Christine Cornwell

Midwifery came into my life in 1970, when, after completing my hospital based nursing education and training, in Adelaide, I undertook my midwifery education and training at the then, Crown St Women’s Hospital, Sydney. Because of the midwives involved in my midwifery education, midwifery became my passion and I have been hooked ever since. I worked in the Public Sector in S.A. in various midwifery clinical and managerial roles, until retiring in 2014. (apart from having some time off to have our 2 daughters)

In 1974, on returning to Adelaide I commenced at the then Queen Victoria Hospital (QVH), a stand alone maternity hospital, founded in 1902, which provided maternity, gynae and neonatal services. The QVH amalgamated with the then Adelaide Children’s Hospital and physically moved to North Adelaide in May 1995, to form the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH). The maternity, neonatal and gynae services from the QVH, became the Women’s and Babies Division, of the WCH. I had been in a senior management role at the QVH since July 1987 and was involved in the planning of the new facilities and services at the WCH, the actual physical move and then the ongoing provision of services at WCH. I was appointed as the Divisional Director Midwifery and Nursing, Women’s and Babies Division in May 1995, when the QVH moved, a position I held until retiring in July 2014.

In 1995 the number of births at the QVH was just over 2,700 and by 2014 the number of births at the WCH had grown to approx 5,000. During that period, 2 other public sector maternity & neonatal services in Adelaide, located at Modbury Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, closed, as did many SA rural maternity services. The Women’s and Babies Division of the WCH provided a full range of primary to tertiary level maternity and neonatal services for women and their babies, and a secondary level of gynaecological services.

In 1974, I joined a Midwifery Special Interest group, which was part of the then Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) (SA Branch). Eventually members of that Special Interest Group left the ANF(SA Branch) and formed the SA Branch of the then Midwifery Association, which in time evolved into the SA Branch of the Australian College of Midwives (ACM), when the ACM was formed in 1984. I consider I have been a member of the ACM, or it’s for runner organization in SA, since 1974. I was a member of the ACM Board from 2002 until 2009, being Vice President from 2004. I was honored to be awarded a Public Service Medal for services to midwifery in the 2005 Australia Day Awards and then in 2016, I was awarded life member of the ACM. My involvement now continues through the ACM (SA Branch).

The ACM Philosophy, has deep meaning for me & has guided me and continues to do so, in what I do in relation to midwifery. Especially, the words relating to the importance and value of the role of women in bearing and rearing the next generation. This is such a significant event in each woman’s life, but it is also vitally important to society as a whole. Obviously midwives have an essential role in supporting and caring for women through this process. But Governments, Universities and professional organisations have responsibility to provide the facilities, the environment, the skilled midwives, the regulation, the ongoing education, as well as the support and advocacy for midwives and other health professionals to enable them to meet the needs of childbearing women and their babies.

In my view, the history of the role & status of midwives and our practice is interwoven with the history of the role and status of women, within our society.

The ACM Midwifery History Project has 3 arms to it, namely: the history of the ACM; the recording of midwifery memorabilia, documents and oral history recordings; and the history of midwifery in Australia.

Whilst I have an interest in all 3 arms, I am more specifically interested in the history of midwifery in Australia. In reality the other 2 arms form a significant part of that overall history, anyway. It will be interesting to see how much the history of midwifery in Australia mirrors the history of the role & status of women in Australia, as well.

It’s important, I believe, to understand where we came from, and how & why we are where we are, as a profession, now. It is also important and very interesting as well, to know the stories of those who have gone before us, as we and future generations of midwives, stand on their shoulders.

I feel excited about this project, a little overwhelmed at all the work to be done and most certainly over awed by the previous work, writings and knowledge about Australian Midwifery history, already done by other members of the ACM Midwifery History Project Steering Committee.

Cornwell, C. (2019). The more things change, the more what’s important stays the same. Australian Midwifery News, 19(3), 16–21.