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The 700km journey to have a baby

A country women’s association is calling for urgent improvements to maternity care in the bush, 100 years after it first began advocating on the issue.

September 4, 2022
By Stephanie Gardiner
4 September 2022

Sharon Single puts it bluntly: “Out here, people have babies on the side of the road.”

The farmer, who lives near Coonamble in northern NSW, with her husband Tony, was determined the same thing wouldn’t happen to her when she gave birth to her daughters.

Knowing there were no maternity services in nearby towns like Baradine and Coonabarabran, she was facing the prospect of travelling more than two hours on flood-prone roads to Dubbo or Tamworth hospitals.

So Mrs Single, who had two high-risk pregnancies, had to make a drastic decision.

She travelled 700km to Toowoomba, Queensland, a month before the birth of Madge in July 2020, to deliver in a major hospital and be supported by family there.

“A century ago we went forward, things progressed, and we felt like we got somewhere. Suddenly, we seem to have gone backwards.”

NSW CWA President Joy Beames

In February, she gave birth to her second daughter, Sadie, at a hospital in Newcastle, 480km from home, after relocating weeks before her due date. 

While Mrs Single knows she’s fortunate to have accessed city hospitals, her story demonstrates the hurdles rural families face to get quality care.

“We’re failing a big chunk of the population,” she said.

“And we’re failing our mothers. How does Australia judge itself? It should be on how we look after the next generation.”

The NSW Country Women’s Association is using its annual awareness week, beginning on Sunday, to call for urgent improvements to maternity services in regional and rural areas.

It follows a NSW parliamentary health inquiry, which revealed maternity unit closures have left rural families travelling long distances for routine scans and having their babies far from home. 

The campaign duplicates the principle the organisation was founded on in 1922, when it began advocating for maternity wards, baby health centres and bush nurses.

President Joy Beames said it’s frustrating to be still lobbying 100 years on.

“A century ago we went forward, things progressed, and we felt like we got somewhere,” Mrs Beames said.

“Suddenly, we seem to have gone backwards and, to a certain degree, we’ve got to start again.”

The awareness week is backed by the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association and the Gidget Foundation, which supports families struggling with new parenthood.

Mrs Single experienced a sudden complication in her second pregnancy, prompting a rushed trip to Dubbo hospital at 5am for an ultrasound, then waiting seven hours to find out her baby was healthy.

She fears rural mothers and children regularly fall through the cracks because country hospitals don’t have the resources for antenatal care.

“I have two beautiful little girls, but that’s not everybody’s outcome,” she said.

“We need to ensure we’re looking after everybody in our community.

“These are vibrant communities that participate in the economy, we should get our fair share of health treatment.” 

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