The East Cape is one of the most remote regions in New Zealand.
Corrina Parata is the only midwife for 200 kilometres along this rugged coastline, delivering the first babies in the world in heartland Ngāti Porou territory.
She might be the last.
Parata is based at Te Puia Springs, the only Māori-run hospital in the world, where the geothermal waters are believed to heal.
“As a Māori woman, I do karakia [prayer] each morning when I’m driving along. You have to be open to all those presences.”
“When it comes to childbirth, I believe that women are in a state of tapu, in a state of sacredness. You are in a different realm of health. You have this connection through this baby you are carrying, a connection to the spiritual world.”
“We have people self medicating with drugs and alcohol. There’s huge poverty, unemployment. We get acclimatised to it because it’s normal living without power, running water, a flushing toilet.”
Parata drives about 4000 kilometres a month, from Tolaga Bay to Hicks Bay.
In the past two decades, she has delivered 500 babies.
“There’s a great sense of achievement in seeing what women are capable of. What she’s coped with at home … some women still have to cart water, or have dinner by candlelight, or sometimes are without the basic amenities of life. These women are heroes in my eyes.”
It took five years for her to be let in to the best local fishing spots.
“You’ve got to remember that here you’re Ngāti Porou, and the women are very strong, and there was a bit of ‘What’s this Tainui woman doing here?’ I had to be very careful with the way I approached families.”
Parata staffs the maternity unit alone. Changing beds, laying lavender on pillows, and delivering babies.
“Think middle of the night, pitch black, no lighting, stock on the road, already increased anxiety, not much petrol in the vehicle. Families have been known to hit stock and gone off the road.”
“When you’re all alone and there’s an emergency it’s not the nicest place to be. You need to think on your feet because if it doesn’t go well, you’ve got the whole of Ngāti Porou to answer to.”
She’s tried to retire, twice. The job is hard and all-consuming. But if she left, she’s not sure the unit would survive.
Would there be anyone to replace her?