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Expectant mums anxious following maternity downgrade

Fiordland women are fearful following the closure of the Lumsden Maternity Centre, a roadside birth and problems plaguing the new hubs, with some planning to birth outside of the region, says Fiordland Families Network Chairperson Anna Thomas.

“Some of our local women are worried that they could end up giving birth roadside and others are concerned if Southland Hospital or the other birthing units are full, that they may have to travel to Dunedin to give birth. One family has even started making arrangements to temporarily re-locate to another South Island centre, that is better equipped maternity wise, to have their baby, she says.

Anna says two births in the past two weeks, one roadside near Lumsden and another at the Lumsden hub, had only heightened concerns within the community about the closure of the Centre.

“Had the Lumsden Maternity Centre been open, as it should have been, both of these babies would have been welcomed into a warm, fit-for-purpose and fully staffed maternity unit with a second midwife and nurses on-hand. They would then have had the opportunity to have a postnatal stay within their own community,” she says.

“Instead, we can only imagine the heart-wrenching feeling of transporting a newborn from Lumsden in the freezing cold, and missing out on crucial skin to skin time, to a maternity unit another 40 minutes drive away,” says Anna.

“Our midwifes, who already have to travel large distances in often challenging road conditions, are now faced with having to deliver babies with no guaranteed back-up midwife. It’s very stressful for the midwife and for the mother.”

Te Anau mother Toni Vivier, who is expecting her second child in six weeks, says she feels uneasy having to travel an hour and a half to Winton, or two hours to Invercargill to give birth in winter.

“My first baby was born in winter with snow on the ground so I was fortunate that we had the Lumsden Maternity Centre as it was a fast labour,” she says.

“This time, I’m concerned that if I don’t make the distance that my baby will be born in the car and if we do make the distance, that we could be turned away due to the beds being full,” says Toni.

“As for planning, you can do all the planning you want but labour is so unpredictable,” she says.

Fiordland Families Network member Danica Tauri said the Lumsden closure had unfairly increased the burden on hundreds of rural women and was poorly planned.

“The two recent births were a result of poor management on the part of the Southern DHB, a birth event at or near any hub should be rare and definitely should not be accepted as a weekly occurrence.”

“This is a symptom of poor decision making and highlights the fact that Lumsden provided an essential service and must be reinstated. We know that 15 babies born last year at Lumsden would have been born before arriving at the Winton birthing unit.”

“It is unacceptable that 15 babies could be born in less than ideal circumstances and the effect a traumatic experience can have on bonding, mental health, and self worth of mothers is well documented.” (Larsen 2018)

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