Published: 04 May 2022

Legislative Council, Tuesday 3 May 2022

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I think it is safe to say none of us here has any recollection of our time in utero during our mother's pregnancy or of our own births. The women and some of the men in this Chamber have clear and precious memories with the births of their own children, or even grandchildren if they were privileged enough to share such momentous events, as I have been on both counts. I can say with confidence a midwife is a key part of this memorable and life changing experience. This Thursday 5 May, midwives all across the world will be celebrating International Midwives Day 2022, embracing the theme 100 Years of Progress. This timely celebration will reflect on the progress in midwifery over the past 100 years.

Mr President, 100 years ago the International Midwives Union was created in Belgium, the forerunner to the International Confederation of Midwives. Since then ICM has transformed into what it is today, a global, non-governmental organisation, representing more than 140 midwives' associations, including the Australian College of Midwives, which is the peak professional body for midwives in Australia. The associations are in more than 120 countries. Together, these associations represent over one million midwives worldwide.

The ICM's website describes the following vision statement:

ICM envisions a world where every childbearing woman has access to a midwife's care for herself and her newborn.

The ICM mission is:

To strengthen Midwives' Associations and to enhance the profession of midwifery globally by promoting autonomous midwives as the most appropriate caregivers for childbearing women and in keeping birth normal, in order to enhance the reproductive health of women, their newborns and their families.

On their website the ICM state:

We could not be prouder to stand for midwives and their associations as they stand for the rights, dignity and health of women and newborns everywhere. We see this milestone [100 years] as an opportunity to acknowledge where we have come from as an association while simultaneously exploring the next hundred years of ICM and what it would mean for global health if midwives received the enabling environment they deserve.

Over the last two years midwives, maternity support workers and student midwives have met extraordinary challenges and risked their lives to provide excellent care for women and their families.

Now is the time to not only celebrate how they have been there for our community throughout this pandemic but to show up for them in calls to the government to put money where it counts and invest in maternity care, including midwifery led, continuity of care models. It is time to celebrate the important part midwives play in the lives of families and the positive impact on maternal and infant outcomes through their care.

Pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood and midwifery have been happening on country since time immemorial. Birthing on country for our Aboriginal women was and continues to be a very important part of their ongoing culture and the wellbeing of Aboriginal mothers and babies. The last 200 years have seen significant societal change in Australia and the knowledge, tools and technology available to midwives have brought about significant change to the profession but at its heart, midwifery is the same.

Midwives have always gone to extraordinary lengths to be 'with woman' and to achieve the best possible outcome for her and her baby and they still do today. In December 2021, the ICM Australian Midwifery History Project Team launched the Australian Midwifery History website. I encourage all members to visit the ACM website for more information about the history of midwifery and the recorded history of many amazing midwives involved in the ACM and its antecedent organisations. I recognise the names and stories of so many of these amazing women who I have worked with as a midwife and also as a national delegate, as president of the Tasmanian Branch of the College of Midwives.

As it notes on the website: (tbc time 11.59)

The history of midwifery has been described as an unrecognised one with honourable traditions, replete with heroes, villains and uncomfortable truths. With narratives awaiting investigation of remarkable and invisible women, who attended to others in their most difficult of circumstances in Australian settler society.

But midwives are often not taught their own history. Although midwifery is currently reclaiming its unique professional identity and the Australian College of Midwives recently declared, "We stand on the shoulders of giants and in awe of who have gone before," (TBC) sadly, we often lack the evidence to fully inform that statement. In midwifery there is no Florence Nightingale iconic hero, but instead, a Dickensian caricature of a midwife, Sarah Gamp - drunken, slovenly, rough and incompetent.

Historical context is always couched in the 'us and them' stories of subordination and domination by nursing and/or obstetrics and the most conspicuous place to find midwifery history is often in coroner's reports. I know have been told by a local obstetrician some years ago I was the most insubordinate person he had ever met. I took that as an enormous compliment, even though it was meant as anything but. As we know, women's domestic and home-based work, unpaid work, caring work, vocational work and midwifery work are often invisible in both the historical record and the living world. This website hopes to recognise our pioneers and make them visible. As a current and proud ACM member and former midwife, I celebrate midwives for all that they do each and every day. I encourage all of us to thank a midwife today, particularly on Thursday, which is International Day of the Midwife, send one a message, share on social media and do what you can to thank these selfless individuals for their services to health and the wellbeing of mothers and babies.


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