New service for pregnant women
A new organisation will ensure pregnant women can access the vital support and resources they need to enable them to continue with their pregnancy and become capable and confident mothers.
First Steps Pregnancy Support (FSPS) is a non-profit organisation that accompanies women in challenging circumstances through their pregnancy and into parenthood.
Dr Ingrid Kensey, who worked to establish the organisation alongside co-directors Dr Sarah Jensen and Laura Lamerton, said the particular focus is women who have limited social supports, are experiencing distress due to an unexpected pregnancy or who are vulnerable to child protection involvement due to complex life circumstances.
“We will offer accessible and personalised pathways of care to women in the Queanbeyan region (including ACT), providing medical, practical and social support in a safe and nurturing environment,” she said.
“It’s important to me that women and their children are valued, cherished and openly welcomed in our community. Valuing women means providing them with genuine choices in regard to their pregnancy and parenting journey.”
The Catholic GP has worked with women in difficult circumstances presenting with unplanned pregnancies and seen the gap in care that exists for women without adequate social support.
“I have seen women who would have liked to continue with their pregnancy but who felt that they really weren’t free to make that choice because of a lack of vital social supports,” she said.
“We have recently seen a funding boost to increase access to termination services in our region, but we have not seen a similar boost to increase access to pregnancy support services.”
Residents of the ACT will soon be able to access free medical and surgical abortions up to 16 weeks’ gestation, as the government moves to remove out-of-pocket costs.
The free service is due to begin next year and will be available for residents with and without Medicare cards.
Dr Kensey said the system appears to incentivise and normalise ending the pregnancy of a women who finds herself in difficult circumstances, rather than seeking ways to support her.
“We have a medical culture that pathologises pregnancy, considering it a ‘risk’ which will only compound the disadvantage of an already disadvantaged young woman,” she said.
“But what if we changed this narrative and considered this women’s pregnancy as a powerful opportunity? Perhaps for the first time, she actively seeks care for herself, begins to consider her future with new hope, develops healthy peer and mentoring relationships, engages in holistic care for her physical and mental wellbeing, and gets in touch with her inner resourcefulness to become a capable and confident mother despite the challenges she faces.”
The current medical culture, Dr Kensey noted, does not encourage this sort of hopefulness about the young pregnancy woman.
“Moreover, our health system and Medicare fee structure in particular, disincentivises the sort of multi-disciplinary, relational, comprehensive and holistic care that is required here,” she said.
FSPS was born from this mission to ensure vulnerable pregnant women be better supported and equipped for motherhood.
A group of local, professional Christian women, including Dr Kensey, identified a need for health professionals to have access to a comprehensive directory of Queanbeyan and ACT organisations that support pregnant and parenting women in need.
Together, they produced a Local Services Directory, now available on the FSPS website.
“In compiling this directory, we quickly realised that a central contact point was needed with a relational focus to coordinate the care a woman could access from some 80+ organisations already in existence,” she said.
Dr Kensey said she hoped FSPS would be a safe place for vulnerable women and their babies (and partners) to come and share their stories and build relationships with trust and respect.
“Strong, healthy relationships correlate directly with access to strong practical support, resource provision, emotional care, respite, peace of mind, and a safe home,” she said.
“But when there is a lack of healthy relationships and support, people are far more likely to experience significant disadvantage. Add a pregnancy into the mix and disadvantage becomes crisis.”
The FSPS centre is expected to open in Queanbeyan in early 2023.