Lives are changed and families made multiple times a day at the Bendigo Hospital. Lauren Mitchell visits a place where love stories start.

By Lauren Mitchell – Photography by David Field

Jodie, Evan and Hamish.

Welcome to the women’s ward – one of the few places at the Bendigo Hospital that many long to pass through. Since the new hospital opened in January 2017, births here have been steadily rising, thanks in part to the state-of-the-art facilities. In fact there’s one born every six hours and 30 minutes. On average. On a random visit on an ordinary morning, we meet one of the city’s newest arrivals, tiny Hamish John Kovesy.
Talk about long to get here, Hamish’s parents Jodie and Evan waited 13 days past his due date to meet him, at 3am on Thursday, April 26. “All my jobs were done, the house was clean and everything was ready,” Jodie says.
“Jodie’s nail polish started to chip off and the skirting boards got dusty again,” Evan adds. “But the waiting was a blessing in the end because we were really ready for him to come … and we both had a feeling we were having a girl, so he was a nice surprise.”
In fact Hamish had kept his parents guessing from the start. When Jodie took the first pregnancy test, it read negative. The couple had booked to go out for dinner to celebrate good news. Evan says they went anyway and toasted to trying again. “But Evan knew before I did,” Jodie says. “Even though the test said I wasn’t pregnant, he felt I was, and he was right. It was a very cruisy pregnancy, but I don’t like emphasising that,” she adds, acknowledging that others can have a more difficult time.
The couple both work in the public health system – Evan is a physio and Jodie a podiatrist, so say it was a natural choice to choose the public hospital for their pregnancy. “And why wouldn’t you,” Evan says, referring to the new facilities, which include private rooms for everyone.
“It’s like staying in a hotel, it’s been fabulous,” Jodie says. “And we were so impressed with the Mamta Program because we had that familiar face at each appointment.” Mamta allows women with low-risk pregnancies to build a relationship with one midwife throughout their pre-natal, labour and post-natal care.
Just 30 hours into Hamish’s life, the post-birth love and attention is well sorted. “He’s a really good time-waster,” Evan says. “Hours fly by and what have I done? Just held him.”
“I think it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Jodie says. “I can’t believe they’re giving us a baby to take home.” Evan adds, “It’s a massive thing in our life and we’ll never forget it, and to think the midwives are just over there doing it again today…”

Jen Elliston

One of those midwives is Jen Elliston, who finds time to share her story between caring for women on the ward. Jen has been a midwife since 2004, first at the Royal Women’s Hospital and locally since 2007. A lot of Bendigo babies have been welcomed by Jen.
“It’s something I’d wanted to do from when I was young,” she says. “When I was 14 my brother was born and I asked Mum if I could come to the birth. She said no, it’s not something I’d want to see.”
Jen may not have witnessed her brother being born, but she did adopt a hands-on role during his babyhood. “I did lots of the caring – changing nappies, things like that.” However it wasn’t until the first of her three children was born that she decided to make things official, swapping from studying primary teaching to nursing, then midwifery. She says having her own child gave her more of an idea of a midwife’s role. For Jen, that role is very varied, as she now divides her time between midwifery and working as a maternal and child health nurse.
“I predominantly work in the birth suite and a typical day involves caring for women in labour, receiving phone calls and attending to whoever is coming through the door at that time,” she says, adding there’s never a dull moment. “There isn’t really. Sometimes it’s so busy we’re rushing between tasks and were just getting busier and busier in Bendigo.”
Jen says years of experience aside, the unqualified people at a birth are just as important as the midwives. “In labour, the best support can come from a person who has a connection with you and who can provide emotional support. We are there when needed and sometimes play a big role or sometimes stay in the background just making sure things are going along safely.
“There’s a massive variation in the sort of support people have in the room. Some have the most supportive, amazing families and some people are doing it alone, even though there may be others there.”
After 14 years in the job Jen has lost count of the babies she’s helped deliver and the ones remembered are usually the exceptional. “It’s usually when something major happens, those births stay in my memory more,” she says. “I often remember the sad times, when the outcomes for the baby or mother were not what was intended.”
While details of the carefully-chosen names and tiny teacup faces may not register for long, Jen says every birth she assists with is extraordinary.
“I still love it when the babies are born,” she says. “There’s a real joy at every birth and I always get involved in the feelings. It is ordinary in that I see the same things every day, and nothing surprises me in terms of bodily functions, but the actual birth event, that’s still not ordinary. Waiting for that baby to be born, I still feel anticipation, I still have the adrenaline. Afterwards everyone is on a high, we have a good laugh and get excited and join in the parents’ excitement. It’s definitely a privilege. It’s a real privilege.”

Anna Richardson

Midwife Anna Richardson is not rostered on today, but she’s in the ward regardless to visit one of her postnatal Mamta Program clients. She feels a special connection to these women and their babies. “I’m listening to that baby’s heartbeat at every appointment so by the time the baby is born I think, I’ve been listening to you for months,” she says.
Anna graduated with a Bachelor of Midwifery from Western Sydney University three years ago. She studied as a mature-age student, having worked in hospitality and then insurance after secondary school.
“In insurance, no one trusts you, you’re always seen to be out for people’s money,” Anna says. “The nice thing about midwifery is everyone trusts you. People believe you when you say you’re going to help them.”
She says there can be a downside to that blind trust, which was one of her motivations for joining the profession. “I’m a feminist and that’s led me to be passionate about human rights in childbirth, which is still a major challenge in modern society,” she says. “We see women on company boards, in high-paying jobs and education, but when women come into hospital to have a baby, it’s like all of their rights are handed over.
“There’s so much trust in medical professionals that women say they’ll do whatever you say is best for them. But every woman is different, and what one person feels is important to them is going to be completely different to how another person feels. A positive birth experience can be totally different for different women.”
She says in light of this, she works hard to determine and help facilitate a woman’s expectations. And sometimes that’s in a matter of minutes. The day before we meet her, Anna assisted with three lightning-fast labours. One baby arrived just minutes after the mother arrived at hospital.
“I didn’t even know the woman’s name,” she says, so quick was help needed. “But a hand on someone’s shoulder can do so much, and to say ‘everything’s okay, everything’s beautiful, just take it slowly and your baby will come when it’s ready’. Those words can be so powerful, to reassure someone it’s not an emergency, but a normal part of life… Any birth is not just another birth in your day, even with the women I don’t know. That baby will only have one birth and that mother may only have one, two or three in their life and that birth needs to be special.”
Anna’s shift that day started with her running from the carpark at 4.55am to assist one of her Mamta mums. It was the woman’s second baby, her first being born with significant intervention.
“She wanted a different experience, she wanted to see if she could do it on her own this time,” Anna says. “She roared her baby into the world, she was incredible. Afterwards she said, ‘I can’t believe I did that, look at me, I’m amazing’. It was an amazing moment of a woman realising what her body could do and we were all in tears.”
That word ‘amazing’ is one repeated throughout the stories shared on the ward. So we’ll leave you with a couple more for good measure, when Evan turns to Jodie and says, “I’m very impressed. What you did was amazing. Very amazing.”