Birth centre brings job, but locals miss out

Melania Gil De Sagrado, who travelled from Turkey to Wollongbar to have her child at the Natural Birth Education & Research Centre, with newborn Kaya and midwife Lynne Austin.

The Natural Birth Education & Research Centre (NBERC) in Wollongbar has the power to attract expectant parents from halfway across the world, yet it still cant attract funding so local mums-and-dads-to-be can afford the service.

Turkish couple Melania Gil De Sagrado and Alp Eksioglu recently welcomed the birth of their son Kaya at the NBERC, an experience well worth travelling thousands of miles for, Melania said.

She scoured the world for the finest facility in which to have her first child and went through months of visa red tape to make sure she could have her baby in Wollongbar.

The support was amazing... the two midwives were inspiring in every sense, Melania said. There was so much care and love and I always felt 100 per cent safe, which was really important to me. People in Turkey think natural birth is dangerous, but for me this was the perfect combination of everything being natural with proper, professional care at the same time.

Melania said in Turkeys capital Istanbul the rate of caesareans in hospitals is around 85 per cent, 60 per cent higher than whats recommended by the World Health Organisation.

She said in a society dominated by men and obsessed with technology, there was little opportunity for women to experience a natural birth in Turkey.

The knowledge of midwifery and natural birth is lost. The mentality in Turkey now is that modern medicine is best, Melania said. Caesareans are also more convenient for the doctors. They arrange the timing and dont have to guide the woman through the process of birth. They often frighten women, telling them natural birth is dangerous and painful. The whole attitude is not very human or respectful.

NBERC founder Margaret Spain said despite the fact the centre was run by volunteers, and midwives even donated part of their wages back into running the facility, it still cost parents around $3,350 for a birth. She said that figure is significantly less than what it costs a hospital to facilitate a birth and she cant understand why funding hasnt been forthcoming.

We exist as a not-for-profit charity, and we keep our fees as low as possible, but this is still too high for many expectant parents, Margaret said. Not everyone wants to birth in a hospital, and the North Coast Area Health Service has been under direction from the NSW Government for years to provide a fully-funded birth centre service to Northern Rivers families. But so far we are the only option available, and our requests for funding have been refused.

Margaret said she was worried that some parents who did not want to birth in a hospital tried to birth at home alone and without assistance. She said it would be much better for all concerned if they were supervised with proper care.

Offering low-risk pregnant women the option to birth at our centre would also relieve enormous pressure from the already overburdened maternity unit at Lismore Base Hospital, Margaret said.

An appeal for funding to the Howard Government fell on deaf ears and the NBERC now plans to make a submission to the new Rudd Government. The centre is asking them to fund wages for five midwives, greatly reducing costs for parents and ensuring women dont birth at home alone. The submission will also suggest a reimbursement system for parents who use the centre, to work in much the same way as a Medicare rebate after a doctors visit.

Far away from the world of funding submissions, Melania and Alp are blissfully in love with their healthy newborn and happy to sing the praises of the centre to anyone who will listen.

It was exactly what I dreamt of a beautiful, intense experience, Melania said. Every woman should have the opportunity to choose that for herself.

Anyone interested in volunteering at the NBERC would be made most welcome. Phone 6629 5312.

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