In 2014 Nelson Youth Council conducted a series of interviews for Heritage Week 2015. They spoke with people involved in areas of health and medicine and this is one of a number of stories which was displayed in Elma Turner Library.
Moya Anderson - Plunket Nurse
Moya Anderson could be described as someone who has nearly seen it all, after working as a Plunket Nurse for 21 years. Plunket was first started in Dunedin, as a New Zealand support system for mothers and babies. The nurses would visit mothers 72 hours after they’d left the maternity ward and visit them once a week for six weeks. Regular check-ups at 12, 15 and 18 months old were done by the nurse and then annually from two years-old onwards.
Moya started off as a trained nurse, before she was enticed into Plunket nursing by a friend who was taking the same path. She describes it as one of those times when you ask yourself, ‘why don’t you?’ It was a good change, she didn’t look back and stayed in the profession for a long time. Having initially started her work in Central Otago, she married and moved to Nelson, where she started off relieving as a Plunket nurse for a nurse who was expected to return soon. However, when she didn’t return, the position became unofficially permanent. She started off in Brightwater, Wakefield and Richmond, before moving on to Stoke and Tahunanui. According to Moya, the basic ideas behind Plunket nursing benefited mothers and their children in a way that no other medical practice previously had. Not only were mother and child better cared for, but better relationships were formed when mothers were visited in their own homes, as then the nurses could see their home background and learn more about them, in their own territory.
One time she remembers very clearly is when one of the young children she was treating excitedly told her to come outside. It was an important occasion because his mouse had apparently given birth to chickens! Another similar instance came when asking a young boy whether it was his right or left foot that was hurting: “no, it’s the other one”, came the reply! These little memories made the line of work so special.
As one would expect, Plunket nurses had a significant impact on parenting techniques and played an integral role in the development of care routines for infants, as well as changes to how babies were looked after in their first few months of life. One such change that she observed whilst nursing was that it was important to rotate babies while they are sleeping to avoid getting a ‘flat head’ from being in the same position for too long. This became just one of the normal routines for mothers at the time.
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The nature of Plunket nursing changed over the years. As families began to move around a lot more, it became harder for nurses to make house calls. Furthermore, the advent of working mothers, day care centres and developments in medical care have seen the routines and beliefs developed by Moya and her colleagues become less prevalent, as childcare and motherhood have adapted to modern life. Meanwhile, the Plunket organisation itself has undergone substantial change, with alterations implemented from the Ministry of Health, resulting in aspects of Plunket nursing being delegated to other agencies.
A question Moya was often asked was: what is the perfect-sized family, how many children? Her answer was always to stick to even numbers. This was the best number to avoid having a middle child, or being the ‘meat in the sandwich’. Having retired in 1990, Moya now shares her wisdom with a whole new generation through working as a “Supergran”, where members of the community can come to her for help and advice with their babies and children. This ensures that the knowledge of New Zealand’s Plunket nurses continues to be passed on to today’s parents.
Moya Anderson was interviewed by Harry Tod-Smith and Chloe Rumsey, December 2014; interview edited by Debbie Daniell-Smith (updated July 2020)
Sources used in this story
- Interview with Moya Anderson, December 2014
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