WORKING with women in villages in Papua New Guinea and seeing the high infant mortality rates in the country convinced registered nurse Namira Williams she needed to become a midwife.
That launched a career that has included clinical and strategic work and, most recently, the beginnings of a research doctorate through the University of Newcastle. For her work in the field, Namira has been recognised by her peers and the NSW branch of the Australian College of Midwives as the 2013 Midwife of the Year.
The award, which Namira said was the highlight of her career so far (“I’m not done yet”), recognised midwives who contributed to and enhanced the profession of midwifery.
Namira, who lives in Forster, currently works as a clinical midwife specialist at Manning Base Hospital in Taree, a position she has held for seven years. But Namira’s nursing journey has taken her all over NSW, and overseas.
After becoming a registered nurse, she worked in Papua New Guinea, and came back convinced she had to be a midwife.
“I realised that maternal and infant mortality were higher there, and the antenatal period was crucial to the wellbeing of mother and child,” she said.
Involved in community clinics, Namira said she was visiting the villages and saw the skills that were needed to improve outcomes for expectant mothers, and families of young children.
She graduated as a midwife in 1987 for Ryde Hospital in Sydney. Her family moved to the Blue Mountains, where she started her own family, and worked as a home birth midwife for many years.
In the 1990s, a family move to Kempsey gave Namira the opportunity to be part of the launch of a new community midwifery service with the Durri Aboriginal Medical Service. It was one of the first of four services of this kind that was launched in the state at the time, Namira said, and focused on bridging the gap between the maternal outcomes of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families.
“Women’s pregnancies are influenced by what else is happening in their life – it helps as a midwife to see pregnancy, birth and parenthood as a normal part of life, not as a medical problem,” Namira said.
“You cannot divorce pregnancy care from the woman’s normal situation.”
In Broken Hill, Namira worked as the maternal and child health coordinator of the Far West Area Health Service, which at the time stretched from Broken Hill south to Wentworth on the Victorian border, and took in towns including Bourke and Brewarrina. The strategic position aimed to improve maternal and child health throughout the region.
Since arriving in Taree, Namira has taken on the role of project officer to get the hospital’s public antenatal clinic up and running in 2008. That was followed in November 2010 by the launch of the young parents’ pregnancy clinic in 2010, specialising in care for parents under the age of 23.
Namira said both the services had been taken up by the community.
“Women appreciate the access, in having the opportunity to see a midwife,” she said.
“We provide an antenatal clinic to allow women to access education and care, and talk about their concerns... If there is a medical problem, they are referred to a GP, or obstetric specialist.”
Namira is currently working part time, as she has taken on a full load of study to complete her research doctorate. Her doctorate will focus on antenatal and maternity care for women with learning disabilities.
An under-researched area in Australia, Namira said she was inspired to complete the research after experience in her own family. She said there were real consequences for lack of education and care for these women.
“Statistics show that between 40 and 60 per cent of these women have their child removed their care at some point. Why do we have to wait for a crisis to act, when we should be preparing women and their partners?” she said.
“I am hoping that it will improve things for families – there is a growing need for this information, now that more students are coming through with learning disabilities.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to transition to parenthood, and enjoy parenthood.”
In reflecting on her varied career, Namira said her home life, with a wonderful supportive husband and children, had helped her pursue her areas of interest.
The Midwife of the Year award was presented to Namira at her hospital last week, and will be formally awarded at the Australian College of Midwives NSW branch’s conference in August.