This (mid­wife) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Nar­isha Pen­dal Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 420 and 450 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

IT’S the ul­ti­mate priv­i­lege: to be trusted to help a woman safely deliver her baby into this world. It’s a time of pure joy for most, of hes­i­ta­tion and fear for some, an­other pres­sure to add to a bur­den­some load for oth­ers, and — in the rarer cases — a time of deep sad­ness. Some­times it’s all of these things.

Years ago I looked af­ter a cou­ple hav­ing their fourth child — a girl to com­plete their fam­ily. It was a calm and beau­ti­ful birth and a healthy girl was born. Less than 24 hours later the mother was dead.

Ma­ter­nal deaths do hap­pen, still. Even in the de­vel­oped world, in state-of-the-art fa­cil­i­ties, women die as a re­sult of child­birth. This is un­be­liev­able to many. It was un­be­liev­able to me, and the ex­pe­ri­ence changed me. It changed the type of mid­wife I was.

I had so many ques­tions: what would hap­pen to this lit­tle girl? What would hap­pen to her fam­ily? What about my col­leagues who cared for her? The rip­ple ef­fect was enor­mous.

Then there’s the other sad, hid­den side of the job: ba­bies die, too.

Since that ex­pe­ri­ence, there have been many new mem­o­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences. A baby born at 11.50pm, whose fa­ther wanted to name her TenTo. Moth­ers from Sudan, who have ex­pe­ri­enced some of the most hor­rific trau­mas imag­in­able be­fore ar­riv­ing in Aus­tralia, who qui­etly give birth to their chil­dren with­out fuss. Tears of frus­tra­tion at 3am from moth­ers who haven’t slept for two days.

These days, I work mainly in re­search. I still wit­ness the ex­tremes of emo­tion ba­bies bring. In this case, it’s preterm birth. The work keeps me at arm’s length from the pure joy and oc­ca­sional ter­ri­ble sad­ness.

I still think about that mother and her fam­ily. I met her hus­band many years later. They have coped and ad­justed. No doubt their lives con- tinue on but I of­ten think of that lit­tle girl. Mid­wifery is still a priv­i­lege. It’s cer­tainly not a pro­fes­sion for the faint-hearted.

But it has pro­vided me with a way of see­ing the com­plex­i­ties of life in a way I would never other­wise have been able to ob­serve. Here I am at 40, with a fam­ily of my own.

It was a child­hood fan­tasy to be a nurse and a mid­wife but my chil­dren are the true in­spi­ra­tion for my vo­ca­tion.

There are many women in the de­vel­op­ing world who don’t have ac­cess to a trained mid­wife dur­ing their preg­nancy or births. It is some­thing we take for granted.

Most women in Aus­tralia will rely on a mid­wife at some point dur­ing their preg­nancy, birth or post-par­tum pe­riod. Let’s hope it re­mains that way. That’s what mid­wife means — “with woman”. And we are.

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