When activists become oppressors: Nurses and migrant mothers.

This Sunday I’ll be doing a Picnic lecture where I’ll be sharing stories from nurses and migrant mothers from my PhD to discuss how well intentioned activism can become a form of oppression. The lecture will be held in the Albert Park rotunda in Auckland on Sunday 1st April at 3pm and is linked with Te Tuhi’s What do you mean, we? exhibition which brings together an international selection of artists to examine prejudice.

The kinds of questions that my work has been concerned with are:

  • What subjectivities and beliefs and values are being reproduced when a woman has a baby in neoliberal Aotearoa New Zealand?
  • How does a maternal health care system provide services for birthing women whose subjectivities have been partially or significantly formed outside a white settler nation context and specifically outside the colonial dyad of settler and indigenous?
  • Do the policy rhetoric of biculturalism in response to Treaty of Waitangi obligations and the requirement for culturally competent practice actually improve the care migrant mothers receive?
  • Do the liberal feminist aspirations for birth as an empowering experience extend to women outside the world of white middle-class feminism?

Advice to a student nurse

My response to  a student nurse who was haunted by questions about becoming a nurse. Published in Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand 13.1 (Feb 2007): p4(1).

I was pleased to see [x} letter, Questions haunt nursing student, in the December/ January 2006/2007 issue of Kai Tiaki 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!