Image: Salisbury Hospital (Florence Nightingale once worked here) where I did my nurse training - is now a block of luxury flats.
One of the things we are doing to celebrate International Day of the Midwife on 5th May is to have an Otago Polytechnic School of Midwifery lunch. The theme for the lunch is: which midwifery character, figure or personality inspires you?
Who inspires me?
I have a long list of midwives who inspire me including the wonderful team of midwifery lecturers I work with. But I have whittled my list down to five midwives, although I been inspired by many wonderful midwives over the years, and to them - thank you.
Sister Butcher: love and compassion
When I left school I went and did my nurse training at Salisbury Hospital in Salisbury, UK in 1980. During my training I did a short four week placement on the maternity unit at Odstock Hospital, which is now the Salisbury District Hospital. During that placement I spent some shifts working on a post natal ward managed by Sister Butcher. Those were the 'good old days' when first time mums stayed in hospital for eight days after giving birth and babies were kept in the nursery at night. So the post natal wards had a much stronger community feel than they have now, but that is another story.
Sister Butcher would probably be considered 'old school' now with her crisp navy blue uniform, cap and bright red lip stick. She could be quite fierce and she had a reputation for taking no nonsense. And some of the students were a little frightened by her. So I was rather daunted at the thought of doing an evening shift with her, all by myself. We were not very busy and I had the job of feeding a baby in the nursery. Sister Butcher came and talked to me as I was cuddling the baby for what felt like hours, and we had the most amazing discussion about life, midwifery, babies, pregnancy, women and midwives. I was so deeply moved not only by what she said, but the love with which she said it that I cried (and am crying now as I remember this). And it was at that moment that I knew I wanted to be a midwife. If I could be half as strong, thoughtful and loving as a midwife as Sister Butcher was, I knew I would be a great midwife. As soon as I completed my nurse training in 1984 I went on to train as a midwife at Odstock/Salisbury where I stayed until 1996 when I moved to a job as community midwifery sister in Basingstoke.
Sister Newland: midwifery assessment and actions
Sister Newland was one of the lead midwives on the labour ward (sorry about the terminology, but that is what we used to call it) at Odstock Hospital - I think she is retired now. She was incredibly knowledgeable, skilled and experienced. I had the privilege of working with her throughout my time at Salisbury from 1984 until 1996 when I moved to another job.
Sister Newland...how does the saying go... had forgotten more about childbirth than I have had hot dinners. She was the one you would go to for tips and advice. She would know exactly what to do in any emergency. She was a true mentor. In particular, I remember her as the one who taught me the vital importance of assessment - if you do not thoroughly assess what is happening, then you cannot make an accurate judgment about your midwifery actions. And it was her skill of using her hands, heart and brain that made her such a brilliant midwife - she didn't need to rely on machines or doctors. Now I am not saying that I agreed with everything she did or said, but even after all these years I always think of her whenever I am with a woman in labour. I try to emulate her ability to assess, act and document, and also pass on my knowledge to students as she did to me when I was a junior midwife.
Glynis: questioning practice
Glynis was a student midwife I worked with in the early 1990s - I cannot remember her surname. My particular memory of Glynis was when I was working with her on the labour ward and she was 'conducting' a birth - don't even ask me about the terrible terminology, it is too embarrassing! In other words, she was making the decisions and I was supporting her. The woman was birthing the baby but instead of the mantra I used (because that was how I was trained) of 'take a deep breathe, push for as long as you can and do it three times with each contraction', Glynis was quietly supporting the woman without saying much. The room was quiet and calm - it didn't feel like the finishing post at a racetrack. And the woman was doing her own thing and very happily birthed her baby without any interference from us.
I was gobsmacked to say the least. And when I talked to Glynis about this afterwards she told me about what she was learning and that there was no evidence to support directed pushing and time limits in the second stage of labour. So it was Glynis who inspired me to think about my practice, what I do and why I do it. Do I do something because that was what I was taught and is the routine or is it based on the evidence of research and my own personal investigations - in other other words, do I have an evidence based practice? Glynis started me on my academic studies and when I start to fall into bad habits, I think of Glynis and the vital importance of questioning my practice and why I do things.
Lesley Page: total midwifery caseload practice
Lesley Page is a very well known midwifery researcher and writer. My midwifery claim to fame is that I have had a curry in Manchester with Lesley before a conference a few years ago. She has written a very influential midwifery textbook called 'The New Midwifery: Science and Sensitivity in Practice'. But the reason I cite Lesley as an inspiration is because of the work she did investigating caseload midwifery back in the early 1990s. The result of this work was an editied book called 'Effective Group Practice in Midwifery: Working with Women'.
At the time I read Lesley's book I was working in a hospital rotating around the wards, staying on a ward several months at a time. I enjoyed my work and loved working with women. But it felt quite unsatisfactory. I only knew the women for a short time and the whole process felt very disjointed. I wanted more from my job as a midwife. Once I read Lesley's work and the experiences of the midwives and women in her research, I knew that I wanted to work in a way that allowed me to provide continuity of midwifery care to women throughout their birthing experience, not just for a few days in hospital.
I campaigned with others for caseload midwifery in the area where I worked but it never came to being. And then we moved to New Zealand. It was when I landed in Gisborne I realized the whole maternity system in New Zealand is based on caseload midwifery and I started my job as an LMC. It was thanks to Lesley that I knew how I wanted to practice as a midwife and have been committed to caseload midwifery ever since.
Sheila Hunt: communication and research
Professor Sheila Hunt is also a midwifery academic who truly inspired me as a result of her book 'The social meaning of midwifery' which she wrote in 1994. This book was the result of ethnographic research that Sheila carried out watching midwives interact with women when they were in labour. Some of the results were distressing because it showed that midwives can be thoughtless and denigrating in the way they interact with women, which can be devastating to the women and their families.
There was nothing in this book that was rocket science, but it did make me sit up and reflect on how I am with women and how I communicate with them and my midwifery colleagues. This was definitely an important part of the development of my midwifery philosophy in which I feel it is vital to work in a respectful relationship with women.
This was also one of the first pieces of qualitative midwifery research that I had read and it opened my eyes to the potential of research in midwifery practice - I could see the relevance and application of research. And I think that it was this book that hooked me into research compared to the dry, statistical randomized-controlled trials that I usually tried to wade through, and it started my interest in being a researcher.
What will the students say?
I am really looking to our lunch and can't wait to hear about the midwives who inspire our students.
If you are a midwife, what would be your answer to this question? And if you are not a midwife, who inspires you?