I was once offered a midwife job in a small rural community called Bairnsdale, in Australia.
Circumstances changed which meant I couldn’t take it, but I've always wondered what that alternate midwifery reality would have been like...
Australia fascinates me: it has weather ranging from cyclones to intense heat, is the world’s largest island, has the most dangerous and aggressive wildlife and the indigenous people were there well before homo sapiens inhabited Europe and America. Australian healthcare professionals I've met have always been capable, cheerful and funny in a post-frontier culture kind of way.
Therefore when I got sent a copy of 'Australian Midwives' I already thought I'd like it. (Just going to take a minute to be grateful that someone is sending me midwifery books through the post, that's basically a childhood dream of mine!)
But author Paula Heelan, who I've been chatting to online, has managed to record the real life events of labour and birth in a way which few writers manage.
The book is split into 13 chapters based on different midwives’ experiences. It captures Aussie humour concerning pilots called 'Raggs', Curly Wurlys and women faking labour to get an emergency transfer to the nearest town.
It's also good at catching that complete lack of sentimentality/panic that every Australian I've met seems to embody.
There's a problem with the transfer plane meaning there’s smoke pouring out and they’re not sure why? The pilot describes the situation as ‘our world just got a little busy’. Haha!
I’ve done air transfers as a New Zealand midwife and I was lucky in that the clients were highly unlikely to need any emergency care. However, despite the beautiful scenery and romantic sunsets out of the plane window, it’s still a scary thought that it’ll just be you up there if anything goes wrong.
In the first chapter of ‘Australian Midwives’, an emergency transfer goes terribly wrong…
I don’t want to spoil things by giving you any more information but Paula does a great job of sticking you in the middle of those birth situations.
She uses the phrase 'disaster magnet' to describe one midwife and I smiled at this, as I remember the same words being used to describe an old colleague of mine from New Zealand. I was 99% sure I’d have an emergency with her every time we worked together, one time I wasn't even working on her ward and I still ended up involved with one of her patients having an eclamptic fit! She never failed to teach me something new.
'Australian Midwives’ is a great book for escapism reading and you’ll get some brilliant insight into midwifery too (though do bear in mind optimal cord clamping was adopted in practice after some of these stories took place).
It’ll also give you some understanding of the clinical and practical side of midwifery, as the situations are extreme enough to show you how sometimes triage (meaning deciding on the order of what to do first in an emergency) is key.
Co-ordinating a labour ward in the UK is a huge responsibility and can be scary in its own right. But the logistics of where to land a plane based on fuel, resources, and the expertise of teams available in the area, while two or more lives hang in the balance, is another thing altogether.
The care and treatment of Aboriginal Australian women and families is also interesting and can teach us a lot. We don’t often hear about this client group this side of the world.
It’s a great example of complex ethical midwifery issues in action. For instance, Aboriginal Australians still have an average lifespan of about ten years less than non-Aboriginal Australians, which is a huge inequality. Midwives can help bridge the gap by giving excellent, individualised care.
When you think about that, the fact that poverty prompted one Aboriginal woman to fake labour to get a transfer plane to another town with a cheaper clothes shop seems more like a reasonable stab at levelling out opportunities than someone taking advantage…
If I didn't have other plans, I'd be on Skyscanner looking at plane tickets. I’ll try and resist the wanderlust for now!
Now I’d love to hear from you
1. Are you an Australian midwife? Any stories to share?
2. Are you a UK midwife who is tempted to go and work in Australia? How would you organise this, what would the first step be?
3. Are you an aspiring midwife who would like to work there one day?
Leave a comment, you never know where putting your intentions down in words might lead you...
I hope you have a wonderful week, whatever midwifery and life throws your way.