Australian Midwives is a moving collection of real-life stories from Australian midwives working in remote areas of Australia. They share with author Paula Heenan their experiences of that most commonplace but miraculous event, the birth of a child.
These stories are touching, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking. They’re stories that show us from those on the ground what it’s really like to be an an Australian midwife in some of most isolated places on earth. They’re compelling and celebratory stories that bring us close to the drama and wonder of birth.
Each of the thirteen midwives in this book work in extreme locations with few resources, but armed with only courage and skill, they regularly save lives and birth babies in difficult circumstances — on an airstrip, a cattle station, a dinghy (knee-deep in water with a wary eye out for the local croc), a troop-carrier or in the face of a cyclone. We spoke to Paula Heenan about her beautiful collection, its inspiration and the women behind these stories.
Better Reading: What was the spark of inspiration to write a book about Australian midwives?
Paula Heelan: Living in a rural and remote area, I was aware of the great work midwives do. They work with limited resources and largely on their own. I saw this book as a great opportunity to shine the light on the vital and fascinating work they do.
BR: How did you source all these amazing stories about midwives in remote regions of Australia?
PH: I have a fantastic bush network. I put out a call for midwives through social media and also organisations like the Royal Flying Doctor Service and CareFlight, the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA) and CRANAplus which is a body for health professionals in rural and remote areas. The suggestions then came flooding in and some midwives contacting me directly. The hard part was selecting just 13. I wanted to choose midwives from across the country and to include most states.
PH: Midwives are highly skilled and know how to cope with all kinds of scenarios. Each of them has experienced some extremely difficult and sad cases. And that part doesn’t get easier – they just deal with whatever they are faced with as best they can. Most said that birthing babies is a miraculous and joyous event and as the majority of births are good outcomes – that’s what keeps them going. During our interviews there were some emotional moments as some sad stories were recalled and both the midwife being interviewed and l were in tears. I still well up if I read over some of those chapters.
BR: How were the logistics of bringing this book together with so many of the midwives in far flung locations around Australia? Did you do face-to-face interviews or by phone/email?
PH: Because I was on a tight deadline I had to do both. But I have been to the majority of places the midwives are working in so l could relate to their locations. Also, they have all worked in many different places, including overseas, during their careers and of course, flight nurses and midwives fly into many different remote places. It’s interesting to note that on most aeromedical flights, it’s almost always a flight nurse/midwife who goes in alone to deal with the situation.
BR: Midwifery is an old profession and perhaps we sometimes don’t appreciate the value of this job, especially in some rural, isolated locations. Do you think this is the case and that Australian Midwives will help to make people more aware of this important role?
PH: Yes, I agree with you. Writing this was an eye opener for me. There is a great need for midwives in isolated areas. They provide a vital service and make a difference to the lives of many women and their families. They are committed and passionate about their work. Based in some of the most interesting and most spectacular places in Australia, they lead extraordinary and often exciting lives. They all hope this book will encourage others to consider working rural and remote.
BR: The book also highlights the amazing work done by the Careflight pilots and Flying Doctor Services. Again perhaps people in Australian cities aren’t aware of the extent of what these professionals do. Do you think that’s true?
PH: Yes definitely. Flight nurses and pilots are highly skilled professionals and go above and beyond their call of duty. They have to be ready for unusual or worst case scenarios and deal with myriad situations. They take this in their stride.
BR: The midwives featured are so frank and open with their stories. How did you get them to open up so much?
PH: Perhaps because I’m familiar with rural and remote life that that was a good starting point for us. I related to them easily and just loved talking to them. They all have great senses of humour too – almost a prerequisite I think for the work they do. During the course of writing they’d all recall more stories and email or phone me with more information. They have huge careers and a lot to recall! I think many actually enjoyed relaying their stories – I certainly loved hearing them. It was a good chance for them to stop and think about just how much they have done. Midwives are constantly up skilling – determined to provide the very best care they can for women in rural and remote areas.