Dr Naomi Simmonds is co-lead on A Better Start’s Kaupapa Māori project Raranga Raranga Taku Takapau: Hapū Ora for Tamariki.
She talks about her wish for this year, the best piece of advice her mother gave her, and the best book she has read recently.

Can you tell us a little about your current A Better Start project, and why it’s important?
I am co-lead on the Kaupapa Māori project “Raranga, Raranga Taku Takapau: Hapū Ora”, which is a multi-site project considering maternal wellbeing and supporting tamariki to be born into healthy and well whānau.
Ultimately, we are hoping to demonstrate the transformative potential, as well as the opportunities and challenges, for maternal wellbeing through Māori frameworks, knowledges and practices. This project starts and finishes within a worldview that upholds the sanctity of the maternal body and that positions children as taonga within our whānau and communities and we seek to understand how this can transform maternal and infant wellbeing in Aotearoa.
This is important because for a long time this worldview and its associated practices have not been given priority within maternities and as a result Māori women and whānau suffer poorer maternal health outcomes.

What stage is your research at?
There are four key sites in this project – Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Whare Pora at Flaxmere, Rāhui Pokeka, and Ngāti Haua. We are in the process of collaborative analysis of all the data and making sense and meaning of the specific findings from each site and the project-wide findings. From here we will be engaging with end-users to understand what these findings mean in real terms for wāhine and their whānau.
The team has also been busy writing submissions for Te Pae Ora and for the ACC Maternal Birth Injury Amendment Bill.

What do you love about being involved with A Better Start? 

I have been fortunate to be part of A Better Start for two projects now. To my mind, the critical time of pregnancy, birth and early childhood is so sacred, it is a privilege to be able to hear the stories and experiences of whānau during this time and to hopefully share some of the learnings and find pathways for our babies to be born into healthy and well whānau. A Better Start has been a great support to this work and to supporting us to share it widely.

The past couple of years have been difficult and disruptive for many. What is your wish for this year?
Within the chaos and disruption there are always pockets of joy that we can find and my focus in 2021 was just trying to slow down and appreciate those moments of joy – most of which were found in my children and in connecting with my lands and waters in the South Waikato. So, my wish for 2022 is to find hope in the moments of joy that are scattered throughout our lives … oh and hopefully get some writing done too!

The best piece of advice you have ever received?
My wise and wonderful mother always said to me “this too shall pass” and “there is nothing as sure as change” and it has stuck with me through my life – both through the tough times and the wonderful times. It has been a great reminder of the impermanence of most things and the fact that things will change. It is helped me to weather the storms, but also to feel grateful for things as they are

A great book you have read recently?
I’ve just finished Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadette Evaristo. She’s a British writer and it is a really interesting book that canvasses the lives of black women in Britain, interweaving multiple stories with a focus on a different women in each chapter – and she doesn’t use any capital letters in the book, which takes a bit of getting used to. I am also reading The Abundant Garden, by Niva and Yotam Kay, as I am trying my hand at gardening –  so far, I am stuck in the theory of it all.

The five people you would love to meet?
1. Māhinaarangi, my ancestor whose footsteps I have been following through my research (she walked over 600km pregnant and birthed my ancestor Raukawa along the way.) 2. Mariah Carey (childhood dream). 3. Alice Walker, one of my favourite authors. 4. Tom Hanks, favourite actor. 5. My Koro Piripi – I never met him, but he left amazing diaries which I have been fascinated by.

Dr Naomi Simmonds and wāhine on their three-week hīkoi across the North Island to retrace the journey of ancestress Māhinaarangi. Photo: Supplied