New 24/7 midwifery service for Aboriginal mothers-to-be in western Sydney

The first mother through the WSLHD Dragonfly Midwifery Clinic Joelle Harland-Sykes with her twins Jacob and Zakariya.

The third pregnancy of Joelle Harland-Sykes was special – and not only because was she pregnant with identical twins, which appears to be a rare and spontaneous occurrence.

Joelle also became the first mother to give birth with the help of a new dedicated midwifery program “Dragonfly Midwives”.

In her 28th week of pregnancy when the program launched, Joelle happily agreed to be among the first mothers to participate in the new Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) program.

 “It was great having them to support my wishes and be my voice,” the mother of four said.

“I have never had a caseload midwife and I decided to try the service. It turned out to be a whole different experience.

 “I felt more relaxed and confident having support from midwives with whom I have built a relationship. If I had any questions, they were always available. They even came to my home – it is very useful if you have other kids.”

Dragonfly Midwife Baylee, Joelle Harland-Sykes with with babies Jacob and Zakariya, Dragonfly Midwife Samantha.

Two midwives accompanied Joelle when she gave birth to her twins, Jacob and Zakariya, at Westmead Hospital in January 2021.

The Dragonfly Midwifery team offers culturally safe midwifery care for women from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

In late 2020, WSLHD welcomed the four midwives to become the backbone of the program and to lead its activities.

New midwife Baylee moved from Thursday Island, Sam is from Broken Hill, Courtney is a Wiradjuri woman from Parkes and Georgie is from the Northern Beaches.

They now share the workload by using the “buddy system” – calling in help to make sure the service runs 24/7 during pregnancies and up to six weeks following birth. 

Providing continuity of care for Aboriginal mothers has been a long-term dream for midwife Courtney.

Expecting mother Allara Acret with her caseload midwife Courtney

“There are only 230 Aboriginal midwives in Australia. I am a Wiradjuri woman and I have always felt a strong obligation to be a part of these numbers,” Courtney said. 

“Most women who identify as Aboriginal do not have a good outlook on accessing healthcare at the hospital. Having a place to come to in the community makes it more relaxed and comfortable.

“It is also proven that having a trusted midwife makes a woman feel safe during pregnancy and childbirth, and improves health outcomes for mums and babies,” she said.

The Dragonfly Clinic is based at the Westmead accommodation complex. As part of the program, mums-to-be can attend educational sessions including neonatal classes and have conversations about different aspects of motherhood such as safely installing car seats.

WSLHD Aboriginal Liaison Officer Narelle Holden at the opening ceremony of the Dragonfly Clinic

Once a week everyone in the program gathers for “waddles” – a walk around the campus – allowing mums to build relationships with their midwives and get healthy.

WSLHD has the largest population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living within NSW with Indigenous women and babies continuing to experience higher rates of mortality and morbidity compared to non-Indigenous women and babies.

Director of Aboriginal Health Strategy Braiden Abala said the symbol of the clinic, the dragonfly, was inspired by the artwork “Dance of the Dragonflies” by Darug artist Leanne Tobin.

Originally developed for the Westmead Redevelopment project, the artwork is now used for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services in the District.

“Leanne’s expression is that the artwork is about the transition of the dragonflies throughout their life journey – and a good starting point is birth,” he said.

WSLHD has the largest population of Aboriginal people living within NSW and the program seeks to help address the fact Aboriginal women and babies continue to experience higher rates of mortality and morbidity compared to non-Aboriginal women and babies.

The Dragonfly Midwifery service is in addition to the existing Aboriginal Maternal Infant Health Service providing more choice for Aboriginal families in western Sydney.

To learn more about the Dragonfly Midwives program, please contact the caseload office on 8890 9129.

The Westmead Hospital Foundation is working to raise funds to support the Dragonfly Midwifery Clinic and donations can be made at here.