Reflections on desirable attributes of a midwife.

Aristotle believed a midwife ought to have “a lady’s hand, a hawke’s eye and a lions heart” among other things.

I have spent a lot of time working with midwives, doulas, doctors, birth keepers and those who support women and families as they transition through birth and into early parenthood and notice recurring similarities in those I have a particular kinship with. I have over the years, reflected time and time again on “what makes a good midwife” and noticed that above all skill and knowledge, it was the following attributes that caused them to stand out in mind.

This isn’t a definitive or absolute list, simply my musings. I would love to hear your thoughts too. They are in no order.

What do you believe are the desirable attributes of a midwife?


Collaborative mindset

Having a collaborative mindset means that as a midwife you view situations with other midwives, medical professionals, care providers and auxiliary staff as opportunities to work together, with the best interests, as defined by the woman. 

Midwives with a collaborative mindset seek community with other midwives, actively seek out opportunities to add value and improve the experiences of other midwives and the community at large. 

Nullification of self

Nullification of self refers to the unique position of a midwives in creating space for women to exist, process and experience their own transformative and reflective experience. 

Midwives possessing the attribute of nullification of self, have developed a deep awareness of their own history, bias, experiences, and prejudices and understand their own person, thoughts and actions as a separate experience to that of the women they care for.

Midwives possessing this attribute are mindful of their words and actions. They are conscious of the inherent imbalance of power between families and those providing care for them, including themselves, and where possible use their own self-awareness to redistribute the power and process back to the families or birthing people. Midwives are mindful that even well-intended words and actions can impact the experience and decisions of their clients.

Midwives possessing this quality are cautious sharing their own personal experiences, thoughts or opinions instead provide opportunities for their clients to reflect and explore their own unique needs, beliefs and experiences.

Mindful Communication

The attribute of Mindful Communication refers to conscious use of both verbal and non-verbal communication. Midwives possessing this attribute continue to learn and bring their awareness to their body language, words, tone, and other non-verbal cues including the use of pause and silence.

Midwives with this attribute are aware of the impact this has within their midwife-women relationships, and the impact it has on the experiences and decisions of women in their care. 

Emotional intelligence

The attribute of emotional intelligence refers to the ability to monitor their own emotions as well as the emotions of others, to distinguish between and label different emotions correctly, and to use emotional information to guide their thinking and behaviour and influence that of others.

Midwives who have developed emotional intelligence are aware of their own emotions and how to harness and manage emotions, regulating their own emotions, with awareness of how they might impact other people’s emotions.

Cultural competence

Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures. Essential components of cultural competence include:

  • being aware of our own world view/ culture
  • developing positive attitudes towards differences in culture
  • Increasing knowledge about different cultural practices and world views
  • Developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures.

Reflective

Midwives who are reflective put actionable steps into reviewing and reflecting on their practice, seeking gaps in their knowledge, skills and awareness of their actions. Reflective midwives actively seek honest and constructive feedback from women, experienced midwives, and colleagues with the aim of continual improvement and growth.

Reflective midwives are open and vulnerable with trusted mentors and colleagues, and able to sit with their own discomfort in addition to recognising and celebrating their achievements. 

Honesty

Midwives who display the attribute of honesty are transparent with clients regarding skills, experience, boundaries and reasonable expectations. They value openness and seek honest and open interactions with women, families, other professionals they interact with. Honest midwives strive to portray reasonable expectations of the care they can provide and share any relevant changes in a timely manner.

Lifelong learner

Midwives who are lifelong learners value education, skills, and continued development and seek opportunities to increase and continually improve their knowledge and skills. They are aware of changes in trends and current events, in addition to relevant research and evidence-based care.

They are able to recognise the difference between their own learning needs and those of their clients and seek appropriate learning opportunities through reflection.

Kindness

Midwives with the attribute of kindness act with caring and respect towards individuals and families they work with. They also act with kindness towards other midwives, health professionals and community members.

Midwives who work with kindness know that care and compassion are key elements of quality care. They aim to cultivate communities and cultures in and around birthing, parturition, and the transition to parenthood where compassion and kindness thrive.

Graciousness

Midwives who are gracious allow space and time for other people’s feelings and experiences, are thoughtful and respectful, display friendliness and an inquisitive nature.

Graciousness allows for other people’s experiences and opinions, even when confronting or at odds with their own perception or beliefs. 

Midwives who are gracious are thoughtful and considerate, and able to keep focus on working with their clients towards their individual goals and purpose, even under adversarial conditions, and are able to balance their own sense of self-respect with the need to provide a calm and safe environment for their client to thrive.  

Resilience

Midwives who are resilient do not let adversary or negative situations define them. They cultivate self-awareness and respond their own emotional needs. Resilient Midwives seek and cultivate relationships where they can safely process, grieve and work through emotions. 

Midwives with resilient attributes are willing to sit with their discomfort and accept this as a part of life, which doesn’t define them as a person. They allow for the unknown or unanswerable in some situations and are comfortable taking pause. 

Resilient midwives value self-care and know when and where to reach out for help. 

Empathy

The attribute of empathy requires midwives to use emotional intelligence to understand the experience of another person. 

Empathy is often confused with sympathy, however midwives who portray the attribute of empathy actively sit ‘alongside’ the person they are empathising with, compared to sympathy, which comes from a place of separation, and lends itself to pity. Empathetic midwives value the entire spectrum of emotions and never attempt to stifle or suppress the emotional experience of women or families they are working alongside but aim to offer recognition and acknowledgement of the experienced of others. 

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