The first photo I ever took of my daughter was of her in the arms of our midwife. In the photo, my daughter looks straight at the camera, eyes open and body stretched out, all rugged up to leave the hospital, as our midwife Amber smiles at the camera. They look like a happy pair. My daughter being held by the first person to ever touch her. Amber helped us down to the car at the entrance to the hospital, hugged us all and told us she’d come visits us tomorrow. She’d had been instrumental in the most important hours of my life; a hug didn’t feel enough of an acknowledgement .
I have known about midwives for as long as I have known about birth. The two are synonymous to me. When I was not yet three years old, my mother birthed my sister in our home, with a private midwife. Australians, especially in the early 1990s, were not as lucky as we are in New Zealand. The concept of the same midwife as your lead maternity carer (LMC) for the duration of pregnancy, birth and post-natally was not the norm in Australia, but my parents saw the benefits of this model of care and paid for a private midwife. Knowing that my mother birthed at home with the help of her midwife taught me that birth was a natural process, something that could even by done in your own bedroom, and midwives were there to guide and support the process.
When I became pregnant last year with my first child, I looked for a midwife. I hoped to birth at our local birth centre, and looked at the profiles of the self-employed community LMC midwives who were associated with the centre. I choose Amber, and I am so very grateful that I did. Amber knew about our pregnancy for weeks before our families did, and she listened to my thoughts and questions at our monthly appointments. She was the kind of person that I needed; calm and caring, but firm and sure. She was not flowery or mumsy, or a floaty mother-earth figure; I didn’t want those things. She was a calm, intelligent medical professional, who was very good at reading people and situations.
In my third trimester, I started to get nervous about having the routine blood pressure readings that are done at check ups with Amber, and it created a self-fulfilling situation. My nerves at having the blood pressure taken meant that my blood pressure would temporarily spike. High blood pressure is a serious thing in pregnancy, and Amber walked a professional line of keeping me and my unborn daughter safe, yet understanding the situation and looking for ways that I could still have the birth I wanted. She knew me, she knew my history, my personality, my husband, our dynamic together. That understanding of all of me, not just a set of numbers produced in a one off visits, meant she was able to offer me much greater care. My experiences with hospital obstetricians were quite different. I felt talked down and belittled, for not sharing their view on what was best for me and my baby, based on their quick assessment of numbers.
Ultimately, in the battle between nerves versus labour starting naturally, nerves won and my labour was chemically induced when I was 10 days passed my due date. Although I had not wanted to birth in a hospital with drugs in my system and confined a lot to the bed due to the monitoring equipment, once we got going it was as I’d always imagined. Myself, my husband, and Amber. A tight team who trusted each other, based on months of planning together for this day.
Amber continued to come visits us at home for 5 weeks after the birth. I called her at 9pm on a Saturday night, the first night we were home with my daughter, when my daughter started vomiting blood. My husband called her one weekend when we thought I had mastitis. My husband was almost in tears of relief Amber correctly diagnosed that I did not have mastitis. Midwives are not only caring for pregnant and labouring women, they are supporting families through the most significant months of their lives.
When Amber signed my daughter and I off from her care, I gave Amber a thank you card. I had wanted to get her something more, but I had managed to get out to a shop and get a card, and that was an achievement. In a way, nothing I could buy could accurately express what I wanted to say – thank you for bringing safety to me, the most precious thing in my whole world.
New Zealand is an amazing model of care, by offering mothers free access for community midwifery care. What other services can you have someone come to your house, be on call day and night for months, and still not have to pay anything for it. Community midwives provide great outcomes for mothers, fathers and babies, and better outcomes for families means better outcomes for us all.