Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why is it important to support maternity organisations?

Last month I wrote down some thoughts on maternity organisations. Although I did not identify a particular organisation, it would have been easy to deduce that I was referring to Maternity Coalition. I have been a member of Maternity Coalition continuously since the mid '90s, and have held roles on the national management committee including Editor of the quarterly journal Birth Matters, and Treasurer.

Yesterday afternoon the annual general meeting of Maternity Coalition was convened. This is an AGM like no other, as members link up by telephone, using FreeConference telephone conference call technology. Four other members joined me in my home office, with the telephone on speaker, between 4 and 5.30pm. There were, we are told, 27 members in attendance, in several time zones across the country. Approximately 50 proxy votes had been received. I consider that evidence of widespread interest in and support of the organisation.

In Maternity Coalition, the purpose of the AGM is to confirm the minutes of the previous AGM, to receive from the committee reports upon the transactions of the Association during the previous financial year, to declare all positions vacant, and elect officers and committee members of the Association.

Yesterday's meeting gave strong support to a new president, and general members of the management committee. The job of chairing a large conference call meeting, together with the logistics of allocating votes to members present, and to the proxy voters, was managed very well.

Some readers may wonder what incentive there was for all these people to give up a Saturday afternoon, and to vote in a team of volunteers to manage the affairs of Maternity Coalition.

I believe we are reaching a critical point in reform of publicly funded maternity care in Australia. Quite a few of the articles I have written on this blog, as well as the MIPP and BaBs blogs in recent months have focused on the federal government's maternity service review. The time for reform has come. The monopoly of funding, which restricts the ability of a midwife to practise midwifery, while supporting the obstetric profession's control of maternity care, is not in the interest of public health. Our current government has shown clear signs that it is prepared to dismantle this unfair monopoly. Maternity Coalition needs to be a strong voice at this crucial time, bringing together the shared interests of mothers and midwives in improving maternity services for all mothers and their families.

Maternity Coalition has, over the past decade, been recognised as a peak body - a key stakeholder in maternity issues. The organisation has grown from 20 or so members in Melbourne in the early 90s, getting together on a Sunday afternoon, to a national body with branches in all States and Territories. It may be coincidental that the exponential growth of this organisation has come in the same decade when most homes have become connected to the internet; when websites and email have opened up communication in a way that we would not have imagined twenty years ago. The move from face to face meetings to telephone conference calls has been essential in supporting the growth of the organisation nationally.

The National Maternity Action Plan (Maternity Coalition 2002), which was written by mothers and midwives in Maternity Coalition, sets out the right of women to have the choice of a known midwife to care for them throughout pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks after the birth. That is, essentially, what is missing from most Australian maternity services. Although a person who has the midwife qualification will usually be attending a labouring-birthing woman in hospital, the woman does not know the midwife, and vice versa. Although midwives staff maternity wards they do not have an opportunity to develop a partnership with the women in their care. The care is service-centred, not woman-centred.

I feel as though I am just getting started on this theme, but I know I must be brief. I hope that all women of this country will soon be able to access authentic midwifery care: a partnership of a woman and her midwife through the pregnancy-birth-early parenting continuum. The midwife's duty of care, working in harmony with natural processes, includes promoting normal birth, and is balanced by a duty to collaborate with other health professionals when this is appropriate.

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