Cherisse Buzzacott is an Arrernte/Arabunna woman raised in Alice Springs, NT, a mother and a midwife. As well as working clinically, Cherisse works for the Australian College of Midwives leading the Birthing on Country (BoC) Project, a national project aimed at implementing Aboriginal models of care. The aim is to restore current maternity care services in collaboration with Aboriginal women; ensuring the provision of culturally safe care to women and families.
Cherisse is the co-Chair of the National Birthing on Country Strategic Committee providing Indigenous oversight to the BoC Project and is also responsible for promoting Birthing on Country on all media platforms highlighting the need for culturally safe and culturally appropriate pregnancy care and birthing choices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers.
In 2018, Cherisse presented and provided a brief to the Senate Select Committee Inquiry on Stillbirth Research and Education. Birthing on Country was highlighted as a highly impactful step towards reducing stillbirth in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, through reducing the rates of pre-term birth, as one of the key targets and causes of stillbirth.
Cherisse’s personal experience with maternity care was traumatic as she endured a very negative experience with the birth of her daughter Senna, who was born just before 21 weeks gestation. At that time, Cherisse did not feel supported in the interim of her hospital care, enduring discrimination and sub-standard care, made worse by the fact that she was away from her family and traditional homeland. Fortunately, Cherisse’s daughter, Senna was returned to country and laid to rest, where Cherisse and Senna’s two older brothers spend a lot of time visiting her. For Cherisse, this has been a long road of healing from grief, trauma, humiliation and despair at the loss of her daughter and this drives Cherisse’s passion to help other Indigenous women to never have the same traumatic experience as her.
Cherisse recently shared her story nationally through an article in the Guardian and yet to be released documentary called “Birth Time”. Cherisse has also written Senna’s birth story in a chapter of a book to be published next year, which details women’s experience accessing maternity care and, in her case, discussing why Aboriginal women avoid mainstream services when giving birth and the intergenerational trauma and racism that plays a part in this.
Cherisse is passionate about supporting remote communities as she has seen the impact of second-rate care for those women removed from community to birth. As well as dealing with the loss of her daughter, Cherisse has supported Aboriginal women who have also experienced loss of their babies. Heart-breaking stories of women returning to remote communities with no support and without their babies. Either it is too difficult to organise their babies return to the community (distance, language barrier, cost etc.) or they are not dealing with their grief well enough to understand what has happened, until it is too late.
Currently, Cherisse is the Chair of the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Trust; providing scholarships to student midwives and qualified midwives, furthering their professional development opportunities’. It is important to increase the Indigenous workforce to provide enhanced support of women by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwives. Cherisse also tutors first year Aboriginal midwifery students and volunteer as a facilitator for CRANAplus, as she sees this as a way of giving back to the community.
As a midwife in Alice Springs, Cherisse’s role is to provide advocacy and care to local Aboriginal women and advocate on the rights of Aboriginal women to have autonomy and choice over their health care.