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Midwifery matters - Strength and guidance

Naomi O’Donovan reviews her experience of attending the 30th Triennial Congress of the ICM held in Prague earlier this year

Often, as midwives we work a quiet kind of magic while we attend to a woman in labour, listening to her breathing, to the noises she is making, and murmuring words of encouragement and support and holding in that breath ourselves until the newborn baby cries for the first time. However, this summer midwives made themselves heard, loud and proud, as we sang in harmony in Kampa Park in Prague.

In June I had the enormous privilege and pleasure of attending the 30th International Confederation of Midwives in Prague or #ICMLive as it began to trend on Twitter. More than 3,500 midwives met in Prague to share in our love of midwifery and our common goal of improving the health of women and children.

The Confederation of Midwives consists of four regions: Europe; the Americas; Asia-Pacific; and Africa, with 116 midwives associations from 101 countries.

Midwives have been meeting to share knowledge and advance our profession since the end of the First World War and it is understood that there were 1,000 midwives at the first meeting circa 1900 – a feat of communication and commitment in an era devoid of smartphones and Skype!

After the turbulence of the 1930s and 1940s, the Swedish and British midwives regrouped and in 1955 the International Confederation of Midwives was born. In 1999 the Confederation moved to its current headquarters in The Hague.

The ICM aims to strengthen and guide midwives associations globally. It has a singular vision of ensuring every woman and newborn has access to a midwife. It aims to achieve this by unifying practice and uniting midwives. ICM also promotes midwives as autonomous and appropriate carers of childbearing women and their infants. A secondary goal is the reduction of inequality, caused by extreme poverty, whereby women who are marginalised would not have access to safe midwifery care.

The board of the confederation holds Council with its member delegates directly before every triennial congress. Every midwives association has two voting delegates regardless of size of association, for example Ireland’s INMO Midwives Section was represented by Rhona O’Connell (UCC) and Margaret Carroll (TCD) and larger countries like Australia also has two voting delegates.

During Council they revise, debate and update policy, core documents and position statements. I attended as an observer and was captivated by the sense of coming together of the Council. As voting takes place in Council there is no cell phone coverage and internet access is blocked and observers to Council were seated apart from voting delegates to preserve the integrity of the vote.

A very exciting aspect of Council is the presentation of midwives associations who are bidding to host the 2020 ICM; this is decided six years in advance of the triennial congress. Toronto is the host for 2017 and this was voted on during the 2011 Council in Durban. The contestants were Belgium, who enticed us for the first three days with chocolates and waffles, and Bali who ultimately won the bid having wowed us with their video presentation. Having been to Bali before, all I can say is start saving now!

The Triennial Congress has been described as the ‘Olympics of midwifery’ and over the course of five days a small but global village of midwives erupted in Prague. The festivities began in Kampa Park with ‘Voices of Midwives’ where more than 1,500 midwives from 100 countries met to sing in unison. Songs chosen were ‘One Love’, ‘Let it be’ and ‘Imagine’. This set a world record and was broadcast around the world.

The Congress is an enthusiastic sharing of knowledge and advances in practice and research. The theme of the scientific programme was ‘Midwives: Improving Women’s Health’ and the metaphor of ‘Bridges’ linked themes and sub themes, matched to the famous bridges of Prague.

Sub themes were as follows: Bridging midwifery and women’s rights; Access: bridging the gap to improving care and outcomes for women; Education: The bridge to midwifery and women’s autonomy; and Midwifery: bridging culture and practice.

The programme of events is astonishing. I needed my map of the congress centre to hand at all times. There were three to five sessions per day in approximately 20- 25 venues in the centre, so every night I studied the programme in earnest to decide which four or five sessions I would choose out of a possible 75 and this varied from keynote addresses, symposia and workshops.

I attended a number of excellent presentations, from sustaining midwife practice, respectful care, a workshop on CTG, the screening of ‘Face of Birth’ a documentary on women’s rights on place of birth, and a workshop on early recognition of deterioration of the pregnant woman.

The singing didn’t end in Kampa Park and what had been planned as a small ‘In Harmony Singing’ workshop spontaneously spiralled into a flash-mob style sing-a-long of over 200 midwives in the hallways.

Irish midwives also made a substantial contribution to the scientific programme – Cecily Begley, Rhona O’Connell, Margaret Carroll, Margaret Murphy, Denis Walsh and Michelle Butler to name but a few. There were also many other Irish midwives attending the Congress through a variety of different midwives associations.

The Triennial Congress was an utterly incredible event and I returned to work with as much enthusiasm as I did knowledge and new friends. I would like to thank the Midwives Section of the INMO for sending me to observe Council and Congress.

Naomi O’Donovan is a staff midwife at Cork University Maternity Hospital

Midwifery matters - Strength and guidance
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