Sunday, July 24, 2011

idealism in midwifery

with Karen, and her babies Simon and Hannah, about 12 years ago


This past week I have been engaging in a review of my professional practice. One of the tasks set down is to write a personal midwifery philosophy. I am a lover of writing - bringing together thoughts and knowledge into words that can be passed on to others. Writing a personal midwifery philosophy is, so to speak, 'right up my alley'.

Where do I start?

The word 'philosophy' is made of two words, 'love' and 'wisdom'. A personal philosophy of midwifery could be a statement of what I love in midwifery, and what wisdom I find in midwifery.


In considering this challenge I hit an unexpected obstacle. The material that was sent to me to use in preparation for this review contained an example:

"Personal midwifery philosophy
"I believe:
• Pregnancy, birth and mothering are a normal, privileged, life-affirming and glorious part of life.
• Women can do it even when it is difficult.
• Women have the right to self determination and to be supported and encouraged to get on with this (most) important aspect of their lives.
• Women have responsibilities to themselves and their babies to actively participate in their health care.
• Midwives work with women and women work with midwives in a flexible, (hopefully) nurturing and synergistic relationship."


Dear reader, did you see anything in that quote that set the red lights flashing, and bells ringing?

I can’t fully agree with any part of this philosophy. IMHO it’s idealistic, naive, and indicates a potentially unprofessional mind set. Here, briefly, are my reasons for rejecting such a statement:

  1. Pregnancy, birth and mothering CAN BE normal/abnormal; privileged/nothing like privileged; life-affirming/soul destroying; glorious/terrifying, depressing. What does this statement have to do with midwifery?
  2. Some women can; some can’t, won’t, or don’t do whatever it is, even when it’s difficult. What does this statement have to do with midwifery?
  3. Women have the right to ... What does this statement have to do with midwifery?
  4. Women have responsibilities ... What does this statement have to do with midwifery?
  5. Midwives work with women and women work with midwives in a flexible, (hopefully) nurturing and synergistic relationship. This statement is starting to address midwifery, but what does it mean? Do midwives need to be nurtured by the women they attend?
I hope you don’t think I’m splitting hairs here. This is a serious critique. As I read the quoted sample 'philosophy', it’s as though midwifery has become lost in idealistic notions of women’s choices, rights, and responsibilities. Of course I would like women to have all these things, but they are not part of a philosophy of midwifery. They don't say anything about what's to love in the wisdom of midwifery. 


A woman who gave birth in my care to two of her children more than a decade ago wrote to me about her experience in supporting her son and daughter in law at the birth of her first grand child:
I am again full of extreme gratitude to you for what you gave me all those years ago.
I am realising afresh what a pivotal time in my life my homebirths were.

The philosophy of midwifery care that energised me fifteen or twenty years ago is the same one that I have today. While no words can adequately describe the breadth and depth of the wisdom of working in harmony with our amazing, wonderfully made bodies, I have written:

"As a midwife working in a special partnership with each woman as her professional care giver, I seek to practise in a way that harmonises with the woman’s natural physiological processes, and promotes health. There is no better or safer way for most women and babies than to proceed through their childbearing and nurture of the newborn in harmony with natural process, with a plan to give birth without relying on analgesics, stimulants, or other pharmacological or surgical intervention.

"As a midwife my duty and responsibility to each woman and baby is also to identify any complications that may arise or be likely to arise, and to take steps to obtain appropriate and timely interventions when indicated."


Your comments are welcome.

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