Yesterday I sat next to a friend who is 96 years old. "How are you, Joyce?" I asked. "I'm well," she said, "just old."
It is good to belong to a community - to have friends from age groups across the span of time. It amazes me that a person like Joyce has been 'old' for the time it has taken me to develop and practise as a midwife. Another friend, a woman in her early 90s named Margaret, was a registered nurse. In her 80s she was still working in a nursing home, looking after many people who were years younger than her. These grand ladies set a high standard for 'young ones' like me to follow. I wonder if I will be able to say, with dry humor, "I'm well - just old" in 15, 20, or 30 years from now!
Most of the time I don't feel old now, even though the government has given me a seniors card. Most of the time I am able to enjoy work, family, garden, friends - a pretty full life. But when I miss out on a night's sleep I am reminded that there are lots of younger midwives, all fired up with a strong professional commitment, and keen to practise. Also, they don't mind staying up all night.
About 20 years ago I took a redundancy package from St George's hospital in Kew, where I had been working as an associate charge midwife. I joined Midwives in Private Practice (MiPP), and asked a few of the independent midwives (Annie Sprague, Chris Shanahan, and Robyn Thompson) if I could learn from them. With their support, and the support of women in their care, I attended births in the home for the first time, and decided I was ready to take my own bookings. I remember noticing little things - that the front door remained closed, and noone who was not invited came anywhere near the labouring woman; that the baby didn't have a plastic name tag on its arm and leg.
I told myself, "I have at least 15 years ahead of me, before I will need to think about retiring. I am a midwife: I understand midwifery. I am a mother: I gave birth to and nurtured my four children. I can guide women, make clinical decisions, and write, teach, and guide other midwives. I want to practise midwifery in a one-to-one relationship with each woman in my care."
About 10 years before that, in the early 1980s, I was working night shifts at the Women's Hospital in Carlton. In a quiet moment I mused to a colleague "One day I would like to work with just a few women, and work with them through the pregnancy, the birth, and postnatally." (Back then we didn't have words like 'continuity of care', or even the definition of the midwife, and we didn't have the research upon which to base such aspirations. It was my 'gut feeling'.)
About 10 years before that, in the early 1970s, I went through an amazingly fast journey, of leaving my home in Brisbane, coming to Melbourne to study midwifery, meeting the love of my life (the day after arriving in Melbourne), then (in quick succession): engaged, married, pregnant, graduate, move to USA, and give birth. No time to consolidate my midwifery learning in a formal sense, but plenty of maternity-related 'prac' as our babies came into our lives. (a side note: Noel's graduate studies added to my maternity-related learning, as his research demonstrated the protective effect of colostrum on the newborn calf. That was new knowledge in the 1970s!)
|My mother was a wonderful support to me when our second daughter, Bec, was born.|
I would like to conclude this post by telling you, dear reader, that I did not know when I studied midwifery that I would become a good midwife. In journeying along life's path, I discovered the wonder of love, and of new life. I have been surprised at how blessed I have been. God, the Creator and giver of life, has been good to me.
I expect that the 'midwife' in me will continue for as long as mind and body function. The midwife who is guardian of the mothers and babies; who has skill and knowledge that can be shared in a way that makes sense. Even when I have ceased receiving calls in the wee hours, to attend the labouring woman, my heart will follow them in their journeys of discovery about the meaning of life.
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