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Each year on 5 May, we celebrate International Day of the midwife.

Over the past two years the landscape that nurses and midwives work in worldwide has vastly changed from the impact of COVID-19.

On both these days and beyond, we recognise the courageousness of nurses and midwives and their dedication to their patients in the face of adversity.

We also recognise that governments can no longer continue to underinvest in health and must step up to protect, support and invest in nurses and midwives while strengthening health systems.

Likewise, the International Confederation of Midwives is calling for investment in quality midwifery care worldwide, improving sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health in the process. The theme is 100 Years of Progress.

This year ANMJ speaks with an aged care nurse and a midwife about what the past two years have been like, and how they have maintained their resilience and supported each other.

International Day of the Midwife offers opportunity to reflect

Denise Donaghey, Associate Midwifery Unit Manager at South Australia’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, says this year’s International Day of the Midwife comes at a time during some of the most intense professional experiences of her life.

Yet despite the challenges as a result of the pandemic, Denise says it has allowed her and other midwives to demonstrate their very best in a demanding and unrelenting context.

“Everyone’s stood up to the mark, I can honestly say,” Denise says.

“We have put in a lot over the last two years”.

Denise (right) pictured alongside her daughter, a fifth year medical student whom she also mentored during her placement at the SA Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Photo courtesy: Denise Donaghey

Denise says the challenges have been significant, continuing with “business as usual” but also having to make changes as a result of the pandemic.

In particular, daily staffing across the hospital was exacerbated by factors such as staff redeploying for COVID response (testing clinics, vaccination, contact tracing, medi-hotels) and currently, an increase in staff furloughing.

The additional pressures of a pandemic have resulted in some staff retiring or changing hours of work. Denise says members of the team remain dedicated to the women and families they care for and would work overtime if other staffing contingency plans were still not able to ensure ward coverage.

Other challenges have been educating new staff, keeping a handle on COVID-19 protocols, donning and doffing PPE, managing the concerns of women and other staff. Annual leave has also not felt the same, with “stay-cations” not yielding the same benefits as holidays – where one feels free from work and returns refreshed.

Denise says, that of those challenges, following visitor restrictions for women who would normally bring multiple people with them into a maternity ward has required some difficult conversations.

“We are very patient and understanding, but we still have to be fairly firm because If there was an outbreak from us being lenient with one person, it could shut down a whole unit, and we can’t take that risk,” she explains.

“It’s all about how you deliver the message by being firm… standing by what you’ve been told you have to do.”

Furthermore, Denise admits that managing staff morale throughout the period was tough for her and colleagues with such a cumulative and extended burden. Still, things like Christmas celebrations, COVID-safe coffee and social drinks gatherings, and the ability to find humour in complex situations have helped.

“Midwives have a great ability to laugh about the silliest things sometimes,” Denise explains.

“We’re not laughing at anything that shouldn’t be laughed at, but you can find a funny side to most things and midwives tend to do that, so that brings the morale up a little bit.”

Self-care routines have also helped Denise. Professional massages and regular walks of her three-year-old Golden Retriever have been vital in unwinding after demanding shifts. But Denise says with the pandemic now at a stage where some activities can resume, she has found herself utilising her new liberties.

“Just catching up with friends and family, those sort of things, now that we can, it’s really important – it’s really boosted most of our morale that we can see everyone again,” she says, with staff looking forward to both a morning and afternoon tea to mark this year’s International Day of the Midwife.

Nevertheless, the challenges of the last two years will remain in various shapes and forms for some time to come, and Denise says that the public should know that midwives will continue to have the interests of mothers and their babies at heart, despite the challenges of COVID-19.

“No matter who you are, whatever walk of life you come from when you walk into our department, we strive to get the best outcome: We are there as the advocate and the caregiver,” Denise says.

Of course there are many more stories of how nurses and midwives are doing it tough, trying to navigate their environment through times of adversity.
If you are having difficulties at your workplace you do not have to suffer the challenges alone.
Contact you state or territory Branch for support and information. Or contact Nurse and Midwife Support that provides a 24/7 national support service for nurses and midwives providing access to confidential advice and referral. or call 1800 667 877