Bringing a child into the world is one of parenthood's most unforgettable moments. Despite all the preparation, however, the uncertainties may bring on much trepidation, especially for first-time parents. With the onset of labour, parents are naturally worried about getting to the hospital on time, ensuring that the obstetrician is on site and, above all, having a smooth delivery. Placing your trust in the guiding hands of an experienced midwife is a welcome relief for most expectant mothers.
A professional midwife is a specialist in childbirth, qualified to care for women during all stages of pregnancy through to the birth itself and in handling the postnatal care of mothers and their newborn babies. Midwives are involved with childbirth the world over, but how much active participation in labour and delivery they are allowed to administer varies from country to country.
In private practice hospitals in Hong Kong, doctors look after women during their pregnancy. When they come in for delivery, midwives begin taking care of them, assisting doctors during labour and encouraging partners to be involved in the process, explains Penny Armstrong Fu, sister in charge of the maternity unit at the Matilda International Hospital.
"Every birth is unique and it is a privilege to be involved in the process"
During her career at the Matilda since 1991, Ms Armstrong Fu estimates that she has helped deliver 8,000 babies. She finds her career very rewarding. "Every birth is unique and it is a privilege to be involved in the process," she says. "It may seem that a midwife just delivers babies - it is a lot more than that. You do not become blase about it!"
A native of Northern Ireland, Ms Armstrong Fu realised that she wanted to be a nurse at a very young age. She trained as a general nurse for three years and spent two years in intensive care nursing, followed by a year in orthopedic nursing. Having enjoyed obstetrics training, she decided to study midwifery skills and completed an 18-month course.
Professional and personal development is important to her. "Here at the Matilda, the management has been very focused on ongoing education," she says.
Today, Ms Armstrong Fu has a degree in health studies, has taken courses in cardiac and obstetrics life support and has also qualified as an infection control coordinator at the Matilda. She is currently an internal auditor for the accreditation management system at the hospital. Her years of experience and continuous professional growth have paid off. In early 2002, she was promoted to nurse manager, followed by another promotion in 2003 to sister in charge of the maternity unit.
Managing maternity services
Overseeing a staff of 24, Ms Armstrong Fu is responsible for the development of the maternity unit which is a multi-faceted role. She is responsible for the daily staff roster, developing standards and good practice, ensuring quality and standards are maintained and building good relationships between doctors and staff. She also ensures she maintains her own clinical skills by caring for clients.
Hong Kong's midwives work in close collaboration with doctors and have a high impact on the birthing process. "We provide one-to-one care during labour and ensure clients feel confident before leaving the hospital," she explains.
To become a successful midwife, some qualities are crucial such as a caring and compassionate nature, confidence and assertiveness as well as good communication and counselling skills. The educational requirements, following a high school diploma, include a three-year nurse training course, six months' experience and then 12 -18 months of midwifery training, depending where you train. Some countries offer a direct entry 3-year midwifery training programme. Good English language skills are required if you work in a multi-cultural setting.
Midwives who have trained overseas must register with the Hong Kong Midwives Council and there is a great deal of overseas interest in working in Hong Kong. However, potential candidates are put off by the lengthy registration process which can take up to a year. Those interested must submit paperwork and pass a written and oral exam which is held twice yearly.
The Matilda International Hospital cares for many expatriate couples coming from mainland China to have their babies delivered in Hong Kong.
Although Ms Armstrong Fu is unaware of the latest developments in the midwifery profession in China, she does mention that the Chinese are looking to improve standards. In addition, she notes that new international hospitals are being constructed in both Shanghai and Beijing through joint ventures with international health service companies.