Outback midwife

Between flies and dust - a midwife’s labour of love in remote and rural Australia.

Over the last 40 years, midwife Beth McRae has experienced more than most in a role that has seen her assist women give birth in rural, metropolitan and remote communities of Australia. Throughout the journey, she has amassed an array of astounding and heart-warming stories, now shared in her memoir, Outback Midwife.

We had a chat with Beth about what she has learned through her labour of love.

What life lessons have you learnt delivering babies?

The births of my own babies were so incredibly different that it brought home to me how each birth experience is completely unique, and how the midwife looking after you can impact that experience – good or bad.

Everybody’s birth experience is special to them and my aim is to make each one memorable for all the right reasons – to empower, encourage and support. Whatever the outcome, I have done my best. The majority of the time all is good, but out of the blue can come disaster.

Before you started your ‘adventure’ in a remote Aboriginal community, how long had you been thinking about it?

In the late 1990s we went on a 4WD trip to the outback and I had my first experience of remote communities – Santa Teresa and Apatula (Fink) after visiting Alice Springs, Hermannsburg and Uluru. Before then I hadn’t thought about working in a community like those.

In 2005 I met up with a friend I’d worked with for 11 years in midwifery at Preston and Northcote Community Hospital. Now she was working as a Remote Area Nurse at Jabiru. She planted the seed of working as a Remote Area Nurse. ‘You’d love it,’ she told me.

In my book I write about going to Derby as a try-out – not really a remote practice but remote in terms of demographics. After that experience I was sold. It just so happened that midwives were just starting to be employed in larger Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and I was one of first to take one of these new roles.

What were the biggest reasons that you decided to do it?

I wanted something more from my experience as a midwife. I was learning more and more about midwifery models of care, which were beginning all over the country. I felt these new models were emerging because of the ageing population of the specialist obstetricians and GPs. Indemnity insurance for the doctors was becoming expensive and many GPs were opting out of their obstetric practice.

The new models presented a great opportunity for midwives to work with women throughout their pregnancy, labour and early parenting, but where I was working they weren’t being instigated fast enough for me, and I was ready for a change.

Describe the process of writing the book

10 years ago I would never have dreamed I would be the author of a book. I received an email from my general manager regarding a request from Charlotte Ward, who is an English freelance journalist who wanted to write a story about a remote midwife. Charlotte has done other midwife stories, mainly home birth experiences in England. I answered her request with eight different midwifery stories. I was in Europe with my sister floating on the Danube River having breakfast when I received a call from Charlotte saying she wanted to write my story.

Early on Saturday mornings we would Skype – me telling stories and her tapping the keyboard. She would then email questions and I would reply with my stories. I found this very therapeutic. I laughed, I cried and it made me think of all the ‘sliding doors’ in my life to where I am now. Also 10 years ago I would never have dreamed of being an outback midwife.

What do you hope people get out of reading it?

Have no regrets in life. I didn’t want to get to seventy years old and say ‘I wish I had done that.’

What advice do you have for first-time mums-to-be?

Women have been having babies since the beginning of human life – that is what we do! Use reputable sources for your information. Empower yourself with knowledge and make informed choices. Trust yourself and your body.

Outback Midwife by Beth McRae is available now from Random House.

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