Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reflecting on progress in midwifery

Hello Grandpa!

When I studied midwifery (in the early 1970s) we learnt about the hormones in the menstrual cycle and the physiology of conception. We learnt about FSH and LH and oestrogen and progesterone and testosterone. We knew that oxytocin existed, but it was just the hormone the caused contractions of the uterus. The synthetic copy of oxytocin, Syntocinon, was used liberally as it could be measured and given in a 'scientific' way. I don't know if oxytocin crucial role in milk let down and love making was mentioned. The action of endorphins as natural opiates, and adrenaline and nor-adrenaline were part of that complex mystery waiting to be better understood. I don't remember any mention of bonding or maternal behavioural adjustments.

When Noel (my husband for the past 37 years) studied veterinary medicine in the late 1960s he learnt the same physiology. Vets became fascinated with the world of artificially managed conception, ovum transfer, and surrogacy in the world of producing the fittest and most highly desired offspring.

Noel's Masters and PhD research explored the protective effect of colostrum in the newborn calf. He showed that colostrum protects the calf against diarrhoea (scours) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) in the early days after birth. This result sounded obvious to me, but was important scientific knowledge at the time. My journying with him through academic processes, including the literature review and carrying out the research, informed me a great deal and opened my mind to critical thinking.

... move through time to today.

Noel and I are now doting grandparents. We have seen huge changes in our own understanding of the physiology of all things to do with childbearing, reproduction, and a human mother's ability to love and care for her child.

Acquiring knowledge of natural physiological processes in childbearing and nurture of the infant has been a fascinating journey that has, for me, absorbed my mind over most of the past three or four decades. It's an incomplete process.

As long as I am able to call myself a midwife I will have a duty of care to promote normal birth. I hope that midwives around the world will also claim that purpose.

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