A few days ago there was a wonderful story of how “people power” had freed a man in Perth, whose leg had become caught in the gap between a platform and train on his morning commute. You can watch the video here. What struck me about this story was that people taking part in their “regular” commute noticed something out of the ordinary and used their combined energy to free the man. Someone alerted the driver to make sure that the train didn’t move, staff then asked passengers to help and in tandem they rocked the train backwards from the platform so it tilted and his leg could be freed. It made me think about the gaps people are stuck in, that exist all around us, that have become so routine, that we are habituated to, and fail to notice.
One of the biggest gaps is in the health outcomes between Indigenous and non-indigenous people in settler nations. Oxfam notes that Australia equals Nepal for the world’s greatest life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. This is despite Australians enjoying one of the highest life expectancies of any country in the world. Indigenous Australians (who numbered 669,900 people in 2011, ie 3% of the total population) live 10-17 years less than other Australians. In the 35–44 age group, Indigenous people die at about 5 times the rate of non-Indigenous people. Babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at more than twice the rate of other Australian babies, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
One of the most galvanising visions for addressing the health and social disparities between Indigenous and non-indigenous people is The Close the Gap campaign aiming to close the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation. By 2030 any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child born in Australia will have the same opportunity as other Australian children to live a long, healthy and happy life.
Nurses play an important role in creating a more equitable society and have been forerunners in the field of cultural safety and competence. For the gap to close, nurses need an understanding of health that includes social, economic, environmental and historical relations. Cultural safety from Aotearoa New Zealand has been an invaluable tool for me as nurse for analysing this set of relations. However, as a newcomer to Australia, I have a lot to learn about what cultural competency means here and how I fulfil my responsibilities as a nurse educator to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To that end, this blog piece focuses on some of the frameworks in nursing that might enable nurses to close the gap. I am particularly interested in frameworks that enable nurses to widen the lens of care beyond the individual and consider service users in the context of their families and communities and broader social and structural inequities. I’m also interested in policy frameworks that can support practice.
A social determinants of health approach takes into account “the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness. These circumstances are in turn shaped by a wider set of forces: economics, social policies, and politics” (WHO, 2010). A health equity lens has also been invaluable to my own practice, it refers to the absence of systematic disparities in health (or in the major social determinants of health) between groups with different social advantage/disadvantage. Social inequalities refer to “relatively long-lasting differences among individuals or groups of people that have implications for individual lives” (McMullin, 2010, p.7). While an inequity, refers to an unjust distribution of resources and services. “equity means social justice” (see, Braverman 2003). The term “social and structural inequities,” refers to unfair and avoidable ways in which members of different groups in society are treated and/or their ability to access services.
Principle Four of the New Zealand Nursing Council: Guidelines for Cultural safety in Nursing and Midwifery Education (2011) pay great attention to the issue of power:
PRINCIPLE FOUR Cultural safety has a close focus on:
4.1 understanding the impact of the nurse as a bearer of his/her own culture, history, attitudes and life experiences and the response other people make to these factors
4.2 challenging nurses to examine their practice carefully, recognising the power relationship in nursing is biased toward the provider of the health and disability service
4.3 balancing the power relationships in the practice of nursing so that every consumer receives an effective service
4.4 preparing nurses to resolve any tension between the cultures of nursing and the people using the services
4.5 understanding that such power imbalances can be examined, negotiated and changed to provide equitable, effective, efficient and acceptable service delivery, which minimises risk to people who might otherwise be alienated from the service.
The Australian Code of Ethics for nurses and midwives in Australia also pays attention to the role of nurses in having a moral responsibility to protect and safe guard human rights as means to improving health outcomes and having concern for the structural and historical:
The nursing profession recognises the universal human rights of people and the moral responsibility to safeguard the inherent dignity and equal worth of everyone. This includes recognising, respecting and, where possible, protecting the wide range of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights that apply to all human beings.
The nursing profession acknowledges and accepts the critical relationship between health and human rights and ‘the powerful contribution that human rights can make in improving health outcomes’. Accordingly, the profession recognises that accepting the principles and standards of human rights in health care domains involves recognising, respecting, actively promoting and safeguarding the right of all people to the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental human right, and that ‘violations or lack of attention to human rights can have serious health consequences’.
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.
The Code stops short of using words like colonisation and racism, but the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation background paper “Creating the Cultural Safety Training Standards and Assessment Paper” (2011, p. 9) points out that awareness and sensitivity training, result in individuals becoming more aware of cultural, social and historical factors and engaging in self-reflection however if there isn’t an institutional response and the responsibilities for institutional racism remain individualised:
Even if racism is named, the focus is on individual acts of racial prejudice and racial discrimination. While historic overviews may be provided, the focus is again on the individual impact of colonization in this country, rather than the inherent embedding of colonizing practices in contemporary health and human service institutions
The focus is on the individual and personal, rather than the historical and institutional nature of such individual and personal contexts.
the health and cultural wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within mainstream health care settings warrant special attention. Cultural Respect is the: recognition, protection and continual advancement of the inherent rights, cultures and tradition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. …. [it] is about shared respect ….[and] is achieved when the health system is a safe environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and where cultural differences are respected. It is commitment to the principle that the construct and provision of services offered by the Australian health care system will not compromise the legitimate cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The goal is to uphold the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to maintain, protect and develop their culture and achieve equitable health outcomes.
Knowledge and awareness, where the focus is on understandings and awareness of history, experience, cultures and rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.A focus on changed behaviour and practice to that which is culturally appropriate. Education and training and robust performance management processes are strategies to encourage good practice and culturally appropriate behavior.Strong relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, and the health agencies providing services to them. Here the focus is on the business practices of the organization to ensure they uphold and secure the cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.Equity of outcomes for individuals and communities. Strategies include ensuring feedback on relevant key performance indicators and targets at all levels.
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
The term ‘Cultural competence’ originates from Transcultural Nursing developed by Madeleine Leininger. Borrowing from anthropology, the aim was to develop a model that encouraged nurses to study and understand cultures other than their own. You can read my paper on the complementariness of cultural safety and competence here. Wellness for all: the possibilities of cultural safety and cultural competence in New Zealand. Betancourt, et al., 2002, p. v define it as:
the ability of systems to provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviours, including tailoring delivery to meet patients’ social, cultural and linguistic needs
Dr Tom Calma’s (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner ) Social Justice Report 2005 instigated a human rights-based approach Campaign to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (up to 17 years less than other Australians at the time). This report called on all Australian governments to commit to achieving equality of health status and life expectancy within a generation (by 2030).
A coalition drawn from Indigenous and non-Indigenous health and human rights organisations formed the Close the Gap Campaign, which was launched in April 2007 by Catherine Freeman and Ian Thorpe, the Campaign’s Patrons. The CTG Campaign is currently Co-Chaired by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and Co- Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Kirstie Parker. The Campaign Steering Committee is comprised of 32 health and human rights organisations. The members of the Campaign Steering Committee have worked collaboratively for approximately nine years to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health inequality through two primary mechanisms: attempting to gain public support of the issue and demanding government action to address it.
http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2013/08/04/youtube-an-excellent-resource-for-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-health/Cultural competence video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpzLzgeL2sADr Tom Calma – Cultural Competency
http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.htmlWhat kind of Asian are you?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWynJkN5HbQReverse racism, Aamer Rahman:
Article first published online: 13 MAY 2014 De Souza, Ruth Noreen Argie. (2014). ‘This child is a planned baby’: skilled migrant fathers and reproductive decision-making. Journal of Advanced Nursing. doi: 10.1111/jan.12448
Risk management and life planning are a feature of contemporary parenting, which enable children to be shaped into responsible citizens, who are successful and do not unduly burden the state (Shirani et al. 2012). This neoliberal project of intensive parenting and parental responsibility (typically gendered as maternal) involves child centredness and detailed knowledge of child development (Hays 1998). Simultaneously, contemporary masculinities are increasingly being situated beyond the traditional Western binary of the active home-caring mother and passive breadwinning father. Following Connell (1995), the plural word masculinities refers to the many definitions and practices of masculinity (See e.g. Archer 2001, Cleaver 2002, Finn & Henwood 2009, Haggis & Schech 2009, Walsh 2011). Broader and more inclusive repertoires of fathering emerge from diverse family practices and formations including queer/homoparental families; cohabitation; new technologies; changing domestic labour arrangements; the changing organization of childcare and growing involvement of fathers; and social policy initiatives including parental leave and family-friendly employment practices (Draper 2003).
These rapid societal changes have ushered in new forms of participatory fathering and family involvement for men in the Western world. However, the pressure to integrate traditional breadwinner and authority figure roles with contemporary demands for involvement in all aspects of the perinatal period has not been matched by reduced work pressures or the provision of active societal support and preparation (Barclay & Lupton 1999). As a result, men often feel isolated, excluded, uninformed and unable to obtain resources and support in the perinatal period placing pressure on relationships, challenging feelings of competence and requiring negotiation of competing demands (Deave & Johnson 2008). Furthermore, men have gender- specific risk factors for perinatal distress including their more limited support networks; dependence on partners for support; additional exposure to financial and work stresses; a more idealized view of pregnancy, childbirth and parent- hood stemming from a lack of exposure to contemporary models of parenting; and lastly being less keen to seek help with emotional problems (Condon et al. 2004). All of these factors are compounded by practitioners and services oriented towards mothers and babies marginalizing fathers (Deave & Johnson 2008, Lohan et al. 2013).
Cite as: DeSouza, Ruth. (2014). One woman’s empowerment is another’s oppression: Korean migrant mothers on giving birth in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Transcultural Nursing. doi: 10.1177/1043659614523472. Download pdf (262KB) DeSouza J Transcult Nurs-2014.
Published online before print on February 28, 2014.
Purpose: To critically analyze the power relations underpinning New Zealand maternity, through analysis of discourses used by Korean migrant mothers. Design: Data from a focus group with Korean new mothers was subjected to a secondary analysis using a discourse analysis drawing on postcolonial feminist and Foucauldian theoretical ideas. Results: Korean mothers in the study framed the maternal body as an at-risk body, which meant that they struggled to fit into the local discursive landscape of maternity as empowering. They described feeling silenced, unrecognized, and uncared for. Discussion and Conclusions: The Korean mothers’ culturally different beliefs and practices were not incorporated into their care. They were interpellated into understanding themselves as problematic and othered, evidenced in their take up of marginalized discourses. Implications for practice: Providing culturally safe services in maternity requires considering their affects on culturally different women and expanding the discourses that are available.
Keywords: focus group interview, cultural safety, Korean women, maternal, postcolonial, Foucault.
A feature of contemporary maternity is the notion that birth can be empowering for women if they take charge of the experience by being informed consumers. However, maternity is not necessarily empowering for all mothers. In this article, I suggest that the discourses of the Pākehā maternity system discipline and normalize culturally different women by rendering their mothering practices as deviant and patho- logical. Using the example of Korean migrant mothers, I begin the article by contextualizing maternity care in New Zealand and outlining Korean migration to New Zealand. The research project is then detailed, followed by the findings, which show the ways in which Korean mothers are interpellated as others in maternity services in New Zealand. I conclude the article with a brief discussion on the implications for nursing and midwifery with a particular focus on cultural safety.
As a child I was enchanted by the idea of princesses and fairy godmothers and obsessed with the story of Sleeping Beauty. I even directed classmates in a play version of it in the playground of my Nairobi primary school. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, three good fairies arrive to bless the infant princess. Using their magic wands, one gives her the gift of beauty and the second the gift of song, but before the third can give her blessing, an evil fairy appears and curses the princess because she wasn’t invited to the christening ceremony. The curse is that the princess will die when she touches a spinning wheel’s spindle before sunset on her sixteenth birthday. Luckily the third fairy who was interrupted from her wish making uses her blessing to weaken the curse so that instead of death, the princess will fall into a deep sleep until she is awakened by a kiss.
Since the Royal baby was born, there has been a lot of fanfare with landmarks in London and all over the world lit up to celebrate the birth of the Royal baby. Many in both red and blue leading up to the birth and then blue upon confirmation of the baby’s gender. Former colonies have also got in on the act with almost 40 buildings in New Zealand partaking in the lighting frenzy. This baby has certainly had the Royal treatment in the media:
Led to creative gestures like this one from the crew of the HMS Lancaster based in the Caribbean:
I’ve loved the idea of being able to bestow wishes, fancying myself as a fairy godmother even if I haven’t had a magic wand. Working on a postnatal ward in the 90s, I would wish every infant and their family a wonderful new life. The birth of the Royal baby has rekindled my desire for godmothership, so this is what I wish for every infant, mother, and family:
- I wish the arrival of every infant in the world was greeted with the same sense of anticipation and enthusiasm as the Royal arrival.
- I wish every mother, infant and family could receive the same “care” as the Royals will.
- I wish “we” cared as much about maternal and infant mortality around the world.
- I wish “we” cared as much about “other” mothers who aren’t supported in their mothering and against whom active measures are taken to regulate and surveil their bodies merely because of the accident of their own circumstances.
- I wish we could remember the resources that have been extracted globally to maintain the Royal Family in the lifestyle they are accustomed to and that these could be redistributed.
However, all babies are not created equal and neither are all mothers. Regulating the reproduction of those considered to be a burden on society has been a way to secure and control the well-being of the population, leading to the surveillance and management of women’s bodies. The quality and quantity of the populations been an enduring concern of governments, a concern which has seen two kinds of policies, the ones that encourage some mothers to procreate (pronatalist) and others that discourage or even coerce other mothers from reproducing.
Our recent colonial history is emblematic of these concerns, reflecting a shift from Malthusian anxiety about over-population and the inability of the environment to support growth to a concern with the quality of the population. In white settler nations pronatalist movements often had nationalist overtones, equating international prominence with demographic strength, requiring both productive and reproductive capacity. For example in the United States, Republican motherhood was a site of civic virtue, demonstrated through bearing arms if you were a man and producing and rearing sons if you were a woman. These sons would embody republican virtues, even if as a woman you were excluded from citizenship.
Fears of ‘race suicide’ arose in early 20th Century Australia, New Zealand and the United States and made motherhood a political duty for white women in the interests of the nation and the health of the race. Reproducing white citizens in the colonies was a patriotic duty for women superseding involvement in public affairs. The concern about ‘race suicide’ was attributed to middle class women neglecting their duties by not having children while ‘other’ women (migrant, indigenous or working class) had too many in white settler societies. Anglo-Saxon middle class’ individualised mothering contrasted with shared child rearing that was more common in other societies. This resulted in women from those communities, for example immigrant and indigenous women, being labelled as bad mothers. Evolutionary theory played a role in demarcating good and bad mothering: Anglo-Saxon and Northern European women were positioned on the top of the hierarchy of the ‘races’ and were the only women capable of being good mothers irrespective of what other mothers did. Such women bore the responsibility for ensuring the well-being of their families, the future of the nation and the progress of the race. Anglo-Saxon mothers were thus both exalted and pressured.
It has always been easier to focus on the management of mothers rather than politically challenging public health issues. Schemes to address maternal malpractice such as health visitors (whose job it was to keep surveillance and intervene to educate women) were initiated to ensure that the British working class mother was subjected to the imperatives of the infant welfare movement and became a ‘responsible’ mother. A proliferation of organisations to promote public health and domestic hygiene among the working class thrived, assisted by upper or middle class women. This class-based maternalism in Europe and North America reflected a race-based maternalism in the colonies, where Europeans challenged and transformed indigenous mothering in the name of “civilisation, modernity and scientific medicine” (Jolly, 1998, p.1). Similarly, in colonised countries the ‘cleaning up’ of birth was achieved through both surveillance and improved hygiene and sanitation. Sadly, interventions have involved the removal of children, most notably in the Stolen Generation in Australia, where Aboriginal – and some Torres Strait Islander – children were forcibly removed from their families by Australian Federal, State and Territory government agencies, and church missions, from the late 1800s to the 1970s and children sent either to institutions or adopted by non-Indigenous families.
A grassroots campaign calling for a national apology led to the first national Sorry Day on 26 May 1998 marked by ceremonies, rallies and meetings. Sadly, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown’s move to amend the sorry motion by offering “just compensation to all those who suffered loss” – was voted out by all the non-Green Australian Senators.
Forced sterilisations without consent occurred as recently as between 2006 and 2010 where prison doctors sterilized 150 California women. The targets of Golden State prisons were people with a mental illness or who were poor. The practice was eventually banned in 1979, but even by 1933, California had subjected more people to forceful sterilization than all other U.S. states combined. This eugenic programme spread to Nazi Germany where extreme anti-natal racial hygiene doctrines were implemented against ‘unfit mothers’. Anti-natalist ideologies have often occurred concurrently with pronatalist ones. Women with mental or physical impairments or ethnically ‘other’ women such as Jews, Gypsies and Slavs were forcibly sterilised and abortions conducted, while Hitler simultaneously supported initiatives for the growth of a strong German Nazi Volk through a virtuous German motherhood. Breastfeeding in Nazi Germany was obligatory and women were awarded the Mutterkreuz medal (Honour of the German Mother (Ehrenkreuz der deutschen Mutter) for rearing four or more children.
So how will the other children born in the UK on 22 July 2013 fare? Emily Harle in The new Prince and his 2,000 birthday buddies paints a bleak picture. To summarise, 226 children of the 2,000 will live in overcrowded, temporary or run down housing, 11 will be homeless. 540 children will live in poverty. 8 children will die before their first birthdays and poor housing and low quality healthcare will be contributing factors.13 children will be taken into care during their childhood and have around five different sets of carers and nine of them will leave school with no qualifications. 120 will have a disability and 40 will have difficulty accessing services, support and activities that their able-bodied friends can. 25 of the 2,000 will be young carers who look after ill or disabled family members. Eleven of the children born on the same day will suffer from severe depression during their childhood, and 500 will experience mental illness during their lives, half of whom will have reported that the problem began before they were 18.
Seumas Milne contends that the monarchy embodies inequality and fosters a “phonily apolitical conservatism”. The hypocrisy at the heart of the celebration of the monarchy is seen in the British government’s preaching of democracy globally, whilst supporting an undemocratic system at home through an unelected head of state and an appointed second chamber giving the monarchy significant unaccountable powers and influence aside from the more visible deferential culture and invented traditions.
The festivities to mark the Royal baby’s arrival are likely to continue for some time but let’s not forget the ‘other’ mothers, infants and families for whom there are no celebrations and for whom there will never be. Let us not forget that not all lives are equal, there are those whose lives are valued and those who aren’t. Most of all, let’s do something about it.
I’ve just had the first paper from my PhD published: DeSouza, R. (2013), Regulating migrant maternity: Nursing and midwifery’s emancipatory aims and assimilatory practices. Nursing Inquiry. doi: 10.1111/nin.12020
In contemporary Western societies, birthing is framed as transformative for mothers; however, it is also a site for the regulation of women and the exercise of power relations by health professionals. Nursing scholarship often frames migrant mothers as a problem, yet nurses are imbricated within systems of scrutiny and regulation that are unevenly imposed on ‘other’ mothers. Discourses deployed by New Zealand Plunket nurses (who provide a universal ‘well child’ health service) to frame their understandings of migrant mothers were analysed using discourse analysis and concepts of power drawn from the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, read through a postcolonial feminist perspective. This research shows how Plunket nurses draw on liberal feminist discourses, which have emancipatory aims but reflect assimilatory practices, paradoxically disempowering women who do not subscribe to ideals of individual autonomy. Consequently, the migrant mother, her family and new baby are brought into a neoliberal project of maternal improvement through surveillance. This project – enacted differentially but consistently among nurses – attempts to alter maternal and familial relationships by ‘improving’ mothering. Feminist critiques of patriarchy in maternity must be supplemented by a critique of the implicitly western subject of maternity to make empowerment a possibility for all mothers.
I am a member of the Perinatal Mental Health New Zealand Trust (PMHNZ) whose vision is to : “improve outcomes for families and whanau affected by mental illness related to pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood”. They produce a quarterly newsletter that includes information about research, training, workshops and courses, innovative projects and services, topics for discussion and stories. It was a privilege to share my research with other members in the February newsletter (pdf) and on this Women’s day it seems apt to share it with a broader audience.
One of my favourite stories that I would tell when we ran workshops in the nineties about postnatal depression was by Jack Kornfield. I would share this story and half the room would be in tears.
“There is a tribe in East Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.” A Path with Heart (1993, p. 334).
For me the message in this story reflects the importance of love, being loved by a community and the importance of acknowledgement. Painfully, however, it highlights the ways in which women’s experiences of maternity can be just the opposite. That is, they can feel isolated, disrespected and invisible. As a clinician, I’ve learned that there are ways in which we, and the system that we work in can make this most magnificent, sacred and profound time in a woman and her family’s life also one that is painful, one that leaves long lasting scars. Health professionals can cause harm even especially when we think we are doing good. As an academic for 13 years prior to which I worked as a clinician for 10 years, I am deeply interested in the issue of power and how professional frameworks of care can undermine women’s personal experiences.
This song has been the background soundtrack to my recently completed PhD. I used data from a study funded by the Families Commission and assisted by Plunket, where I talked to 40 migrant women about their experiences of becoming mothers in New Zealand. I also talked to Plunket nurses about their experiences of caring for women from ethnic migrant backgrounds.
My motivation for doing research was prompted by my clinical experiences. Several years ago I decided to make a move from working in mental health to working in maternity. As someone who had worked as a community mental health nurse I took a lot of concepts about my work in mental health into this new setting, for example, I believed that care should be client centred and driven, that services should fit around consumers of services and that taking time to be with people was important. What I found in the institutionalised setting of hospital maternity care and later community care was that some of the routine procedures that are administered in hospitals and in the community with good intentions had negative impacts and were oppressive especially for women who did not tidily fit into the mould for the factory style model that was in place then. The conveyor belt metaphor is apt given that women who were the wrong fit were viewed as a problem, as only a single way of becoming a mother was acceptable. I saw that staff were frustrated at the extra demands or complexity of working with ‘diverse’ women, they lacked resources like time and knowledge. In turn, I could see that women who valued particular kinds of social support, acknowledgement and rituals were not getting their needs met. It seemed like a situation where no one was a winner.
What I found out in my research was that there was a big gap in satisfaction among women who were familiar with the structure of maternity services in the west and women whose lives had been shaped by growing up in other cultural contexts. Fundamentally there was a schism in the ways in which birth was understood. To be simplistic, western modes of being a mother valued independence, autonomy, taking up expert knowledge and using it and being an active consumer. By that I mean the individualising of responsibility for maternity on the mother, to take up scientific knowledge through reading self help books and for the role of the partner to be a birth coach and the goal of birth to be “natural”.
This dominant Pakeha middle class model of being a mother clashed with other understandings of motherhood, where responsibility was more collectivised, so that embodied knowledge from cultural authority figures (mother and mothers in law) protected mothers and where a range of rituals and supports were available for the mother (including some which were also not necessarily helpful). Women who became mothers in New Zealand had to negotiate these two different models of maternity and come to terms with what they negotiated. However, in the context of an assimilatory maternal health system it was very difficult for women to maintain traditions that were important to them. For example many women were not supported if they wanted to bring in traditional foods with them or have support from grandmothers. Many of these encounters left migrant mothers feeling disempowered. Another important clash was the different philosophies and roles of professionals and mother in the context of midwifery models and medical models. Some women viewed birth as a risky process and wanted the reassurance of visualising technologies. The view of birth as a risky process clashed with midwifery models of birth as a natural process that women are physically prepared for but need encouragement and support with.
Conclusion How can we support all kinds of women with different values, beliefs and rituals around birth, to feel loved, nurtured, safe and supported? How can we give women who might be separated from their loved ones, support to access those values, beliefs and that will allow them to manage the transition into motherhood? Returning to the metaphor of singing, and the power of connection it engenders, how can we connect and support people who are singing different kinds of songs? Can we adjust our tone so that we can harmonise? Can new songs and rhythms infuse the songs we already know with new energy and possibility?
Having a baby in New Zealand without your support base http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/kaixinxingdong/page/486- resources+dragon-babies+parents-stories ￼
When my parents were considering migrating from East Africa, their focus was on the white settler contexts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. For a bunch of reasons I won’t go into here, they settled on Aotearoa New Zealand. A part of me always felt like my life would have been better if we’d moved to Canada or the United States, because there would have been a bigger Goan community and more support for my family. I reasoned I might have felt more culturally confident, more capable at speaking Konkani. My visit to Canada in October helped me accept the gift that my parents had given me in migrating to Aotearoa New Zealand. By not being wrapped in the comforting cocoon of an insular diasporic community, I had to figure out my own relationship with my personal and cultural history but also what Ghassan Hage terms, an ethical relationship with colonisation and living on colonised land. Visiting Canada and meeting terrific indigenous people and migrant scholars allowed me to see the contrast between Canada’s genocidal history and its self-representation as a benign, civilised and benevolent nation. The parallels between Aotearoa and Canada of a colonial history supplemented by exploited migrant labour to meet settler ends mirrored the clearly unfair outcomes in measures of health, well-being and prosperity for indigenous peoples that I see in Aotearoa New Zealand as a health professional. For the first time I began to see how the issues I’d been grappling with as a migrant were replicated across seemingly disparate white settler contexts.
Image courtesy: Aaron Paquette
The Idle No More movement which began on Great Turtle Island on December 10, 2012 was initiated by four women Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean in response to legislation (Bill C-45) affecting First Nations people and gained momentum with the hunger strike by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence. Impressively the United Church of Canada has acknowledged it’s complicity in colonization, inequality and abuse, through being one of the bodies that ran Indian Residential Schools. In 1986 they apologized to Aboriginal peoples for confusing “Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.” Apologizing to former residential schools students in 1998. Their response to the Idle No More movement has been to fully support Chief Spence’s statement that “Canada is violating the right of Aboriginal peoples to be self-determining and continues to ignore (their) constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights in their lands, waters, and resources.”
Other activists have also taken note of the commonalities of the struggle, noting how how what is particular, has universal relevance. Naomi Klein notes that
During this season of light and magic, something truly magical is spreading. There are round dances by the dollar stores. There are drums drowning out muzak in shopping malls. There are eagle feathers upstaging the fake Santas. The people whose land our founders stole and whose culture they tried to stamp out are rising up, hungry for justice. Canada’s roots are showing. And these roots will make us all stand stronger.
International support has come from the occupied lands of Palestine and indigenous communities around the globe. In Aotearoa New Zealand a Facebook page has been developed called Aotearoa in Support of Idle No More: Maori women’s group Te Wharepora Hou, a collective of wāhine based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland with a commitment to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine have also pledged support. As a migrant occupying a disquieting position in a country working through issues of biculturalism and mutliculturalism in a monocultural context. Diasporic migrant communities and organisations have also backed the Idle No More movement, with South Asian activists and BAYAN-Canada, an alliance of progressive Filipino organizations noting the similarities between migrant experiences and indigenous struggles.
How do we do engage with an indigenous struggle when we do and don’t belong at the same time? Himani Bannerji notes in a Canadian context (but one that readily resonates through various white settler contexts):
So if we problematize the notion of ‘Canada’ through the introjection of the idea of belonging, we are left with the paradox of belonging and non-belonging simultaneously. As a population, we non-whites and women (in particular, non-white women) are living in a specific territory. We are part of its economy, subject to its laws, and members of its civil society. Yet we are not part of its self-definition as ‘Canada’ because we are not ‘Canadians.’ We are pasted over with labels that give us identities that are extraneous to us. And these labels originate in the ideology of the nation, in the Canadian state apparatus, in the media, in the education system, and in the commonsense world of common parlance. We ourselves use them. They are familiar, naturalized names: minorities, immigrants, newcomers, refugees, aliens, illegals, people of color, multicultural communities, and so on. We are sexed into immigrant women, women of color, visible minority women, black/South Asian/Chinese women, ESL (English as a second language) speakers, and many more. The names keep proliferating, as though there were a seething reality, unmanageable and uncontainable in any one name. Concomitant with this mania for naming of ‘others’ is one for the naming of that which is ‘Canadian.’ This ‘Canadian’ core community is defined through the same process that others us. We, with our named and ascribed otherness, face an undifferentiated notion of the ‘Canadian’ as the unwavering beacon of our assimilation.
The experiences of marginalisation that Bannerji elucidates can guide our responses to the Idle No More movement. Gurpreet Singh from Vancouver, notes that South Asian seniors have always referred to the indigenous peoples as Taae Ke (family of elderly uncle). If we see a familiar connection between what we ourselves experience as migrants and extend that empathy to the struggles of indigenous people who have experienced an inter-generational slow genocide, we might be able to see beyond our own oppression and our view that we are too far outside the structures of power to claim a space. Privileged in some ways, disadvantaged in others, our futures are tightly imbricated in this indigenous struggle. Our presence has sometimes diffused indigenous claims and we must consider our complicity in the continuing colonisation of indigenous people. We must put pressure on governments to recognise the rights of indigenous people and their unique place as guardians of the lands we stand upon, our futures depend on it.
So if you really want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself —Gloria Anzaldua.
Language maintenance and pluralism mean different things to different groups. Multilingualism is an act of survival for linguistic minorities, but read as a deviation, a threat, a sign of defiance and a rejection of fundamental nation-state values by the dominant culture in migrant receiving and white settler contexts. This interpretation of language pluralism is epitomised in the Stormtroopers of Death song Speak English Or Die (1985).
You come into this country
You can’t get real jobs
Boats and boats and boats of you
Go home you fuckin’ slobs
Selling hot dogs on the corner
Selling papers in the street
Pushing, pulling, digging, sweating
Where you come from must be beat[CHORUS]
You always make us wait
You’re the ones we hate
You can’t communicate
Speak English Or DieYou don’t know what I want
You don’t know what I need
Why must I repeat myself
Can’t you fuckin’ read?
Nice fuckin’ accents
Why can’t you speak like me
What’s that dot on you head,
Do you use it to see?
I was reminded of it with the news of a racist incident in Melbourne where a group of French-speaking women travelling on a bus were told by another woman to “speak English or die”. The verbal abuse captured on video shows a second man threatening to cut the woman with a knife. The knives remained in the kitchen in a New Zealand Herald report about the unfair dismissal of a chef who in addition to the sin of not knowing the difference between types of tofu “insisted on listening to Indian music and speaking Hindi” which “affected” customers. This anxiety about the speaking of languages other than English extends to the policy sphere with many states in the US introducing legislative bills to make English the official state language, for example Minnesota in 2011. Even signs in languages in other languages provoke discomfort. Massey University researchers Robin Peace and Ian Goodwin found some New Zealanders responded with “annoyance” or “repugnance” when confronted with a space that did not make immediate, translatable sense.
What is with this monolingual sense of entitlement over public space and deep rage that is provoked by people speaking (or singing as the Frenchwomen were) in their own language?
I think it has a lot to do with how “we” might imagine “ourselves”. Language is a glue that coheres people, identities and values. Hearing a different language represents a threat to the power relations of the dominant group.
Immigrants are not supposed to be heard…. Immigrant culture and language—assumed to have little prestige or usefulness in comparison with the dominant American culture and the English language—are supposed to fade away quickly as assimilation runs its course—Castro, 1992.
The anxiety (Xenoglossophobia) generated in hearing a language that is out-of-place, reflects an anxiety about broader demographic changes that have resulted in the browning of our societies. Having a monoglot ideology though means that linguistic diversity is denied and prohibited. If English is the only language that can be heard, then this effectively silences other languages, cultures and ideas.
Assimilationist and genocidal approaches to linguistic plurality have been central to settler capitalist histories requiring the coercive adoption of majority languages in the interests of economic development. Monolingualism was fundamental to economic growth and supporting language minority rights was viewed as a threat to the nation-state because of having an unassimilated ‘other’ (Phillipson, Rannut, & Skutnabb-Kangas, 1994, p. 4). Colonisation and migration led many to abandon their own languages in order to access the social and political benefits of incorporation and assimilation or risk being stigmatised. My experience of trying to reclaim my own language is relevant here. The Portuguese colonisation of Goa led to the Konkani language being marginalised through the enforcement of Portuguese. This linguistic displacement made Konkani the lingua de criados (language of the servants) as Hindu and Catholic elites turned to Marathi and Portuguese respectively. Ironically Konkani is now the ‘cement’ that binds all Goans across caste, religion and class and in 1987 Konkani was made an official language of Goa. Ironically, contemporary iterations of [neo]colonial and [neo]liberal agendas require the appropriation of languages in the interests of global capital, as seen by the push for Chinese language learning in Australia, with monolinguists questioning the global relevance of indigenous languages. Setting up a familiar dynamic of competing indigenous and migrant others. Interestingly the National Statement on Language Policy published by The Human Rights Commission reflects these tensions:
Human Rights and Responsibilities
The right to learn and use one’s own language is an internationally recognised human right. Human rights treaties and declarations specifically refer to rights and responsibilities in relation to indigenous languages, minority languages, learning and using one’s mother tongue, the value of learning international languages, and access to interpretation and translation services. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that ‘a person who belongs to an ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority in New Zealand shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of that minority, to enjoy the culture, to profess and practise the religion, or to use the language of that minority’.
New Zealand has a particular responsibility under the Treaty of Waitangi and international law to protect and promote te reo Mäori as the indigenous language of New Zealand. It also has a special responsibility to protect and promote other languages that are indigenous to the New Zealand realm: Vagahau Niue, Gagana Tokelau, Cook Island Mäori, and New Zealand Sign Language. It has a regional responsibility as a Pacific nation to promote and protect other Pacific languages, particularly where significant proportions of their communities live in New Zealand.
A significant and growing proportion of New Zealand’s trade is with Asia and learning the languages of our key trading partners is an economic imperative.
Interestingly the New Zealand Settlement Strategy in its seven goals for successful settlement, aims for newcomers to New Zealand to:
- feel welcomed and connected
- get the right job and contribute to future prosperity
- speak and understand New Zealand English
- know how to access information and services
- feel proud and confident
- feel safe
- understand and contribute to New Zealand society.
But there is no emphasis on language maintenance.
Aotearoa New Zealand and linguistic pluralism
Aotearoa New Zealand has two official languages: Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). English is a de facto official language as it is widely used in Aotearoa, English is spoken by 95.9 percent of people, after which the most common language in which people are proficient in is Māori, spoken by 4.1 percent (157,110 people). 24,090 people report being able to use New Zealand Sign Language and 6,057 people can communicate in all three official languages. Between 2001 and 2006, the numbers of people in New Zealand who spoke Hindi almost doubled, from 22,749 to 44,589, the number of people able to speak Northern Chinese (Mandarin) increased from 26,514 to 41,391, the number of people able to speak Korean increased from 15,873 to 26,967, and the number of people able to speak Afrikaans increased from 12,783 to 21,123. The number of multilingual people increased by 19.5 percent between the 2001 and 2006 Censuses to reach 671,658 people, a 43.3 percent increase from 468,711 people in 1996. Where you were born has a big impact on whether you speak two or more languages, overseas-born residents are more likely than New Zealand-born usual residents to be able to speak two or more languages. 35 percent of overseas-born children (aged 0 to 14 years) speak two or more languages, compared with 11.5 percent of New Zealand-born children. As do working-age people aged between 15 to 64 years, of whom almost half 48.5 percent were multilingual, compared with 10.0 percent of New Zealand-born people. In 2006, 2.2 percent of people could not speak English. Of these, the majority were born overseas (80.3 percent).
The New Zealand Human Rights Commission views the promotion of language as a human right. Its 2005 vision for language was that “by the bicentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 2040 New Zealand is well established as a bilingual nation and communities are supported in the use of other languages”. It contributes to that vision in many ways including publishing a monthly e-newsletter, Te Waka Reo; a National Statement on Language Policy; supporting language weeks and other language promotion activities,and dealing with complaints about discrimination involving language (e.g. using languages other than English in the workplace).
Being fluent in three languages but not in Konkani when I arrived in New Zealand (and now not being able to speak at all in Maragoli and poorly in Swahili) has taught me that languages open up different ways of thinking and of understanding the world, but fluency isn’t passive. It must be nurtured in the context of a community. The last New Zealand Census identified that there were 588 Konkani speakers in Aotearoa, an increase from 210 in 2001. This rise gives me great heart and hope for the possibility that I might be able to reclaim my own language (amchi bas). Learning other languages has taught me to empathise and to advocate. Perhaps more than anything this is what learning another language or reclaiming our own language offers us, a chance to connect with ourselves and others in ways that are truly meaningful, but that too must be fostered.
If you talk to a [wo]man in a language [s]he understands, that goes to [her]/his head. If you talk to [her]/him in [her]/his language, that goes to [her]/his heart—Nelson Mandela
This is a lengthier version of an editorial published in this month’s Kai Tiaki New Zealand Nursing Journal. It is based on an invited address I gave at the 10th Annual Conference of the Women’s Health Section:’Divine Secrets of the Sisterhood’ on April 26th 2012.
I recently spoke at the NZNO Women’s health conference about sisterhood. Not that I don’t care about men (I do deeply), but as one of three sisters and as a woman who has spent most of my adult life working in the female dominated profession of nursing, relationships between women are of great personal and professional interest. The call to action in the women’s movement almost thirty years ago emphasised sisterhood and demanded the end of oppression and the commitment to women as a social group (Klein & Hawthorne, 1994). However, the movement also raised questions of difference. Many suggested that in order to understand what women had in common they also needed to pay attention to what they didn’t have in common such as race, gender and sexuality. Focusing on similarity erased and overlooked important differences, but only focusing on difference led to the “othering” of others, stereotyping and pushing people away.
I believe these questions remain important for nursing, because I think our differences can make nursing stronger. An understanding of our differences can help us to better understand our similarities. As Audre Lorde points out “it is within our differences that we are both most powerful and most vulnerable, and some of the most difficult tasks of our lives are the claiming of differences and learning to use those differences for bridges rather than as barriers between us”. So I believe an important question for nurses is how can we capitalise on the energy and movement in difference and resist the coercive force of sameness?
One of the challenges is that differences raise critical issues of power, because differences are often institutionalised (Crenshaw,1994, p.411). Take the idea of the implicit ideal nurse-typically the ideal nurse is female, white, middle class, heterosexual, able bodied, nice, obedient and nurturing (Giddings, 2005; Reverby, 2001). Those nurses that fit the norm experience privilege and those that don’t are marginalised. Internationally, women of colour are present in practice settings with less prestige, lower wages, less security, and less professional autonomy (Gustafson, 2007). While, a disproportionate number of white men and women are ensconced in nursing management, academia and research, whose world view is supported by the dominance of white, Western, biomedical interpretations of health and illness. Grada Kilomba defines whiteness as “a political definition, which represents historical, political and social privileges of a certain group that has access to dominant structures and institutions of society”. As Ang-Lygate (1997, p,2) points out “political sisterhood is suspect unless those sisters who enjoy privileges denied to other sisters are seen to share the responsibility of dismantling the differences”.
This dominance of whiteness in our workforce and our ideas about health and illness are present in nursing in New Zealand too. We are undergoing a period of unprecedented diversity. Transitioning from largely New Zealand-born European to being increasingly ethnically diverse, our dependence on overseas-born migrant nurses is evident in their composition of 29% of the workforce- one of the highest proportions in the OECD. At the same time Māori and Pacific Islands nurses are under-represented in our workforce while these communities experience the greatest health need. This inequity is challenging and as Margaret Southwick notes provides “justification (if one be needed) for the claim that nursing needs to take seriously the challenge of working with diverse and marginalised groups within society is to be found in the health status of these very same groups of people.” (Southwick, 2001).
So given the diversities in nursing and the health inequities that confront our communities, new strategies are necessary. I’m proposing moving away from sisterhood which implies the shared experience of being a woman and experiencing gender oppression to consider a new metaphor that allows greater consideration of our differences so that we can better articulate our similarities (Simmonds, 1997). There’s friendship for a start, a relationship based on equals who have affection, and interest in each other (Friedman, 1993, p.189). Its etymology is in the word free. It means to love, to love our own freedom, and to love and encourage the freedom of the other (Mary Daly, 1987). Friendship allows us to work in each other’s interests because part of what is compelling is our differences.
The notion of friendship as an alliance within the context of difference can be seen in this brilliant blog post entitled Queer Sisters Keep Saving Me: The Brilliantly Selfish Act of Being an Ally by Black Artemis
Heterosexual people especially women owe a tremendous debt to the LGBTQ struggle for some of the sexual freedoms we enjoy…the boundaries queer people bend and bust at the risk of their own lives in many ways expand our heteronormative privilege. Their radical decision to be simply who they are makes it much safer for the rest of us to redefine who we may want to be. We have a broader range of acceptable sexual expression because of the queer liberation movement for every time they push the envelope, they set a new “normal,” and it’s not even they who benefit the most for their courage. Rather it is those of us whose sexual identity is already validated.
If we are going to use the metaphor of sisterhood we consider the idea of a “chosen family” used by LGBTQ communities or the Māori concept of whānau. It too is based on love rather than biology and includes people as who are a source of love and support outside the heteronormative idea of family.
I’d like us to strengthen nursing by strengthening ourselves, for creating space for all nurses to be able to come together with our diverse traditions and values, to be united based on solidarity not sameness. I’d like us to be able to articulate our shared beliefs and practices while acknowledging how we differ.
I’m proud to be a nurse in New Zealand, I value the shared commitment to caring and to social justice in the shape of cultural safety. I’d like to build on our legacy and see nurses critically examine the values, goals, and intents shaping our profession. I’d like us to have some challenging conversations about power and privilege, to deconstruct our own classism, racism, and homophobia and to think about recognition and reparation. I leave my final words to Audre Lorde:
So this is a call for each of you to remember herself and himself, to reach for new definitions of that self, and to live intensely. To not settle for the safety of pretended sameness and the false security that sameness seems to offer. To feel the consequences of who you wish to be, lest you bring nothing of lasting worth because you have withheld some piece of the essential, which is you.
ANG-LYGATE, M., CORRIN, C. & HENRY, M. S. 1997. Desperately seeking sisterhood: Still challenging and building, London, Taylor and Francis.
CRENSHAW, K. 1994. Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. In: FINEMAN, M. A. & MYKITIUK, R. (eds.) The public nature of private violence. New York: Routledge.
DALY, M. (1978) Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Boston: Beacon.
FRIEDMAN, M. 1993. What are friends for?: feminist perspectives on personal relationships and moral theory, New York: Cornell University Press.
GIDDINGS, L. S. 2005. Health disparities, social injustice, and the culture of nursing. Nursing Research, 54, 304.
GUSTAFSON, D. L. 2007. White on whiteness: Becoming radicalized about race. Nursing Inquiry, 14, 153-161.
HAWTHORNE, S. & KLEIN, R. 1994. Australia for Women: travel and culture, New York, Spinifex Press.
LORDE, A. 2009. Difference and Survival: An Address to Hunter College” Rudolph, New York:, Oxford University Press.
REVERBY, S. 2001. A caring dilemma: Womanhood and nursing in historical perspective. In: HEIN, E. C. (ed.) Nursing issues in the twenty-first century: Perspectives from the literature. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.
SIMMONDS, F. N. 1997. Who Are the Sisters? Difference, Feminism, and Friendship. 19-30. In ANG-LYGATE, M., CORRIN, C. & HENRY, M. S. 1997. Desperately seeking sisterhood: Still challenging and building, London, Taylor and Francis.
SIMMONDS, F. N. 1997. Who Are the Sisters? Difference, Feminism, and Friendship. Desperately Seeking Sisterhood: Still challenging and building, 19-30.
SOUTHWICK, M. R. 2001. Pacific women’s stories of becoming a nurse in New Zealand: A radical hermeneutic reconstruction of marginality. Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington.
In 2007 a student nurse called Lisa Kenyon wrote to the Kai Tiaki asking questions about nursing. I’ve reprinted her letter here and then my response. It seems relevant at the moment
I am a year-one nursing student from Waiariki Institute of Technology, doing my bachelor of nursing at Windermere in Tauranga. I have recently been out on my first practicum for three weeks and have come away with a multitude of questions. I am a 34-year-old married woman with a child, and consider myself experienced in the traumas and joys that life can bring. After finishing my practicum, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was left reflecting on my personal experience with the elderly.
I cared for a dear man who unfortunately died in my second week of being his student nurse; I was so privileged to have spent that time with him and his family. But I was left with a list of questions and thoughts to which I have no answers. Maybe there are no answers and maybe, with more nursing experience, these questions will make sense, but for now I want to share my thoughts and wonder how other experienced nurses or student nurses have overcome these difficulties.
The questions that bother me are: Can a nurse “care” too much? Don’t patients deserve everything I can give them? How do I protect myself and still engage on a deeper level with the patient? How do I avoid burnout? Why can’t I push practice boundaries, when I see there could be room for adjustment or improvement? Isn’t it okay to feet emotionally connected to the patient? Don’t I need to continually ask questions, if nursing is to change, or will that just get me fired?! Finally, am I just being a laughable year-one student, with hopes and dreams and in need of a reality check?
I would really appreciate feedback from other student nurses who have felt the same or from experienced nurses with some insight into these questions, as I am left doubting what kind of nurse I am going to be.
Lisa Kenyon, nursing student, Waiariki Institute of Technology, Tauranga.
My response below:
I was pleased to see Lisa Kenyon’s letter, Questions haunt nursing student, in the December/ January 2006/2007 issue of Kai Tioki Nursing New Zealand (p4). The questions she has reflected on indicate she is going to be an amazing nurse.
I believe nursing is both an art and a science, and our biggest tools are our heart and who we are as human beings. I was moved by her letter and thought I’d share my thoughts. The questions she posed were important because the minute we stop asking them, we risk losing what makes us compassionate and caring human beings.
Let me try to give my responses to some of the questions Lisa raised–I’ve been reflecting on them my whole career and continue to do so.
1) Can a nurse “care” too much?
Yes, when we use caring for others as a way of ignoring our own “issues”. No, when we are fully present in the moment when we are with a client.
2) Don’t patients deserve everything I can give them?
They deserve the best of your skills, compassion and knowledge. Sometimes we can’t give everything because of what is happening in our own lives, but we can do our best and remember we are part of a team, and collaborate and develop synergy with others, so we are resourced and can give our best.
3) How do I protect myself and still engage on a deeper level with the patient?
I think we have to look after our energy and maintain a balance in our personal lives, so we can do our work weft. We also need healthy boundaries so we can have therapeutic communication.
4) How do I avoid burnout?
Pace yourself, get your needs met outside work, have good colleagues and friends, find mentors who have walked the same road to support you. I’ve had breaks from nursing so I could replenish myself.
5) Why can’t I push practice boundaries, when I see there could be room for adjustment or improvement?
I think you can and should, but always find allies and justification for doing something. Sometimes you have to be a squeaky wheel
6) Isn’t it okay to feet emotionally connected to the patient?
Yes, it is okay to feel emotionally connected to the patient, but we also have to remember that this is a job and our feelings need transmutation into the ones we live with daily.
7) Don’t I need to continually ask questions, if nursing is to change, or will that just get me fired?
Yes, you do have to ask questions but it is a risky business. Things don’t change if we don’t have pioneers and change makers.
8) Finally, am I just being a laughable year-one student with hopes and dreams, and in need of a reality check?
No, your wisdom and promise are shining through already and we want more people like you. Kia Kaha!
Ruth DeSouza RN, GradDipAdv, MA, Centre co-ordinator/Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Asian and Migrant Health Research, National Institute for Public Health and Mental Health Research Auckland University of Technology