‘Giving birth can be a lot different to what’s shown on television or in the movies,’ says Elspeth Mazza, with a smile. ‘There can be a lot of blood, vomit and even poo involved in the birthing process.’
For many women, even those who have given birth, this can come as a bit of a surprise. Without a birds-eye view of the business end of birth, the less-dignified and more leaky aspects of childbirth are often so quickly dealt with by the midwives, that the women never even realised it happened.
But these features of the birthing process are a very real and frequent happening for midwives, and student midwives such as Elspeth. ‘If the thought of that turns your stomach, perhaps this is not the career for you! Being a midwife is hard work and you will be on your feet a lot.’
But training to be a midwife is also incredibly rewarding, and Elspeth has agreed to share some of her experiences as she embarks on her Graduate Diploma of Midwifery at Curtin University. Elspeth realised she wanted to become a midwife while at university studying to be a nurse: ‘During my training as a nurse I was able to undertake placements on the maternity wards at the Geraldton Regional Hospital and in Tanzania while volunteering with Global Health Alliance WA. These were eye opening experiences for me but I loved it none the less - and I knew I wanted to eventually do my midwifery training.’
For student midwives like Elspeth who are already trained nurses, many of the students work for a day or two every week on the labour and antenatal wards, spend a day at university each week, plus continue with their other nursing shifts.
‘It's actually no longer a pre-requisite to train as a Registered Nurse before doing your midwifery training,’ explains Elspeth. ‘There is a direct entry program available through Curtin which is a three year undergraduate degree, or the Graduate Diploma in Midwifery which is the entry stream for Registered Nurses, which is an 18 month program. It's a very busy and demanding course so there is barely a spare moment!’
One of the requirements of all midwifery courses is that students complete a number of Continuity of Care Experiences. This means following individual women during their pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period. ‘We attend a minimum of four antenatal and two postnatal visits with the women,’ Elspeth explains. ‘And with the woman's consent, we also attend her labour and birth. I am looking for pregnant mums below 35 weeks gestation from all over Perth to participate.’
One of the advantages for the women who participate in a student midwife’s training is that they will have a consistent support person throughout their pregnancy, and while the students are always under the supervision of a Registered Midwife, they can be present and involved during all aspects of a women’s labour.
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Elspeth says that her training so far has been full of unexpected surprises: ‘I am very new at this point, but I think the most unexpected highlight for me has been how welcoming and friendly mothers are in allowing me into their lives, and being so trusting and patient of myself and the Midwives I work with.’
So what does it take to be a midwife? ‘In short you need to be someone who is caring,’ says Elspeth. ‘At times your patients will be in great distress and you will need to be able to comfort them as well as being able to deliver the baby safely. Another quality that is necessary is having a strong stomach! If you’re squeamish when it comes to blood and other bodily fluids, then perhaps midwifery isn’t for you. Being a midwife is hard work and you will be on your feet a lot, but if you have the passion you will wake up every day and go back for more!’
If you are pregnant and interested in assisting Elspeth with her Continuity of Care Experience, and are due in late May 2016 or after, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively you can read more about the program here and contact the universities directly if you would like to have a student midwife support you during your pregnancy.