June 21, 2022

Safe pregnancy journey for refugee women

This week is Refugee Week, a chance to highlight aspects of the refugee experience and to provide the community with an insight into what it is like to be a refugee.

One of the ways we help refugees feel connected to their community is through a Group Pregnancy Care (GPC) program, known as the Happy Mothers Group. This group help Assyrian Chaldean pregnant refugee women and their families have a safe pregnancy, birth and parenting experience.

The GPC model of care was introduced at Northern Health in 2017 in response to global research that identified refugee families as having vulnerable and poorer maternal and child health outcomes.

The program provides advice on pregnancy, informed decision-making strategies, practical preparation for labour and birth, navigating the hospital maternity system and processes to ensure they are receiving evidenced-based care. Women also receive advice on breastfeeding, postnatal care, postnatal recovery, early childhood behaviour, growth and development, and child health.

Parallel to the group session, women can step out to their scheduled antenatal clinic appointment privately with a midwife and interpreter, and then return to the group. Pregnant women with toddlers are also able to bring their children to the group who have an educational and safe play space set up in the same room as their mothers.

Northern Health midwives, Childbirth and Parent Educators, and Assyrian Chaldean interpreters, work with a Maternal and Child Health Nurse, and Parent Support Officer from Hume City Council, to provide the program. Also alongside them, is a bicultural family mentor from VICSEG‘s northern region. The group meet on a fortnightly basis for two hours at Craigieburn Centre or via video call.

Marie Treloar, Northern Health Childbirth and Parenting Educator Coordinator, said the program was extremely helpful for refugee women who may not speak English as their first language, and are not used to the Australian healthcare system.

“These women are used to completely different healthcare in their countries. They may have had previous babies in those systems so for them to navigate their way through our system is quite difficult,” she said.

“We have had close to 300 women come through the program. Women join us really early in their first trimester and they journey with us during their whole nine months. They are also welcome to come back with their babies and children up to four years of age.”

“Some women are now pregnant with their second baby. We are seeing women return which is really awesome for us – they have found it very beneficial.”

The program is open for all women who identify as Assyrian Chaldean and are booked to have their baby at Northern Hospital Epping.

“Our main source of recruitment has been word of mouth because women are telling other women,” Marie said.

“We ask the women, why do you keep coming back? One of them said the information provided was really helpful and the privacy and comfort they have in the group is great. The women don’t feel awkward – the group is open for any questions and they feel safe.”

May Khoshaba, Assyrian Chaldean Interpreter, said women were encouraged to share their pregnancy, labour, birth, breastfeeding and parenting experiences from overseas and in Australia to compare the differences.

“It helps women navigate their way through the system. Particularly by working with the interpreter and bicultural worker, it helps our women to communicate their needs and ask questions,” she said.

Imad Hirmiz, Assyrian Chaldean Interpreter, said antenatal care for many refugees required more than a midwife and doctor.

“They need a health service that understands their cultural and settlement needs and goes above and beyond their standard care,” Imad said.

“Northern Health’s Happy Mothers Group provides the support needed in a culturally sensitive, friendly and engaging environment to those mothers. I am glad that, as an interpreter and translator, I am able to participate in this amazing program by bridging the communication gap to achieve the best outcome for Assyrian Chaldean mothers.”

Featured image: Women and their children in the Happy Mothers Group.