What is it like being a midwife?

Being a midwife is more than just “push, push, push”. The original meaning of the word midwife is to be “with woman” and wherever women are, a midwife is close behind.

Helen, one of our friendly team members answering the phones at NM Support, is a midwife and nurse with 28 years’ experience. For International Day of the Midwife, she has shared her insights into what midwives do, how varied the role can be, some of the challenges and how to become one. Here is Helen’s story:
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WARNING:  This post deals with stillbirth, and may be triggering for some readers.

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A really important and lucky career!
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I love being a midwife because it’s a really intimate time for a family and you get to be closely involved in making a difference in their lives. Once people have a baby in their life, it will never be the same!

As midwives, we are usually the first and main contact for the woman during her pregnancy, throughout labour and the early postnatal period. We are responsible for providing care and supporting women to make informed choices about their care. 

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A broad and varied role
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The role of the midwife is much more diverse than some people realise. We provide health and parenting education, as well as supporting the new parents and their family throughout the childbearing process. This extends into providing home visits, breast feeding support and education, and post natal support if the new mother is experiencing post natal depression.

We also work in partnership with other health and social care services to meet each individual mother’s needs. We can work with a really broad group of people and some may need an extra hand, for example teenage mothers, mothers who are socially excluded, disabled mothers and mothers from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

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Where do you find midwives?
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I have worked in a range of settings in Australia, particularly in large hospitals. Recently I worked in a rural Aboriginal community, where my role focused on providing holistic antenatal care. It was a family inclusive role, where we focused on social support and wellbeing for the new mothers.

Midwifery can take you anywhere that there are women and babies. This includes antenatal clinics, operating theatres, birth suites, and independent practices with home birthing women. We also work in mental health services in mother/baby units, with women who are drug and alcohol dependant, and in infant services like neo natal intensive care or maternal health centres.

No matter which area you work in there can be a lot of paperwork involved to correctly document pregnancy, birth and the health of the mother and baby for legal purposes. This at times can feel quite onerous and certainly isn’t why we get into midwifery, but is an important part of the process too.

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Challenging moments
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It can be such a wonderful job catching gorgeous healthy babies, but we should remember that sometimes we also work with women who are experiencing the death of their baby. 

For some midwives this can understandably be one of the more difficult aspects of the career, but it is an incredibly important part of the role.

Initially, we help mothers deliver the baby, then we support the parent/s in their grief. We wash and clothe the baby and document them for posterity by taking photos, fingerprints and hand or feet moulds for the family to cherish.

Helping people work through their grief is central to this experience. We are probably getting better at this offering a range of ways for the family to spend time with their baby. We can facilitate it so that they can spend as much time as they need and the clothing programs in all hospitals that I know of are great, as there are clothes or little pouches to put them in so that the babies have something special to wear, which can mean a lot to the parents.  

I remember one lady who needed time to say goodbye to her baby. Each day for three days she would come and visit. I would collect the infant from the mortuary, make sure they looked presentable and wrap them in a warm blanket so she could give them a cuddle. She just needed that time to say goodbye.

This family stayed in my thoughts for some time and almost a year later it was wonderful when the mother sought me out with her healthy newborn baby.

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Why is midwifery important?
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Having been a nurse and a midwife, I can honestly say that being a midwife is really different to being a nurse. I have enjoyed both, but I am really good at catching babies and I enjoy working with women facilitating a natural part of their lives.

There are people out there who have had difficult birth experiences. Most women have at least one upsetting story they have heard. I always want to be the good birth story and to be remembered fondly by the families.

I think if we listen to women, encourage them, don’t judge them and do our best to give them the birth that is right for them, then we have done a good job.

For anyone thinking about becoming a midwife I think some of the key traits that can help being a midwife are:

  • being patient and focused (sometimes you can be with a woman for a whole shift, only to find out she birthed her baby soon after you left for the day)
  • non judgemental
  • calm under pressure, and
  • have a sense of humour.
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How do people become midwives?
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There are now two main pathways to midwifery in Australia.

The first is to complete a Bachelor of Midwifery. This option is now available in most states in Australia. A Bachelor of Midwifery is a three year undergraduate degree which students who do not have a nursing qualification can complete. 

The second way to become a midwife is to complete a Bachelor of Nursing degree and then to complete a Graduate Diploma or Master of Midwifery. These programs are generally 12-18 months in length. The nursing degree generally takes three years. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. All the best, Helen.

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We care about midwives!
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It can be a pretty demanding job being a midwife and we want to support you; today on International Day of the Midwife and every other day of the year as well. Helen and the rest of the team are here if you need to chat. Call 1800 667 877 – remember your health matters!