When birthing doesn’t go as planned – an interview with new māmā, Bronwyn Turei
Creating safety and healing in the months after pēpi is born
PADA Communications Manager Stefanie Dixon first encountered NZ actress Bronwyn Turei (Ngāti Porou) playing a variety of characters in Emily Writes‘ play Rants In The Dark, itself based on Emily’s bestselling book for new parents: Rants In The Dark: From One Tired Mama to Another. Bronwyn has recently finished a season of Hemo is Home, in the newly refurbished Te Pou Theatre in West Auckland, alongside TVNZ presenter Te Rauhiringa Brown, herself a staunch advocate for perinatal mental health issues in māmā.
In April last year, Te Rauhiringa appeared on Breakfast on TVNZ with her māmā, PADA Kaumātua Joanne Teina. TVNZ reported at the time: “The leading cause of death for women who are pregnant or have just given birth is suicide, with wāhine Māori making up 57%. Te Rauhiringa Brown says there are unrealistic expectations and pressures on mothers after they have had children and there needs to be change to ensure mothers are not discharged without after-birth care.”
Stefanie reached out to Bronwyn following the birth of her kōtiro, and Bronwyn generously shares her birth story with us here, so that other new māmā and pāpā, birthing parents and partners, can ask for the support and healing they may need, which can often be many months after birth.
Please note: this story contains details of birth trauma as experienced by both parents.
“We had a dreamy pregnancy. I felt so lucky. Our daughter was named months before she arrived, and a beautiful friend of mine took the time to write us a karakia specifically for us to speak the moment she was earthside with us. We had a muka pito tie prepared and ready to go. Little things. Things that mattered to our experience.
But by the time we got to this part of the process we had already ticked off pretty much everything we didn’t want, everything that could’ve gone wrong, just grateful we had narrowly avoided surgery and that our baby was here and healthy. As I developed high blood pressure in the last few weeks of being hapū, a date was set for my induction. The list of interventions was long. During, I had a haemorrhage, so they wanted to cut the cord immediately and get my placenta out. The time it took to stitch me back up from the bilateral internal tears and episiotomy, felt like forever.
The look of worry on my darling man’s face through the whole three days was hard. The fact that she was born on his birthday made it all seem a lot more magical. 19th of December. There were happy tears, there were jokes and there was a feeling of pure invincibility – we could do anything!
After an extended stay in hospital and a few days in Birthcare we finally arrived home with our tiny amazing little human. Excited to be home and to give ourselves the space to figure out this new adventure together. Although we were open to talking about what we had just been through, we were also not ready to process it either.
Photo: Supplied/Andi Crown Photography
Our whānau all live in different cities and with lockdown red setting only just lifted, we decided to stay put and stay safe. Christmas came and went in a quiet haze. New Years turned up and we switched off, happy to curl up with a hot drink and a movie. Unfortunately my body had other ideas. New Year’s Day, not long after a night feed and just getting baby settled, I started to bleed.. a lot.
I filled pad after pad. We contacted our wonderful midwife who told us to get to the hospital asap. Once at the ED entrance we were told that only I could go through, my partner and baby had to stay outside due to covid protocols. Midnight with a screaming two week old, my partner headed back to the carpark to wait for news as I cowboy-walked my adult diaper full of blood into the building. After tests, meds, IV lines, a suppository, an admission to a ward, an ultrasound, a very hungry baby and a stressed partner we found the culprit was a sizeable chunk of retained placenta.
Because of the time of year surgery was emergency only so I was put on a list for the day after next. Being back in hospital hit both my partner and I pretty hard, we realised later what a massive trauma trigger it was. As I was exclusively breastfeeding, on the day of my surgery I gave pēpi breakfast and was then wheeled off – leaving an anxious new Dad holding the baby. Apparently she kicked off from the moment I was down the corridor and the entire three hours I was gone. My partner was so exasperated and overwhelmed that he needed to go for a walk outside.
When I came to in recovery there was a nurse ready to hand me my hungry Bubba and my phone. On the other end of the call was my love, standing next to the lake outside, crying. Apologising. Feeling bad that he couldn’t cope. I reassured him as best I could from my post-surgery daze, and once again we soldiered ahead, determined to not let this define the beginning of our journey as parents.
Photo: Supplied/Bronwyn Turei
The months passed, I healed physically, and we lost ourselves in the precious multitude of tiny wonders our kōtiro brought into our world. I caught up with friends and shared our story – minimising it each time. Convincing myself others have had a far darker story than us. That it could’ve been much worse. To stop moaning and get on with it. One major thing that came from our birth story – it completely put us off having another child. We also couldn’t bring ourselves to watch the recording that we captured of the last two hours of it.
One day at a job, I caught up with a dear friend and chat turned to the birth. I rattled off my list of events in a flippant fashion and the look of concern on her face during was intense. Afterwards she said something that really struck a chord; “That’s horrific and I’m so sorry that happened to you guys”.
All at once I felt validated and traumatised over again. She mentioned she had a colleague, who specialised in postpartum and birth related trauma, who she could put me in touch with. I gratefully accepted. After a few emails and a questionnaire so she could get a gauge on what we needed, and even though nine months had passed since our birth experience, we set a date to have a session with a wonderful woman named Rachael Rachmani (Psychologist and Parenting Facilitator for Ohomairangi Trust).
From the comfort of our own lounge, over Zoom, while breastfeeding our Bubs, we began with a karakia, mihi, and then my partner and I recounted our story. My chest tightened as anxiety crept in but she created a safe space for us to open up. My partner then had a chance to speak about what he went through and how it had affected him. How he felt helpless, scared, overwhelmed and as though he hadn’t protected me.
She reassured us. She validated us. She shared her knowledge and gave us tools to use if we needed. Nothing was rushed. Three hours passed and at the end, there was a sense of release; a confirmation of our strong connection as a couple and a reassurance that we were doing great. It was an invaluable experience and one I would recommend to any new parents – not just for traumatic events, but to deepen your understanding of each other as humans who just went through a life-changing event. There is absolutely no whakamā in reaching out for help and only healing to gain.
Sending aroha from our little whānau to everyone who needs it.”
Trauma caused by birthing has long since been a problem within our health system, failing new parents to thrive and support their growing whānau. PADA was part of the group that lobbied for change to the Accident Compensation (Maternal Birth Injury and Other Matters) Amendment Bill to expand ACC cover for birthing injuries, which came into effect from 1 October 2022. If you have suffered trauma or injury from birth since that date, check out Ngā wharanga whakawhānau pēpi | Maternal birth injuries with ACC.
It is now understood that PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) can be a consequence of a traumatic birth, for example after an unplanned caesarean section or a baby being rushed away for resuscitation. PADA has developed a web page and resource for healthcare providers to identify and support people suffering from PTSD after childbirth. For Bronwyn, her experience also took her miles away from the traditional Māori practises she had prepared for her birthing experience as a wahine toa, and hers is far from being the only story.
This is why PADA has shifted our focus to better connect with local kaupapa-Māori healthcare initiatives and services in our training wānanga; to ensure better representation, knowledge and how culturally-competent care can be better understood and provided for Māori and Pasifika whānau. In shifting the focus from a pākehā/western-centric health model, we better honour our treaty obligations and meet the needs of our bicultural responsibilities. We acknowledge that service trauma for Māori, Pasifika and other under-represented communities in Aotearoa New Zealand is over-represented in our statistics, and we want to be part of the voices of healing and prevention of ongoing service trauma for our future birthing people and tamariki.
Te ORA, Māori Medical Practitioners Association, has been advocating for equitable health outcomes for Māori and Pasifika communities for more than 25 years. The organisation’s Kaihautū/Chairperson, Dr David Tipene-Leach, has said:
“If you get it right for Māori, you get it right for everybody.
Everybody benefits when you look after those who need it the most.”
Perinatal Mental Health Awareness Week, every first week in May, is the 12th annual campaign hosted by PADA to raise awareness and encourage advocacy to highlight the need for better perinatal mental health outcomes in Aotearoa.
Throughout this week we share stories and information and provide opportunities to increase understanding and help for people suffering from perinatal (anytime during pregnancy, birth or early parenting) mental health issues.
This year, we are committed to showing how we can all make a difference to improve perinatal mental health outcomes in Aotearoa, by working together to make a world of difference for people in this vulnerable time.
Our theme this year is He Toa Takitini | Stronger Together! – Get Involved Here!