Corrina Parata: The Only Midwife on New Zealand's Rugged East Cape
Midwife treks through cyclone to deliver aid to pregnant woman in remote New Zealand community
Corrina Parata is a remarkable woman who has dedicated herself to ensuring the safe delivery of babies in one of New Zealand's most remote areas. Based at Te Puia Springs, the only Māori-run hospital in the world, Parata is the only midwife for 200 kilometers along the rugged coastline of the East Cape. She has delivered the first babies in the world in heartland Ngāti Porou territory and is now responsible for the safe arrival of babies in the region. She is the only midwife remaining in the region, which is one of the poorest in New Zealand, with around 88% of the population being Māori.
The remote rural outpost of Te Puia Springs is bordered by Mount Hikurangi, believed to be the first point to emerge from the sea when Māui fished up the North Island. Parata has been working in the region for 18 years, delivering over 500 babies in that time. She drives around 4000 kilometers a month, from Tolaga Bay to Hicks Bay, and is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She staffs the maternity unit alone, changing beds, laying lavender on pillows, and delivering babies.
Parata's belief in the sacredness of childbirth is a key part of her work. She believes that women are in a state of tapu, or sacredness, during childbirth and that this connection with the spiritual world is an essential part of the birthing process. As a Māori woman, Parata begins each day with a karakia, or prayer, which helps her to remain open to the presence of spirits and the sacredness of childbirth.
The East Cape region is beset with challenges, including poverty, unemployment, and self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Many families live without power, running water, or flushing toilets. Women in the region have complex health needs, and births can be complicated. In an emergency, transfers are made to Gisborne Hospital. However, when things go wrong, everything goes wrong. The ambulance is often delayed, the weather is too rough for the chopper, and Parata must rely on her instincts and experience to manage the situation.
Despite the challenges, Parata remains committed to her work. She has tried to retire twice, but the job is hard and all-consuming. She is not sure the unit would survive without her, and there is no one to replace her. Seeing the love that women have for their babies gives her the strength to keep going. For Parata, it is not about making money; it is about helping these women to bring new life into the world.
In February 2023, Cyclone Gabrielle hit the East Cape, cutting off Parata from her hapū clients. When a distress call came through on Sunday, she packed her bag and started walking. The call was from a 23-week pregnant woman in the remote Mangahauini Valley south of Te Puia Springs who had completely run out of kai. Parata decided to walk to the woman, who also had a toddler. She put some basic essentials in a backpack and set off, filming some of the journey on her phone.
There was no road for part of the journey, and Parata had to climb up some tracks and through some washouts. She got as far as she could and then went inland. Eventually, after about an hour of walking, she came to a work crew clearing the road. One of them was the woman's partner, so she was able to pass over the bag. Parata's son was also part of the road crew, and he gave her a "growling" for making such a treacherous journey. But for Parata, it was all in a day's work. She understands the importance of being there for her clients, no matter what the circumstances may be.
Corrina Parata is an inspiration to many, a woman who has dedicated her life to helping others in the most challenging of circumstances. Her unwavering commitment to her clients and the community is a testament to the importance of midwifery and the incredible work that midwives do every day. Despite the difficulties that come with working in such a remote area, Parata remains determined to continue her work, providing care and support to women and families in need. She is a true hero, and her story is one of courage, dedication, and compassion.