In my first interview on Finding Fortitude, I wanted to dive straight into the nitty gritty and cut through the uncomfortable wall. I have interviewed the best Midwife I know, and one of the best mothers I know- Ruth King. Ruth is the Midwifery Advisor for the Education Unit at Australian College of Midwives. She knows her stuff, and isn’t afraid to put it all on the table (or floor, or birthing pool).
Ruth King (right) with a future interviewee, Claire Byrt of Project Work Life (left).
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I am a daughter, sister, aunty, wife, mother and midwife. I am just over 40 and I have 2 children (13 and 5), a great husband, a dog, 2 cats a fish and a turtle (as well as a huge and loving extended family).
When I was living in London I was working in Project Management when I was pregnant/had my 1st child. At the time there was a great show on the TV called William and Mary. It was about a community midwife (Mary) and her husband who was a funeral director (William). Essentially a show about birth and death and the way we perceive it in our society which resonated with me – probably because I was pregnant. Plus there was just something about the role of Mary that got under my skin. I think it was because she reminded me so much of my Aunty from back home who was also a community midwife and whom I had always admired. Plus her job looked amazing – working with women (like me at the time) to have a pregnancy and birth the way they wanted (and where – she did lots of home-births) and then being there for the women in the postnatal period.
My pregnancy was great and I had nice midwives but not a community midwife as my local service did not offer that. The birth though left me feeling like it could have been better – that the random midwives that I had did not make an impression on me – that I felt they spent most of their time in the corner making notes and checking machines…
I remember having a conversation with my mum (whilst getting breastfeeding tips) about a new course that was on offer in SA for a direct entry course (no nursing required). My interest was piqued, but my focus was distracted by our impending return to Australia and all that entailed (my hubby is from the UK so it was a huge endeavour with lots of tears as we said goodbye to family and friends and left our jobs and our home. However I clearly talked enough about it to warrant my husband advising me (after we had arrived in SA, and with University entries closing within the month) that I had best enroll in a university course (Bachelor Midwifery) or I’d need to go back to work at the start of the following year. I applied and I have never looked back!
Can you tell me a little bit about your history as a Midwife?
After I completed my studies I went to work at one of the 3 tertiary hospitals in Adelaide, to start with as a general midwife rotating around the wards but then I moved to Midwifery Group Practice (MGP). This is where a women will know her midwife through pregnancy, birth and post-natally. She will have support form a backup midwife or team (generally who is part of a team) in case her primary midwife is not available for appointments, enquiries or the birth. This is the optimal care for women during & after their pregnancy with research showing better outcomes for women and babies when they receive this type of care (known as continuity of care). Really ALL women should have this care, or at least access to a midwife as their primary carer, however there are currently not enough midwifery models or care around Australia, and our community really doesn’t know the value of midwives (potentially because we still don’t make a big enough song and dance about how amazing we are and why we are so important – such as getting the GP referring women to a midwife rather than an obstetrician when they 1st find out they are pregnant). I digress…
I would say this was my favourite time working as a Clinical Midwife. Every day was different. Every woman special. It was a time of intense learning and joy (and some tears and sleepless nights) and my children still ask me when I am going to be going back to that job…
A few years after graduating and working in MGP I had my second child (and I completed my Honours in Midwifery – note to self never do that again! Both need full attention). After my maternity leave I did return to MGP for a short while, but then I saw my current job advertised and I thought… hmmm I can do that! I can incorporate my skills form my pre-midwifery career, with my midwifery knowledge and passion… and so here I am… managing the Education Unit for the Australian College of Midwives, the peak professional body for Midwives in Australia. I still do clinical work as I miss working with women and sharing information and ideas with them as well as their journey… so I work on weekends via an agency, and I go where I am needed. It keeps me current and energised about Midwifery!
You have a young teenage daughter, does she feel comfortable talking to you about
puberty/menstruation (*eep*) /vaginas (*double*eeep*) because you are comfortable, or do you think it makes her more hesitant to talk?
Haha NO! I raise it with her and she is all ‘shrug shoulders, shy away’. But she is getting better. And she is getting used to me being open and upfront and asking her about it all – even in front of her dad!
The normal reaction when teenagers have to talk ‘sex’ with the parentals.
Both of my kids know about periods, what they are and why we get them as they have been asking questions since whenever they used to accompany me to the toilet – and I am not inclined to make up a story, so that I think is a good start.
And then for my daughter I found out about a Celebration Day for Girls here in SA that we went to. This was an event for girls and their mums to go to, to learn about menstruation and how it fits into the cycle of daily living and life’s journey and also the cycle of womanhood. I know she had a good time, but also that there were bits that were embarrassing and grossed her out… but when it came time to get her period, we were prepared with pads, spare knickers, heat packs, oils, massage, quiet time – and no fear!!
Do you know much about Endo? If so, can you share your experience?
From a personal experience, no not really, although I learn more every time I talk to my sister and every article or blog I read.
As I learn more I look back on my childhood and remember cousins and friends that were holed up in their room every month, in pain! Back then I thought – “cor another day off school.. lucky chick!” Now it means more to me and I rather think – “oh wow you poor girls that must have been horrible!” Back then it (the pain) was just accepted (although it was known not to affect everyone) and (if you had pain) you just got on with life (after you got over the pain of course).
I’d like to say that this expectation has changed, but really I don’t think it has. I think it is still a common experience for many girls and women… and that makes me sad. But at the same time I see all the amazing work going on, the new funding, the awareness days and promotion and I think there is a beautiful communal garden of knowledge being grown and shared such that our future generations will be well informed. Well before the issues of Endo first make an appearance, young girls and women might have a chance to nip it in the bud (so to speak) or at last know where to go to and what to do, rather than just quietly accept what they are going through as the norm (and do nothing until it is too late and it has affected every aspect of their life).
What do you wish more women (of all ages) knew about their bodies and their ‘lady garden’ health?
I wish that all girls (and boys) were taught that this was a wonderful and natural life cycle and that it should be embraced and celebrated rather than shunned and hidden. If we made this a positive experience for girls and women then maybe they would be more open to talking about it and not be ashamed when their period cycle begins.
I think it is important that boys and girls dot get separated out to have those types of talks as they are all affected by what happens to the other sex, be it now or in the future and so it is important to understand both sides. And for girls particularly id want them to know/understand that a period that has you hiding in bed, unable to move and in pain is not in fact normal and that the sooner it is checked out the better.
(You can read more about my thoughts on this in my post, SexEd: more like ShamEd)
For health professionals, I’d ask them to start listening to the girls and women who come in and stop dismissing them as just having their period. No one really goes to the doctor on a whim… they make the time to make an appointment, sit in a waiting room for a few hours, surrounded by people who are potentially infectious because there is something wrong and they need help. It is time for change.
You can learn more about the Australian College of Midwives and the wonderful work they do here.
A ginormous thanks to Ruth for contributing and giving such beautiful and honest responses to questions that a lot of people would be too scared to talk about!
I agree. It is time for change.