Mouthing off about oral health

I have had several tooth adventures. The time I rather enthusiastically pushed my middle sister on her bicycle and she fell over the handlebars breaking a tooth (or was that the time I helped her break her collar-bone?). My own dental fluorosis (a developmental disturbance of enamel that results from ingesting high amounts of fluoride during tooth mineralization) and my mother’s sobering experience of periodontal disease. Not to mention my parents’ adventures in dental tourism, but I’ll save those for another time.

Apart from the personal injunction to clean and floss my teeth, I didn’t think too much about oral health as a mental health clinician until I’d left clinical practice for education, when I found myself at AUT University in a faculty committed to inter-professional education and practice, where “current or future health professionals to learn with, from, and about one another in order to improve collaboration and the quality of care.”

 

We had learned about oral health as undergraduate nurses, particularly about post-operative oral health care and oral health for older people. But even when working in acute mental health units, community mental health and maternity, I hate to admit, oral health wasn’t on my mind. Unsurprisingly, evidence shows that even though oral health is a major determinant of general health, self esteem and quality of life, it often has a low priority in the context of mental illness (Matevosyan 2010).

As the programme leader of health promotion at AUT, a colleague in the oral health team asked me to talk to her students about the connections between mental health and oral health and that’s when my journey really began. I also had the pleasure of getting my teeth cleaned and checked at the on site Akoranga Integrated Health at AUT whose services were provided by final year and post graduate health science students under close supervision of a qualified clinical team.

It made me think about how oral health care is performed in a highly sensual area of the body. I learned that oral tissues develop by week 7 and the foetus can be seen sucking their thumb. It made me think about how suckling and maternal bonding are critical after birth. It made me think about how we use our mouths to express ourselves and to smile or show anger or shyness, literally 65% of of our communication. It made me think about kissing in intimate relationships and therefore also about how it’s not at all surprising that our mouths also represent vulnerability and that people might consequently suffer from fear and anxiety around oral health treatment. This can range from slight feelings of unease during routine procedures to feelings of extreme anxiety long before treatment is happening (odontophobia). Reportedly, 5-20% of the adult population reports fear or anxiety of oral health care, which can lead to avoidance of dental treatment and common triggers can include local anaesthetic injection and the dental drill.

Poor oral health has a detrimental effect on one’s quality of life. Loss of teeth impairs eating, leading to reduced nutritional status and diet-related ill health. A quarter of Australians report that they avoid eating some foods as a consequence of the pain and discomfort caused by their poor dental health. Nearly one-third found it uncomfortable to eat in general. Oral disease creates pain, suffering, disfigurement and disability. Almost one-quarter of Australian adults report feeling self-conscious or embarrassed because of oral health problems, impacting on enjoyment of life, impairing social life or leading to isolation with compromised interpersonal relationships

People with severe mental illness are more likely to require oral health care and have 2.7 times the general population’s likelihood of losing all their teeth (Kisely 2016). Women with mental illness have a higher DMFT index (the mean number of decayed, missing, and filled teeth) (Matevosyan 2010). In particular, oral hygiene may be compromised. For people who experience mood disorders, depressive phases can leave person feeling worthless, sad and lacking in energy, where maintaining a healthy diet and oral hygiene become a low priority. The increased energy of manic episodes can mean energy is diffused, concentration difficulties and poor judgement. People who experience mental ill health and who self-medicate with recreational drugs and alcohol can further exacerbate poor oral health. Furthermore, drug side effects can compromise good oral health by increasing plaque and calculus formation (Slack-Smith et al. 2016). It is important for mental health support staff to provide information regarding oral health, in particular education about xerostomic (dry mouth) effects of drug treatment and strategies for managing these effects including maintaining oral hygiene, offering artificial saliva products, mouthwashes and topical fluoride applications.

There are organisational and professional barriers to better oral health in mental health care. Mental health nurses do not routinely assess oral health or hygiene and lack oral health knowledge or have comprehensive protocols to follow. As Slack-Smith et al. (2016) note there are few structural and systemic supports in care environments with multiple competing demands. Research shows that dentists are more likely to extract teeth than carry out complex preventative or restorative care in this population. Mental health clinicians are reluctant to discuss oral health and in turn oral health practitioners are not always prepared for providing care to patients with mental health disorders.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog post. Until the 17th century, medical care and dental care were integrated, however, dentistry emerged as a distinct discipline, separate from doctors, alchemists and barbers who had had teeth removal in their scope of practice (Kisely 2016).

Cox, S.; A Country Toothdrawer; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-country-toothdrawer-125814
Cox, S.; A Country Toothdrawer; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-country-toothdrawer-125814

I spent the weekend at the Putting the Mouth Back into the Body conference, an innovative, multidisciplinary health conference hosted by North Richmond Community Health. It got me thinking about the place of the mouth in the body and developed my learning further. The scientific method and the mechanistic model of the body central to the western biomedical conception of the body, have led us to see the body in parts which can be attended to separately from each other. And yet we know what affects one part of the body affects other parts. There’ll be an official outcomes report produced from the conference, but I thought I’d capture some of my own reflections and learning in this blog post.

Equity and the social determinants of dental disease

Tooth decay is Australia’s most prevalent health problem with edentulism (loss of all natural teeth) the third-most prevalent health problem. Gum disease is the fifth-most prevalent health problem. Tooth decay is five times more prevalent than asthma in children. Oral conditions including tooth decay, gum disease, oral cancer and oral trauma create a ‘burden’ due to their direct effect on people’s quality of life and the indirect impact on the economy. There are also significant financial and public health implications of poor oral health and hygiene. Hon. Mary-Anne Thomas MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Parliamentary Secretary for Carers spoke about the impact of oral health on employment. She reinforced research findings which show that people with straight teeth as 45 per cent more likely to get a job than those with crooked teeth, when competing with someone with a similar skill set and experience. People with straight teeth were seen as 58 per cent more likely to be successful and 58 per cent more likely to be wealthy. Dental health is excluded from the Australian Government’s health scheme Medicare, which means that there is significant suffering by those who cannot afford the cost of private dental care for example low-income and marginalised groups. Dental care only constitutes 6% of national health spending and comprehensive reform could be effected with the addition of less than 2 percentage points to this says a Brotherhood of St Lawrence report (End the decay: the cost of poor dental health and what should be done about it by Bronwyn Richardson and Jeff Richardson (2011)). The socially
disadvantaged also experience more inequalities in Early Childhood Caries (ECC) rates. Research has also shown that children from refugee families have poorer oral health than the wider population. A study by my colleagues at North Richmond Community Health and University of Melbourne found that low dental service use by migrant preschool children. The study recommended that health services  consider organizational cultural competence, outreach and increased engagement with the migrant community (Christian, Young et al., 2015).

The interactions between oral health and general health 

Professor Joerg Eberhard spoke about the interactions between oral and general health through the lifespan. His talk also demonstrated the importance of oral hygiene, not only to prevent cavities and gum disease but impact on pregnancy, diabetes and cardiovascular health. 50 to 70 per cent of the population have gingivitis and severe gum disease (periodontitis) which develop in response to bacterial accumulation have adverse effects for general health. He showed participants the interactions of oral health and general health with a focus on diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. Most strikingly, Eberhard’s research published in The International Journal of Cardiology in 2014, showed periodontitis could undermine the major benefits of physical activity. If you are interested in the link between oral health and non-communicable diseases, this Sydney Morning Herald article provides a great summary.

Key points:

  • What effects the body also affects the mouth, in fact this is bidirectional.
  • Early experiences impact lifelong health eg sugar preference, early cavities, diet.

Sugar is a significant culprit

I learned a lot about sugar from Jane Martin the Exective Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition and Clinical Associate Professor Matthew Hopcraft an Australian dentist, public health academic and television cook. 52% of Australians exceed the WHO recommendations for sugar intake, and half of our free sugars come from beverages. Sugar intake profoundly impacts cavities and our contemporary modes of industrial food production are to blame. We also need to challenge the subtle marketing of energy dense nutrient poor products eg the ubiquity of fizzy drink vending machines. To that end both Universities in the United States and health services worldwide (see NHS England) are taking the initiative to phase out the sale and promotion of sugary drinks at their sites. At the University of Sydney a group of students, researchers and academics are taking this step through the Sydney University Healthy Beverage Initiative. Check out this fabulous social marketing campaign with indigenous communities in Australia by Rethink Sugary DrinkSugar-free Smiles advocate for public health policies and regulatory initiatives to reduce sugar consumption and improve the oral health of all Australians. There’s also the Sugar by half campaign.

sugary-drinks

Key points:

  • We need to think about what we are eating.
  • Oral health promotion and oral health literacy are important.
  • We need to think about the addition of sugar in foods that are ostensibly good for us (cereal and yoghurt for breakfast for example).

The case for working collaboratively: The example of pharmacists

Dr Meng-Wong Taing (Wong) from the University of Queensland persuasively argued how other professionals can have a major role in promoting both oral health and helping to lower the risk of suffering other serious conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Wong cited recent research findings describing the role of Australian community pharmacists in oral healthcare that show 93 per cent of all community pharmacists surveyed believed delivering oral health advice was within their roles as pharmacists. People in lower socio-economic areas often can’t afford to see a dentist and so pharmacies are the first port of call for people experiencing oral health issues. The 2013 ‘National Dental Telephone Interview Survey’, which found the overall proportion of people aged five and over who avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to cost was 31.7 per cent, ranging from 10.7 per cent for children aged five-14 to 44.9 per cent for people aged 25-44.

Wong’s presentation and those of other speakers over the two days showed the importance of Interprofessional Collaboration (IPC)

IPC occurs when “multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds provide comprehensive services by working with patients, their families, carers, and communities to deliver the highest quality of care across settings” (WHO 2010, p. 13).

Key points:

  • How do we get oral health in health professional curricula? Particularly given the emphasis on the technocratic and acute at the expense of health promotion and public health.
  • How can we focus on oral health from a broader social determinants perspective?
  • Let’s improve access to services and oral health outcomes.
  • Let’s develop inter-professional approaches to undergraduate education.
  • Let’s develop collaborative approaches and avoiding the ‘siloing’ of oral health.
  • Let’s encouraging partnerships between oral health professionals and other health professionals, community groups and advocacy groups.
  • Rather than developing better systems, let’s have better relationships that are consumer centred (see above and AUT’s Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice (IPECP) website.

Perhaps the best news of the two days for me is that milk, cheese and yoghurt and presumably paneer, contain calcium, casein and phosphorus that create a protective protein film over the enamel surface of the tooth thereby reducing both the risk of tooth decay and the repair of teeth after acid attacks. This information validates my enjoyment of sparkling wine (low sugar but acidic) and cheese. Cheers.

Providing Culturally Safe Maternal and Child Healthcare

Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2016, June 1st). Keynote address-Providing Culturally Safe Maternal and Child Healthcare, Multicultural Health Research to Practice Forum: Early Interventions in Maternal and Child Health, Program, Organised by the Multicultural Health Service, South Eastern Sydney, Local Health District, Australia. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ruthdesouza.com/2016/06/11/cultural-safety-in-maternity/

 

Image from the film, the Namesake
Image from the film, the Namesake

A paragraph haunts me in The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri’s fictional account of the Indian immigrant experience. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli migrate from Calcutta to Cambridge, Massachusetts after their arranged wedding. While pregnant, Ashima reflects:

Nothing feels normal. it’s not so much the pain which she knows she will survive. It’s the consequence: motherhood in a foreign land. For it was one thing to be pregnant to suffer the queasy mornings in bed, the sleepless nights, the dull throbbing in her back, the countless visits to the bathroom. Throughout the experience, in spite of her growing discomfort, she’s been astonished by her body’s ability to make life, exactly as her and grandmother and all her great grandmothers had done. That it was happening so far from home, unmonitored and unobserved by those she loved, had made it more miraculous still. But she is terrified to raise a child in a country where she is related to no one, where she knows so little, where life seems so tentative and spare. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri

Ashima’s account beautifully captures the universality of the physical, embodied changes of maternity, the swelling, the nausea and other changes. But what Lahiri poignantly conveys is the singular emotional and cultural upheaval of these changes, the losses they give rise to. The absence of loving, knowledgeable, nurturing witnesses, the absence of a soft place to fall.

Arrival of baby girl in Prato, Tuscany. Credit DeSouza (2006).
Arrival of baby girl in Prato, Tuscany. Credit DeSouza (2006).

In 1994 I worked on a post-natal ward where I was struck by the limits of universality and how treating everybody the same was problematic. For example, ostensibly beneficial practices like the routine administration of an icepack for soothing the perineum postnatally, or the imperative to mobilise quickly or to “room in” have potentially damaging effects on women whose knowledge frameworks differed from the dominant Pakeha culture of healthcare. These practices combined with a system designed for an imagined white middle class user, where professionals had knowledge deficits and monocultural and assimilatory attitudes, led to unsafe practices such as using family members and children as interpreters (my horror when a boy child was asked to ask his mother about the amount of lochia on her pad). The sanctity of birth, requiring the special, nurturing treatment of new mothers and a welcome from a community was superseded by the factory culture of maximum efficiency. Not all mothers were created equal, not young mothers, not older mothers, not single mothers, not substance using mothers, not indigenous mothers, not culturally different mothers. The sense that I was a cog in a big machine that was inattentive to the needs of “other” mothers led me to critique the effectiveness of cultural safety in the curriculum. How was it possible that a powerful indigenous pedagogical tool for addressing health inequity was not evident in clinical practice?

Photo of me as a staff nurse back in the day.
Photo of me as a staff nurse back in the day.

Leaving the post-natal ward, I took up a role helping to develop a new maternal mental health service in Auckland. There too I began to question the limitations of our model of care which privileged talking therapies rather than providing practical help and support. I was also staggered at the time at the raced and classed profile of our clients who were predominantly white middle class career women. Interestingly, the longer I was involved in the service the greater the number of ethnic women accessed the service. For my Master’s thesis, I interviewed Goan women about their maternity experiences in New Zealand, where the importance of social support and rituals in the perinatal period was noted by participants.

As much as it was important to register and legitimate cultural difference, I was also aware of the importance of not falling into the cultural awareness chasm. As Gregory Philips notes in his stunning PhD, it was assumed that through teaching about other cultures, needs would be better understood as “complex, equal and valid” (Philips, 2015). However, it didn’t challenge privilege, class and power. As Joan Scott points out:

There is nothing wrong, on the face of it, with teaching individuals about how to behave decently in relation to others and about how to empathize with each other’s pain. The problem is that difficult analyses of how history and social standing, privilege, and subordination are involved in personal behavior entirely drop out (Scott, 1992, p.9).

The problem with culturalism is that the notion of “learning about” groups of people with a common ethnicity assumes that groups of people are homogenous, unchanging and can be known. Their cultural differences are then viewed as the problem, juxtaposed against an implicit dominant white middle class cultural norm. This became evident in my PhD analysis of interviews with Korean mothers who’d birthed in New Zealand. In Australia and the US, cultural competence has superseded cultural awareness as a mechanism for correcting the limitations of universalism, by drawing attention to organisational and systemic mechanisms that can be measured but as a strategy for individual and interpersonal action, several authors draw attention to competence as being part of the “problem”:

The concept of multicultural competence is flawed… I question the notion that one could become “competent” at the culture of another. I would instead propose a model in which maintaining an awareness of one’s lack of competence is the goal rather than the establishment of competence. With “lack of competence” as the focus, a different view of practicing across cultures emerges. The client is the “expert” and the clinician is in a position of seeking knowledge and trying to understand what life is like for the client. There is no thought of competence—instead one thinks of gaining understanding (always partial) of a phenomenon that is evolving and changing (Dean, 2001, p.624).

In Wellness for all: the possibilities of cultural safety and cultural competence in New Zealand, I advocated for a combination of cultural competence and cultural safety. Cultural safety was developed by Indigenous nurses in Aotearoa New Zealand as a mechanism for considering and equalizing power relationships between client and practitioner. It is an ethical framework for practice derived from postcolonial and critical theory. Cultural safety proposes that practitioners reflect on how their status as culture bearers impacts on care, with care being deemed culturally safe by the consumer or recipient of care. In my PhD I wrote about the inadequacy of the liberal foundations of nursing and midwifery discourses for meeting the health needs of diverse maternal groups. My thesis advocated for the extension of the theory and practice of cultural safety to critique nursing’s Anglo-European knowledge base in order to extend the discipline’s intellectual and political mandate with the aim of providing effective support to diverse groups of mothers. In Australia, cultural responsiveness, cultural security and cultural respect are also used, you can read more about this on my post on Minding the Gap.

So let’s look at culturally safe maternity care. My experience as a clinician and researcher reveal a gap between how birth is viewed. In contemporary settler nations like New Zealand, midwifery discourses position birth as natural and the maternal subject as physically capable of caring for her baby from the moment it is born, requiring minimal intervention and protection. The maternal body is represented as strong and capable for taking on the tasks of motherhood. In contrast, many cultures view birth as a process that makes the body vulnerable, requiring careful surveillance and monitoring and a period of rest and nurturing before the new mother can take on new or additional responsibilities. The maternal body is seen as a body at risk (Mahjouri, 2008), and vulnerable requiring special care through rituals and support. Therefore, practices based on a dominant discourse of birth as a normal physiological event and neoliberal discourses of productive subjectivity create a gap between what migrant  women expect in the care they expect from maternal services. These practices also constitute modes of governing which are intended to be empowering and normalizing, but are experienced  as disempowering because they don’t take into account other views of birth. Consequently there is no recognition on the part of maternity services that for a short time, there is a temporary role change, where the new mother transitions into a caregiver by being cared for. This social transition where the mother is mothered is sanctioned in order to safeguard the new mother, a demonstration to value and protect both future capacity for mothering and long term well being, in contrast with dominant discourses of responsibilisation and intensive motherhood. Thus, instead of a few days of celebration or a baby shower, extended post-partum practices are enacted which can include the following (Note that these will vary depending on in group differences, urbanisation, working mothers, migration):

  • Organised support- where family members (eg mother, mother-in-law, and other female relatives) care for the new mother and infant. Other women may also be involved eg birth attendants.
  • Rest period and restricted practices- where women have a prescribed rest periods of between 21 days and five weeks, sometimes called “Doing the month”. Activities including sexual activity, physical and intellectual work are reduced.
  • Diet- Special foods are prepared that promote healing/restore health or have a rebalancing function for example because the postpartum period is seen as a time when the body is cold, hot food (protein rich) chicken soup, ginger and seaweed, milk, ghee, nuts, jaggery might be consumed. Special soups and tonics with a cleansing or activating function are consumed eg to help the body expel lochia, to increase breastmilk. These foods might be consumed at different stages of the perinatal period and some food might be prohibited while breastfeeding.
  • Hygiene and warmth- particular practices might be adhered to including purification/bathing practices eg warm baths, immersion. Others might include not washing hair.
  • Infant care and breastfeeding- Diverse beliefs about colostrum, other members of family may take more responsibility while mother recovers and has a temporarily peripheral role. Breastfeeding instigation and duration may differ.
  • Other practices include: binding, infant massage, maternal massage, care of the placenta.

If women are confronted with an unfamiliar health system with little support and understanding, they can experience stress, insecurity, loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, hopelessness. This combined with communication gaps and isolation, poor information provision, different norms, feeling misunderstood and feeling stigmatized. What could be a special time is perceived as a lack of care. Fortunately in Australia there are some excellent resources, for example this research based chapter on Cultural dimensions of pregnancy, birth and post-natal care produced by Victoria Team, Katie Vasey and Lenore Manderson, proposes useful questions for perinatal assessment which I have summarised below:

  • Are you comfortable with both male and female health care providers?
  • Are there any cultural practices that we need to be aware of in caring for you during your pregnancy, giving birth and postnatal period? – For example, requirements with the placenta, female circumcision or infant feeding method.
  • In your culture, do fathers usually attend births? Does your partner want to attend the birth of his child? If not, is there another close family member you would like to be present? Would you like us to speak to them about your care?
  • Are there any foods that are appropriate or inappropriate for you according to your religion or customs during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period?
  • Are there any beliefs or customs prohibiting physical activity during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period? Do you plan to observe these? – For example, a confinement period.
  • What is the culturally acceptable way for you to express pain during childbirth? – For example, screaming or trying to keep silent.
  • Are there any precautions with infant care?
  • How many visitors do you expect while you are in the hospital?
  • Do you have anyone in your family or community who can help you in practical ways when you get home?

Negotiating between cultural practices, values and norms, religious beliefs and views, beliefs about perinatal care is a starting point. It is also important to consider language proficiency, health literacy, quality of written materials, and level of acculturation. For further information on health literacy see the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity & Health (CEH) resources including: What is health literacy?, Social determinants of health and health literacy.  Using professional interpreters improves communication, clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction and quality of care, and reduces medical testing, errors, costs and risk of hospitalisation. Lack of appropriate interpreter service use is associated with adverse health outcomes. Centre for Culture,Ethnicity & Health (CEH) has excellent resources in this regard: Interpreters: an introduction, Assessing the need for an interpreter, Booking and briefing an interpreter, Communicating via an interpreter, Debriefing with an interpreter, Developing a comprehensive language services response, Language services guide Managing bilingual staffPlanning for translation, Recruiting bilingual staff.

Assessment should also consider:

  • Genetics and pregnancy: women’s age, parity, planning and acceptance of pregnancy, pregnancy related health behaviour and perceived health during pregnancy. 
  • Migration: women’s knowledge of/familiarity with the prenatal care services/system, experiences and expectations with prenatal care use in their country of origin, pregnancy status on arrival in the new industrialized western country.
  • Culture: women’s cultural practices, values and norms, acculturation, religious beliefs and views, language proficiency, beliefs about pregnancy and prenatal care.
  • Position in the host country: women’s education level, women’s pregnancy-related knowledge, household arrangement, financial resources and income.
  • Social network: size and degree of contact with social network, information and support from social network.
  • Accessibility: transport, opening hours, booking appointments, direct and indirect discrimination by the prenatal care providers.
  • Expertise: prenatal care tailored to patients’ needs and preferences.
  • Treatment and communication: communication from prenatal care providers to women, personal treatment of women by prenatal care providers, availability of health promotion/information material, use of alternative means of communication.
  • Professionally defined need: referral by general practitioners and other healthcare providers to prenatal care providers

A review by Small, Roth et al., (2014) found that what immigrant and non-immigrant women want from maternity care is similar: safe, high quality, attentive and individualised care, with adequate information and support. Generally immigrant women were less positive about care than non-immigrant women, in part due to communication issues, lack of familiarity with care systems, perceptions of discriminatory care which was not kind or respectful. The challenge for health systems is to address the barriers immigrant women face by improving communication, increasing women’s understanding of care provision and reducing discrimination. Clinical skills including—introspection, self-awareness, respectful questioning, attentive listening, curiosity, interest, and caring.

Also:

  • Facilitating trust, control
  • Delivering quality, safe care, communicating, being caring, providing choices
  • Facilitating access to interpreters and choice of gender of care provider,
  • Considering cultural practices, preferences and needs/different expectations for care
  • Engendering positive interactions, being empathetic, kind, caring and supportive.
  • Taking concerns seriously
  • Preserving dignity and privacy
  • Seeing a person both as an individual, a family member and a community member
  • Developing composure managing verbal and non-verbal expressions of disgust and surprise
  • Paradoxical combination of two ideas— being “informed” and “not knowing” simultaneously.

In that sense, our knowledge is always partial and we are always operating from a position of incompletion or lack of competence. Our goal is not so much to achieve competence but to participate in the ongoing processes of seeking understanding and building relationships. This understanding needs to be directed toward ourselves and not just our clients. As we question ourselves we gradually wear away our own resistance and bias. It is not that we need to agree with our clients’ practices and beliefs; we need to understand them and under-stand the contexts and history in which they develop (Dean, 2001, p.628).

Conclusion

In this presentation I have invited you to examine your own values and beliefs about the perinatal period and how they might impact on the care you might provide. I have asked you to consider both the similarities and differences between how women from culturally diverse communities experience maternity and those from the dominant culture. Together, we have scrutinised a range of strategies for enhancing trust, engagement and perinatal outcomes for all women. Drawing on my own clinical practice and research, I have asked you to consider an alternative conceptualisation of the maternal body when caring for some women, that is the maternal body as vulnerable, which requires a period of rest and nurturing. This framing requires a temporary role change for the new mother to transition into being a caregiver, by being cared for, so that her future capacity for mothering and long term well being are enhanced. I have asked you to reflect on how supposedly empowering practices can be experienced as disempowering because they don’t take into account this view of birth. In the context of differing conceptualisations of birth and the maternal body I have drawn special attention to: negotiating between health beliefs; having cultural humility; considering ways in which your own knowledge is always partial; and recommended a range of resources that can be utilised to ensure positive outcomes for women and their families. As health services in Australia grapple with changing societal demographics including cultural diversity, changing consumer demands and expectations; resource constraints; the limitations in traditional health care delivery; greater emphasis on transparency, accountability, evidence- based practice (EBP) and clinical governance (Davidson et al., 2006), questions of how to provide effective universal health care can be enhanced by considering how differing views can be incorporated as they hold potential benefits for all.

Selected references

  • Boerleider, A. W., Wiegers, T. A., Manniën, J., Francke, A. L., & Devillé, W. L. (2013). Factors affecting the use of prenatal care by non-western women in industrialized western countries: A systematic review. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 13(1), 8.
  • Dennis, C. L., Fung, K., Grigoriadis, S., Robinson, G. E., Romans, S., & Ross, L. (2007). Traditional postpartum practices and rituals: A qualitative systematic review. Women’s Health (London, England), 3(4), 487-502. doi:10.2217/17455057.3.4.487.
  • Mander, S., & Miller, Y. D. (2016). Perceived safety, quality and cultural competency of maternity care for culturally and linguistically diverse women in queensland. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 3(1), 83-98. doi:10.1007/s40615-015-0118.
  • Small, R., Roth, C., Raval, M., Shafiei, T., Korfker, D., Heaman, M. Gagnon, A. (2014). Immigrant and non-immigrant women’s experiences of maternity care: A systematic and comparative review of studies in five countries. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 14(1).

Additional web resources

“I had to keep my options open”: White mothers and neoliberal maternity

Unpublished manuscript that never found an appropriate institutional home, but sharing for those who might be interested. Cite as: DeSouza, R., & Butt, D. (2016, June 11). “I had to keep my options open”: White mothers and neoliberal maternity. [Web log post]. Retrieved from: http://www.ruthdesouza.com/2016/06/11/i-had-to-keep-my-options-open-white-mothers-and-neoliberal-maternity/

Where patriarchal healthcare institutions saw birth as a process controlled by male doctors and supported by female nurses, contemporary midwifery draws from liberal feminism the concept of “choice” as the marker of maternal agency. However, critiques of neoliberalism locate “informed choice”, “empowerment” and “partnership” as discursive markers of specific capitalist subjectivities that are unevenly distributed among class, race, and sex. The ideology of reproduction as choice aligns with Foucault’s notion of “governmentality”, where the managerial state promotes middle-class discourses of responsibilisation, transformation and empowerment to regulate and maximise the efforts of individuals within the social body. Previous research has shown how maternal care nurses and midwives are instrumental in reproducing these discourses, reflecting white middle-class ideals of the individual service user. This study explored these themes through a secondary discourse analysis on focus groups with white migrant mothers in Aotearoa New Zealand. While migrant mothers noted differences between the New Zealand context and their home nation, unlike ‘other’ migrant mothers they generally adhered to neoliberal requirements to make choices aligned with the expectations of the state. The mothers espoused ideals of natural birth that sat in tension with their notions of informed consumption, reflecting technoscientific discourses that have informationalised the maternal body and interpellated mothers into neoliberal ideologies. The paper argues that attention to the restricted discourses of choice as empowerment illuminates how settler-colonial maternal healthcare systems are limited in their universality, failing to escape cultural and class-based assumptions that empower some mothers at the expense of others. The paper concludes that critical healthcare analysis and methodologies such as cultural safety provide tools for the transformation of these discourses.

Keywords 
Maternity, whiteness, neoliberalism, Foucault, cultural safety.

Introduction

Midwifery discourses have advanced a feminist vision of women’s empowerment where women usurp patriarchal control of maternity institutions and increase their own power by becoming informed. However, the intrapersonal strategies of information accumulation and behaviour modification can leave structures of power intact and fulfil neoliberal ends. Facilitating a non-authoritarian, woman-centred ethic of care through liberal feminist values (such as individual choice and autonomy) allows mothers to choose to be healthy and productive, while also leading to a reduction in demands on the state as women govern themselves and each other (Collins, 2009). Although midwifery has positioned itself outside dominant norms as an anti-authoritarian discourse, these ‘choices’ are made within a neoliberal consumerist context of health care (Spoel, 2007). Midwifery is simultaneously constructed by these norms and reproduces them, masking new forms of social regulation shaping health care delivery in the process (Skinner, 1999; Spoel, 2006; O’Connell and Downe 2009). Consequently, the emancipatory promise of liberal feminism has disturbingly converged with the economic ‘freedoms’ of neoliberalism, in a discursive formation structured by whiteness. Where previous work established this formation in the discourses of maternal and child health nurses, this paper diagnoses neoliberal discourses employed by white informed consumers.
The dominance of whiteness in Western healthcare systems has been well established (see e.g. Allen, 2006). The liberal theoretical paradigm is deeply embedded in nursing, where those employed in care are rarely able to see how it structures their professional culture, in turn making it difficult to understand how adherence to seemingly neutral and egalitarian values (to white norms) can be oppressive. Whiteness here does not refer only to the visible phenotype of individuals, but to “a cultural disposition and ideology held in place by specific political, social, moral, aesthetic, epistemic, metaphysical, economic, legal, and historical conditions, crafted to preserve white identity and relations of white supremacy” (Bailey & Zita, 2007: vii). Although it is a scientific and cultural fiction like other racial identities, it has a real social impact on the distribution of resources due to a “possessive investment in whiteness” among white individuals (Lipsitz, 2006). A combination of public policy and private prejudice operate simultaneously to create this investment and perpetuate racialised hierarchies that structure access to resources, power and opportunity. Lipsitz contends that white supremacy is less a direct expression of contempt (as usually described by whites who distance themselves from the term), and more a system that protects white privilege and prevents communities of colour from accumulating assets and upward mobility. Complicating any direct identitarianism, Lipsitz contends that non-white people can become agents of white supremacy as well as passive consumers in its hierarchies— not all white people are equally complicit with white supremacy. White dominance and neoliberalism are two powerful and interrelated concepts that describe the systemic and structural forms that produce and reproduce ideal subjectivities. It is this relationship between subjective experience and institutional rationality that this paper seeks to illuminate.
Liberalism and neoliberal maternity
The revalorisation of liberal precepts into the global structures of institutional power termed neoliberalism has been most thoroughly documented by Michel Foucault. Foucault’s analysis of governmentality as “both a political discourse about the nature of rule and a set of practices that facilitate the governing of individuals from a distance” (Larner, 2006: 6) has particular resonance in health and in maternity. The birth of a future citizen is an event with great emotional, biological, cultural and social significance; and consequently the rites and routines that organize birth reflect core cultural values (Fox & Worts, 1999; Reiger, 2008). Maternal and infant public health has been shaped by state concern about the quantity and quality of population in the context of imperial rivalry, both in the centre of empire and the outer edge of white settlement (Lewis, 1988). The “health of the race” and infant health have been a central focus for doctors and politicians, with babies viewed as valuable assets in the struggle for imperial supremacy (Lewis, 1988). While such explicitly racial discourses are today less prevalent, maternity discourses and practices still reflect and reproduce historical and cultural visions of what it is to be a citizen (Georges, 2008). Good mothering and good governing are intimately linked. Foucauldian analysis in health has shown how institutions produce subjects as citizens, where health professionals are not simply individual agents constrained by institutions but develop their values, beliefs and skills within parameters guided (but not fully determined by) those institutions. Healthcare professionals such as nurses and midwives manage key processes through which hegemonic social subjects are reproduced, and thus reflect transformations in ideologies of the public and the citizenry (Fox & Worts, 1999). Maternal health is therefore a rich site to track shifts in public health from a sovereign technique of population management to a global industry in a neoliberal economic system.

Foucault’s analysis in The Birth of Biopolitics identified neoliberalism as the development of a “general regulation of society by the market” (Foucault, 2008: 145). It involves the enforcement of competition (rather than exchange) as the principle of the market in a game which one is not allowed to drop out of, “a sort of inverted social-contract” (Foucault, 2008: 201). Neoliberal economics becomes “no longer the analysis of the historical logic of processes; it is the analysis of the internal rationality, the strategic programming of individuals’ activity” (Foucault, 2008: 222). In this game, economics is redefined as a behavioural science governed by the “relationship between ends and scarce means which have mutually exclusive uses” (Foucault, 2008: 222). This “competitive ratio” is naturalised, and the neoliberal subject “accepts reality” by responding to “systematic modifications artificially introduced into the environment” — becoming “eminently governable” (Foucault, 2008: 270). Through the extension of market values to all institutions and social action, good neoliberal citizens are constructed as choice-making subjects, who take responsibility for maximising their healthy productivity and minimising risks to their health, reducing collective health demands upon the state.
Historically, women’s freedom during pregnancy was constrained by structural or physical factors to ensure the safety of mother and foetus. Improvements in health have led to the emergence of more subtle kinds of governmental regulation, where normalising strategies focussing on individual ‘lifestyle’ have developed in tandem with the new public health and risk discourses (Petersen & Lupton, 1996). Self-regulation through the internalisation of scientific knowledges and medical technologies and the corresponding modification of behaviour have become central to a type of ideal neoliberal subjectivity variously identified as the healthy citizen (Petersen & Lupton, 1996), the active consumer (Fox, Heffernan, & Nicolson, 2009) and the reflexive project of the self (Giddens, 1991).

Mothers are incited to take up the advice and guidance of experts; are incorporated into relations of surveillance and discipline; and are required to monitor and adapt their behaviour against normative discourses. Ideal neoliberal maternal subjects are scientifically literate, meet normative standards, and consume specialty objects and expert advice (Avishai, 2007). They invest in “intensive motherhood”, a pervasive ideology in Western culture that is: “child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labour intensive, financially expensive” Hays (1998: 46).
As Simon and Dippo (1986: 198) note, a historical and material perspective is required to understand the “nonarbitrary specificity” of power relations in the present, “for while the production and reproduction of social forms is a result of what people do, it can never be understood in terms of what they intend.” To that end, contemporary maternal speech must be linked to the historical conditions of its emergence. The history of midwifery development provides structural clues to the emergence of dominant discursive formations of maternity in New Zealand that enable, constrain and contest the narrated experience of migrant mothers.
Midwifery in New Zealand: erosion, erasure and re-emergence

Midwifery’s emergence as an autonomous feminist profession in New Zealand has been shaped by the desire for professional recognition among midwives and feminist aspirations for the control of birth to be returned to women, (Stojanovic, 2008). Midwifery training began in 1904 with the advent of the Midwives Act, prior to which trained midwives were imported from Britain. Free midwifery services became available to all women from 1938, either in their homes or in maternity hospitals (Pairman, 2006). The trends of medicalisation, hospitalisation and nursification eroded the autonomy of midwifery between 1904 and the 1970s (Stojanovic, 2008). For Māori, the Tohunga Suppression Act (General Assembly of New Zealand, 1907) curtailed the active involvement of tohunga (traditional knowledge specialists) in childbirth, and the expertise of Māori birth attendants or tāpuhi remained suppressed as midwives were trained in New Zealand. With fewer tāpuhi assisting birthing women in their homes, childbirth became relocated into state-owned maternity hospitals, which in the colonial view were thought to be safer and cleaner than Māori homes (Simmonds, 2011), even though Māori maternal mortality rose to three times that of non-Māori by the 1960s. Interventions to reduce infant mortality coupled with demands from women for pain-free childbirth increased the medicalisation of birth, leading to doctors supervising midwifery births and holding legal responsibility (Pairman, 2006). Nursification saw the merging of midwifery into nursing, the erasure of the word ‘midwife’ from legislation and the redefinition of the scope of midwifery practice within nursing (Stojanovic, 2008).
Autonomous midwifery practice (differentiated in scope from nursing) re-emerged through mutually beneficial political lobbying by consumers and midwives forcing legislative changes in the late 1980s. Spurred by decades of feminist struggle, maternity consumer activists saw autonomous midwifery practice as a mechanism for gaining increased control over their own birthing (Pairman, 2006). This pressure eventually led to the passing of the Nurses Amendment Act in 1990 which provided New Zealand women with the option of a caregiver (Lead Maternity Carer or LMC) who could either co-ordinate or provide the care they required from early pregnancy to six weeks postpartum (Pairman, 2006). Consequently, 75.3% of New Zealand women were registered with a midwife to provide lead maternity care in 2007 (Ministry of Health, 2007). Hence, partnership with women became a central tenet of New Zealand midwifery and to its claim as protector of the health of women from an intervening medical corpus (Reiger, 2008). The discourse of ‘partnership’ positions women as ‘naturally’ equipped and capable of carrying and delivering babies without physician monitoring or intervention in hospitals (Macdonald, 2006). The social model of this discourse locates risk not within the female body as under the medical model, but from power relations in the social world including poor support for women. In response, midwives have the capacity to nurture and empower the autonomous woman so that she is capable of birth without intervention (Lane, 2012). The study discussed here consisted of focus groups with mothers and maternal care professionals to evaluate the effects of these discourses and institutional arrangements on different groups of migrant women.
Study Design

The focus groups for this project were undertaken with the assistance of The Royal New Zealand Plunket Society (Plunket), and consisted of focus groups with five ethno-cultural groupings of new migrant mothers (including white mothers) about their maternity experiences (DeSouza, 2006; DeSouza, 2011). Ten first time mothers aged between 29-40 years, who had been living in New Zealand for between two and ten years took part in the white focus group. The women self-identified as ‘white’ and had migrated from South Africa (Jane and Charlotte), England (Nancy, Annette, Olive, Sarah, Carol), the US (Joan and Mary) and Scotland (Georgina). Four had post-graduate qualifications; four had under-graduate qualifications and one a trade certificate. Their occupations included: teacher, scientist, project manager, account manager, project manager, lecturer. Reasons for migrating included the New Zealand lifestyle and their husband’s careers. The group are not intended to be representative of all white female migrants, although the demographic bias of white migrants to New Zealand skews toward the upper-middle class. Of interest here are the range of available subject positions in the discourses represented and what implications those subject positions hold. Discourse analysis can aid understanding of the relationship between “subjectification (the condition of being a subject) and subjectivity (the lived experience of being a subject)” (Walkerdine, 2001: 20). In this case, the focus is on discourses of knowledgeable consumption, natural birth, and intensive motherhood.
Knowledgeable antenatal consumers

Mary invokes liberal feminist/woman centred tenets of choice, freedom and autonomy when she speaks about becoming pregnant through assisted reproductive technologies:

Mary: Artificial insemination… was something that was incredibly easy in New Zealand whereas in the States it would’ve been a lot more difficult and more expensive. For us moving to New Zealand was partly a life-style choice, we had a known donor and we found that we went to a fertility class and it was just incredible how helpful and inclusive they are and everything was really easy to do… more information is always good for us and we found that there was plenty of information for us. It’s like I said before we’ve been planning this for over five years so that was, their resources were there for us.

Mary’s excerpt reflects the liberal feminist ideal of a planned pregnancy and the control of reproductive processes (even in the context of assisted fertility), to which the democratisation of knowledge, its acquisition and demystification are fundamental. Mary positions herself as a responsible health consumer who makes choices (including migrating), within a caring and available system. She actively searches for and chooses the appropriate information, products and services from a saturated global market. Migration is a space where she can realise possibilities for mobility and self-actualisation, imbricating maternity in local and global patterns of consumption. Annette also positions herself as a knowledgeable and responsible consumer, who can both evaluate and challenge expert knowledges:

Annette: Although our doctor suggested certain paths that we could take I wasn’t necessarily in total agreement with what he wanted so I was trying to combine his knowledge with the information that I was reading as well.

Annette’s capacity to act and make choices is evident in her avoidance of informal and embodied knowledge in favour of formal knowledge:

Annette: When I found that I was pregnant the first thing I did was I bought a book named New Zealand Pregnancy Guide… although we have a lot of friends here I didn’t feel that I was in a position where I wanted to talk to anybody about the pregnancy because it was so early and I felt that the more people that I talked to and asked for their advice then if I did miscarry I’d have to tell everybody that I’d miscarried. So I was in that situation of having to try and discover a lot of information out by myself initially and I found that was a little bit overwhelming at times. But that book was particularly useful and then I phoned I think the Ministry of Health and got a list of midwives. And then to be quite honest it was absolutely useless, because I just looked at this list and I’m going, ‘well where do I start’? So you are in this catch 22 thinking ‘do I phone this person? Would they come to me because we’re on the other side of town?’ I didn’t have any recommendations. It was literally a list and it meant nothing to me.

Annette’s preference for purchasing a book of expert knowledge about pregnancy in New Zealand—rather than seeing her networks and friends as primary resources—is emblematic of her desire to produce herself as an autonomous, composed, and rational individual, avoiding public judgement upon her possible failure to reproduce. Her unwillingness to expose her pregnancy and potentially complicate social relationships means that she loses out on possible social support, information and referrals, which could enable the transition to parenthood.
Natural birth
The rewards of antenatal preparation are realised when women describe feeling informed and in control of their birth experiences, aligning with midwifery discourses of natural birth (Brubaker & Dillaway, 2009).

Mary: Well I thought we were going to have a very sort of natural birth with no drugs although I was hoping to take drugs if I was in pain. I found the antenatal explanation of how what happens in a C-section very useful as I ended up having a C-section. And the fact that they explained, ‘ok all of these people are going to be there and it’s going to be a person on your right is going to be your doctor and the person with the baby’, and all of that… I had a really negative reaction to all the drugs and when she explained again who was going to be in the room it was exactly the same as what the antenatal person had said.

Mary’s antenatal preparation equips her for an unintended Caesarean, but instead of feeling cheated by the requirement for medical intervention, she surfaces the woman-centred natural birth discourse of feeling in control and informed. Thus birth can be considered ‘natural’ despite medical intervention, as long as the labouring mother chose the intervention (Macdonald, 2006).
Charlotte’s narrative also captures the two competing discourses of birth that Mary situates herself in. On the one hand, Charlotte values having self-control (through being informed and behaving accordingly) and on the other is willing to surrender control—the choice to rescind action is also a choice (Lupton, 1994):

Charlotte: I just have to say to myself you know we’ve even had to go with the flow, and then also those booklets that you receive on feeding, those pamphlets. I did a lot of reading and my midwife gave me a lot of information. The information from those pamphlets helped me a lot and so I felt comfortable, like I’m on the right track now so everything is going well. So I was trying to speak to myself and keep calm (speaks quietly). I was in labour for since the Saturday and I gave birth on Monday morning so (laughter) I had to keep my options open as well about taking drugs so you know things like that.

Charlotte presents herself as a self-efficacious middle class maternal subject, able to internalise information and adapt her behaviour accordingly through self-discipline, self-denial and will power. Disciplining herself by subsuming her own distress and fear, aligns with the needs of the institution for calm consumers, who are more compliant and require less time and support than distraught ones.
Being given the right information at the right time made Charlotte feel supported:

Charlotte: The midwife that delivered my baby is actually from New Zealand but she worked in Cape Town for three years so that was good, that connection. She told me, step by step where and what stage I’m at. I think that’s the biggest support that you really need in the delivery room is to tell you at what stage you are at and what’s happening.

It is significant that Charlotte constructs her midwife as the person who delivers her baby rather than facilitates Charlotte’s ability to birth her baby. She discursively positions her midwife as a translator, who can link what is happening in her body to an identified physiological process. This positioning challenges midwifery discourses of the mother as ‘expert’ as the midwife’s role as a translator reinforces a hierarchy reminiscent of biomedicine.

Jane actively and discursively resists biomedical discourses, until she acquiesces to Entonox:

Jane: I was trying to still keep my energy up by eating and drinking as much water as possible. My choice was that I wanted to stay at home as long as possible, I didn’t want to be in the hospital for too long because when I start thinking of all the other options, and I wanted a natural childbirth, no assistant and also no pain relief. At the end for about 2 ½ hours before baby was delivered I chose Entonox with the gas and that helped. As the pamphlets also say I actually felt distance from the actual experience so if I think back I would’ve actually chosen nothing but I just felt at that stage I needed something and I chose that. So fortunately baby was in the right position, in a good position so I didn’t have to have a Caesarean. I was more scared of the Caesarean than the pain and I wanted a natural childbirth.

Jane positions herself within midwifery discourses of natural birth, disciplining her body so that she avoids hospital as much as she can, and engaging in deliberate bodily maintenance so she can maximise the efficiency of her body and have the energy to labour. She constructs a natural birth as one where she uses pain relief as a last resort.

Nancy disciplines her body through specific breathing techniques learned outside the health system:

Nancy: Yes. At the beginning of my pregnancy I was kind of really worried about actually giving birth. But what really helped me was I went to do yoga in pregnancy and through that they talked a lot about it and they did sort of breathing and just general exercises to help you kind of keep calm and focused. And at the end of it I really wasn’t worried about it at all and I thought I might even be able to get through this without drugs but I didn’t in the end, I gave in, in the last couple of hours.

Nancy positions herself as a good mother to be, taking control and acting to promote her own health and wellbeing through natural breathing. Nancy’s expectation that her body would be able to cope with birth naturally and without medical intervention reflects her incorporation in woman centred/natural birth discourses. Her acceptance of a biomedical intervention in the form of pain relief in the last few hours is presented as a capitulation, and reflects her perception of the control she had in the process and her failure to accomplish a natural process.
Intensive motherhood
The post-partum period is characterised by the demands of intensive mothering. Producing oneself in the discourses of the “good mother” requires taking sole responsibility for the well-being of the infant while being isolated and having minimal support. The post-natal ward represents a space where the rude transition from women-centred discourses to intensive mothering begins. There is a glaring shift from one-to-one attention from midwives, to competition for support and assistance with other new mothers:

Olive: I mean the actual labour and delivering – fantastic. I couldn’t fault them and the staff was superb, the midwife was just brilliant, the obstetrician fantastic. When I got on the ward I found it really hot, I felt really overwhelmed. I was right next to this buzzer and it just went buzzing all the time because everybody wanted help, I found that really quite distressing and I was absolutely knackered.

The clamour of the buzzer and interruptions signal a consequence of being returned to the factory model of maternity. Olive experiences a shift from care described in superlative terms to feeling overwhelmed, distressed and tired. Meanwhile, Nancy recognises that her expectations were primarily oriented to the birth event with no real preparation for the post-partum period:

Nancy: I just want to say in terms of thinking after the birth, and how it was compared to expectations, I didn’t really have any expectations of after the birth, everything was concentrated about the labour and, ‘oh God, it’s going to feel terrible’ and after the birth it just hit me like that and it was hell for six weeks more or less it was just hell… Yes and I wished somebody had actually told me that it was going to be that hard.

Nancy assumes that if she had been given the information, this post-partum period would have been easier for her, reflecting the notion of autonomous rational personhood that with planning and control of one’s circumstances, future success can be ensured (Wall, 2010).

Interviewer: What was the “hell”?

Nancy: Mainly lack of sleep, lack of sleep and just coping with a crying baby, and I had my Mum and I was lucky she was there for the first three weeks and she did the housework, the cooking and stuff. [Group laughter]
Jane: I also think you also just feel like a robot, cleaning the bottles, making a bottle, breast-feeding, in a little corner all the time, just you and the baby.

The mothers in the group identify a conspiracy of sorts. Much of their preparation for the world of parenthood revolved around knowledge acquisition, maintaining good health during their pregnancies and having control during their labour, none of which help in the postnatal period.
In the quotes that follow, the limitations of expert knowledge and self-sufficiency are identified and Nancy identifies the difference support might make for her.

Nancy: It would’ve been different in that I would’ve had a lot more support and for me a lot of my anxieties around that was I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and particularly (baby crying). And yes OK you meet people at your antenatal group but at that time they’re not your closest friends that you can say anything too. And having said that I did, you know… But I think that was it for me was thinking, ‘oh my God, I just need some adult conversation’. And that’s what I struggled with most probably.

Emotional support and having a confidant require time and energy, and an investment, which can be drawn on. The friendships Nancy has made cannot be drawn on for the kind of support she needs. For Georgina, the absence is emotional as well as practical—in the form of having ‘time out’ for errands or for ‘couple time’:

Georgina: Yes you do miss the support network, friends as well. I’ve got a lot of friends back home who have got kids and I think you miss that as well… Not just family but friends who would maybe be a bit more candour than you might take from them or what you feel than you take from close family and things. So I definitely miss that and also, we were just back home and it was just so nice…you know tight as you are, what simple things, like I needed to go out and do couple of things and I knew I was only going to be half an hour or so and to actually have somewhere to leave him and it would take me half the time.

Discussion and Conclusion

Women who identified as ‘white’ in this study constructed themselves within liberal feminist and neoliberal discourses as consumers who were rational unified actors. They were interpellated as competent selectors and consumers of maternity services, and moral value was attached to their ability to engage in self-reliant behaviours. They embraced the neoliberal psychological imperative to improve and transformed themselves, responding positively even in the most difficult of situations (Baker, 2009). These practices reflect women’s engagement in ‘techniques of the self’ that are constitutive of neoliberal subjectivity. The white mothers conform to the ideal of the good mother (to be) by discursively positioning themselves as taking appropriate individual care and responsibility for their pregnancies and maternal care.
The speech of the women reflects three specific discourses of liberal feminist maternity that form the basis of normative midwifery ideologies.
Firstly, the women routinely position themselves as knowledgeable consumers of authoritative maternity information provided by the health system. Critically interrogating the authority of biomedicine by coordinating and evaluating diverse sources of information is central to woman-centred discourses, where acquiring authoritative knowledge both bypasses medical control and is a way to claim empowerment, subjectivity and agency (Edwards, Davies, & Edwards, 2009). Her ‘preparation’ for motherhood through the acquisition of knowledge valorises scientific/professional knowledge rather than the informal and personalised information or social and emotional support that friends and extended family can provide (Marshall & Woollett, 2000). Authoritative professionals transmit information to individual women whose embodied, enculturated understandings and experiences are discounted or devalued. Yet individual women are expected to engage in reflexive techniques and /or practices of subjectification, to be accountable for the choices that are made, and to account for their behaviours to those who are tasked with monitoring and validated for monitoring them (Stapleton & Keenan, 2009). Thus regulatory technologies “construct an autonomous subject whose choices and desires are aligned with the objectives of the state and other social authorities and institutions” (Petersen & Lupton, 1996: 64).
Secondly, natural birth is positioned as a goal, suppressing technical and industrial discourses associated with medicalisation, except as far as they are in control of the mother. The women articulate being informed and having control, autonomy or authority despite experiencing various degrees of obstetric intervention. As middle-class women are more likely to receive the birth and/or medical treatments they desire, pregnancy and childbirth can be framed as contributing to their personal growth (Brubaker, 2007). In this paradigm of actualisation, it is assumed that intentional actions, self-discipline, self-denial and will power will achieve the ‘right’ kind of birth, and that intervention from a public health system is not a default practice but a considered choice of the mother based on information. In other words, a ‘natural birth’ does not happen naturally, but is chosen as an expression of the knowledgeable consumption discussed above.

Finally, the excerpts on intensive motherhood highlight how this responsibility for maternal self-expression and knowledge is a critical instrument of women’s control in the post-partum period. The mother’s needs are marginalised, as mothers take on most of the responsibility for nurturing and developing the sacred child. Pregnant women and their partners are subject to discipline, given that they are held responsible for maximising their own health and that of their foetus‘ and then infant’s body (Collins, 2009). Intensive mothering is intertwined with a neoliberal rationality, where individual responsibility and self-management are fore-grounded and social support is reduced compared with earlier in the perinatal period (Wall, 2001). Neoliberal discourses place individual responsibility for parenting on mothers, shifting the costs and the burden of work from public resources to household resources. The gendered aspects of these discourses are visible in the assumptions of reproductive heteronormativity, where market production separates the private and public spheres with women taking responsibility for childrearing. These discourses assume that households are based on a nuclear family; that caring labour is divided on the basis of gender, and that this labour is elastic and must expand to fit demand. In turn, the domain of the private is subject to surveillance and regulation to account for responsibilisation, or the ways in which public tasks become the responsibility of individuals, the private sector and community (Schinkel & Van Houdt, 2010; Clarke, 2004). In the postpartum, women note that they are treated like a “normal person”, a labouring, productive figure rather than the choice-making perinatal consumer. The responsibilities for infant care and repetitive ‘robotic’ household tasks seem overwhelming, and there is a sense of failure and disillusionment with the system and with providers that cannot be displaced through their well-developed information gathering strategies.
The interplay of the three discourses has significant implications for maternal mental health, as they locate the “specialness” of birth in decisions which are seen to be under the mother’s individual control, when in fact broader class positions are strongly determinant of what services and support are available. The incentives to locate maternal knowledge in an individual relationship with an authoritative caregiver produce dependence on a system that shifts risk and responsiblity onto the individual. These assumptions come to structure the professional habitus of nursing and midwifery professionals, who adopt regulatory behaviours that fail to support women who do not subscribe to white middle-class ideals. Governing occurs through the aspirations of mothers, and while the state appears to be protecting the interests of infants and parents, little in the way of actual resources are provided. These neoliberal discourses of individual responsibility constructed through dependence on knowledge also disempower women who do subscribe to these ideals, as the institutional withdrawal of support in postnatal care cannot be addressed by the skills the knowledgeable consumer has developed.
Conclusion
In recent decades the capacity of liberal feminist frameworks to provide effective support to non-Western women has been questioned, and midwifery has not been exempt. In New Zealand, the discursive emphasis of being ‘with woman’ implied in the etymology of the word midwife is central to indigenous critiques of Pākeha (white/European) midwifery (Kenney, 2011). Kenney notes that the Pākeha liberal feminist agenda privileges the individual while neglecting the familial context of pregnancy and birth. In contrast, the Māori word for midwife ‘kaiwhakawhānau’ emphasises the facilitation, creation and development of whānau (family). This discursive contrast between Māori models of midwifery has heightened significance in the context of the under-representation of Māori midwives (6.4%) when Māori births comprise approximately 28% of total births and in the context of and inequalities in birth outcomes between Māori and non-Māori (New Zealand Health Information Service 2010 cited in Kenney 2011; Ratima& Crengle, 2012). Midwifery as a profession has attempted to redress these injustices by incorporating Māori cultural principles and values (Ngā Turanga Kaupapa) in midwifery practice competencies (Kenney, 2011), and the development of cultural safety has become a central, if contested tenet of nursing education in New Zealand (Ramsden 1997; DeSouza 2008).
A consistent aim of cultural safety training in nursing has been to deconstruct the implicit racism of the healthcare system, by asking practitioners to reflect on one’s practice, values and cultural assumptions (Browne et al., 2009). In other words, it asks all of us involved in the health system to understand our own position as culture-bearers. Yet, the assumptions of white culture are hard to identify as the norms and commitments of whiteness are naturalised by their ubiquity and dominance. This culture not only shapes practitioner values but also shapes the dominant voices of those consumers who receive and evaluate care, while marginalising women outside these cultural assumptions. Operationalising critical feminist and postcolonial critiques through cultural safety can help nurses understand how the discourses they use are shaped by wider social discourses, which can then be critically interrogated (Browne, 2005). This analysis has aimed to contribute to this project by identifying three norms of white maternity that are normalised in alignment with neoliberal principles: the knowledgeable consumer, natural birth and intensive motherhood. These norms contrast to the discourses that have been identified in the literature on migrant maternity, which generally reflect less of an individualised focus on choosing the experience of birth and more on the presence or exclusion of wider family and social supports. Given the shock and isolation many women experience in the transition from impending mother to intensive mothering, critically advocating for those diverse structures of support can potentially benefit all mothers.
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Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Debbie Payne, David Allen, Ray Nairn and Tim McCreanor for their helpful conversations and feedback.

Review: Australian mental health nurses and transgender clients: Attitudes and knowledge

This is a longer version of a review of Damien Riggs & Clare Bartholomaeus’ paper published in the Journal of Research in Nursing: Australian mental health nurses and transgender clients: Attitudes and knowledge. Cite as: De Souza, R. (2016). Review: Australian mental health nurses and transgender clients: Attitudes and knowledge. Journal of Research in Nursing, 0(0) 1–2. DOI: 10.1177/1744987115625008

I have never forgotten her face, her body, even though more than twenty years have passed. She was not much older than me and she desperately wanted to be a he. I had no idea how to respond to her depression and her recent self-harm attempt in the context of her desire to change gender. There was nothing in my nursing education that had prepared me for how I might be therapeutic and there was no one and nothing in the acute psychiatric inpatient unit that could resource me. I feel embarrassed now that I had no professional understanding and experience to guide me to help me provide effective mental health care to my client. I was an empathic kind listener, but I had been immersed in a biologically deterministic (one’s sex at birth determines ones’ gender) and binary view of gender despite my own diverse cultural background which I had been socialized to see as separate from my mainly white nursing education. I had not been educated to critically consider discourses of sex and gender, to provide competent safe care to someone who wanted to change her gender and express her gender differently from normative gender categories (Merryfeather & Bruce, 2014). My work has since led me to consider the ways in which “differences” are produced culturally, politically, and epistemologically specifically in terms of categories including “race”, ethnicity, nationality, class, and more recently sexuality and gender.

Four critiques of biomedicine as a dominant framework for understanding ‘problems with living’ have inspired transformation of the mental health system. Firstly, the emphasis on participation and inclusion through consumer-led and recovery-oriented practice has profoundly changed the role of consumers from passive recipients of care to being more informed and empowered decision-makers whose lay knowledge and personal experience of mental illness are a resource (McCann and Sharek, 2014). This reconceptualisation has been formalised in the ‘recovery’ model, which has critiqued the stigmatising judgements of medico-psychiatric discourse about deviance and their accompanying social exclusion and disadvantage (Masterson and Owen, 2006). The third has been the recognition of cultural diversity and a critique of the limits of universalism. Finally, gender activism has exposed fractures in the sex/gender system and has led to a greater awareness of diversity, with regard to gender and sexual orientation.

Of these critiques, gender activism has received the least attention in mental health nursing; which is a concern, given the negative effects of heteronormativity and cisgenderism. Mental health nurses must continue to challenge or trouble the dominant binary views of gender and the discourse of biological determinism, the notion that the sex that one is assigned at birth determines ones’ gender (Merryfeather and Bruce, 2014). There is growing evidence of negative attitudes, a lack of knowledge, and a lack of sensitivity toward people whom are expressing diverse genders and sexualities. This discrimination creates barriers to the patients’ health gain and creates disparity (Chapman et al., 2012; McCann and Sharek, 2014).

The reviewed article on the attitudes of mental health nurses towards transgender people is therefore timely, given the relative invisibility of issues of gender identity within nursing theory, practice and research. As Fish (2010) wrote previously in this journal, the culture, norms and values of social institutions can inhibit access to healthcare and reinforce disparities in health outcomes. Cisgenderism (the alignment of one’s assigned sex at birth and one’s gender identity and gender expression with societal expectations) suffuses every aspect of clinical access to and through services, from written materials including mission statements, forms, posters and pamphlets; the built environment such as gender-specific washrooms; and interactions with both health professionals and allied staff, all of which reinforce a message of exclusion of transgender people (Baker and Beagan, 2014; Rager Zuzelo, 2014). In turn, these exclusionary practices are shaped through a dearth of policies and procedures, and scant educational preparation at the undergraduate and graduate levels (Eliason et al., 2010; Fish, 2010).

Nurses have a professional responsibility to challenge structural constraints and social policies, rather than passively accepting them. This paper provided compelling evidence for how nursing as a discipline and mental health nursing as a unique speciality can critically reflect on discourses regarding sex and gender; and on how these influence practice and consequently, can develop safer, ethical, effective and high-quality care for people whom either change their sex or express their gender differently from the standard culturally determined gender categories (Merryfeather and Bruce, 2014). Furthermore, this paper challenges mental health nurses to challenge heterosexism and cisgenderism; to speak out about social determinants of health that contribute to health inequities and health disparities, such as transphobia; and to address discrimination against transgender people. These challenges must be embedded into processes at the organizational, regulatory and political level (DeSouza, 2015).

References
Baker K and Beagan B (2014) Making assumptions, making space: An anthropological critique of cultural competency and its relevance to queer patients. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 28(4): 578–598. doi:10.1111/maq.1212.
Chapman R, Watkins R, Zappia T, et al. (2012) Nursing and medical students’ attitude, knowledge and beliefs regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents seeking health care for their children. Journal of Clinical Nursing 21(7,8): 938–945. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03892.
De Souza R (2015) Navigating the ethics in cultural safety. In: Wepa D (ed.) Cultural safety. Port Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press, pp. 111–124.
Eliason MJ, Dibble S and Dejoseph J (2010) Nursing’s silence on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues: The need for emancipatory efforts. Advances in Nursing Science 33(3): 206–218. doi:10.1097/ANS.0b013e3181e63e4.
McCann E and Sharek D (2014) Challenges to and opportunities for improving mental health services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Ireland: A narrative account. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing 23(6): 525–533. doi:10.1111/inm.12081.
Masterson S and Owen S (2006) Mental health service user’s social and individual empowerment: Using theories of power to elucidate far-reaching strategies. Journal of Mental Health 15(1): 19–34. doi:10.1080/0963823050051271.
Merryfeather L and Bruce A (2014) The invisibility of gender diversity: Understanding transgender and transsexuality in nursing literature. Nursing forum 49(2): 110–123.
Rager Zuzelo P (2014) Improving nursing care for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing 43(4): 520–530. doi:10.1111/1552-6909.1247.

Medical pluralism: Supporting co-existing diverse therapeutic traditions in mental health

This was first published in the Spring 2015 edition (Issue 41) of the Federation of Ethnic Councils of Australia (FECCA) national magazine, Australian Mosaic. Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2015). Medical pluralism: Supporting co-existing diverse therapeutic traditions in mental health. Australian Mosaic (FECCA). 41, 34-36.

Decades afterward, I still recall the frequent waking, getting out of bed and moving around our Nairobi house in the dark. Sometimes I moved pots and pans, re-arranged furniture, but mostly I caused a disturbance. My parents decided to address my distressing behaviour by taking me to an older woman from our Goan community who chanted
prayers and anointed me with chilli and garlic. Her incantations arrested the nocturnal disturbances, which never perturbed me again. The evil eye was diagnosed, the somnambulism caused by envy, inflicted on me with a look. I later learned that the
evil eye is seen as the cause of many problems and illnesses globally with a multitude of rituals and remedies to either prevent or cure it.

Charm- Niall Corbet on Flickr

My own experience of being a multiple migrant and then a clinician, led me to consider many possible antecedents to mental illness. The dominance of biomedicine to manage health and illness, assumes cross-cultural universals. Yet, mental health is a contested specialty with problematic treatments. Culturally derived norms and values from a specific location impose labels on behaviour from another context, which drive treatments, or management that flattens those contexts. Psychiatry and counseling are often viewed skeptically by people from refugee and migrant backgrounds who instead turn first to informal sources outside the health system including self-help, family, community, social networks, various forms of spirituality, religion and church. Increasingly, clinicians are appreciating the part these sources of support play.

Once mental health services are accessed, if staff focus on mental illness without understanding the cultural context or without realising that clients and their families might integrate both biomedical and more “traditional” beliefs, quality psychiatric assessment can be impaired and the potential for inaccurate diagnosis and inappropriate treatment and care can occur. Incorrectly identifying culturally appropriate behaviour or experiences as psychopathology is problematic, just as assuming that something is cultural rather than psychopathology or symptoms. However, every culture has frameworks for understanding health and illness and how these are demarcated.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, where I have spent most of my life, Maori psychiatrist Mason Durie has conceptualised Maori health as encompassing mental (hinengaro), physical (tinana), family/social (whänau), and spiritual (wairua) dimensions. In Australia, the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (1989) views wellbeing through a communal lens, broadening the concept of well-being beyond the to the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community. Situating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health within a framework of social and emotional wellbeing emphasise wellness, harmony and balance rather than illness and symptom reduction (AIHW 2012). Connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community, interdependence between families, communities, land, sea and spirit are also seen as necessary for health. The Ways Forward National Aboriginal and Islander Mental Health Policy Report 3 (pp19-20) adapted from Swan and Raphael also prioritises holism, self-determination, the need for cultural understanding, the impact of history in trauma and loss, human rights, acknowledges the impact of racism and stigma, kinship, cultural diversity and Aboriginal strengths.

Contemporary neoliberal health discourses have co-opted patient rights movements and positioned patients as consumers ­­-active partners in health who are responsible for their own health. Consumer engagement and health literacy form a suite of strategies for inducing medical citizenship, so that individuals can participate and become knowledgeable consumers. Some would argue these are assimilatory processes. However, in order for medical citizenship to be a two way process, one’s own beliefs about the causes of illness and the corresponding treatments must also be considered. Health literate organisations must also be open to a multiplicity of illness explanations and to those locations from which such beliefs are derived. As Beijers and de Freitas (p.245), note:

Health care is transforming social suffering into illnesses and diagnoses, while often denying the social and moral origins and implications of the suffering

David Ingleby suggests that two perspectives are available for thinking about culture and mental illness. A technical perspective assumes mainstream frameworks and treatments can be universalised to all patients/clients and that more sensitivity and overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers will assist therapeutic efforts. With a technical approach to mental health, the goal of care is to deliver it efficiently and increase utilization (efficacy). Strategies can include access to language matched information and professional interpreting services, or improving mental health literacy and awareness, supporting community resilience and coping strategies. However, technical approaches do not ask questions about power imbalances between groups.

On the other hand when care is given through a critical lens (equity), the questions become what is going on when interventions developed for one population are applied to another? What are the underlying power relations? Whose interests are being served? Is there a covert attempt to impose the values and perspectives of the dominant group? Ingelby suggests that becoming a user of Western health care involves accepting its underlying philosophy and values and “acquiring health literacy”.

It is important that collaborations between traditional healing mechanisms and western practice are made possible, however within professional discourses traditional healing is frequently viewed as primitive and unprofessional, yet people often utilize different health beliefs simultaneously in their search for optimal treatment. Furthermore, assimilation and acculturation into the dominant culture are thought to negatively impact on migrant health status and to contribute to migrant ill health and disparities as the healthy migrant advantage that people arrive with reduces after a year. Developing collaborative models that combine traditional and Western health knowledges and combining health literacy and consumer participation with better access and quality of staff can indeed facilitate better health outcomes.

As an educator, I am interested in how I can do my part to increase the awareness and openness to pluralism, so that the next generation of nurses can be effective and therapeutic. There is guidance available from The Cultural Diversity Plan for Victoria’s Specialist Mental Health Services. There is an emphasis on being respectful and having non-judgmental curiosity about other cultures. Mental health workers are encouraged to seek cultural knowledge in an appropriate way, tolerate ambiguity and develop the ability to handle the stress of ambiguous situations. In addition, developing a family-sensitive practice, where family and community resources are viewed as partners in recovery as appropriate allow syncretism and innovation to take place. There are significant institutional barriers remaining to this in mental particularly the emphases on privacy, independence and the one-to-one relationship between consumer and professional.

Cultural safety in Aotearoa New Zealand 2nd Edition

Very excited about the 2nd Edition of Cultural safety in Aotearoa New Zealand being published by Cambridge Press in December 2015.

I’ve contributed two chapters and I have excerpted the introduction of each chapter below:

8. Navigating the ethical in cultural safety

Caring is an ethical activity with a deep moral commitment that relies on a trusting relationship (Holstein & Mitzen, 2001). Health professionals are expected to be caring, skilful, and knowledgeable providers of appropriate and effective care to vulnerable people. Through universal services they are expected to meet the needs of both individual clients and broader communities, which are activities requiring sensitivity and responsiveness. In an increasingly complex globalised world, ethical reflection is required so that practitioners can recognise plurality: in illness explanations; in treatment systems; in the varying roles of family/whanau or community in decision making; and in the range of values around interventions and outcomes. To work effectively in multiple contexts, practitioners must be able to morally locate their practice in both historical legacies of their institutional world and the diversifying community environment. This chapter examines the frameworks that health professionals can use for cross-cultural interactions.I then explore how they can select the most appropriate one depending on the person or group being cared for.

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13. Culturally safe care for ethnically and religiously diverse communities

Cultural safety is borne from a specific challenge from indigenous nurses to Western healthcare systems.It is increasingly being developed by scholars and practitioners as a methodological imperative toward universal health care in a culturally diverse world. The extension of cultural safety, outside an indigenous context, reflects two issues: a theoretical concern with the culture of healthcare systems and the pragmatic challenges of competently caring for ethnically and religiously diverse communities. As discussed throughout this book, the term ‘culture’ covers an enormous domain and a precise definition is not straightforward. For the Nursing Council of New Zealand (‘the Nursing Council’) (2009), for example, ‘culture includes, but is not restricted to, age or generation; gender; sexual orientation; occupation and socioeconomic status; ethnic origin or migrant experience; religious or spiritual belief; and disability’.

In an attempt at a precise two-page definition, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (2006, p. 359), captures the reflexive orientation required to grasp how the term ‘culture’ works:

Every definition or description of culture comes from the cultural assumptions of the investigator. Euro-US academic culture… is so widespread and powerful that it is thought of as transparent and capable of reporting on all cultures. […] Cultural information should be received proactively, as always open-ended, always susceptible to a changed understanding. […] Culture is a package of largely unacknowledged assumptions, loosely held by a loosely outlined group of people, mapping negotiations between the sacred and the profane, and the relationship between the sexes.

Spivak’s discussion of the sacred and the profane links culture to the more formal institution of religion, which has historically provided the main discourse for discussion of cultural difference. Particularly important for cultural safety is her discussion of Euro-US academic culture, a ‘culture of no culture’, which has a specific lineage in the sciences of European Protestantantism. Through much of the 19th century, for example, compatibility with Christianity was largely assumed and required in scientific and medical knowledge, even as scientists began to remove explicit Christian references from their literature. This historical perspective helps us see how the technoscientific world of the healthcare system, and those of us in secular education, are working in the legacy of white Christian ideals, where the presence of other cultures becomes a ‘problem’ requiring ‘solutions’. Cultural safety, however, attempts to locate the problem where change can be achieved in the healthcare system itself.

 

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Other contributors include: Irihapeti Ramsden, Liz Banks, Maureen Kelly, Elaine Papps, Rachel Vernon, Denise Wilson, Riripeti Haretuku, Deb Spence, Robin Kearns, Isabel Dyck, Ruth Crawford, Fran Richardson, Rosemary McEldowney, Thelma Puckey, Katarina Jean Te Huia, Liz Kiata, Ngaire Kerse, Sallie Greenwood and Huhana Hickey.

Book cover

The closure of remote Aboriginal communities: What is the role of nurses in Indigenous disadvantage?

Jeanie Govan

The view expressed by Tony Abbott (Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs), that taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to fund the “lifestyle choices” of Aboriginal people living in remote regions in support of Colin Barnett’s (West Australian Premier) decision to close 150 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia reflects the repetition of the colonial project and Aboriginal dispossession. One of the mythologies of a white settler society is that white people are the first to arrive and develop the land, with colonisation a benign force (rather than one enacted through the processes of conquest and genocide and displacing the indigenous (Razack, 2002)). Closing the community draws attention away from governmental failures to ‘Close the Gap’ and instead displaces the blame on the supposed inadequacies and problems of Aboriginal communities (Amy McQuire) thereby individualising socio-political inequalities rather than revealing them as historic and structural. The paternalism of closing the communities “for their own good” and for the common good, appears benign but hides the brutality of forced removal and in doing so denies the significance of indigeneity as Mick Dodson notes:

It is not a “lifestyle choice” to be be born in and live in a remote Aboriginal community. It is more a decision to value connection to country, to look after family, to foster language and celebrate our culture. There are significant social, environmental and cultural benefits for the entire nation that flow from those decisions.

 

Hamilton action

The protests against this cruel action have resounded around the world and have resonated in Aotearoa where I have lived for most of my life although I now live in the lands of the Kulin Nations in Gippsland as a migrant. As a nurse educator and researcher I am shaped by colonialism’s continuing effects in the white settler nation of Australia.

Nurses have often played an important part in social justice. Recently nursing professional bodies made a stand against violent state practices with the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) and Maternal Child and Family Health Nurses Australia (MCaFHNA) supporting The Forgotten Children report by the Australian Human Rights Commission against detaining children in immigration detention centres. Others like Chris Wilson wrote in Crikey  about the many limitations of the Northern Territory Intervention:

I am saddened that the intervention has wasted so many resources, given so little support or recognition to the workers on the ground, paid so little attention to years of reports and above all involved absolutely no consultation with anyone, especially community members. The insidious effect of highlighting child abuse over all the other known problems in Aboriginal health is destructive to male health, mental health and community health, is unfounded in fact and is based in the inherent ignorance of this racist approach.

It has made me think about how nurses and midwives don’t often problematise our locations and consider our responsibilities within a social context of the discursive and material legacies of colonialism, neoliberalism, austerity and ‘othering’ (of Muslims, of refugees of Indigenous people) and “the ways in which we are complicitous in the subordination of others” (Razack, 1998, p.159). As Razack notes, groups that see themselves as apolitical must call into question their roles as “innocent subjects, standing outside of hierarchical social relations, who are not accountable for the past or implicated in the future” (Razack, 1998, p.10).

Colonisation and racism have been unkind to Indigenous people (term often used to refer to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) with the health status of Indigenous people often compared to that of a developing country as I have pointed out elsewhere. The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage 2014 report measures the wellbeing of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. Briefly, Indigenous people:

  • Experience social and health inequalities (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2004).
  • Are over represented and experience a higher burden of disease and higher mortality at younger ages than non-Indigenous Australians (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2012b).

So, the question for me as a researcher and educator are what responsibility do nurses and the discipline of nursing have to Aboriginal health?

1) Recognise colonisation as a determinant of health

Indigenous people enjoyed better health in 1788 than people in Europe, they had autonomy over their lives, (ceremonies, spiritual practices, medicine, social relationships, management of land, law, and economic activities), but also didn’t suffer from illnesses that were endemic in18th century Europe. They didn’t have smallpox, measles, influenza, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, venereal syphilis and gonorrhoea. However, they were known to have suffered from; hepatitis B; some bacterial infections; some intestinal parasites; trauma; anaemia; arthritis; periodontal disease; and tooth attrition.

What’s often difficult for many nurses and students to imagine is that the past could have anything to do with the present, however, research in other settler colonial societies shows a clear relationship between social disadvantages experienced by Indigenous people and current health status. Colonisation and the spread of non-Indigenous peoples saw the introduction of illness (eg smallpox); the devaluing of culture; the destruction of traditional food base; separation from families; dispossession of whole communities. Furthermore, the ensuing loss of autonomy undermined social vitality, reduced resilience and created dispossession, demoralisation and poor health.

The negative impacts of colonisation on Indigenous led colonial authorities to try to ‘protect’ remaining Indigenous peoples, which saw the establishment of Aboriginal ‘protection’ boards (the first established in Victoria by the Aboriginal Protection Act of 18690. However, ‘protection’ imposed enormous restrictions eg living in settlements; forced separation of Indigenous children from their families. With between one-in-three and one-in-ten Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families and communities from 1910 until 1970. The result was irrevocable harm as one of the Stolen Generations stated:

We may go home, but we cannot relive our childhoods. We may reunite with our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles, communities, but we cannot relive the 20, 30, 40 years that we spent without their love and care, and they cannot undo the grief and mourning they felt when we were separated from them

 

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

Also watch Babakiueria which uses role reversal to satirise and critique Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous peoples. Aboriginal actors play the colonisers, while white actors play the indigenous Babakiuerians.

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2) Recognise continuing colonial practices

This blog started with the news of the closures of 150 remote Aboriginal communities in WA. Only one example of continuing colonial practices. Mick Dodson suggests that the closure of the 150 WA communities reflects an inability of the descendants of settlers to:

negotiate in a considered way the right of Aboriginal people to live as Aboriginal peoples in our own lands and seas, while also participating in every aspect of life  as contemporary Australian citizens.

 

You can also read about proposed alternatives to the closure by Rebecca Mitchell.

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3) Develop an understanding of racism as a determinant of health

Racism (racial discrimination) is linked with colonisation and oppression and is a social determinant of health. Nancy Krieger (2001) defines it as a process by which members of a socially defined racial group are treated unfairly because of membership of that group. Too often racism is seen as individual actions rather than as structural and embedded as this video shows. We know that racism damages health and in the health sector health systems and service providers can perpetuate Aboriginal health care disparities through attitudes and practices (Durey).

Anti-racist scholars suggest that there are three levels of racism in health.

  1. Institutional: Practices, policies or processes experienced in everyday life which maintain and reproduce avoidable and unfair inequalities across ethnic/racial groups (also called systemic racism);
  2. Interpersonal, in interactions between individuals either within their institutional roles or as private individuals;
  3. Internalised, where an individual internalises attitudes, beliefs or ideologies about the inferiority of their own group.

Krieger and others have written extensively about how racism affects health. People who experience racism experience the following:

  • Inequitable and reduced access to the resources required for health;
  • Inequitable exposure to risk factors associated with ill-health;
  • Stress and negative emotional/cognitive reactions which have negative impacts on mental health as well as affecting the immune, endocrine, cardiovascular and other physiological systems;
  • Engagement in unhealthy activities and disengagement from healthy activities

1 in 3 Aboriginal Victorians experienced racism in a health care setting according to a VicHealth survey. The respondents reported:

  • Poorer health status;
  • Lower perceived quality of care;
  • Under-utilisation of health services;
  • Delays in seeking care;
  • Failure to follow recommendations;
  • Societal distrust;
  • interruptions in care;
  • Mistrust of providers;
  • Avoidance of health care systems.

This video on understanding the impact of racism on Indigenous child health by Dr Naomi Priest is well worth a look.

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4) Develop a collective understanding of health and the importance of cultural determinants of health

Health is defined in the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (1989) as:

Not just the physical well-being of the individual but the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community. This is a whole of life view and it also includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life

It is important that in considering the issues of colonisation, racism and inter-generational trauma that the diverse cultures and histories of indigenous people are not viewed through a deficit lens. So often mainstream media reinforce the myth that responsibility for poor health (whether it’s about people who drink, are obese or smoke) is an individual and group one rather than linked with social determinants including colonisation, economic restructuring or the devastating social consequences of state neoliberal policies. As Professor Ngiare Brown notes, there are significant cultural determinants of health which should be supported including:

  • Self-determination; Freedom from discrimination;
  • Individual and collective rights;
  • Freedom from assimilation and destruction of culture;
  • Protection from removal/relocation;
  • Connection to, custodianship, and utilisation of country and traditional lands;
  • Reclamation, revitalisation, preservation and promotion of language and cultural practices;
  • Protection and promotion of Traditional Knowledge and Indigenous Intellectual Property; and
  • Understanding of lore, law and traditional roles and responsibilities.

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5) Develop an understanding of the organisations, policies, levers and strategies that are available to support Indigenous wellbeing

  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs), which are primary health care services operated by local Aboriginal communities to deliver holistic, comprehensive, and culturally appropriate health care. There are over 150 ACCHSs in urban, regional and remote Australia.
  • Close the gap campaign targets (also see a recent blogpost) developed by a consortium of 40 of Australia’s leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous health peak bodies and human rights organisations, which calls on Australian governments to commit to achieving Indigenous health equality within 25 years.
  • 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 24 of which points out that Indigenous people have the right “to access, without any discrimination, [to] all social and health services” and “have an equal right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States shall take the necessary steps with a view to achieving progressively full realisation of this right”.
  • Become familiar with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023.
  • Support the WHO Closing the gap in a generation, which recommends three actions for improving the world’s health:
  1. Improve the conditions of daily life – the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age.
  2. Tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources – the structural drivers of those conditions of daily life – globally, nationally, and locally.
  3. Measure the problem, evaluate action, expand the knowledge base, develop a workforce that is trained in the social determinants of health, and raise public awareness about the social determinants of health.

In recognising the linkages and operational relationships that exist between health and human rights, the nursing profession respects the human rights of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of this land, who have ownership of and live a distinct and viable culture that shapes their world view and influences their daily decision making. Nurses recognise that the process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-indigenous Australians is rightly shared and owned across the Australian community. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing are distinct, they also form the expected whole of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander model of care

 

IMG_4056

6) Becoming a critical, reflexive, knowledgeable nurse who legitimates the  cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal people

More than ever, social justice provides a valuable lens for nursing practice (see Sir Michael Marmot’s speech). Cultural competence and safety directly reduce health disparities experienced by Indigenous Australians (Lee et al., 2006; Durey, 2010). It makes sense that the safer the health care system and its workers are, the more likely Indigenous people are to engage and use the services available. Early engagement in the health care system results in early health intervention strategies, prevention of illness and improved overall health outcomes for Indigenous Australians. The key features of cultural competence identified in the Cultural diversity plan for Victoria’s specialist mental health services 2006-2010 are:

  • Respectful and non-judgemental curiosity about other cultures, and the ability to seek cultural knowledge in an appropriate way;
  • Tolerance of ambiguity and ability to handle the stress of ambiguous situations;
  • Readiness to adapt behaviours and communicative conventions for intercultural communication.

Nurses have a role in improving health outcomes, but this requires an understanding of the reasons why there are higher morbidity and mortality rates in Indigenous populations than in the general population. It requires that nurses engage in reflection and interrogate the existing social order and how it reproduces discriminatory practices in structural systems such as health care, in institutions and in health professionals (Durey, 2010). It’s important that as nurses we focus on our own behaviour, practice and skills both as professionals and individuals working in the health system.

I think this statement about Cultural security from the Department of Health, Western Australian Health (2003) Aboriginal Cultural Security: A background paper, page 10. is a valuable philosophy of practice:

Commitment to the principle that the construct and provision of services offered by the health system will not compromise the legitimate cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal people. It is a recognition, appreciation and response to the impact of cultural diversity on the utilisation and provision of effective clinical care, public health and health system administration

To conclude, I leave the last words to Professor Ngiare Brown:

We represent the oldest continuous culture in the world, we are also diverse and have managed to persevere despite the odds because of our adaptability, our survival skills and because we represent an evolving cultural spectrum inclusive of traditional and contemporary practices. At our best, we bring our traditional principles and practices – respect, generosity, collective benefit, collective ownership- to our daily expression of our identity and culture in a contemporary context. When we are empowered to do this, and where systems facilitate this reclamation, protection and promotion, we are healthy, well and successful and our communities thrive.

 

IMG_8845

 

References

Universities of Australia. (2011). National best practice framework for indigenous cultural competency in Australian Universities.
Awofeso, N. (2011). Racism: A major impediment to optimal indigenous health and health care in Australia. Australian Indigenous Health Bulletin, 11(3), 1-8.
Best, O., & Stuart, L. (2014). An Aboriginal nurse-led working model for success in graduating indigenous Australian nurses. Contemporary Nurse, 4082-4101.
Chapman, R., Smith, T., & Martin, C. (2014). Qualitative exploration of the perceived barriers and enablers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing healthcare through one victorian emergency department. Contemporary Nurse.
Christou, A., & Thompson, S. C. (2012). Colorectal cancer screening knowledge, attitudes and behavioural intention among indigenous western Australians. BMC Public Health, 12, 528. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-528
Downing, R., & Kowal, E. (2010). Putting indigenous cultural training into nursing practice. Contemporary Nurse, 37(1), 10-20. doi:10.5172/conu.2011.37.1.010
Durey, A. (2010). Reducing racism in Aboriginal health care in Australia: Where does cultural education fit? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 34 Suppl 1, S87-92. doi:10.1111/j.1753-6405.2010.00560.x
Durey, A., Lin, I., & Thompson, D. (2013). It’s a different world out there: Improving how academics prepare health science students for rural and indigenous practice in Australia. Higher Education Research & Development, 32(5), 722-733.
Haynes, E., Taylor, K. P., Durey, A., Bessarab, D., & Thompson, S. C. (2014). Examining the potential contribution of social theory to developing and supporting Australian indigenous-mainstream health service partnerships. International Journal for Equity in Health, 13(1), 75. doi:10.1186/s12939-014-0075-5
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Hunt, L., Ramjan, L., McDonald, G., Koch, J., Baird, D., & Salamonson, Y. (2015). Nursing students’ perspectives of the health and healthcare issues of Australian indigenous people. Nurse Education Today, 35(3), 461-7. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2014.11.019
Kelly, J., West, R., Gamble, J., Sidebotham, M., Carson, V., & Duffy, E. (2014). ‘She knows how we feel’: Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander childbearing women’s experience of continuity of care with an Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwifery student. Women and Birth : Journal of the Australian College of Midwives, 27(3), 157-62. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2014.06.002
Kildea, S., Kruske, S., Barclay, L., & Tracy, S. (2010). Closing the gap: How maternity services can contribute to reducing poor maternal infant health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Rural and Remote Health, 10(1383), 9-12.
Kowal, E. (2008). The politics of the gap: Indigenous Australians, liberal multiculturalism, and the end of the self-determination era. American Anthropologist, 110(3), 338-348.
Larson, A., Gillies, M., Howard, P. J., & Coffin, J. (2007). It’s enough to make you sick: The impact of racism on the health of Aboriginal Australians. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 31(4), 322-329.
Liaw, S. T., Lau, P., Pyett, P., Furler, J., Burchill, M., Rowley, K., & Kelaher, M. (2011). Successful chronic disease care for Aboriginal Australians requires cultural competence. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 35(3), 238-48. doi:10.1111/j.1753-6405.2011.00701.x
Nash, R., Meiklejohn, B., & Sacre, S. (2006). The Yapunyah project: Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in the nursing curriculum. Contemporary Nurse, 22(2), 296-316. doi:10.5172/conu.2006.22.2.296
Nielsen, A. M., Stuart, L. A., & Gorman, D. (2014). Confronting the cultural challenge of the whiteness of nursing: Aboriginal registered nurses’ perspectives. Contemporary Nurse, 48(2), 190-6. doi:10.5172/conu.2014.48.2.190
Paradies, Y. (2005). Anti-Racism and indigenous Australians. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 5(1), 1-28.
Paradies, Y., & Cunningham, J. (2009). Experiences of racism among urban indigenous Australians: Findings from the DRUID study. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 32(3), 548-573. doi:10.1080/01419870802065234
Paradies, Y., Harris, R., & Anderson, I. (2008). The impact of racism on indigenous health in Australia and aotearoa: Towards a research agenda. Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health Darwin.
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Pedersen, A., Dudgeon, P., Watt, S., & Griffiths, B. (2006). Attitudes toward indigenous Australians: The issue of special treatment. Australian Psychologist, 41(2), 85-94. Pijl-Zieber, E. M., & Hagen, B. (2011). Towards culturally relevant nursing education for Aboriginal students. Nurse Education Today, 31(6), 595-600. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2010.10.014Prior, D. (2009). The meaning of cancer for Australian Aboriginal women; changing the focus of cancer nursing. European Journal of Oncology Nursing : The Official Journal of European Oncology Nursing Society, 13(4), 280-6. doi:10.1016/j.ejon.2009.02.005
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“Kiwi food is okay for Kiwis, but it isn’t okay for us”: Special food in the perinatal period for migrant mothers

I attended the 5th International Conference on Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Relational, Bio-cultural and Spatial Perspectives from Wednesday, 5 November 2014 – Friday, 7 November 2014.

Those who know me or follow my work will know that I am deeply interested in eating and thinking about food. I’m interested in how food structures our days and our lives,it nourishes and sustains us, reminds us of people, events, history, all in a mouthful.

Birthday cake
A special birthday cake, made for a surfer on his special birthday.

I’ve written elsewhere about how migrants perform identity through food preparation and consumption. I’ve also written about consumptive multiculturalism. I’m also interested in the provision of food in (monocultural) institutional contexts such as health where people are racialised by the foods that they eat and how the processes of hospitalisation strip people of their cultural and social identities and often lead people into being unable to access culturally appropriate food. This presentation brings those ideas together.

Abstract

Food, its preparation and ingestion, constitutes a source of physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural nourishment. Food structures both daily life and major life transitions, including the transition to parenthood, where food is prepared and consumed that recognises the unique status of the mother. However, the reductive focus of hospitals where efficiency, economy and a focus on nutrients dominate and where birth is viewed as a normal event can mean that there is a mismatch between the cultural and religious dietary needs of migrant mothers with the food that is available from Western instititutional environments. In this paper I outline a research study, which examined the transition to parenthood among new migrant groups in New Zealand. Based on a number of focus groups with mothers and fathers, the data were analysed using a postcolonial feminist lens and drew upon Foucauldian concepts to examine the transition to parenthood. The findings show that Asian new migrant parents construct the postnatal body as vulnerable, requiring specific kinds of foods to facilitate recovery from the trials of pregnancy and delivery and optimize long term recovery from pregnancy. This discourse of risk contrasts with the dominant discourse of birth as normal, and signals the limitations of a universal diet for all postnatal mothers, where consuming the wrong food can pose a threat to good maternal health. Paying attention to what nutrition and nurturing might mean for different cultural groups during the perinatal period can contribute to long term maternal well-being and cultural safety. Health practitioners need to understand the meanings and significance attached to specific foods and eating practices in the perinatal period. I propose that institutional arrangements become responsive to dietary needs and practices by providing facilities and resources to facilitate food preparation.

I’m hoping that the written form of the paper becomes part of an edited book about mothers and food. Fingers crossed, it’s under review at the moment.

Nursing in media-saturated societies: implications for cultural safety in nursing practice

Nairn, DeSouza, Moewaka Barnes, Rankine,  Borell, and McCreanor (2014). Nursing in media-saturated societies: implications for cultural safety in nursing practice in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Research in Nursing September  19: 477-487,doi:10.1177/1744987114546724

Great to be published in the Journal of Research in Nursing September 2014 issue on ‘Race’, Ethnicity and Nursing, Edited by: Lorraine Culley. I had the pleasure of being included in a previous issue in 2007, so it’s great to be in this one.

Abstract

This educational piece seeks to apprise nurses and other health professionals of mass media news practices that distort social and health policy development. It focuses on two media discourses evident in White settler societies, primarily Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, drawing out implications of these media practices for those committed to social justice and health equity. The first discourse masks the dominant culture, ensuring it is not readily recognised as a culture, naturalising the dominant values, practices and institutions, and rendering their cultural foundations invisible. The second discourse represents indigenous peoples and minority ethnic groups as ‘raced’ – portrayed in ways that marginalise their culture and disparage them as peoples. Grounded in media research from different societies, the paper focuses on the implications for New Zealand nurses and their ability to practise in a culturally safe manner as an exemplary case. It is imperative that these findings are elaborated for New Zealand and that nurses and other health professionals extend the work in relation to practice in their own society.

One of my favourite pieces of the article proposes some ways in which nurses can engage in critical assessment of mass media, by asking questions like:

  • From whose point of view is this story told?
  • Who is present?
  • How are they named and/or described?
  • Who, of those present, is allowed to give their interpretation of the matter?
  • Who is absent?
  • Whose interests are served by telling the story this way?

One of the things that I love about this journal is that they ask for commentaries from a reviewer. My former colleague Denise Wilson (Professor, Māori Health Taupua Waiora Centre for Māori Health Research/School of Public Health & Psychosocial Studies, National Institute of Public Health and Mental Health Research, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand), has reviewed our paper and says:

I would urge nurses to read this paper and reflect on how the media influences their own practice and engagement with minority and marginalised groups. Media portrayals of minority groups often reflect negatively geared dominant cultural sentiments, becoming ‘accepted’ fact within our communities. Nurses need to be aware that their efforts to be culturally safe in their practice can be undermined by the normalisation and acceptance of what is portrayed in the media. Therefore, nurses are encouraged by the authors to come together and question the ‘taken-for-granted’ dominant cultural media portrayals to create a stronger platform for culturally safe practice.