Tessa Kowaliw is a committed health educator and consultant, and qualified and experienced high school teacher. Her personal experience of maternity services culminated in a passion to empower mothers and families within the health system, particularly in relation to Caesarean birth and ‘Vaginal Birth After Caesarean’ (VBAC).
Her interest in the field was initially driven by the birth of her first child via emergency Caesarean – the experience was traumatic and brought her to seek like-minded women to help make sense of the birth. Since healing from this experience, Tessa has had two more births; both VBACs. The combination of these traumatic and empowering births confirmed for her the importance of working towards authentic consumer engagement within health services and supporting others towards their own positive birth experiences.
Since 2009, Tessa has been actively involved in the birth community in a variety of roles. She is the former Secretary and immediate-past Coordinator of CARES Inc., and is the founder and current president of the South Australian Maternity Reform Association (SAMRA). She also holds consumer representative positions for the Women’s & Children’s Hospital Network (Adelaide) and the International Consortium of Health Outcome Measurement (ICHOM), and provides consultation services to consumers and service providers alike within the broader birth community.
Identifying the need for impartial, practical information about VBAC, Tessa used her teaching skills and her experience to develop ‘The VBAC Series’, a four-part VBAC workshop programme tailored to consumers planning next births after Caesarean. This was later revised into a professional edition of The VBAC Series for clinicians and birth workers. Tessa’s article ‘Vaginal Birth After Caesarean in Hospitals: Midwives Make A Difference for Mothers’ was published in the 2015 summer edition of the Australian Midwifery News (Vol. 15, no. 4).
She regularly presents on a range of consumer voice- and birth-related topics in a variety of fora, including education workshops with local consumers, presentations to midwifery students, state and national conference appearances, and international panels.
Tessa is dedicated to the promotion and support of active consumer engagement and is helping to develop a health system responsive to consumer needs. Tessa offers an independent, evidence- and experience-based perspective; her primary goal is teaching consumers how to access balanced information, build a support network and be empowered, and contributing to positive change within the health system so that all of this is possible.