Midwives making a difference across the globe

By Susan Hughes, RCM member, Consultant Midwife, Gloucester Hospitals Trust and Worcester University on 12 July 2023 RCM UK Research Safety Wellbeing Of Women Women ICM - International Congress of Midwives

Following the ICM Congress in Bali last month, RCM member and consultant midwife Susan Hughes reflects on her experience representing the RCM, meeting midwives from across the globe and learning about the experiences of midwives changing lives in countries facing conflict.

The ICM Congress was a truly extraordinary experience. The atmosphere was incredible, opening with the women’s dance for empowerment where hundreds of midwives from across the globe all united in this joyous occasion to dance together showing solidarity for women’s rights everywhere.

Sharing this experience with many women representing different countries felt incredibly special as our hosts, the Balinese in their beautiful traditional dress, led the way in how we harmoniously danced through the evening. With drones overhead capturing the moment against the backdrop of music, it galvanised not just empowerment but encapsulated the Together again theme of the ICM. This felt like the perfect way to open what was to be an awe-inspiring four days ahead.

It was fantastic that we had a student midwife, Megan Critchlow, supported by the RCM who was selected as our flagbearer for the UK at the opening ceremony. As she walked to the front stage proudly carrying the UK flag among 112 other countries represented at the Congress, we applauded and the atmosphere in the main hall was electric!

One of the challenges of attending the ICM Congress was deciding which sessions to attend. There was a plethora of activities and engaging sessions to suit all specialities. Areas of interest providing infinite opportunities to increase knowledge and provide insight into the great work carried out globally by midwives. This work demonstrated not just the many successful achievements but how such work positively impacts on practice – resulting in the provision of better and safer care for women throughout the world.

There was ample opportunity to network and build connections with midwives from many countries, sharing stories of how maternity services are provided in individual countries and drawing both similarities and comparisons while helping shape ideas for future improvement work.

Poster presentations showcasing examples of excellent work carried out by individuals, teams and collaborations between countries were set up in a hall with the researchers and authors present to highlight their findings.

Each morning there was a plenary session. These were amazing and provided insights into key areas of women’s health from realising the top demands of midwifery, exploring strategies for support & inclusivity to an exploration of the role of midwives in humanitarian settings.

One of the most memorable moments of the Congress was hearing about two midwives’ delivering care in Ukraine and Haiti. A midwife from the Ukraine bravely shared her courageous story of delivering 136 babies in a bomb shelter during the Ukraine war, including two sets of twins and a set of triplets! The poignancy and tender emotion shown during her talk was palpable throughout the audience where you really could not hear a pin drop.

She received a standing ovation following her account as she recalled: “When I heard those babies crying, it was louder than every shell for those days and the most powerful of songs. This cry was something that helped us stand up and keep doing what we were doing - it was the light of hope.” This talk was powerful beyond all measure, bringing to life a small part of her day-to-day experience of providing midwifery care on the front line in a war zone.

This was my first ever ICM Congress and I feel sure that it will not be my last. It is difficult to put into words how profound and life-affirming the ICM Congress was both in terms of influencing my continual passion for midwifery and positively informing my role as a consultant midwife to improve care for women. It was a privilege and honour to be selected to represent the RCM at the ICM Congress and an experience I will cherish and hold dear.