Shifting Out the Sweetness: Migrant Motherhood in New Zealand

DeSouza, R. (2007). Sifting out the sweetness: Migrant motherhood in New Zealand. In P. Liamputtong (Ed.), Reproduction, Childbearing and Motherhood: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (pp. 239-251). New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Abstract

Migration leads to transformation, willingly or unwillingly, for both the migrant and the receiving society. The changes that result can be superficial or visible; for example, cuisine or more subtle and private, such as identities. In considering motherhood in a new country, women are challenged with an opportunity to reshape their identity, from viewing their culture as static with fixed boundaries and members to fluid, pliable, negotiated and renegotiated through interactions with others. The pluralising of identities that accompanies migrant motherhood is brought to the fore with migrant women having to sift and reclaim aspects of culture that may have been lost, preserve memories of cultural practices, transmit, maintain or discard traditional perinatal practices and  choose new practices. In addition, there may be old and new authority figures in the shape of midwives or mothers to appease. This chapter provides an overview of how women originating from Goa, India who had babies in New Zealand actively considered their past, present and future in terms of cultural maintenance and reclamation during the perinatal period. The history of Goan colonisation as a catalyst for dispersal had already led to the modification of cultural practices. The development of plural identities and the strategic utilization of cultural resources new and old are examined, as is the potential to apply notions of cultural safety to migrant health. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the implications of plural identities for health services and workforce development in New Zealand.

Introduction

At no other time in their lives do women get bombarded and overwhelmed with more information and advice, which is frequently unsolicited, as when they are pregnant and have babies. As a nurse working on a post-natal ward many years ago, I remember meeting a vibrant and loving couple, who said their strategy for managing the mountain of advice, was to “sift out the sweetness.” This sifting process is doubly significant for migrant women who have a baby in a new country. They must sift between their own cultural practices and those of the receiving communities. For many, it involves reclaiming long forgotten practices especially if they are separated from their traditional knowledge sources. In turn, there is an opportunity for receiving societies and their systems to sift through their practices and consider ones brought by immigrants to see if there are opportunities for improvement and innovation.

This chapter focuses on a study of women from the Goan/Indian community in Auckland, New Zealand and discusses how women manage the dual transition of motherhood and migration while separated from networks and supports. A brief history of New Zealand demographics, migration and policy is given, followed by an overview of Goan migration. A description of the study that took place follows including the theoretical standpoint and social and cultural context. The findings of the study are then discussed, focusing on how women negotiated their cultural identities. The chapter concludes with an overview of implications for social care and health professionals.

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