Earlier this year, midwife and childbirth educator Helen Nenke was named NT Midwife of the Year at the prestigious Northern Territory Nursing and Midwifery Excellence Awards 2023.
Helen has worked with Anglicare NT’s Pandanus program for eight years, providing childbirth and early parenting education to young mothers under 25 and their partners, with her non-judgmental approach equipping young mothers with the skills and confidence to be the best mother to their child. Helen also works as a Maternal Child Health Nurse, and takes shifts as a midwife.
The ANMJ spoke to Helen about her commitment to midwifery and increasing access to healthcare.
Tell us about the Pandanus program and the services it provides?
Anglicare NT’s Pandanus program supports young pregnant women, under 25 years, with birth and early parenting preparation.
Some of our clients are very young and/or are facing and overcoming serious challenges at a significant crossroads in their lives.
I work very closely with the Pandanus caseworker, who provides much needed practical, social and emotional support.
Over the years, we have formed a strong partnership with the Antenatal Clinic and Group Practice Midwives at Royal Darwin Hospital who provide a continuity model of midwifery care for many of our clients.
For my part, I run childbirth education groups. We meet for three hours a week for what is now an eight-week program, covering labour and birth preparation, normal birth, medical interventions and making informed decisions around this, self-care, with a special focus on mental health, breastfeeding and early parenting.
We invite guest speakers to our group from the Perinatal Mental Health Service, Kidsafe, Centrelink, YWCA and the Young Mums Strong Mums program.
The goals of the group address health literacy, empowerment, engagement in healthcare and community engagement (some important social determinants of health).
To achieve these goals I present a fun and interactive program and, most importantly, provide a safe space for all group members where any and all questions or issues can be openly discussed without judgement. We share a meal together and have the luxury of time to just enjoy each other’s company and provide an opportunity for bonding. Some solid friendships have been formed through the groups.
I also provide one-to-one education and advice when needed.
The feedback we receive from the women and hospital midwives has been very positive, with greater engagement with antenatal care and a real sense of empowerment in birthing experiences.
What does a typical day on the job look like?
As a Child and Family Health Nurse, I provide parent support and health and development checks and immunisations for children from birth to four years.
Some days I spend visiting new mothers and babies in their homes and other days are clinic appointments.
In my midwifery role, I get to spend time enjoying the company of young mums. All of us having fun, preparing for labour, birth and parenting.
I think I might just be lucky enough to have the greatest job ever!
What are the biggest challenges of your role?
In Midwifery, the biggest challenge would be providing individualised, women centred care within a framework of a large institution incorporating policies and procedures designed to reduce risk for populations.
One of the biggest challenges for Child and Family Health, being a primary health role, is case management of vulnerable families, and maintaining client engagement.
What do you love most about being a midwife?
I consider the role of midwives to be one of great privilege, having an intimate involvement in what is a significant life event for so many women and families.
I love seeing the Pandanus group members when we reunite with everyone from the year at the end of year Pandanus Christmas party, sharing birth stories and observing how beautifully they are flourishing as mothers.
How did it feel to be named NT Midwife of the Year?
Being named NT Midwife of the Year came as a big, exciting surprise.
I have found it to be a somewhat overwhelming experience.
It has been an honour to be chosen to represent all of the wonderful midwives throughout the NT and I consider this to be a celebration of midwifery and the amazing work that all midwives do.
I am extremely grateful to my colleagues in NT Health for their support and encouragement over the years for the extra work I have undertaken with the Pandanus program.
I would also like to acknowledge the vital contribution that the NGOs make to the health and wellbeing of the people of the Northern Territory. The Pandanus program is one of many programs and services addressing the social determinants of health, and represents an important referral pathway for midwives and nurses.
What’s your best piece of advice for student and early career midwives?
My advice to emerging midwives is simple.
Stay true to the midwifery ethos of women-centred care. Remember that we are the custodians of normal birth and hold that close to our hearts.
Stick with it. The birthing women of Australia and the world need you.
Midwives are awesome!