The Size Paradox: The Mega- Maternity Unit as a Vector for Authentic Midwifery to Emerge

O'Connell, Rhona (2011) The Size Paradox: The Mega- Maternity Unit as a Vector for Authentic Midwifery to Emerge. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Midwifery practice in Ireland has emerged from a system of care dominated by the biomedical model of childbirth. The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of labour ward midwives who are potentially complicit with this approach. This study reveals how midwives’ environment impacts on their construction of childbirth.
The opening of a large new maternity hospital afforded the opportunity to see if the move to this setting would influence midwifery practice. A hermeneutic phenomenological approach was used based on the work of Heidegger and Gadamer. The study was undertaken in two phases, the first involved interviewing six labour ward midwives working in a busy obstetric led labour ward which was due to close. The findings revealed that midwives complied with the norms for the unit and did not take responsibility for the biomedical approach to care.
The second phase was undertaken twelve months after the opening of the hospital which was an amalgamation of three maternity units. Seventeen midwives were interviewed for this phase of the study. The move to the larger unit revealed a paradox for midwifery autonomy and enabled midwives to practice in new ways. The maternity service was delivered through a system that values detachment and an attempt at equal (not individualised) care under conditions of limited resources and constraints. This had resonance with Lipsky’s and Foucault’s work. A contrasting situation occurred within the individual labour rooms as the midwives worked in relative isolation, away from the general activity of the unit. This phase of data was framed in terms of Merleau-Ponty’s four existentials. Midwives had opportunities to enact ‘real midwifery’ and normalise birth for women using a range of strategies rather than resorting to interventionist therapies. Midwives shared in the joy of achievement when positive births occurred. The paradox of this mega maternity unit enabled authentic midwifery to emerge.
The study provides an insight into the experience of labour ward midwives and how midwifery identities are revealed by the narratives they relate. It also highlights the complexity of contemporary maternity care in large centralised maternity units.

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