphotography.ca
Image via breatheinphotography.ca

There’s a reason why giving birth is also referred to as ‘being in labour’. Going into labour is a bit like entering a lifetime labour contract for 24/7 parenting with no leave entitlements or remuneration – a labour of love from whichever way you choose to look at it. We’ve mentioned before, one way we can uphold women’s ‘labour rights’ from the outset is through the provision of bilingual labour companions for immigrant and refugee women.

Research shows that immigrant and refugee woman want from maternity care the same things as non-immigrant women: safe, high-quality, attentive and individualised care. However, given the challenges with communication and an unfamiliar health system, it’s not surprising that immigrant women are also less positive about the care they receive and less likely to feel involved in decisions in their maternity care. In some cases, women have reported experiences of discrimination and prejudice.

Imagine giving birth for the first time. Imagine giving birth without your partner or preferred loved one beside you, or going into labour not being able to communicate with the hospital staff. These are just some of the issues that immigrant women face, especially those who are newly arrived and who have few social supports. On top of managing the excruciating pain, it can just be plain daunting having to deal with anything and everything else (did we mention the excruciating pain?). This is where a bilingual labour companion can play an important role in making women feel at home in the birthing suite.

In interviews conducted with women who had been supported by a bilingual labour companion, women spoke about this feeling of ‘home’:

‘Having the labour companion was very helpful and supportive. Her words were soothing, and eased the labour pain for me. I had a very similar feeling, when I had my mother with me during the first delivery. She was like a mother.’

‘The labour companion was very helpful and supportive. I was happy. She made me feel at home, as if I was among my family back home, and not alienated…she has done me a favour that I will never forget.’

‘I thought what a wonderful idea…to support immigrant women at the time of labour when the mother is usually missing her family, her homeland, language and feels like a stranger in another world.’

The women were part of a project partnership MCWH conducted with the Judith Lumley Centre, Latrobe University, which matched immigrant and refugee women giving birth at the Royal Women’s Hospital with bilingual labour companions. It was clear that not only did the labour companions provide much-needed language and practical support, they also relieved women of the burden of feeling alone.

We shouldn’t forget that giving birth is an intense and intimate experience and for immigrant women who already feel socially isolated or alienated from the broader Australian community, a bilingual labour companion can help bridge the gaps between coping in labour and coping in a new country.

If you would like to know more about the outcomes of the Bilingual Labour Companion Project, please contact Dr Regina Quiazon, Senior Research and Policy Advocate regina@mcwh.com.au