Some of them have been friends who just happened to be pregnant and living in Bendigo, Victoria, at the same time.
Others have been sourced through connections, word of mouth at the hospital or simply logging onto local pages and asking – “Hello, my name’s Amelia. I’m a midwifery student, is anyone interested?”
As part of their undergraduate degrees, midwifery students are required to complete 10 Continuity of Care Experiences (CoCEs) where they shadow women during pregnancy, birth and into the early parenting period.
Students recruit pregnant women themselves and must attend four antenatal appointments, the labour and birth if possible and two postnatal appointments alongside GPs or maternal and child health nurses.
Amelia Fox is in her final year of a Bachelor of Nursing/Bachelor of Midwifery double degree at La Trobe University. She has almost completed the essential component of training to become a midwife, which aims to develop an understanding of the importance of midwifery-led continuity of care.
“It’s generally been very positive every time I’ve been in contact with someone who is pregnant,” she says of the recruitment process.
“It’s more women who are experiencing their first pregnancy who are a bit more reluctant [to have a student] because it is very private. But generally, everyone wants to help you.”
“I encountered one lady on Facebook who said that she’d be more than interested for me to join her,” Amelia adds.
“That’s how we met and then we got in contact and I sent her through all the information and she let me know when her next appointments were and I followed her to the antenatal clinic.”
All up, Amelia attended six antenatal appointments alongside this particular woman and her registered midwife, discussing a wide range of topics such as physiological changes, vaccinations and preparation in the home.
“We only get a short amount of time to learn about antenatal practice at the university and then we move into complexities of care and postnatal care, so being able to attend a lot of antenatal appointments is incredibly beneficial because I believe it’s the time you can really advocate about things that go past giving birth, which is also I believe the role of the midwife.”
Amelia says the opportunity to follow pregnant women allowed her to develop the skills needed to work in partnership with women as they navigate their pregnancy journey.
“I learnt a lot about communication. I learnt a lot about how to communicate with people who are more vulnerable with things like caesareans, which can cause a lot of anxiety, and how to handle that appropriately.
“You also need to take opportunities when you see them to further educate. For example, one particular woman had a bit of antenatal depression, so you might need to look at putting in some extra supports after the baby’s born.”
Midwifery students attend the labour and birth as part of the Continuity of Care Experiences (CoCEs). They can often be contacted at all hours of the night to head into Bendigo Health’s hospital.
“I go in and alert the Associate Nurse Unit Manager (ANUM) to let them know I’m there,” Amelia explains.
“I will sit with them [the women] and I will talk to them. I’m not allowed to provide any direct care as a midwife, but I sit with them and hold their hand if they’re scared.”
Being part of the birthing experience is a privilege, Amelia says.
“You feel very lucky and one good thing about this program is before it even commences and they say yes, women acknowledge that it’s an important educational tool for us to be supporting them, and I think that also empowers them, knowing that by allowing us to be involved in something that’s so intimate, we can then go and help others.
“If we can, we’ll stay and help initiate the first feed, or sometimes I just like to sit down when everything calms down and debrief about what’s happened, if they are happy with how things happened and if they need any help with anything.
“Sometimes I’ll then go into the hospital and visit them and see what’s going on in the initial stages. Then they send us information about their upcoming maternal child health appointments in the first couple of weeks and months and we see them up to six weeks post-birth.”
Amelia believes sharing the pregnancy journey with women delivers a win-win situation.
“Being able to have a support, whether it’s one person who just has an overview of what’s going on with you is very important because if something happens, constantly having to regurgitate information can become quite tiresome,” she says.
“For me, I believe the continuity experience is incredibly important because it creates trust and when women trust you with personal information about themselves it can also increase competence and through that increasing of competence it increases my confidence to say ‘I’m glad that me being here is a benefit and not a hindrance’. And it’s never once been a hindrance, which I think is wonderful. They really want us to be there with them and they want to listen.”
Amelia counts the diversity of people she has had the opportunity to meet and forge special bonds with as the best part of the program.
“Everyone comes in with a different story and some women have quite a few complications, meaning it’s definitely not going to be holistic, streamlined midwifery care, and rather quite obstetric. But even within those situations, learning about management of more complex situations is very enlightening and interesting,” she says.
“I love women and I love people and I love being a health advocate for women. What I probably love most about it is when it’s gone well at the end of the day when you just get that smile and know that you’ve actually helped somebody.”
Reflecting on her studies, Amelia concedes that juggling a double degree brings its challenges, primarily due to the commitment that CoCEs demand.
“The midwifery takes up a lot of your time because you do need to follow women throughout their pregnancy experience, which means that sometimes for myself and my fellow students, we miss out on holidays.
“All other students usually get a couple of weeks off, have a bit of a rest make some extra money. We sometimes haven’t been able to do that. That’s fine, because that was the commitment that we chose to make so I suppose when you choose to do a degree like this, it takes a lot of your personal energy and you rely a lot on your support networks to help you.”
Amelia, who initially embarked on a degree in international studies at Deakin University before pursuing nursing/midwifery after developing a strong interest in women’s health, is set to graduate at the end of this year and hopes to secure a graduate position at a Melbourne tertiary hospital next year
She is also committed to returning and finishing her policy degree.
“I wanted to get more information to advocate for women and in the last four years I have experienced so much and I’ve learnt so much about welfare of people and of women that I have full intention of going back to university and doing either a post-graduate degree in health or in international studies or philosophy and going from there while continuing to work in the medical sector as a midwife and nurse.”