Jen Darby is a midwife here on the Coffs Coast, one we are lucky to have, with many years of experience behind her. We asked Jen about life as a midwife, what her role means to her, and what makes it so special …
What brought you to the Coffs Coast?
I was just cruising along in a job that I loved, and living in a great, but busy, part of Sydney. I had been in Sydney pretty much my whole life and felt that I needed a change to shake things up a bit. My sister and her family had moved to Crossmaglen a few years earlier, so this was a safe place to land and see how it went for a couple of years. It was definitely a great decision, as I have a family now and would not consider moving back to Sydney!
When did you become interested in becoming a midwife?
I feel like I became a midwife by accident, although it turned out to be a very fortunate accident. I was an Intensive Care nurse, and had just changed jobs from adult Intensive Care to Neonatal Intensive Care. I quickly realised that I wanted to understand what the mothers had been through before they had ended up with their sick or premature babies in Neonatal Intensive Care. So, I went straight into training as a midwife, and I haven’t looked back. I immediately felt like I found what I was meant to be doing. It is an amazing and honoured position being a midwife, to walk beside women as they nurture and birth their babies.
On 5th May, we celebrate the International Day of the Midwife, where we recognise the role that midwives play in the lives of women and their families. Keep an eye out for your favourite midwife on this day!
How does a midwife’s role differ from that of another health practitioner?
The role of a midwife is both specialised and holistic. We work closely with women during the normal life event that is pregnancy and birth. Midwives are skilled in working with all pregnant women. For women with uncomplicated pregnancies, we may be the only care provider that a woman sees during her pregnancy, during her birth, and right through until the baby is six weeks old. We work with women and their partners or support people to provide education and support for pregnancy, labour and birth, breastfeeding and early parenting. The needs that women have coming into pregnancy and birth are often different, so we must be ready for anything.
Midwives also have skills in identifying when complications of pregnancy are occurring that require referral to an obstetrician. If this occurs, we still have a vital role in working with these women. Midwives and doctors do have quite different roles, but when we work closely together, that creates the best possible outcomes and experiences for all women.
What do you think is the most important aspect of what you do?
Pregnancy and birth only last for a relatively short time, but the experiences that a woman has during these times are monumental and can have a life-long impact. As a midwife, I have the perfect opportunity to improve women’s experiences through pregnancy and birth. I think, as a starting point, it is vital that a woman knows that I am present with her at that moment and will work with her, whatever her needs are.
A woman should feel that she is the centre of the care she receives at all times, and I believe it is a big part of my role as a midwife to always maintain this feeling. I have met women who have emerged with amazing strength from positive experiences of care during pregnancy and birth.
When a woman enters motherhood with self-belief, confidence and feeling well-supported, the effects continue long after the birth and can positively impact on her whole family.
What do you consider to be the most challenging aspects of your role?
From a light-hearted perspective, one of the most challenging times for midwives can be when lots of babies decide to come at once! Not always predictable, but I personally never trust a sudden low pressure weather system (which some people say brings on labour).
Of course, one of the biggest challenges is supporting parents through grief and loss. It can be challenging to know whether you are meeting the parents’ emotional needs at that time, as indeed they may not know what their needs are themselves. As a midwife, I see it as a privileged position to be able to support parents during this time.
Having a baby can be one of the most significant moments in a person’s life. How do you think a person’s experience can be shaped by who is looking after them at this time?
One of the most important things that I have learned in 20 years of being a midwife is that women need to feel safe when they give birth, both emotionally and physically, and no one but the woman herself can define this. If a woman has some kind of connection with the person providing her care, and she feels supported in the way she needs to be, the experience will shape itself to be the best it can be for the woman.