Chloe Wright – Supporting kiwi families at Bethlehem Birthing Centre

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Chloe Wright is CEO of Birthing Centre, which opened Bethlehem Birthing Centre in Tauranga in 2014, followed by centres in Palmerston North and Lower Hutt. A fourth birthing centre is due to open in South Auckland early 2019. Chloe is also CEO of the Wright Family Foundation, which owns and supports Birthing Centre and is dedicated to growing the good in New Zealand through education and health initiatives.

Here, Chloe shares her personal story of her birthing journey, and how these experiences inspired her work supporting Kiwi families.

Will I ever forget the shock of labour; the nursing sister hissing “don’t touch doctors’ hands!” Pinned to the delivery table, a terrifying journey into motherhood. Then came the silent tears, one month off turning 19, wondering if I would ever be able to run, play tennis, and dance again. It was only one episiotomy stitch, but I felt ‘stitched up’.

Greeting our newborn (10lb6oz) son, washed, swaddled and handed to me like a plain brown paper wrapped package, I instantly loved him with the intensity that only a mother would understand, but I thought “I will never do this again”. Five years later, telling myself “it is only one day, then you
will have the most amazing gift of a child”, I ventured forth with my next pregnancy and the next. Two more boys, excruciating back pain, stirrups, masked doctor, and on my back like an upturned centipede. My positioning was dictated by the delivery table and the brightness of the overhead surgical lights. But the care and support I received while resting in hospital for 10 days after my second birth, then eight days after my third, prepared me for the rigours of each new baby. Two more babies followed, with, by now, six days afterwards in hospital, and did I need them with other children at home!

Until my daughters-in law began having babies, I was unaware of the sweeping changes to women’s birthing experiences. Now we had midwives, women-centred professionals who supported and made the journey of pregnancy and birth a place where pregnant women could speak of their hopes and fears, and feel the love and commitment to their needs. But, where was the needed rest, nurturing, breastfeeding support, educating of parents in how to care for their baby, and respect for the time of attachment? Women were sometimes being sent home within hours of giving birth.

I began collecting stories. The common thread from older mothers was the memory of the nurturing postnatal care and attention, but the lack of empowerment with the birthing experience.

Women can do anything, but not all at the same time.

I began to look at the rates of post-natal depression and the horrific incidence of maternal suicide.

There had to be a correlation between this and many women’s sense of isolation, feelings of inadequacy, and a system that told women, basically, to get on with it. Women need choices, and the current system is failing many. We need to recognise that if we don’t fully support those who nurture new life, there will be a continuing spiral of maternal mental health issues derailing the chances of many children achieving the healthy and happy upbringing they have a right to.

Birthing Centre was born out of a commitment to advocate for women’s choices, honour women’s birthing experiences, and help to create the strong bonds to develop beautiful family relationships.

The care we offer at Birthing Centre is what research demonstrates builds the bonding and attachment between mother and baby in the first few days, and prevents the baby being shaken or harmed. The nature of the bonding between the mother and the infant influences childhood neuro- development. Maternal nurturing and attention during the first post-natal year appears to be critical for optimal infant brain development.

As I attended my own daughter’s birthing experience I marvelled at how far we had come with the care for women by midwives, but was saddened by how much had been lost for women and babies who were not provided with the vital post-natal support due to them. Women have a right to remain in post-natal care for 44 hours after birth if they do not feel competent and confident.

As I gather my large extended family around me I am grateful for the love and support of my husband, the joy I find in my family, and the energy I get from providing all I am able as I advocate for best outcomes for the women of New Zealand.