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Maria is a Clinical Midwife/Lactation Specialist at Wellington Hospital and graduated from Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō in June 2011. She began practicing as a midwife in 1976. However in 1979, she relocated to Australia where her New Zealand midwifery qualifications were not recognised. Always up for a challenge, Maria retrained as a chef and went on to convert an old Dodge library truck to a kitchen one. She spent the next 20+ years catering for film crews in the Australian outback.

Her catering business entailed long hours and a lot of heavy lifting. As a sole parent, it was getting hard so she completed post graduate study in midwifery, and prompted by her eldest brother’s passing away, she moved back to New Zealand in 2007. She initially worked as Lead Maternity Carer in Pomare, Lower Hutt – a low socio economic area with high Māori and Pacific population. When made redundant in 2010, she successfully applied for her current role.

Before the Training
Prior to the training, Maria had no aspirations to advance her professional career. In fact, she considered her current position a lead up to retirement.

Further, Maria had no connection to her Māori heritage. Her father grew up at a time when being Māori equalled shame. When Maria grew up, te reo was still not widely used, and it was not spoken in schools at all. Subsequently, she did not learn about her Māori side. Spending 27 years in Australia added to this disconnection.
During the training
For Maria, the project work was a highlight of the training. Her project, Antenatal Milk Expressing (AME) supports and educates mothers referred for hypoglycaemia control at Wellington Hospital’s Gestational Diabetes Clinic. Infants of women with diabetes in pregnancy (particularly common amongst Māori and Pacific) are at increased risk of hypoglycaemia. Diabetes in pregnancy may also lead to pre-mature labour and/or caesarean section. Subsequently, these infants often start off their lives in neonatal intensive care, away from their mothers.

If the infant's blood glucose is low, they are often fed formula (e.g., because the mother may be unable to breast feed/provide sufficient expressed breast milk, and/or logistical reasons of getting milk from the mother to the infant).1 Through AME, mothers are taught how to express and store milk prior to their babies’ birth so that little or no formula is necessary. The ultimate outcome of the project is for mums and babies to go home and exclusively breast feed up till at least 6 months.

Another highlight for Maria was the guest presenters at the course. She found Shelley Campbell’s, who is the Chief Executive of the Sir Peter Blake Trust, presentation particularly inspiring and has since gotten involved in the Trust’s ‘Dream Team’ which sets out to inspire young kiwis across the country to ‘dream, dare, do’.
After the training
Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō contributed to significant positive change for Maria. In terms of her professional life, she has always been a very hands on person. However, the course introduced Maria to ‘big picture thinking’ – the need to be involved and drive policy making, to consider solutions that will stand in the long term.

Or nothing will change. It [the course] brought it home to me. This [policy making] is where change needs to happen.

As a result her focus and drive has changed. Instead of planning for her retirement she is more involved than ever, and has become a confident public speaker. Since the course Maria has presented at a range of forums, including: educational institutions such as universities and polytechnics; conferences (e.g., 12th New Zealand College of Midwives conference); promotional events (e.g., the Parent and Child show); and high schools, as part of the ‘Dream Team’.

I’m doing a lot of presenting now. Had to do it [present her project] at the course. I’m looking at the bigger picture now rather than being just clinical. Would never have done it before… [the course] put me in a position where there were expectations of me to do this stuff.

1 For Maria to undertake her project at Wellington Hospital she had to prove that affected infants indeed was at risk of getting formula. She had to audit 50 women – which took approximately one year to complete. Her audit showed that, according to the criteria used, 44/50 babies were inappropriately fed and managed.
2 Formula fed babies may develop diabetes themselves, and/or other issues may evolve (e.g., stretched stomachs from having too much formula leading to a higher demand for milk than is necessary/mother can produce).

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