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Midwifery in Myanmar, a journey like no other


Story by Holly McKay

It’s been 24 years since Lynne Stewart began her journey as a midwife, and one she’s still as passionate about now as the day she started.

She said it was a combination of bringing new life into the world and bearing witness to the transition into parenthood that kept her passion alive.

But as Cabrini’s Maternity Services Manager, she rarely delivers babies. Instead she is instrumental in running the day to day operations of the maternity unit.

Her love of midwifery and her dedication to education prompted Lynne to volunteer with the No Roads Expeditions Foundation.

Ms Stewart has volunteered with the organisation for the past six years, and recently returned from a trip to the remote villages of Chin State Myanmar where she provided vital birth education and basic first aid to local residents.

“They have volunteers in the villages, which are untrained, but they’re deemed as the healthcare workers because they’ve had babies before. They’re the ones at the births,” Ms Stewart said.

“We taught all the young volunteers how to deliver babies, what to do if women bled, how to resuscitate a baby, and about hygiene and cleaning.”

As well as imparting their knowledge, Ms Stewart said the group of volunteers also donated more than 1000 toothbrushes, Nurofen, Panadol, life-saving drugs for pregnant mothers, toys for children, clothes and sanitary kits.

“We literally filled our suitcases – I actually lived in the same clothes for two and a half weeks because I wanted to take as many items as I could,” she said.

Ms Stewart said it was hard to believe the difference in healthcare between Myanmar and Australia.

“If a woman bleeds here (in Australia), they don’t die of blood loss, unless there’s comorbidities, but in Myanmar women can die of blood loss during childbirth.
Statistically it’s ridiculous. Two days before we arrived a 22-year-old woman died giving birth. We probably could have saved her with the drugs we had.”

Cabrini Maternity Services Manager Lynne Stewart on her recent trip to Myanmar

Cabrini Maternity Services Manager Lynne Stewart on her recent trip to Myanmar.

Ms Stewart said the highlight of her trip was visiting the local orphanage and being able to talk to the young girls about sanitary items and hygiene.

“When the girls have their periods they can’t go to school because they have no sanitary items.

“We were teaching them about the products and they were laughing and it was a hoot – just seeing them relaxed and happy.”

Ms Stewart said the experience was “humbling”.

“It’s very refreshing to go somewhere like that, and to be able to educate the women and healthcare workers. You leave knowing you’ve made a huge difference to those people,” she said.

“When you come home you feel really appreciative about what you do have.”

As a mother-of-five, Ms Stewart said she became a midwife after having two very different birthing experiences.

She said during her first birth she had a student midwife who told her what an amazing job she was doing and how beautiful her baby was.

But after her second birth, where the midwife asked her husband to wait outside and disappeared halfway through the birth, she decided she could make a difference.

“That highlighted to me how easily you can ruin that special moment in a woman’s life. We don’t get nurtured enough as women so if someone can come in and feel loved and cared for and nurtured at that time, that’s what we’re here for and to make them feel really special when they walk out, that’s what it’s all about.

“I just love working with women, I love seeing that transition from a woman to a mother. I love being in a room where a family suddenly become three, rather than two, and experiencing that – you never get over that.

“Sharing our experiences with the volunteers in Myanmar will hopefully pave the way for positive birthing experiences now and into the future.”

Learn more about Cabrini’s maternity services.