A kōrero with our new Manager, Renee Blair

May 9, 2024 3:29 pm

Why Renee was inspired to swap a science degree for midwifery, her game-changing time in Vanuatu, and her ultra-marathon endurance.

If you’re a Helensville local, chances are you’ve already been supported by Renee as an amazing Lactation Consultant or midwife, or you know somebody who has. But you may not know how she started her career and what she enjoys doing in her spare time.

Grab a cuppa and join us as we meet Renee in her new role as General Manager of Helensville Birthing Centre.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

The people. The Helensville Birthing Centre team and the whānau we engage with. That’s my absolute favourite part of working here – the team vibe.

What’s the most challenging part of your role?

Not having as much funding for additional services like running a coffee group. We are lucky here – the birthing centre runs as it should. But in terms of additional projects, it’s always nice to have more funding.

Do you have a typical day or is every day different?

There’s not really a typical day – I just take each day as it comes which makes me think on my feet. So, I’m open to whatever’s happening and navigating that. The time goes fast – there’s always something to do.

What were your initial thoughts when you were offered your promotion?

First off, I was shocked because I didn’t want Michelle to leave. But excited. It’s something I’ve been working towards. I worked closely with Michelle over the last couple of years as the QA Coordinator and the BFHI Coordinator (Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative) and stepped up into more responsibility, like taking on audits.

Who inspires you? Who’s been your biggest career mentor?

Probably Michelle. And another midwife I worked with while I was a case-loading midwife – Carolyn Young. There are so many inspiring midwives but those two stand out.

Tell me about Carolyn Young.

She was a case-loading midwife – the same role as our LMCs (Lead Maternity Carers). She was one of the founding members of the domicile midwives. The domicile midwives were midwives who did home birth and primary birthing and were a little bit off the grid.

How long have you worked in midwifery and what drew you to this career?

I’m in my eleventh year.

It was Carolyn. She was my sister’s midwife. I met her at my nephew’s birth and postnatally. I was intrigued with what they did. I was in my first year doing a science degree at Auckland. I met Carolyn and transferred to midwifery. I reconnected with her and was her student. Then I was mentored and worked with her.

My interest in becoming a Lactation Consultant started after my first son was born. Even though I was a midwife, I struggled mentally with breastfeeding. So, I felt passionate about women receiving excellent feeding care.

I wanted to be a practitioner that if someone was struggling or didn’t choose to breastfeed, I would go in with no judgement and say, ‘I’m here to support you – it’s your baby’. Sometimes people might choose a different method of feeding because they weren’t offered support or a solution in their breastfeeding journey. That drove me to be an LC.

Has midwifery and being an LC been your whole career?

Yeah. And it was interesting because back when I studied it was almost unaccepted that young women were becoming midwives because you had no children. There were three of us in a class of 120 that were young. We copped a lot of flak from people, especially in hospitals. When I first qualified, I was looking after this māmā and her dad said to me, “I don’t think it’s acceptable that you are in here helping birth this baby because you haven’t had children.”

I said, “There’s an obstetrician on at the moment and he’s a male. He hasn’t had any babies.”

What would you say have been career-defining moments?

My favourite moment – or a moment of realisation – was when I worked in Vanuatu for a month. Vanuatu is a developing country with next to no resources and no pain relief during labour and birth.

I remember this woman arriving on a boat from an outer Island on the outskirts of Vanuatu. She hadn’t felt her baby move for a couple of days. She arrived on the mainland and the baby had passed and she had to birth the baby – it was terrible. But they accept it. Their outlook on life and how happy they are is phenomenal.

Going over there gave me a different lens – this new appreciation of everything.

As somebody who’s worked at HBC for a decade what stands out about the experience of birthing and staying here compared to other places?

We’re so lucky to have this team of midwives that are specialised in primary care. What I see mostly is whānau who go away feeling empowered, confident, and supported. The difference is we have more time for whānau here than hospitals, which is a privilege. Seeing women flourish after is the difference. The care here is exceptional.

What do you see as the future of HBC? What would you like to happen over the next few years?

I’d love to get a milk bank up and running, more space to extend the Birthing Centre, and I’d love to see our drop-in clinic keep going and extend its services.

Do you have a favourite book or podcast about pregnancy or breastfeeding or midwifery?

My favourite midwifery podcast is The Midwives’ Cauldron. I bought this book – it’s old but it’s one of my favourites Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. She’s iconic in home birthing in the States. Holistic Midwifery by Anne Frye is also amazing.

What skills and personality traits have you found vital to your job?

To make decisions quickly, have great leadership skills and be empathetic and understanding. People management is a massive part of my role. I want to have a supportive open-door policy and approach so staff feel they can come and talk. Obviously, a good sound clinical background is helpful. It’s a lot of responsibility being in charge, but it’s great to have Eartha helping me run the centre.

What about you personally? What do you do in your spare time?

(Laughs) I spend a lot of my spare time on the side of the motocross track watching my children ride dirt bikes exceptionally fast, while I’m trying not to have a heart attack!

I just ran my first ultra marathon and I’ve got my second one coming up. Running is an amazing stress relief.


Thanks for reading!


Would you like to know more about our Centre and drop-in clinic?

For more information about the amazing care you can receive during pregnancy, birthing, postnatally and beyond, please visit our website for a full list of our services and contact details.