Few people are fortunate enough to find what they are born to do. For JCU’s Marie McAuliffe, supporting women before, during and after giving birth is her calling. Now she’s guiding future midwives to develop their skills and passion for the profession.
A ringing phone breaks the silence in the early hours of the morning. A midwife’s work in a country town in Queensland does not abide by normal working hours. Nor does a midwife’s job resemble an ordinary day at the office.
Having worked across Queensland as a midwife for about 40 years, JCU Senior Lecturer Marie McAuliffe has racked up more than her fair share of remarkable experiences.
“One of the memories that really stands out is from when I worked in Longreach,” she says. “I got up in the middle of the night to look after a woman in labour. It wasn’t her first child. It was about three or four in the morning, as these things tend to be. After the woman had birthed her baby and I helped settle her, I went home to get my own children ready to go to school.”
News tends to spread quickly in small towns, and by the time morning broke word had gotten around about the birth.
“By the time I arrived at the school only a couple of hours later, everybody in town knew about the birth and they knew I was up early to look after her,” Marie says. “I had been a midwife for a long time by then, but that showed again the importance of birthing to these communities and to society in general.”
Marie’s heart is in country towns. She grew up in Imbil and has lived in Monto, Dalby and Atherton. Seeing her mother apply her nursing and midwifery knowledge in small communities inspired Marie to take up the profession.
“I can remember how knowledgeable and respected she was,” Marie said. “Even though she wasn’t allowed to work because it was at a time when married women were not supposed to work as nurses and midwives.”
Marie studied nursing before continuing on to study midwifery, which was considered almost a rite of passage for nurses of her era. For Marie, becoming a midwife was about more than finding a good job — it was realising her true vocation.
“I found my place in the world,” she says. “The person who is there throughout the pregnancy, labour and birth has such an impact on that woman. As a clinician, I recognise that all the time. What happens between a midwife and a woman is a very special relationship.”
Being in such significant relationships brings with it enormous responsibility. However, Marie says she does not find being a midwife stressful, instead she cherishes her role and connections to the women she is providing care to.
“Being with the women and supporting them through this really important time in their life has really stayed with me,” she says. “I value the importance of motherhood in our society. If you get mothering right most other things in the world will be right.”
Marie is passing on her wealth of knowledge onto her students. She has been teaching part-time at JCU for about 10 years and was involved in the early conceptual work of developing the Bachelor of Nursing Science – Bachelor of Midwifery double degree. While she is passionate about the frontline work midwives do, Marie has taken the opportunity to expand her scope into research. She is about to finish her PhD and believes the University will become a hub of knowledge about maternity care in North Queensland.
“From my experience in the hospital system, clinical care is at the forefront and needs to remain there — that’s absolutely the right thing,” she says. “Things like research get pushed further down the line and the only place I could see that I could do the research I want to do is in the university space. We have fabulous researchers at the University and we should be able to establish a midwifery research base with an emphasis on maternity care and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander birthing experiences.”
Midwifery attracts people from all walks of life, from students fresh out of high school to students who return to university after having different careers. Marie says being a midwife is not for the faint of heart or simply all about babies.
“It’s not a degree that you can do if you’re not passionate about it,” she says. “It’s a wonderful profession and a very rewarding profession. To do it though, you need to know who you are and understand how you are as a person because almost every day you’ll be challenged at every level.”
If you have a passion for making a difference, check out JCU’s Bachelor of Nursing Science – Bachelor of Midwifery.