A Voice for Birth in Australia

maternal-child health


Many people who are drawn to birth work have an “aha” moment when they realize this is the work they were meant to do.  For Maternal-Child Health Systems student (’18) Leslie Arnott, this moment came at week 34 of her pregnancy with her first child. Like many Australian women, she was referred to an obstetrician.  The obstetrician was nice enough, but Leslie felt like something was missing in her 15- minute prenatal appointments. After conducting much research about evidence-informed maternity care for low-risk, healthy pregnant women, she discovered that one-to-one midwifery care was the option that best suited her.  Seven weeks later, with the support of a private midwife, her partner Peter and her friend Lynne as a birth attendant, Leslie gave birth to a healthy 8lb 3oz baby boy in the comforts of her own home.

“Every woman should be able to feel that newfound courage you experience when you push a baby out, with people around you, believing you can do it.” Leslie couldn’t believe that, at the time, less than 1 percent of women in Australia had the ability to choose one-to-one midwifery care.

It was Leslie’s positive personal experience with a midwife, along with the extensive research she conducted personally, that would ultimately steer her career path as a consumer representative and, eventually, toward Bastyr. Leslie joined a consumer organization that worked with and lobbied governments to improve birthing services for Australian families, and so began her journey as a consumer advocate and representative. After being mentored by seasoned members of the organization and arming herself with as much evidence-informed research as she could, Leslie collaborated with other consumers, sociologists, researchers and academics to influence some much-needed change in maternity services. Some of her work includes:

  • Providing consumer representation on ministerial boards, professional colleges, hospital working groups and task forces

  • Presenting at national and state conferences

  • Organizing press conferences and rallies

  • Writing press releases and ministerial briefs

  • Contributing to policy writing for health departments and political parties

  • Developing internal organizational administration and programs

  • Facilitating birth education programs

  • Providing individual advocacy for birthing individuals

As a consumer representative, Leslie works with others as well as independently to advocate and hopefully improve disparities and, encourage consumers as key influencers in decision-making, not only at the care interface but also within service operational development and policy-making processes.

Throughout the past 16 years as a consumer representative, Leslie noticed that when taking part in governmental committees and discussions, the people who receive the most attention are often those with master's or doctorate degrees.  When she heard about Bastyr University’s master’s degree in Maternal- Child Health Systems, -- an education that underpins maternity care advocacy with rigorous academia, she could not believe it.  

“It was like it was tailor-made for me. I had already done the advocacy and the representing, I just needed to formalize it,” she shared.

Offered primarily online in a low-residency model format, the Maternal-Child Health Systems (MCHS) master’s degree prepares its graduates to infiltrate, influence and improve maternity care at all levels of service delivery – from policy-making to the care interface.   Leslie believes that consumer representatives must be knowledgeable and research-savvy in order to be effective. The MCHS not only formalizes that knowledge; it legitimizes it with a master’s degree.

Leslie has come to develop the utmost respect for Bastyr faculty members Karen Hayes, Nancy Anderson and all who have contributed to developing this innovative educational program.

“These women are true humanitarians, and although the course is challenging, provoking and confronting, the very least I can do for them is to graduate....and then honor their legacy by infiltrating the system to improve it,” she said.

Leslie is now in the process of co-founding a non-profit organization called The B.E.A.R. Foundation (Birth, Education, Advocacy and Research). The organization’s goal is to provide consumer training, as well as birth education training and research. “My independent project (thesis) focuses on providing a roadmap showing how consumer groups who are well informed can affect quality and safety improvements in maternity health care from inside the system. It will provide a sophisticated approach to keeping the consumer voice alive and sustainable at every level, and there is nothing I would like more.”

For more information on Bastyr University’s online master’s degree in Maternal-Child Health Systems, visit us at bastyr.edu.

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