Skye Stewart’s mission to support Aboriginal families through stillbirth

  • Skye with pink hair talking to a woman seated in the bush on some old fallen trees
    Skye Stewart engaging with a rural Indigenous community

In the remote wool-growing town of Woomelang, Victoria, Skye Stewart, recently named Midwife of the Year in the 2024 HESTA Nursing & Midwifery Awards, is making profound strides in Aboriginal healthcare. Her pioneering work in creating the nation’s first stillbirth support guide for Aboriginal families, "Jiba Pepeny: Star Baby," addresses a critical and underserved aspect of healthcare: the disproportionately high stillbirth rates among Indigenous Australians.

Skye’s journey into this vital work was fueled by her experiences as an Aboriginal woman and midwife, witnessing the acute disparities in healthcare outcomes firsthand. “My cultural role and responsibility as an Aboriginal midwife is to ensure that Aboriginal mothers and their babies stay safe, alive, well, and together,” Skye remarked during a recent interview with the Alliance. Her initiative not only sheds light on the gaps in healthcare but also provides a culturally sensitive resource aimed at supporting grieving families.

Throughout her career, Skye has been acutely aware of the lack of resources tailored to the unique needs of Aboriginal families experiencing stillbirth. This awareness led to her momentous decision to create something wholly unprecedented. Over 20 months, she travelled more than 32,000 kilometres across Australia, engaging with communities to ensure that the guide resonated deeply with the lived experiences of Aboriginal families.

The creation of "Jiba Pepeny" was more than just a compilation of resources; it was a heartfelt journey into the communities that needed it most. “It was really just a listening project," Skye explained. By embedding herself within these communities, attending local gatherings, and participating in daily activities, she built trust and opened lines of communication that allowed for the sharing of deeply personal stories.

These stories, shared around playgroups and community meetings, were not just tales of loss but also of the resilience and strength of Aboriginal families. One particularly poignant moment came when a mother approached Skye to share her story of loss — a story she hadn't spoken of in over a decade. This interaction underscored the profound need for "Jiba Pepeny," highlighting the guide’s potential to break the silence surrounding stillbirth in Aboriginal communities.

The impact of the guide since its launch in October last year has been significant and far-reaching. It has been embraced not only by the families it was created for but also by healthcare professionals who have found it an invaluable educational tool. “It’s become this kind of two-way support for families but also learning for the people that care for us,” Skye noted, reflecting on the feedback from health practitioners who gained new insights into culturally competent care through the guide.

Skye’s work is a testament to the power of culturally informed healthcare initiatives. By combining her clinical expertise and cultural knowledge, she has crafted a resource that meets the needs of Aboriginal families in a way that respects and honours their cultural practices and experiences. The guide not only supports grieving families but also educates and empowers healthcare providers to deliver more empathetic and effective care.

As Skye continues to advocate for better health outcomes, her future projects include the creation of a children’s book and additional resources to support siblings and families affected by stillbirth. Her story is one of dedication, compassion, and the relentless pursuit of equity in healthcare, embodying the spirit of innovation and community care that is essential for healing and resilience in the face of adversity.

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