The making of mothers: call the midwife!

Not only Mother’s Day, but the International Day of Midwives, is celebrated in May. Local midwife and more, Josephine Stanwell, shares her story.

At the start of every year, when I was a student at San Clemente High School, Mayfield, in the late 1960s and early 70s, we were asked to fill in a form about ourselves and our families.   One of the questions asked what we enjoyed doing and what we would like to do when we grew up.  Each year my reply changed slightly but it was always about wanting to help others and being a mother. 

When I finished senior high school I received a scholarship to attend the University of Newcastle for four years to become an English/French teacher.  Even though nursing was my preferred choice,   I found the opportunity to become a teacher was also appealing and so I followed the education path.

1977 was a big year – I married in February, received my Bachelor of Arts degree in April, completed a Diploma of Education and gave birth to our first daughter just before Christmas.  My husband then took up his first teaching position in Tooleybuc, NSW.  We moved to the country and I began a career as a mother.   I also began doing some casual teaching, mostly in primary schools, and for several years I enjoyed teaching piano at both St Paul’s Primary School, Rutherford, and St Joseph’s High School, Lochinvar.

In 2001 I was invited to attend the birth of my first grandchild, Priya, who is only 11 months younger than her Uncle Ben.  That experience helped to strengthen my long-held wish to become a midwife.    I loved the way the midwives stayed calm and reassuring; offering advice and support while maintaining the dignity of the women in their care.  So, 27 years after I began my first degree and ten children later, I decided it was time to start a new career.  With encouragement from my daughter, Lucy, who was already a nurse, and a tour of the University of Newcastle on an Open Day, I applied for and gained a position in the new Bachelor of Midwifery degree course.

After three years full-time study (which also included many hours of clinical work at the hospital and following 30 women throughout their pregnancies, births and the postnatal period) I became a Registered Midwife on Christmas Eve in 2013.  I was fortunate to receive a permanent part-time position at Maitland Hospital twelve months later.  This was like home away from home for me, as my three youngest children were born there and several of the staff who took care of me then are still working there now.

Having had ten children proved to be beneficial in many unexpected ways.  Computer skills were

suddenly vital if I were to complete assignments, as were learning to reference and submitting said

assignments.  With most of the children having already completed degrees or in the process of studying, I had built-in experts who were both endlessly patient with finding lost documents and great sources of encouragement when it all seemed too hard.  The children at home also learned to cook and became more organised and independent as I was called away to one of ‘my women’ who was about to give birth at any time of the day or night.  In some ways the Bachelor of Midwifery degree belongs to all of the family because I certainly would not have been able to achieve it without the children’s help.

For me, the role of a midwife is to be ‘with women’ and is concerned with the making of mothers.    While most people think midwives just ‘deliver babies’, there is much more involved, both before and after the day of birth.  My work encompasses the care of women and their babies from the beginning of their pregnancy until six weeks after birth, and sometimes longer.  At Maitland Hospital midwives rotate through Antenatal, Birthing and Postnatal wards as well as the Special Care Nursery.  I love talking and being with women.  Offering education about their upcoming birth and supporting and assisting women with breastfeeding and postnatal care is both a privilege and a rewarding career.  Living close to where I work means that I often bump into women I have looked after and they always delight in showing off their babies and telling me how they are getting along.   I can also relate to many issues a pregnant woman or new mother faces since I have experienced a number of them during my own pregnancies, childbirth and newborn years.  Furthermore, I realise and appreciate how blessed I am to have ten healthy, intelligent and beautiful children.

Most of my own babies have now grown up and have children of their own.   With the grandchildren count currently numbering eleven, it feels like there has always been a baby or toddler in the house – and that is just the way I like it!

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Josephine Stanwell Image
Josephine Stanwell

Josephine is a midwife at Maitland Hospital.

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