The hard road to giving birth while on maternity leave

Lisa Lehtinen, 33 weeks pregnant, cannot sleep at night because of the fear of giving birth alone in a car or motel room far from home.

Her local maternity ward in Biloela, central Queensland, has been undergoing bypass surgery since August. That means the expectant parent has to travel her 140 kilometers to Rockhampton Hospital for delivery.

The 29-year-old with an infant son must decide in the weeks before his delivery whether to stay in a Rockhampton motel, drive to a nearby birth, or stop at Biloela Hospital for a transfer. .

“I was pregnant during COVID, which is more stressful,” Lehtinen told AAP.

“I was born really premature in my first birth, so giving birth on the roadside is a legitimate possibility.”

If the birth was in Rockhampton, she said, it’s quite possible that her husband won’t be there.

Lehtinen is one of hundreds of people living in rural and rural Australia whose growing labor shortage means they have to travel long distances for obstetric care and are unable to attend childbirth. I am faced with a difficult decision.

Gladstone Hospital south of Rockhampton has been undergoing obstetric bypass surgery for more than six months, while service was inconsistent last month at Beaudesert Hospital in southern Queensland.

Epworth Geelong Maternity in Victoria, where 600 babies are born each year, is set to close in March as maternity care declines are felt outside the Sunshine State.

A recent parliamentary survey of rural health in New South Wales and Tasmania spoke to families who traveled hundreds of kilometers for basic procedures such as obstetric care and ultrasounds.

The Rural Medical Association this week called on state and federal governments to save maternity services, saying rural women and their babies were at risk.

“Enough is enough,” said association president Megan Bellot.

“Unfortunately, these recent examples are just the tip of the iceberg given the continued decline of regional and local maternity services across Australia.”

Belot said there is an urgent need to set up a national training path for highly skilled local generalists across a range of specialties, including obstetrics.

In its October budget, the federal government provided $143.3 million over four years to improve access to rural health care, including expanding rural generalists and training locations.

In the short term, the Queensland government has said Gladstone Hospital is likely to remain on bypass until mid-year when four obstetricians can be recruited.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath denied the bypass was due to funding cuts.

“It’s about the current national shortage of obstetricians and the specific challenges of that hospital due to personal circumstances and various reasons other obstetricians there have had to move. .”

Mr Lehtinen said rural families deserve better.

“We just hope we can give birth closer to home. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration,” she said.

“Everyone in Australia should have access to basic maternity services and basic health care.”


Australian Associated Press is an Australian news agency.