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The closure of the Waihi Birthing Centre will impact expectant parents that side of the gorge, midwives and mothers say. PHOTO: ALICE PARMINTER

Waihī mothers ‘let down’ by birth centre closure

Women who have used the Waihī Birthing Centre are saddened by the lack of services its closure will mean for their side of the gorge, and the danger it could pose to expecting mothers.
In a letter to the community published on September 26, the centre’s maternity manager Ashley McKay said it was with a “heavy heart” that the Toomey St facility would be closing.
Since then, a national petition has been launched to fund and reopen the birthing centre, which has amassed more than 2,400 signatures.
Waihī mother Caroline Paterson said the closure would be a “loss” to the community.
She had her youngest child – now aged one – at the centre, not too long after moving to the Hauraki town.
“It was so reassuring to have a safe and comfortable place close to home for both antenatal appointments and for the postnatal stay,” she said. “Everyone I encountered at the centre was so caring and did everything they could to accommodate the families here.”
Katikati local Kirti Marshall also gave birth to her daughter at the centre in 2013. She said it was a great option she was “lucky” to use.
“I believe it’s such a shame and actually a dangerous move to close the birthing centre for so many māma. The lack of options between Whangamatā/Waihī through to Bethlehem/Tauranga will definitely leave the overstretched and understaffed, overworked hospitals with an influx of catching babies being born on the side of the road en route to hospitals,” she said.
“What are the other options for pregnant māma in the future? Drive to either Thames or Tauranga while in labour? Many won’t make that distance, as labours can progress at very different speeds and are not always predictable.”
Kirti said while she was “definitely done” with having any more children, she loved the feeling her daughter got when they drove through Waihī, seeing where she was born.
In Ashley McKay’s public letter, she said when new owners took over the birthing centre six years ago, the building was “showing its age” but had a “rich legacy” of more than 80 years.
“Our shared vision was to modernise and update the facilities while preserving the essence of love and community that had always been at the heart of this place. With a lot of dedication, we set out to revitalise the space, blending modernity with the heritage of the building, and the results were nothing short of remarkable,” she wrote.
“However, just as the birthing centre began to flourish, we were confronted with the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Mandates and restrictions hit our vulnerable birthing community hard, and we suffered the loss of valuable midwives and maternity staff.
“Despite our best efforts and appeals for support from Te Whatu ora, we faced an uphill battle.”
Waihī midwife Belinda Beetham said in a statement that she and her colleagues were receiving “a large number of calls every day” from women concerned about the closure.
“Some from places like Whangamatā are worried about how they will afford to travel the two-hours through the Karangahake Gorge up to two times a week for antenatal checks and to give birth. And that gorge can often be closed in winter,” she said.
“Some of our mamas don’t have cars; they have relied on community-based services and they have no idea what they are going to do. Some are changing their birth plan and are choosing a home birth.”
Ms Beetham said Waihī’s birthing centre accommodated around 70 women using the post-natal service last year. She said they were being let down with maternity choices being removed and “barriers going up”.
“It’s terribly upsetting. What could be more important than providing our babies with the best start in life and supporting mamas on their maternity journey? Nothing. There’s nothing more important than that.”
DETAILS: To view the petition, visit and search for Waihī Birthing Centre.