Should academics podcast?

Photo by Atong Atem, design by Ethan Tsang

To be a great nurse, I believe you have to be a great communicator. I am biased. I have taught communication to undergraduate nursing and osteopathy students, and I am a mental health nurse by background. I am interested in all forms of communication in health whether written or spoken. Nursing has afforded me the enormous privilege of witnessing people at their most vulnerable, joyful and fearful. I have been there during life transitions, I have seen the world widely and deeply through the bodies, hearts and eyes of the people, families and communities of the people I have cared for. I know that we as a profession wield incredible power and have the potential to cause harm, to gatekeep, to become task-focused at the expense of being in relationship. I am grateful to the nurses who have guided and led me, who have empowered me and shown me how to empathize and care for others with skill, evidence, and compassion. I am also grateful to the nurses who’ve extended my knowledge beyond the bedside, to the thinking about practice.

It’s funny thinking about the career choices you make and then how these shape your career trajectory. I enrolled in a Graduate Diploma in Counselling while working on a postnatal ward in 1994, after working in mental health for much of my career. I have written about this elsewhere and how the experiences of the poor care of migrant mothers in Auckland led me to research their experiences and think about them for more than twenty years. Realising that working in the confines of the factory model of birth was not my thing, I was excited to work with others to develop a new community focused maternal mental health service. It’s there I became interested in education as my work increasingly began to involve providing education to community organizations and health professionals about mental health issues in the perinatal period. For a list of these (only since 2000) check out my speaking page. Later, I was contracted to develop a brochure on PND for the NZ Mental Health Foundation and worked closely with consumer groups to do so. It’s been superseded but I still love it.

I did a Masters degree and researched the experiences of Goan mothers in Aotearoa, then undertook a Families Commission project with the Plunket society to look at the experiences of migrant mothers in general. I also spent some time thinking about reflexivity and positionality and what it meant to be an insider/outsider or outsider- within as Patricia Hill-Collins calls it, and the moral aspects of mothering. I later did a secondary analysis of the Korean (discursive) Families Commission data for my Ph.D. along with interviewing Plunket Nurses. I also published the findings about Indian mothers in a book by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay and blogged about the experience of White migrant mothers. Later I talked to Chinese and Indian men about their experiences of becoming fathers in New Zealand. I also talked to Refugee background women about their experiences of parenting and more recently have been researching the intersections of pregnancy, birth, migration, and digital technologies. More recently I have had the honor of speaking with Lia Pa’apa’a and Merindi Schrieber about their project Ngamumu (For Mothers), a community focused creative arts and cultural development project that seeks to decolonise maternal health by supporting mothers during the first 1000 days of motherhood. You can listen to the talk that was hosted by Contemporary Art and Social Transformation (CAST), RMIT University. CAST OUT LOUD: Ngamumu: Decolonising maternal health through creative art and ancestral practices.

The time on the postnatal ward and later in the maternal mental health service shaped how I think about cultural safety in healthcare. From being a clinician, to an educator and then a researcher, I’ve been committed to sharing this work widely, mainly through talking and writing. Increasingly though I feel like written communication has its limits particularly for those Todd Landman describes as the ones “I would most like to engage and influence”. I learned early when I started teaching mental health support workers in NZ and then later when I worked in the Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health, how important it is to make research accessible to people. I remember my Ph.D. supervisor David Allen from the University of Washington in Seattle asking me how I could make my Ph.D. accessible to nurses and midwives who were in a position to change practice.

University academics are expected to engage with “industry”, and while I am comfortable doing this via social media, as both a blogger and tweep, a podcast feels next level. I like the idea of extending research to beyond practice contexts to public contexts, so knowledge is democratised. It bugs me that the public who pay for us to conduct research cannot access it because it needs a subscription or is behind a paywall as the amazing Siouxsie Wiles points out. I did this years ago by creating an online Aotearoa Ethnic Network Journal to bring great thinkers, writers, artists together in conversation. I also think we need to find other ways than writing to reach people. Since I got a Fellowship at RMIT and I have been based in the School of Art, I’ve been interested in how I might ‘play’ with different ways of communicating. A few months ago I collaborated with amazing artist Safdar Ahmed to create a short graphic comic for the Guardian.

So, now a podcast! Robert Danisch says it is important to trust that my “training, expertise and experience” provide me with some useful skills and knowledge that people might benefit from. As I launch this podcast, I wonder if anyone will listen and whether I can build an audience. As an avid podcast subscriber and listener myself, I love that I can listen to brilliant people all over the world while I am gardening! For the last few months, I’ve been working on a podcast to talk about birth in a settler colony and what it means for People who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). I’m not sure yet what the affordances might be of using podcasts to communicate research, but I am interested in how my work might reach a bigger audience. When I started developing the podcast, I was worried that it might be considered academically underweight (whereas folks like Mark Carrigan suggest that podcasts are a “natural form of communication for academic ideas”). Now I am (almost) convinced that a podcast can be a way to make research comprehensible so as to engage a broader public in one’s work as well as a way to build an academic network, kinda like a fireside chat, people can speak in their own voices and speak more freely or informally than conventional academic forms of dissemination.

Dr. Katie Linders at the Oregon State University in conversation with Janet Salmons talks about podcasts as a way of helping to increase research literacy because “bite-sized pieces” are a nice way to synthesize research for people from a range of backgrounds. This means that researchers have to think about how they might communicate their findings to different audiences. Cochrane is a network of researchers who provide high-quality information/evidence for healthcare knowledge and decision making geared to health professionals, patients, carers, researchers or funders who have also begun making podcasts as a dissemination tool for health research. Their format is a short summary of a recent Cochrane review from the authors themselves presented in under five minutes. They are recorded in more than 30 languages and include topics such as Does stopping smoking improve mental health?; What are the benefits and risks of psychological therapies for adults with persistent and distressing pain that is neither cancer-related nor a headache? Cochrane Australia has a podcast The Recommended Dose designed to promote an informed and critical approach to healthcare where a journalist interviews researchers, thinkers, writers and health professionals. The London School of Economics Public Policy Group use audio for academic dissemination with their aim to “bring academia online, and broaden access to the social sciences…to stretch the understanding and impact of research beyond the confines of universities.”

So, this week after much agonising I launched Birthing and justice which you can find on your favorite podcast app. I am aware that the language of human reproduction is changing and that not all pregnant people are women, or mothers so hope to reflect more of these changes in how to use language and think about birthing. Please tell all your friends and those who might be interested in making services for pregnant and birthing people more culturally safe. If you like the podcast please subscribe, rate, and or review wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Media support
Many thanks to my colleagues Croakey Health Media (social journalism services) and The Power to Persuade (platform for discussion about social policy in Australia in a global context) for sharing this blog on your websites and the fabulous work that you do. Thanks to my friends Bigoa Chuol and Ayan Shirwa for having me on the Diaspora Blues show on Monday, 23 August 2021 on 3CR.

What people are saying about the podcast:

“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 women’s bodies. I have some friends who are going to love this!” Jayne Wood, London

“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

“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

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.

I was so appreciative to hear the words of intelligent women talking on this vitally important and overlooked topic, and to have their words centred, with you gently focussing and facilitating. It felt like a privilege to be allowed into these stories and honouring to give them space to be heard. Shiranthi Fonseka, New Zealand