Friday, June 27, 2008

Midwife of the Long Paddock

Andrea Quanchi

[First published in Australian Midwifery News, Winter 2008 edition, p25. Australian College of Midwives]

I don’t have much cause to drive north from Echuca unless it is to attend a homebirth but when I do travel that way I seem to make the journey more at night than in the day light. This week as I drove in daylight from Echuca to Deniliquin, a trip of some 75km I saw something new on the side of the road, a number of signs alerting travellers to interpretative panels that provide a mixture of truths, tales and images about what has become known as ‘The Long Paddock’. This historic route is part of an intricate network of stock routes that extends from Moama on the NSW - Victorian border to Wilcannia some 610km to the north and is now known as the Cobb Highway. Unlike the harsh conditions experienced by early travellers on this path instead of riding on a horse I drove my car and was very thankful for its air conditioning on a 40C day.

Clients generally travel to me for their visits during pregnancy and this offers us the opportunity to get to know each other well. In the last weeks and days we speak on the phone as labour begins and by the time I set off for the birth I am just excited about the journey as the women are. I arrived in Deniliquin to find the woman in good labour. As a first time Mum this was all new for her but she had prepared well and was ready to do the hard work. When Kylie birthed her baby into the water later that night the pride on her face and the tears in her husband’s eyes are things I will always remember.

I feel privileged to be a part of this special time in these family’s lives. Having a known midwife makes a difference to their experience making the travel worth while. Staying awake for the drive there is never an issue. As soon as the phone rings the ‘buzz’ sets in and you are good to go. I also have a birth necklace of beads added by each woman who births with me and find the energy from fingering this amazing as I drive. I can tell many of the beads by shape or size and can recall the birth of each one. How long I stay depends on the circumstances, how tired I feel, the family, the birth, the time of day and the weather. Sometimes I need to get home if I have things on for the next day or have another woman due who lives in the other direction but secretly, sometimes its more fun just to crawl into a spare bed and see the other kids greet the new baby in the morning before setting off for home.

Over the next few days as I travelled up and down this road (and anyone who has travelled it will tell you there is not much to look at) to visit the new family my mind started to wonder what it had been like for midwives back in the 1800 and early 1900s. I would think the Midwives of the Long Paddock’s lives would have been similar to the lives of the Midwives of the Black Soil Plains and Riverina Midwives described by Mavis Gaff Smith in her books of these titles. Not for them the journey back and forwards each day but they would have gone and stayed for days or weeks. This remains an isolated area with few large towns and women’s choices for birthing are few. There are few hospitals offering birthing services on the Long Paddock and those that are available (at Deniliquin, Hay a further 125km north and a further 400kms to Wilcannia) are far apart. The numbers of women birthing in these locations according to the 2005 Mothers and Babies Report (NSW Health) is Deniliquin (88) Hay (54) and Far West Unincorporated (9). To my knowledge I am the only midwife in private practice on the long paddock. So far I have attended a small number of births around Deniliquin but have not been asked to travel further along the Long Paddock.

Last year I was asked by a family to travel to Griffith to attend their birth at home as they were unable to find a midwife closer who was willing to attend. Birthing at home was so important to this family that they had searched the internet before they found me. They were prepared to pay me to travel to them and this was their home, the place they lived their lives and felt safe. Who was I to say ‘No’ just because it was a long drive. It is a trip of 350km from Echuca, and of course it was at night, but if I was in my bed I would have missed the spectacular electrical storm that played across the sky in front of me all the way there. I arrived 20 minutes before the baby was born and along with the local student midwife the woman had invited to attend I witnessed a beautiful waterbirth in the midst of this amazing family in their farm house.

As I was leaving Deniliquin in the early hours of the morning following the birth the father reminded me that I needed to watch out for kangaroos on the drive home. Good driving lights are a bonus and it certainly helped me to stay awake having been reminded of this as I left. I did see Skippy with her baby following not far behind and was happy to slow down and let them cross in front of me with a smile. It’s all a part of a day or night in the life of a rural midwife and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

When more midwives have the opportunity to witness birth at home and see the joy and beauty of it then one day there may be more midwives who can be encouraged to take up this rewarding side of practice. For this to happen mentorship will be important and I would be prepared to do this. I’d be delighted if any midwives who are interested would contact me at

[Andrea is a midwife who works part time at her local hospital and part time as a Midwife in Private Practice. She is a Fellow of the College of Midwives and proud mother of a Bmid student.]

Friday, June 20, 2008

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