A Nurtured Beginning

Responding to a regional need, three women’s determination and vision brought today’s Warkworth Birthing Centre to fruition. Sue Wynyard, Sally Wilson and Glen Hoare were local midwives in 1992 when NZ’s maternity services underwent great changes resulting in upheaval in support, services and funding structures. Warkworth Hospital midwives were made redundant to then become self-employed; Warkworth Maternity Hospital remained open, but with no employed staff. Women gave birth with their midwife in attendance, returning home soon after. Many opted for a home birth instead or went to North Shore Hospital, however a midway option was missing as was sufficient postnatal care. Sally says, “We’d be travelling between Army Bay, Whangaparaoa and Kaiwaka, doing 300km a day doing postnatal visits.” It was unsustainable for the midwives, and families needed more support. Sue, Sally and Glen heeded the call and began campaigning in ‘95 for a centre with postnatal care facilities. The local community was strongly involved with over five hundred people present during public meetings in Warkworth and Wellsford.

In 2000, a Community Trust was formed which purchased and relocated surplus buildings from the Maternity Hospital to the current site, with a guarantee the buildings would always be used as a maternity facility. “No matter who comes or goes, families are ensured that the service will continue,” Sue says. Glen retired in 2002, while Sue and Sally stayed on as co-directors. The centre, situated on a hill above Warkworth, has a peaceful, homely feel with large lawns and gardens, outdoor seating areas and a playground. 

It now boasts two birthing rooms, one assessment room and ten postnatal bedrooms. Free prenatal classes are held in a communal room. In fact, all the services at the centre are free. “We want to ensure an even playing field for everyone - that’s what women deserve,” Sue says. Mothers can stay for as long as they want, usually one to four days, and are able to transfer back from another hospital postnatally, subject to availability. Fathers are welcome to stay the first night. The centre helps coordinate a donor milk service too - offering breastmilk for those in need.

“Midwives are very well trained - undertaking four years of comprehensive training; skilled in looking for abnormalities,” Sally says. “We work hard to make sure the right people are choosing to birth here.” Around 100 leading maternity carers and specialists, including nine local midwives, are able to have their women birth and/or stay at the centre postnatally. Some come from over the bridge, occasionally Whangarei, some stay after home births, local women always get priority though. “New Zealand’s maternity care and midwifery systems are world-renowned,” Sally says, “we receive practitioners from around the world coming to visit us.” Student midwives from AUT University frequently visit too, gaining practical training and experience.

Last year, 151 babies were born at the centre, close to 1000 post-natal women are looked after annually and over 90% of these mothers leave the centre exclusively breastfeeding. A pioneering spirit and determination to provide an empowered birthing environment and high level of care for women and their families is evident. “We want to help women gain confidence in birthing, breastfeeding and caring for their baby,” says Sue.

Sally and Sue are compassionate, responsive and purposeful women who, alongside their fantastic team, sustain a womb-like haven for the constant flow of mothers, fathers and newborn babies as they transition - emerging confident, nurtured and ready for their next life phase.

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