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Celebrating our midwives

Two female midwives stood in front of a pin broad with pink and blue ducks indicating the number of babies delivered that month.
From left: Midwives Jill Clayton and Caitlin Poulter.

As one of Northeast Health’s most experienced midwives, Caitlin Poulter’s love of nursing is as strong as the first years of her career.

Caitlin started her career as an enrolled nurse in acute care and originally had her ambitions set for the specialist PIPER teams that provide mobile emergency support for paediatric, neonatal and perinatal cases across the state.

A decision to start her own family was one consideration that helped Caitlin find her place at Northeast Health Wangaratta’s maternity unit and one that she’s still happy with, more than 10 years later.

“Having my own family, I knew that midwifery would allow me to fulfil my ambition to care for babies and mothers, while also giving me the time and flexibility to be with my own family,” Caitlin said.

Caring for babies has been central to Jill Clayton’s nursing career, since her first post in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Royal Children’s Hospital, then relocating to the North East and working at Wodonga before settling into special care at Northeast Health Wangaratta.

Jill Clayton studied her post-graduate in midwifery in 2023 and said a desire to ‘complete the loop’ was the catalyst for her embarking on study as a mature age student.

“I’ve worked in special care nurseries for years and love caring for babies,” Jill said from the midwifery ward at Northeast Health Wangaratta.

“My children had just left home to start university and work and I thought ‘what do I want to do now?’”

“I adore babies and I decided to go back and study to be a midwife to extend this to be a part of the bigger journey with mothers and their families.”

“It’s been an amazing learning curve and I’ve loved every minute so far.”

Jill said following mothers through their antenatal care journey as part of NHW’s Midwifery Group Program provides an opportunity to complete the whole picture, with opportunities to work with mothers during their pregnancy and after they go home.

Jill said that as a post-graduate student, she still feels very much a novice in her field, but was enjoying strong support from her colleagues.

“I feel a great sense of responsibility caring for these women through their labour and understanding what they need,” Jill said.

“It was probably more daunting than I realized, but it is so incredibly rewarding and I feel really supported by the team here.”

When asked about changes in midwifery, Caitlin said that the demand for midwives was greater and more complex to when she first started as a midwife.

“As women are now older when having babies than 20 years ago, our care and management changes and it can be more complex,” Caitlin said.

“One of the satisfying things about Wangaratta, being a level 4 maternity service, is that we can help most women here and keep their care local.”

More than 700 babies are born at Northeast Health Wangaratta every year and staff shortages continue to impact the midwifery profession in the same way that nursing has been impacted since the pandemic.

Self-named the ‘Wang Midis’, a commitment to supporting each other as much as the families they care for is a feature of this tight-knit unit.

“Recruitment and retention is big across healthcare and something that we focus on in our unit, knowing that if we can support each other in really positive ways, we can have a great day at work and help keep the right staff employed beside us,” Caitlin said.

As one of the newer midwives, Jill said she felt confident in asking questions and seeking help when she needs it.

“I know that I can ask any and every question I want to and know every midwife will be supportive in their answers.”

Caitlin said the team each brings their own quirks to the team in a mix that brings out the best in each midwife.

“We all have different personalities and qualities that we bring to our role. I might be good at one thing, but another team member is great at something else and working together, we just get it right,” Caitlin said.

Ongoing training and skill development is another focus of the Wangaratta maternity team.

“We  have lots of practice for emergencies; we use practice and study days to make sure that our communication is up to speed and we are delegating correctly, so that’s a big shout out to our management because they are constantly looking at education and how we can improve our care and the outcomes of emergency cases,” Caitlin said.

So what motivates a midwife? Both said their nurturing instincts was a key driver to help mothers have the most special moment possible during their birth experience.

“I’m always inspired by the elation of women after giving birth and what a powerful experience it is, regardless of how you birth, it’s such a precious time and an intimate moment. I’m always keenly aware that for a woman and her partner, they will only birth their baby once and so I want to make it as special for them as possible,” Caitlin said.

Jill expressed similar sentiments, when it came to the switch from special care nursery to midwifery.

“As a more experienced nurse, when I was working in special care I was able to help a lot of younger nurses learn their way and it’s been very easy to pivot that nurturing part of me to mothers during such a big moment in their life,” Jill said.

“I’ve been able to spend a whole day with parents and help educate them about their newborn and how to care for them. Hearing their positive feedback, where a parent appreciates your advice and says they are going to implement it at home is really satisfying.”

When asked about coping with shift work and workplace stress, both said finding the sweet spot of work-life balance is a key strategy.

“I go to the gym and we have a puppy that keeps me busy and takes my mind out of work,” Jill said.

Caitlin has stepped up into a team leader role and said every day was different in a regional maternity unit.

“It’s a big job and it helps to be able to keep a cool, calm head when things get stressful,” Caitlin said.

“You also have to be prepared to step into anything – from neonatal, to postnatal, domiciliary. You get to see the different areas of midwifery quickly and have to be fairly proficient in all areas. But it makes every day different and that’s part of the excitement of this workplace.”

As a teaching hospital, NHW is supporting 54 first and second-year graduates in 2024. 20 staff are working at NHW in postgraduate programs this year, including 3 postgraduate midwives. As part of this program, Jill said she regularly connects with other students as another layer of support to her learning.

“We have regular meetings where we debrief how things are going. While I’m a fully-fledged midwife I’m still very much a novice and that group support is great.”

Both encouraged anyone interested in mums and bubs to join the ‘special club’ of professional midwives.

“I’m proof that you’re never too old to change your career or your nursing specialty, and I just love it,” said Jill.

Caitlin supported this notion, saying “I would encourage anyone with an inkling they might like to be a midwife. The profession is desperate for more midwives and it is such a rewarding career.”

“It has its moments, like any job, but I feel so lucky that the majority of the time you walk out at the end of the shift knowing you’ve made a real difference to a family’s life.”