Friday, March 23, 2012

old-style midwifery

I have tried to capture the essence of the 'extraordinary'
The old-style ‘independent’ midwife, who has learnt autonomy and independence in practice and in decision-making from experience as the responsible primary maternity care provider for an individual woman, knows the value of working quietly and without fuss, in harmony with natural physiological processes, and enabling ordinary women to access their extraordinary strength and health in giving birth and caring for their babies.
[From APMA Blog]



Last week I was writing about the changes that I see taking place around me in Australian midwifery, as government and professional regulators make their efforts to improve the status quo - a task that all modern societies entrust to expert decision-making processes.

Other midwifery matters on my mind at present are the review of a university study module on postnatal midwifery care, for which I am tutor and marker, and a liability report I was asked to write in relation to a case in which a baby has cerebral palsy. These themes have influenced my thinking, as I engage with women in my care, at many points on the pregnancy-childbirth continuum.

Younger midwives may object to my comparing of 'old-style' midwifery with 'new'.  But the truth as I understand it is that midwifery today should be essentially the same at the primary care level as midwifery (by whatever name) in all societies and all times.  The new midwife who understands and is committed to 'old-style' midwifery, with linkages to the best and most effective medical services when needed, is practising midwifery well.

Since 'being' a pregnant-childbearing woman is not an illness, and never has been, the midwife with woman in the childbearing-nurturing time of that woman's life sees beyond the current fashions and time-related activities of a society.  That's what I mean by the 'old-style' midwife.

The debate around social and primary healthcare models, which aim to base all health care on the individual recipient of the care (in maternity care, the woman), compared with medical models of care that focus on illnesses or conditions, and the right treatment is readily applied to primary maternity care.  Sociologist Kerreen Reiger has contributed to this debate in The Conversation , in a commentary on 'Evidence-based medicine v alternative therapies: moving beyond virulence'. I am aware that some of my colleagues in midwifery look to alternative therapies, such as homeopathy, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine in an attempt to provide a more holistic and woman-focused treatment option. This, in my mind, is not 'old-style' midwifery.

It might be 'old-style' treatment of illness, in the same way that people of previous generations concocted medicines out of plants that had medicinal properties. That 'old-style' treatment of illness has developed into the world of pharmaceuticals - a whole new terrain for discussion of ethics and power relationships in healthcare.

The basis I have for trusting 'old-style' midwifery is that the physiological and physical and psychological norms of health in the childbearing woman are consistent across time and culture. As long as it is reasonable to continue without interruption in that finely-tuned natural state, there is no better or safer way. The decisions around what is reasonable and what is unreasonable are quite different in a modern society from what our grandmothers experienced. Similarly women in Melbourne today are able to access a very different level of medical management for illness or complications than are women in tribal societies in developing parts of the world today.

'Old-style' midwifery, focused firmly on the woman in the midwife's care, together with the best available scientific, evidence based interventions when illness or complication are detected, is the recipe for best practice in primary maternity care. 

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