May 5, 2020

Celebrating International Day of the Midwife

The International Day of the Midwife was first celebrated on 5 May 1991, and has been observed worldwide since. We spoke to Debra Bourne, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer at Northern Health on the significance of this day and her views on midwifery. Debra commenced her nursing career in metro health services within intensive care departments. Later on, she moved to rural health and held a variety of nursing roles, from renal dialysis unit, operating suite, emergency nursing and then midwifery where she worked for 20 years. Debra was endorsed as one of the first rural and remote Nurse Practitioners (NP) in Victoria. Her career then progressed further and led to health service management roles in operations, quality and service development. Debra joined Northern Health in 2016.

What is the significance of today?

In essence, most people have had some touch point with a midwife. Whatever country you are born in, there is a high probability that there was midwifery care. Midwives play such an important role – and not only just for the actual birth but also for the important role they play in the pregnancy and post natal period. Research clearly demonstrates that midwifery care is pivotal to mother and baby’s wellbeing. If a woman and her family receive midwifery care throughout the whole episode, it results in better outcomes for mother and baby. The word ‘midwife’ is about standing with and being there for women. Midwives see the family as a whole unit and are truly focused on holistic care.

As I said before, we do know that women and babies that have good midwifery care, have better outcomes.

Why did you choose midwifery?

I commenced work in a small rural hospital 30 years ago and they were delivering babies. There was just one ward and maternity was a part of it. You could spend one shift working in the Emergency Department, scrub in for an emergency theatre case and assist in birthing. I recognised quickly that I needed to become a midwife to meet that community’s needs.

I started midwifery when I was in my twenties and just loved it. I loved it right from the start. In the country, I was providing care for women and their families that I knew – it had a real community feel. You looked after them right from the start and when they had their babies, you saw them afterwards, and then you saw those babies grow up. Being present when a woman gives birth is a privilege and witnessing her strength and power in birth is incredibly special.

What was your most memorable delivery?

It’s hard to mention just one and often the ones that were most memorable are often the ones that were more challenging. I can also remember the birth of one of the staff members here at Northern. Her name is Steph Gray, who is working in the Neonatal Unit and Short Stay Unit and is a delightful young woman (nothing to do with me). Besides making me feel incredibly old, it was extremely special to see her on her orientation day as a grad nurse.

But being a midwife is not only about being part of a birth. One of the most significant memories is assisting a woman to breastfeed. Breastfeeding for some can be very challenging and it takes patience, skill and perseverance. Midwives play such an important role here and there is nothing that gives me more job satisfaction than helping a women to overcome breastfeeding challenges.

To be with a woman who is birthing, is giving a little bit of yourself to that moment. If you are with the mother for eight to 10 hours or even sometimes 12 hours, you are with and connected to that woman – not only physically (on your feet and moving around) but also emotionally. You cannot lose focus and lose that connection to not only create trust, but to ensure the safety of the woman and her baby. Emotionally, this can be hard work. So you can finish an entire shift on your feet being connected to and being there for one woman and it can take a little bit out of you.

What are some of the rewards of being a midwife?

One of the rewards of being a midwife are the midwives you work with. Midwives are always about the team work, not only with their fellow midwives, but also with the obstetrics team. This is why I like this job – I’m fortunate to be the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer at Northern Health and play a small part in leading this wonderful and highly skilled group of midwives here. They are a very caring and close knit group.

At Northern Health it is not just the midwifery team – here it is the obstetrics team, our doctors, our neonatal team – it’s a close knit team and that is one of the joys of being here as a midwife.

Any final messages to staff and the community?

It is important that we acknowledge the importance of the role of the midwife and the role they play in improving maternal and newborn health. They truly make a difference – they connect and be with women at such an important time of their life. I would like to sincerely thank them on this special day.

Featured Image: Debra Bourne (centre) with midwifery staff