With shocking stories of widespread birth trauma in the spotlight, it might seem like a terrible time to be a pregnant woman in the Illawarra.
But local advocate Sharon Settecasse, of Better Births Illawarra, believes this could end up being the best time to be getting maternity care in Illawarra hospitals.
"We acknowledge that this may be a difficult and distressing time for people, but the spotlight is on the hospitals at the moment in the Illawarra and that is working in [pregnant people's] favour," she said.
"A light has been shone on birth trauma, and when you shine a light on something, it exposes it and people know what is going on. So those things that were hidden, they can't be hidden now."
Farmborough Heights mother Emma Ryan, who is 19 weeks pregnant with her second child and made a submission to the inquiry about her traumatic first birth, said it had been difficult for her to "spend time with my head in the past" during this pregnancy.
However, she agreed that the prospect that things will change has been positive.
"I definitely feel that this is a big deal, there is government action happening on this topic that had previously been in the shadows, and that can only be a good thing even if it is hard," she said.
"But I can imagine if this was my first pregnancy, to have a lack of confidence about the system and institution would be scary."
The NSW parliamentary inquiry into birth trauma visited Wollongong last week for a public hearing, after scores of women shared their stories about birth trauma naming Wollongong Hospital.
As the hearing date approached the local health district's new Co-Director of Maternity and Women's Health Angela Jones contacted all pregnant women to reassure them about the services provided by the public system.
"We want to assure you, and your family, that our team of skilled and professional midwifery, obstetric and neonatal clinicians, allied health and support staff remain focused on ensuring you receive the very best care," Ms Jones wrote in a letter.
"You and your baby are our priority."
Read more of our coverage on the birth trauma inquiry
Ms Settecasse said the letter had prompted many women to reach out to the birth advocacy group, with a mixed response.
"We have had pregnant women and families reach out during this inquiry and they are scared," she said.
"The response to the letter has been mixed - some women who have followed this closely didn't feel it created trust or faith for them, and felt it was damage control.
"But others felt it created confidence and relief, because the hospital has acknowledged that the inquiry is on, and they said they now know that the practitioners know women have been sent the letter - so they feel they will get better care."
With midwife-led continuity of care not available to all women who want it in the Illawarra, Ms Settecasse said Better Births had several recommendations to help women avoid birth trauma.
"We need to be mindful of not scaring pregnant women, they are going to have their own experience and just because there has been trauma in the past doesn't mean that will happen to them," she said.
"If they are informed, and supported by a team of people who can help them in their pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum, then they are going to have a really good chance of walking away from their birth empowered."
"But people aren't in the Midwifery Group Practice program and they can't afford private midwives - so in that case would advise independent childbirth classes, which will cover issues that aren't covered by the hospital."
As well as investing in antenatal education, she said women should have strong support people - like their partner, mother, sister or a doula -, listen to positive birth stories, and develop a birth plan to set out what was important for them.
The district's new midwifery head position was established this year, with Ms Jones brought in to strengthen midwifery leadership with a focus on improving the birthing experience for women in the Illawarra Shoalhaven area.
She said the district was committed to listening and learning from women's experiences and acknowledged that the information coming out of the inquiry may cause concern.
"Please do not hesitate to talk to your midwife or doctor if you have any questions," she told them.
"The Wollongong Hospital Maternity Service staff are available to answer any questions you may have during your pregnancy, birth and postnatal period."
This week, the inquiry has this been extended by four months and will now make its report with recommendation to parliament in June, instead of February.
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