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'A new image: the midwife as advocate and activist'--an ICM workshop: Nester T Moyo, ICM Programme Manager, and Elizabeth Duff, ICM Communications Manager, proposed an assertive new image for midwives.

This media relations workshop was presented at the ICM Congress in Brisbane on Monday July 25. The topic is always popular and in this session the room was full with around 40 midwives from Australia, Germany, Japan, Malawi, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa, Sweden. Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, the USA, the UK and Zimbabwe. These midwives had a strong interest in media and a powerful desire to debate. We had prepared what we thought was a short presentation, with only 10 Powerpoint slides, but as each one sparked off a vigorous and extensive discussion, the one hour and 20 minutes passed by before we got to the last slide!

The main theme under discussion was how to get over the message that midwives in addition to their caring and compassionate role--are proactive, political and sometimes pushy. The objectives were to expand participants' awareness of the importance of media relations, and to exchange ideas about the best ways of using the media to heighten the profile of midwives and midwifery.

'Every picture tells a story'

Participants were first asked to react to two pictures showing midwives from around a hundred years ago: one showing a group of African-American midwives supervised by a younger, white nurse; the other a midwife/health visitor in the UK, who is engaged in weighing a baby in a community setting.

The pictures triggered a multitude of responses: although there were negative feelings evoked, for example about the conveyed 'superiority' of the nurse, there were also some very positive impressions relating to autonomy, professionalism and competence of the midwives. It was pointed out that they and their function in the community, were visible and recognisable owing to their uniforms, bags and equipment such as the scales. As these outward signs of the midwife are less obvious in contemporary, times, when midwives drive cars and may not wear uniform, how can the midwife remain visible and high-profile as the first-choice professional for childbearing women?

The third picture shown was a montage of much more recent photographs, all of which had been sent to ICM headquarters by various midwifery associations to illustrate their activities on the International Day of the Midwife. Midwives were pictured marching in a street parade, running an information booth in a market, making a street collection for sale motherhood funds, presenting at workshops and demonstrating for better pay and conditions. It was agreed that these sorts of images helped to show that midwives were not only caring health professionals. but also active in research, education, health promotion, fundraising and asserting their rights as workers.

Who? What? When? Where? Why?

It was suggested that any media campaign should begin with the drafting of a press release, along with--if necessary--one or more fact sheets to provide background information. For example, news about the ICM congress was currently being sent out to appropriate media, but it had been preceded by a set of fact sheets, outlining a brief history of the ICM, the structure of its governance and representation, its relationship to the UN and other global agencies, its work for safe motherhood, and so on. These information sheets were also posted on the ICM website so that any journalist could refer to them for background data and links to other organisations.

Press releases should carry a clear and accessible message about a piece of news. When drafting them, remember to say, who is doing what, when and where they are doing it, and what for! If there is a particular message for the reader, this should be set out at the end in full. It may be 'Visit the website or phone this number for more detail' or 'Contact your local midwife if you think you are pregnant' or 'Please make a donation to safe motherhood' but the details should be made clear and appropriate for the readership, e.g. if the press release is sent internationally, telephone and fax numbers must include a country code.

It is helpful if the style of information is geared to the likely reader. News sent to midwifery, or nursing journals will not need to include explanations of clinical references, but when it is sent to a women's health or general publication, the language used should avoid technical terms and be accessible to all women.

The presenters made the point that most midwives are excellent verbal communicators when speaking to colleagues or clients, and will automatically tailor their language when talking to, for example, medical colleagues, hospital auxiliary staff, women and their families. Therefore the same principles should apply when setting down written information. Elizabeth admitted that she had once organised a press conference about the risks and prevention of postpartum haemorrhage, where a journalist from a local paper had asked 'At what stage of pregnancy is this likely to occur?'. This is a lesson to learn, that familiar terms are still often inaccessible to most members of the public.

In front of the microphone

For midwives invited to give an interview to a journalist, various pieces of advice were agreed:

* Set aside time in advance to prepare your message and supporting data

* Make sure you know which publication or broadcast is represented--think what this audience will respond to

* Be clear in your mind who you are representing is it yourself, midwives in general, your workplace or employer, or the women you care for?

* Consider if a colleague or client should be asked to join the interview

* Try not to let yourself be rushed, even during a live broadcast: it's better to say a few things clearly, than too much too quickly

* Aim to include something memorable--a brief anecdote, a striking statistic, a joke (if appropriate).

Many participants reported experience of having been interviewed, then parts of the interview being later quoted out of context. For print publications it is worth requesting sight of the final version, but journalists often claim there is no time for this. The problem underlines the need for careful preparation before an interview and a focus on the use of straightforward messages.

'No news is good news'

A further aspect of media relations is the perennial difficulty of raising awareness of positive news--often it seems that journalists only want to speak to midwives when there has been an event such as the death of a baby or a mother, or when they want to highlight a potential conflict between midwives and doctors.

There is no easy answer to this, but it was agreed that establishing and maintaining communications with at least local press representatives is a helpful approach. Provision of information to the press about positive events--such as opening or expansion of services, appointment of new senior staff, etc--is worthwhile, even if no use is made of it immediately. Invitations to the press for any kind of celebration also help foster good relations. Reporters may keep past press releases on file and use the information and contacts when they do want a response. The more that dialogue is encouraged, the more influence a midwife may have when a difficult situation arises. Establishing mutual trust between journalists and midwives is an achievable goal!

Summing it up

In the last few minutes of the workshop, all participants were asked to try and sum up 'what does a midwife do?' in as few words as possible, to get a message over to the public.

Examples of the phrases used included:

* 'I am a health professional who works and supports with mothers in assisting them to have safe deliveries and to maintain good health of the mother and the baby and family'

* 'I work with women to provide education and safe passage from pregnancy through birth to the postnatal period.'

* 'I care for and educate women of childbearing age and their significant others, from conception to six weeks after birth, empowering them to have a say in their care'

* Midwives [in the Philippines] ... serve as agents of change and are in charge in the rural areas where other health care workers fear to tread.

* Midwives: a repository for knowledge, care and support for women's newborn and families' health.

* 'I have the privilege of working with women in their time of vulnerability and am in a position to see creation at its best.'

* 'I am the gate keeper to the pathway for healthy mothers and babies.'

* 'I am in the privileged position of being "the hand that rocks the cradle"'

* Midwives help women to deliver their babies, they provide emotional support for women, they are highly skilled and they take more time and more care than most doctors. If I had to choose I would choose a midwife? (This was written by a non-midwife) Finally, one quick-thinking participant offered this catchy acronym:

Motivate the women

Identify with women

Deliver women

Work with women

Inspire women

Friend to women

Empower women

Being proactive

We hope that some of the ideas that were discussed in the workshop and are reported here will be useful to midwives elsewhere. We do encourage midwives everywhere to be proactive in their communications with media representatives. As we said--it's not so different from talking to women. If you are approached by a journalist who is writing/broadcasting about midwifery/women's health, why not:

* confirm to the other person that thay have come to the right place for what they want

* provide relevant, up-to-date advice and information

* keep the messages strong, clear and simple

* be positive, sympathetic, reassuring

* aim to facilitate and enable the other person to do their bit of the task

* tell them to get back to you if they need more assistance, and provide contact details

* if things get difficult, keep in mind the intended outcome (healthy baby/informed reader?).

Does this sound familiar?
COPYRIGHT 2005 International Confederation of Midwives
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Article Details
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Author:Moyo, Nester T.; Duff, Elizabeth
Publication:International Midwifery
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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