Childbirth is supposed to be empowering, but for many birthing people, it is not. For Indigenous women, immigrant women, and women of colour, birthing within the western healthcare system can be anything but affirming. It can feel unsafe. In this raw and challenging talks series, I host conversations about birth, racism, and cultural safety with changemakers working within the birthing sector to break down the structures built on colonisation.
This podcast is written and hosted by Ruth De Souza with support from RMIT University VC Fellowship funding.
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Listen to the trailer here
Recorded on the Bass Coast on the traditional lands of the Boon wurrung
Artwork by Atong Atem
Design by Ethan Tsang
Title music by Raquel Solier
Produced and edited by Jon Tjhia
Ep 3: Habiba Ahmed on reclaiming power and joy
Episode Synopsis: So often, health professionals focus on the baby, but birthing parents need nurturing, continuity and community too. Restoring power to Black women and reclaiming joy is what doula Habiba Ahmed’s work is all about. She believes in helping mothers to empower themselves with information while tuning into their bodies, learning to trust themselves and their intuition. Habiba talks about restorative post-partum care, what it’s like to be judged and treated differently on the basis of appearance, and the acceptance and support that a ‘whole of community’ approach can offer.
SBS interview : https://www.sbs.com.au/news/insight/i-m-a-birth-doula-here-s-why-my-work-is-essential
SBS Insight Birthing Better Program: Insight – Birthing Better.mp4
Music in this episode includes ‘Salientia’ and ‘Webbed’ by REW<<, used under a Creative Commons license from Free Music Archive.
Ep 2: Donna Cormack on transformation for Māori health
Episode Synopsis: Racism is a distraction from flourishing, says Associate Professor Donna Cormack, a Māori academic whose work attempts to transform health futures for Māori. We talk about obstetric violence, abolitionist approaches to healthcare reform, heterosexualism in birthing and the careful use of time and energy. Donna believes being connected to past and future generations of Māori scholars and Indigenous scholars gives her work focus.
Burgess, H., Cormack, D., & Reid, P. (2021). Calling forth our pasts, citing our futures: An envisioning of a Kaupapa Māori citational practice. MAI Journal. A New Zealand Journal of Indigenous Scholarship, 10(1), 57-67.
Donna Cormack, Sarah-Jane Paine. (May 2020). Dear Epidemiology: a letter from two Māori researchers.
Music in this episode includes: ’Salientia’ and ‘Anura’ by REW and ‘Can we be friends’ by Lobo Loco used under a Creative Commons license from Free Music Archive.
Ep 1: Gina Bundle and Storm Henry on trust in hospitals
Episode Synopsis: Storm and Gina talk about working at “The Women’s” (Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne). The Women’s has a complex history involving the enforcement of the ‘Aborigines’ Protection Act (1869) which caused First Nations babies and children to be removed from their families, community and culture. How is it possible to build trust in institutions that have had such a damaging impact on communities in the past? Storm and Gina work to create an intersectional, culturally safe service at multiple levels and promote a whole of hospital approach. We discuss how they ensure birthing people have a voice and a choice within a hierarchical organisation and don’t have to hide their identities.
Read more about Badjurr-Bulok Wilam https://www.thewomens.org.au/patients-visitors/clinics-and-services/support-services/aboriginal-torres-strait-islander-women
Music in this episode includes: ‘Me on the inside’ by Ketsa and ‘Esse’ by Xylo-Ziko, used under a Creative Commons license from Free Music Archive.
Series 1 recorded at Windmill Studios in Melbourne on the traditional lands of the Eastern Kulin Nation
Sound design and mix by Regan McKinnon
Artwork by Atong Atem
Design by Ethan Tsang
Title music by Raquel Solier
Produced and edited by Pipi films.
Ep 1: Dr Naomi Simmonds on decolonising birth
Episode synopsis: Difference, writes Dr Naomi Simmonds, has always been intricately woven into the fabric of her life. A Māori woman, a mother, an academic and a leader Dr Simmonds’ world is encased by the structures of western thought and colonial legacies. Yet from within this space she finds ways to champion mana wahine in order to empower and liberate knowledge systems that have long been suppressed by western power structures.
You can read Dr Naomi Simmonds’ PHD: Tū te turuturu nō Hine-te-iwaiwa: Mana wahine geographies of birth in Aotearoa New Zealand
Ep 2: Karel Williams on birthing on country
Episode synopsis: What role does community play in childbirth? And why has childbirth become centered on the western hospital system? Karel Williams is an Aboriginal woman with family connections to the Palawa and Western Arrernte Nations and is an experienced Indigenous policy advisor and midwife who champions the culturally simple yet politically complicated practice of birthing on country.
Read more about Birthing on country.
Find out more about the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM).
Ep3: Dr Mimi Niles on birthing bodies
Synopsis:Dr Mimi Niles has described healthcare as a very large, vast, deeply problematic institution. The New York-based midwife and academic grew up in Queens, New York to immigrant parents and this experience has led to the belief that every sort of disparity and inequity plays itself out in the bodies of black people in the United States.
Follow Dr Mimi Niles on Twitter at @mi_niles
What people are saying about the podcast:
Listening to Ruth’s moving interview with Habiba took me back nearly 40 years to when I gave birth to my first child. My own mother had died early in my pregnancy, and my maternal grandmother died the day my baby was due. Habiba’s account of the Somali customs around caring for the new mother brought me to tears. The loneliness and isolation I experienced in those early months as I navigated the profound changes that birthing initiates was shattering. To grieve for my mother at a time when I had never needed mothering more was a cruel introduction to my own mothering. I cannot even imagine how devastating it would have been to be torn from my culture as well. A mother’s group such as Habiba runs, where mothers are embraced as they are; without the concern for presenting their ‘best selves’, which is so exhausting and such a waste of precious energy, would have been life-changing for me. I can only marvel at the healing that Habiba’s work must be providing for so many. I only wish she’d been around when I needed her! Thank you Habiba and Ruth for helping me to soothe and heal my wounded maternal self, realising another layer of what a trial I survived. May all mothers be blessed with the compassionate care that Habiba offers.
Ruth DeSouza listening to your wonderful podcast ‘birth and justice’. Loving your open intelligent hosting style and that you still intersperse your own knowledge to take the conversation to a deeper place which allows for both nuance and depth. Thank you for creating a nurturing intelligent compassionate space (podcast) to discuss these very important topics which allows guests to share and speak with openness and no fear of judgment.
Deepa Srinivasan, Australia
Do yourself a favour and tune into the awesome podcast, Birthing and Justice, by Ruth DeSouza. Highly recommended for anyone interested in all matters birthing and racial & decolonial justice. I’ve been listening today to what are the some of most intelligent, insightful, warm, and fierce conversations I’ve heard in this space. More of this stuff please. Helen Ngo, Melbourne
Ruth! loving this podcast so much, your warm voice full of wisdom and embrace is such a salve! ❤️ Naomi’s episode sooo strong, Te Reo shone through as a wonderful layer … it makes me teary listening to that language slipping seamlessly into everyday vernacular.
Beth Sometimes, Alice Springs
Amazing podcast talk Dr Ruth! it was very powerful when Dr Naomi compared the land and womens bodies. I have some friends who are going to love this!
Jayne Wood, London
I loved this – have listened to all 3! Please keep this important conversation going 🙏 thank you for your amazing mahi. I also love how the topics could be enormous but you manage to cover lots and lots in just half an hour… so a super digestible entry point to suggest as first step into education as well as balm and validation and further insight & directions to explore further to those already on this learning journey… very cool!
Vic Parsons, Maternal health coordinator, Capital Coast DHB, Wellington
This is a beautiful, thoughtful podcast with extremely high production values on an incredibly important topic. Conversations about birth in Australia are either non existent or really limited so it is wonderful to have this resource which brings us the voices of some of the leading practitioners in changing birth care. Ruth is a warm and passionate interviewer and brings the best out of her amazing guests. Episodes are tight and impactful. As both someone who has birthed two babies at home and a critical race researcher I love this podcast and will be recommending it to everyone I know.
Anastasia Kanjere, Melbourne
Dear Dr Ruth, I just wanted to get in touch to let you know I recently came across your Birthing and Justice podcast and really enjoyed it. I am currently convening an Indigenous Health unit and am very pleased to be able to use your episodes with Karel Williams and Dr Naomi Simmonds when we cover maternity. 250 plus students should shortly be tuning in! Ella Kurz, School of Nursing, Midwifery & Public Health, University of Canberra
This is a really important podcast on birth, racism and decolonisation. Each episode is powerful, informative, intelligent and warm. Each speaker contributes a dynamic combination of knowledge, experience and resolute commitment. Together the 3 episodes make a robust and hard-hitting combination. Thank you Ruth De Souza, Dr. Naomi Simmonds, Karel Williams, Dr Mimi Niles, and all who have contributed to this really important mahi.
Anna Fielder, New Zealand
This is a brilliant podcast Ruth – warm, engaging and decolonising, I love it! I’m not a health care worker, but you really struck a chord given my own experience. I’m passionate about midwifery care, especially midwifery group practice and home birthing where/if possible, and reclaiming control of our bodies from that default position of medical intervention. I hope this becomes an essential resource for students, practitioners and educators – congratulations.
Dr Natalie Harkin Senior Research Fellow, Flinders University.
If you still think birth is not political. It really frustrates me that when women talk about the significance of birthing there are still some feminists who think it is no more than some kind of middle-class competitiveness/internalised misogyny about vaginal birth versus caesarean or hippy indulgences. This is an amazing podcast series by Dr Ruth De Souza, who I have been friends with for a long time after we met through maternal feminism circles, and it is about birthing and justice. I think you’ll love it. Imagine being moved away from all your friends and family right when you are getting ready to have your first baby. What kind of birthing system thinks that is ok? Imagine going into hospital to have a baby when you and your husband’s mothers experienced babies being removed from them in hospitals. What kind of terror might a hospital birth hold for you? Imagine being an Aboriginal woman who wants to bring soil or plants from home in with her when she births in a hospital miles from her community. Does hospital policy cater for that? Will she be ridiculed or respected for the request?
What is the cost of failing to be truly woman-centred in birth? And what if your woman-centred birthing centre doesn’t include brown and black women?
Birth is political. Andie Fox, Queensland
Have started watching the podcasts – amazing guests so enthralling – an amazing resource you have created Ruth!
Dr Nimisha Waller, Postgraduate Programme Leader, Midwifery, Senior Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology
This is such a great podcast! Dr Ruth is a warm and engaging host and her guests are smart, insightful and grounded. And they’re so interesting! You always learn something new. The production quality is awesome. I especially like how this podcast opens up a reflective space to consider how pregnancy and birth care is experienced by people of colour and first nations people. So worth a listen.
Liz Stokes, Sydney.
Interview with Diaspora blues a show about home, community, and belonging. Hosted by Bigoa Chuol and Ayan Shirwa. Regular contributors Serious Meerkat and Cookie.
Blog about why I made a podcast reproduced by Croakey a not-for-profit public interest social journalism organisation and The Power to Persuade, a platform for discussion about social policy in Australia in a global context.