Printer Friendly

A hermeneutic analysis of the rise of midwifery scholarship in New Zealand.


In the past 25 years there has been a significant rise of scholarly activity, meaning university-based postgraduate education and research, amongst New Zealand midwives. This paper records stories of that change, accessed through a hermeneutic research study. The analysis is through the viewpoint of the author, Liz Smythe, who was one of the first New Zealand midwives to gain a PhD supervised by midwives, about midwifery. She uses her own story as a scaffold to view the stories of her peers. Five other midwives participate in this study, with data drawn from interviews and written reflections. The purpose of the study was to capture stories pertaining to scholarship to reveal the manner in which a variety of individuals, each choosing her own pathway, came to establish an early wave of New Zealand midwifery research-based scholarship. It is a snapshot of history that offers insight into the play between profession, practice, and scholarship. Some of the key leaders, notably Joan Donley, had minimal involvement with university life. Karen Guilliland and Sally Pairman addressed the professional/practice issues from outside university and later turned to university-based scholarship to document the insights. Others, such as Liz herself, attained tertiary qualifications and were ready for the new era of degree level training. Some doctorally prepared midwives came from overseas to share the leadership of postgraduate education and research. A strong theme emerging from the study is the huge commitment the scholarly leaders made in the development and reshaping of midwifery. Questions are raised about the future of midwifery scholarship in a climate of fierce competition for research funds. It is argued that scholarship is vital to underpin and guide the midwifery profession, but at what cost to the individuals involved? What strategies are needed to ensure scholarship remains strong and responsive? These questions need to be addressed by the profession.


Hermeneutics is about life-experience and belongs to it. Hermeneutics is the lived experience of lived experience (Crowe, 2006, p.26).

This paper is written to articulate the lived experience of the rise of midwifery scholarship in New Zealand. By 'scholarship' I mean involvement in university study, and, for this research, those midwives beginning postgraduate study in the era of the 1980s when midwifery was in transition from hospital-based training to polytechnic education. This pioneer group of midwives went on to do masters and doctoral research 'in midwifery'. I draw from the philosophy of hermeneutics, which recognises that one can only understand the experience of others through the lens of one's own historical being-in-the-world. Thus as author I acknowledge the interpretations as my own. My own story is the scaffold on which this bigger story is told. I share it to enable readers to discern the standpoint from which I interpret, and because the insights of 'my story' so strongly colour my passion and commitment to scholarship. I do not seek to track the historical milestones of the transition to a university-based structure of postgraduate education, but rather to tell stories. Harman (2007, p.28) says life is always 'thisly': this life, in this time, with these people, doing this thing. Stories hold the 'thisness' helping us resist the temptation to reduce life to theoretical constructs. Throughout the paper I use the word 'us' to refer to my perception of what the community of midwives I was a part of, at the time, was thinking. This is of course an assumption, yet from the perspective of hermeneutics we become "swept in a further tendency of life" (Crowe, 2006, p.81) by something bigger than 'my own view'. I am not saying each and every person believed the interpretations I offer. Rather, this was my sense of what 'we' thought. Is this paper therefore 'research', or a personal account of my own scholarly journey? From a hermeneutic perspective, it is both. It is a scholarly, research based analysis of the lived experience of a small cohort of midwives who were at the forefront of postgraduate university based midwifery education, interpreted from the horizon of my own experience. It is the lived experience of lived experience (ibid).


The word 'hermeneutics' emerged in the seventeenth century to mean the "science or art of interpretation" (Grondin, 1991, p.1) although its roots can be traced back to the writings of the ancient Greeks. Gadamer, a key writer on philosophical hermeneutics, is clear that prejudices or pre-understandings are the very conditions by which we understand. The challenge is not to set them aside but rather to work with them in the quest towards understanding. We come to understand through the history into which we were born and now live. "It is history that determines the background of our values, cognitions, and even our critical judgement. 'That is why,' says Gadamer, 'the prejudices of the individual, far more than his judgements, constitute the historical reality of his being'" (ibid, p.114). My own prejudices arise from beginning hospital-based nurse training in 1971, doing midwifery training through a 6 month course at a St Helens Hospital in 1979, and being indoctrinated into a hierarchical, task-based system of practice. Formal learning tended to be a matter of regurgitating information; yet in the midst of practice 'learning' was a daily challenge of trying to cope with new, complex, stressful situations where life and death could sway in the balance.

Understanding is always a dialogue between self and other (other being text, person or artefact). "In this dialogue there are no statements, only questions and answers that call forth new questions in turn" (ibid, p. 119). Understanding is therefore always a quest, always on-the-way, always personal. The journey never ends for, as the context ever changes, so too does understanding need to realign itself with the unfolding stories. It is as though our being exists in a kaleidoscope that can never return to a previous pattern, yet over the generations the understanding of what it means to be in the midst of such patterning is known and shared.


Ethics approval for this study was gained through Auckland University of Technology Ethics Committee. The choice of participants was my own, based on my personal network. One responded to an open invitation to offer written reflections, and the other four were interviewed. Karen Guilliland and Sally Pairman figure prominently, for I believe much of the current health and strength of midwifery in New Zealand is owed to their huge commitment and tenacity. Gillian White, who trained in England as a direct entry midwife, talks of her early recognition that midwives needed to be doing their own research. Cheryl Benn and Maralyn Foureur (previously Rowley) are included as midwives who arrived in New Zealand with nearly completed doctoral qualifications to enable New Zealand midwives to do research under midwifery guidance. My own story was gathered by a written reflection and a tape-recorded interview. All participants were engaged in postgraduate study in the 1980s and 90s, and beyond. Karen has been Chief Executive Officer of the New Zealand College of Midwives since its formation in 1989 and has a masters degree. All the others have doctoral degrees and work in education. Some have attained positions of Associate Professor and Professor. Because it was likely that stories would reveal identity, ethical approval was gained to name participants. Data have been returned to participants for re-approval prior to publication.

The interview sought to elicit each person's story. I began with questions about pre-registration midwifery education and encouraged each person to keep telling the story, keeping the focus on 'scholarship' but recognising the journeys 'towards' and 'through' were all unique. Interviews were transcribed and transcripts were read and re-read. Stories were taken from the transcripts and crafted to reveal 'meaning' more distinctly (Caelli, 2001). I wrote and re-wrote interpretations of the stories to try to reveal scholarship as it showed itself in the context of that person's experience, recognising the 'with-world' relationships, 'with-people' relationships, 'with-self ' relationship revealing mood and concern, all of which are experienced in 'time' (Schmidt, 2006). The process of such interpretation is described by van Manen (1990) as dwelling with text, intuiting meaning, writing and re-writing. The trustworthiness of this study does not lie in whether my interpretations are 'true' for they can only ever be 'as I understand' but whether I have enabled the readers to share in their own interpretive process and arrive at their own insights. The crafted stories were returned to participants prior to inclusion to ensure their right to withdraw or restate data. They are 'their' stories yet interpretation comes with prejudice of the researcher (Gadamer, 1982; Smythe, 2007).

Interpretive insights

Stepping into University Study

I begin with my own story of leaving my job as a charge midwife in Delivery Suite to go to university:
 In 1985 that I should be going to University sent shock waves
 through my community of midwives and doctors. There was one
 paediatrician who I remember shaking his head saying 'but why?' He
 kept saying to everyone 'why would a midwife go to university?'
 Colleagues in Delivery Suite all wanted to know 'what are you
 learning?' I remember writing back saying for the first time ever
 in my education I am learning how to think. I did an essay in
 English Literature critiquing an essay written by Cardinal Newman.
 I wrote about his beautiful transition from one paragraph to the
 next etc, saying how excellent I thought it was. The tutor who
 marked it said "but his argument was rubbish". I thought 'goodness
 they expect me to have an opinion of my own!' That was
 mind-blowing. I'd assumed because the teacher had given it to us,
 it was good. Just that learning to critique, learning to bring my
 own voice (author).

We currently assume that it is fitting for midwives to attend a university to advance their learning. In 1985 it was considered odd and unnecessary. I quickly came to see the impact of being asked to 'think'. When one has been schooled in obedience and 'right' answers it was a huge leap to suddenly challenge and voice a contrary opinion. For me, university study, in the era of feminism, and the Cartwright Inquiry (Coney, 1988), with Marxist theory permeating academic thinking, encouraged a strong critique of the status quo. Yet within New Zealand midwifery such thinking was also happening beyond the walls of university:
 While I was burying myself in the scholarship of academia Joan
 Donley was hard at work publishing 'Save the Midwife' (1986) drawn
 from her own self-taught insights. When I came back to Auckland for
 my mid year break midwives gathered at Massey University and
 started talking 'autonomy'. I was in the ivory tower while
 midwifery was quietly getting on with its renaissance (author).

The rise of 'thinking' in New Zealand midwifery was strongly influenced by Joan Donley. Her book challenged midwives on all fronts and called for a rethink. She wrote that the midwife had been: "upgraded and refurbished to become a nurse-midwife, a hybrid, a medically-oriented handmaiden, while the real midwife is an endangered species" (1986, p.11). In the spirit of Joan's embodied feminist perspective, she helped us to see that the emancipation of midwifery required political action. Her own midwifery experience fuelled her passion:
 As a midwife in the controversial domiciliary field for 12 years,
 my knowledge of the subject is more than merely academic. Personal
 involvement in the political battle to keep the home birth option
 open has provided insights for analysis I could never have gained
 from a seat outside the ring. In fighting this battle I had to go
 back--to research the historical background. Therefore, this book
 was written to clarify these issues and to provide an understanding
 of the historical/ political developments without which no battle
 can be successfully fought. (Donley, 1986, p.12)

Joan led the way for those of us who had become politically awakened in showing that 'what mattered most' came from the understandings of experience. Her metaphor is of 'fighting the battle'. The tactics of warfare were required by both academia and politics.

Gillian White voiced her experience of those times in the mid to late 80s:
 Imagine teaching in a course to educate midwives as a profession
 subsumed by nursing [Advanced Diploma of Nursing] ... It was not a
 sustainable position for me ... the battles we had were with
 politicians, the medical profession, NZNA, nurses and often with
 midwives themselves. Wellington midwives did not always agree with
 Auckland midwives and the South did not always agree with the
 North. (Gillian White)

Challenging the status quo and identifying strategies for change meant disrupting vested interests, removing comfort and control, and challenging what until then had been considered 'how it should be'. There were battles on all fronts with the ground of education in the midst of it all, for decisions around who controls education set the pedagogy, philosophy and possibilities for the next generation (Pairman, 2006). I remember these tensions. Heidegger talks of inauthenticity and authenticity: "One is characterized by complacency, distraction, and self-concealment, while the other is marked by commitment, struggle, and sober responsibility for oneself. One kind of life is, ultimately, a failure to "own-up" to oneself, while the other is a life of profound honesty" (Crowe, 2006, p.70). This was an era of New Zealand midwives boldly trying to regain the authentic heart of midwifery practice. In the struggle, responsibility to take on battles with those who had vested interests in the status quo required courage and tenacity. Amongst midwives in those early days of change there were many content to stay with familiar ways and not disturb their comfortable world.

Making universities more accessible to midwives

In 1989 the New Zealand College of Midwives was formed. The first undergraduate direct entry midwifery degree programme was established at Otago Polytechnic in 1992, led by Sally who had a degree in English literature done prior to her nursing and midwifery training (Pairman, 2006). Auckland Institute of Technology, where I was teaching midwifery, started with a direct-entry diploma programme in 1992 (Gunn, 1992), which became a degree in 1994. By that stage I had my BA (Social Science) majoring in 'nursing' even though every assignment I had done was related to midwifery. Huge changes were afoot in the shaping of midwifery as a profession. The postgraduate focus followed closely behind:
 We started a campaign with the universities that midwives should be
 able to go straight into Masters ... I think we did a campaign
 where we wrote to all the universities saying it's time things
 changed. (Karen Guilliland)

My road to scholarship was the equivalent of a full three-year undergraduate degree before I could enter a masters programme. Later midwives had some reduction of papers in recognition of their professional qualification, gaining what was seen as the equivalent entry standard to postgraduate programmes. The College of Midwives however did not think this was good enough. Karen forged the way by proving her own capability of achieving at masters level without an undergraduate degree. She was accepted into the Victoria University Masters programme with an Advanced Diploma Qualification.

Scholarship following in support

A key feature of the rise of scholarship in New Zealand is that in many ways the political action came first and the formal scholarship followed behind. This is clearly seen in the stories of Karen and Sally:
 We [Sally Pairman and I] worked really well together. She's the
 'detail' and I'm the 'big picture'. We said, 'why don't we model
 what we keep saying about how midwives and women work together? We
 want to do something in partnership'. So Jill White [Victoria
 University] had to do all sorts of things in the university to
 allow us to use the one thing as a special topic for both of us.
 The model of partnership that we published from that may look tiny
 and simple but it took 10 drafts of the bloody thing to make it
 that tiny and simple. (Karen Guilliland)

 The idea to work on articulating our philosophy
 of midwifery came out of our experiences of
 trying to bring about change, and my experiences of
 working as a home birth provider, and the experience of the
 politics of getting College established. We just felt as though
 midwives needed something to kind of hang to, to frame up their
 work, to help them see what it was that this partnership actually
 meant. We had already adopted it as a College. We had it in our
 standards, we had it in the philosophy. We hadn't defined it, and
 it was like, "What is it?" And we had that experience of actually
 working in partnership, both from a political and the practice
 level. So it was trying to write about that. (Sally Pairman)

Karen and Sally were both key players in the establishment of the College of Midwives, winning autonomy and articulating the philosophy of practice that moved from creating dependency to building partnership. They had travelled the country talking with groups of midwives but knew that was not enough. Scholarship provided the vehicle to both firm up their thinking and disseminate it as the focus for New Zealand midwives. While political action created change, scholarship needed to follow closely behind to give structure, stability and credence. Further their monograph The Midwifery Partnership: A model for practice (Guilliland & Pairman, 1995) became an example of scholarly capability and possibility.

In the same year Valerie Fleming graduated with New Zealand's first doctorate in midwifery. Her thesis was entitled 'Partnership, power and politics: feminist perceptions of midwifery practice' (Fleming, 1995). Gilkison wrote: "This is New Zealand's first major piece of research on a midwifery topic ... In order to establish and declare midwifery as a profession in its own right and to create our own body of language, this kind of research is extremely important." (Gilkison, 1995, p.11). Looking back one wonders whether the impact of the research itself was as significant as the fact that we now had a homegrown doctoral qualification.

Bringing in academic expertise

With pre-registration midwifery education as a degree programme, a growing number of midwives were stepping into masters study as the next step of their education. On the principle that educators should have at least one degree higher than the level of their students, there was a need to attract doctorally prepared midwives to New Zealand. Valerie Fleming, one of my PhD supervisors, moved back to Scotland. At that time there would have been no other midwife able to supervise me if Cheryl Benn had not moved to New Zealand:
 We lived in an area [of South Africa] where down the road there
 were batteries of gunshots every night. We always lay in bed
 listening how far is it coming up the road? We decided we had to
 look for better options. My sister-in-law who was in Finland at the
 time knew that we were looking. She emailed us and said, "There's a
 job going at Massey University". (Dr Cheryl Benn)

People need incentive to leave one country and move to another. The rising danger of South Africa gave Cheryl that incentive. A chance 'find' via Finland opened the door for her to come to New Zealand where she took over the supervision of my PhD. Without Cheryl I would have had no choice but accept guidance from a non-midwife. I tell this story to show the challenge of growing 'scholarship' when there are so few to lead the way. For Cheryl it was not only a culture change of country but also of research methodology:
 When I did my PhD in South Africa, quantitative methodology was
 very predominant ... When I came there weren't many people doing
 any quantitative work at all at Massey. My growth in qualitative
 was enormous over those first years. (Cheryl Benn)

Cheryl bought an expertise in quantitative research methodology to face a nursing and midwifery community who had embraced qualitative approaches. My supervision was a wonderful experience of partnership where Cheryl freely offered me all her scholarly wisdom and together we tried to understand the nature of my phenomenological journey, exploring the meaning of 'being safe' in childbirth (Smythe, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003). Visiting scholars such as Professors Nancy and John Diekelmann taught us both. It was a learning community where we all supported and encouraged each other.

I met Maralyn Foureur in the back of the shuttle bus going to the College of Midwives Conference in Christchurch in 1996. She had come from Australia with her very nearly finished PhD to (ultimately) take on a Joint Chair of Midwifery with Victorian University and Wellington Women's Hospital. I remember the sense of awe I had for such a practice-focused scholar. She talks about why she came to New Zealand:
 The midwives in Australia currently are unable to get professional
 indemnity insurance unless they are employed by a hospital ... So
 the numbers of midwives in independent midwifery practice is
 limited. One of the reasons that I came to New Zealand was because
 of the midwifery-led maternity care that is here. I wanted to see
 how it was working and for me that was a big shock. All of my
 research and my reading had said low intervention is the
 consequence of midwifery-led maternity care--and it's not. The
 intervention rates are going up and up here (as elsewhere), so from
 a research perspective, it is very interesting to try to work out
 what might be happening. So now I explore and write about the
 complexity of maternity care and the power relations that impact on
 women and midwives. (Maralyn Foureur)

Maralyn had a scholarly interest/passion in midwifery led maternity care. New Zealand midwifery offered itself as a huge case study. How would outcomes of birth change within this 'experiment' of giving midwives autonomy to make decisions with-women rather than always with-doctors? Maralyn has moved back to Australia 10 years later, a decade that has seen a global increase in intervention in childbirth, pondering the complex power relations that hold sway and somehow undermine the belief and courage that birth with minimal intervention is not only possible but desirable. Her scholarship seeks to unravel and offer insights. Meanwhile, in the time she was in New Zealand her scholarship has guided other New Zealand midwives, including Joan Skinner's doctoral study 'Love and fear: risk and the midwife' (Skinner, 2005).

How does scholarship show itself?

What difference has scholarship made to the practice of midwifery? Was my perplexed paediatrician right in thinking it was rather a waste of time and money? Gillian talks of how she came to see the need for scholarship:
 I returned to clinical practice ... I watched as nursing/midwifery
 practice appeared to be at the whim of each individual ... I saw
 nurses and midwives attempt to defend their practice against
 'evidence based medical practice'. I was always unconvinced of the
 quality of the evidence but the doctors were in a more powerful
 position and undertook 'research' ... I decided that the best way I
 could serve midwifery was to gain research skills and defend
 midwifery practice from a research base. (Gillian White)

I remember sitting around Joan Donley's kitchen table in the late 1980s writing submissions to win midwifery autonomy and hearing Joan say "but we need the evidence". Passion and belief are in themselves not sufficient to convince those who not only hold power but also have vested interests in maintaining that hold. Gillian recognised that midwives needed to gain research skills that would enable midwives to decide what needed to be researched, to determine how that would be done and then to have control over the dissemination of findings. Only in that way could their practice wisdom be offered as evidence. Her masters thesis followed her interest of midwifery education (White, 1990).

Karen tells her story of also seeing the need for establishing evidence:
 For my masters thesis I set up a midwifery database that became the
 New Zealand College of Midwives database. I went to ICM
 [International Congress of Midwives], I met up with the Canadians
 who had a database and the American College of Nurse Midwives
 database people. I had the obstetric notes that the Ministry had
 here. I just put all those things together and came up with a new
 database. I really don't know how I did it. I sort of nutted my way
 through it and got it out. I didn't own a computer, I couldn't work
 one and I was doing a database! (Karen Guilliland)

This story shows the pioneering spirit of those times. Karen set about the task of establishing a database by taking an investigative tour of world. She then had to learn the related skills of technology. She found the 'know how' along the way. The database of the New Zealand College of Midwives was thus established early in its history to collect, collate and analyse evidence.

Sally, needing a doctoral qualification to advance her educational career, looked back to all that she and others have achieved as part of the commitment to shaping a robust midwifery profession in New Zealand. It was story that needed to be documented:
 What I've done in my doctorate is identified four strategies that I
 think have led to the professionalisation of midwifery in New
 Zealand. I've looked at the partnership model and the impact that
 that has had in New Zealand and internationally. I've looked at
 midwifery education, and how we've developed the midwifery
 profession through what we've done with education. I've looked at
 the College of Midwives and its role in meeting professional
 standards. And I've looked at the Midwifery Council, and the
 regulation. Those four strands integrated to create this profession
 that we've got, and bring it about. Over the years I've worked in
 each of those strands, so it really helped me to be able to see
 that the work that I've done on these things, has actually had some
 impact on where we are now. (Sally Pairman)

When I meet the new generation of student midwives, it is with shock I realise they do not know a time before the College of Midwives. They take for granted that there is a Midwifery Council. They naturally accept that they are in a degree level programme and that they do not need to have a nursing qualification to get into the programme. The partnership model is assumed to be that way midwifery has always been practiced. Sally's scholarship (Pairman, 2005, 2006) stands as a reminder of what was before and documents the huge commitment, political strategising and professional growth that have brought New Zealand midwifery to its current place. At the same time it reminds us of the contextual, ever changing nature of what it means to be a midwife.

Maralyn signals the impact a strong piece of work can have on global midwifery:
 The original paper I published from my PhD gets cited about a
 hundred times a year. (Maralyn Foureur)

When there is research that presents evidence, in this example that midwifery-led care makes a difference to childbirth outcomes, midwives and others from around the world seize it to fight their own battles (Rowley [aka Foureur], Hensley, Brinsmead, & Wlodarcyzk, 1995).

In 1988 there was a midwifery conference in Auckland at which Caroline Flint, author of 'Sensitive Midwifery' (Flint, 1986), galvanised New Zealand midwives. Joan Donley laid down the challenge: Today we must decide whether we become moas (1) or midwives" (Donley, 1988, p.6), and argued that the only way for us to survive was to break away as a group from the professional body of nursing, and form a College of Midwives. I remember how courageous and exciting that moment felt as individually we stepped forward to make that commitment by paying a membership fee. Ever since, the touchstone of the past two decades has been the biennial College of Midwives Conference. Sally states:
 I must have spoken at every midwifery conference since the College
 of Midwives began. I think to start with there weren't that many
 people there who were prepared to actually get up and speak, so we
 ended up doing it because we'd overcome our anxiety, to some extent
 anyway.... I'm really delighted to see so many of the younger ones
 coming through. And now we've got so many more midwives who are
 doing research, who are doing scholarly activities and want to
 talk, and it's fantastic. (Sally Pairman)

I remember Sally presenting at the 1988 conference and being in awe of her scholarship, just as I now cringe at the naivety of my own. We were all new at this, learning from each other, and inspired by international keynote speakers. In 2006 abstracts from would-be presenters were being turned away because of the excess. Midwifery research is flourishing. Our own scholars are invited to be keynote speakers, for example: Judith McAra Couper who is about to complete her PhD on the rise of intervention in childbirth, and: Carolyn Young who is interviewing independent midwives who self-identify has having 'burnt-out'. I am their supervisor. My experience is being reinvested back into the profession. As Sally says, to watch the emerging scholars is fantastic.

The huge commitment

New Zealand midwives have come a very long way over the past two decades, but not without a huge commitment. Sally describes a time in her life:
 I had this new baby, and I had Oscar who was at kindergarten, and a
 borrowed computer. I was really struggling with writing. I was the
 president of the College of Midwives, so I was still traveling, and
 taking Felix with me around the country to be looked after by
 midwives everywhere. It was a fairly full-on year. In some ways I
 sort of regret that I was doing as much as I did that year of
 having a new baby. (Sally Pairman)

All midwife participants who had done a masters degree are likely to describe it as needing to be squeezed into an already busy life. Sally did her's alongside both a commitment to a new baby and to the new, fledgling College of Midwives (Pairman, 1998). Maralyn describes a similar sense of huge commitment:
 I think I neglected my children heaps. They got used to me working
 on the computer all the time. It was not having enough time and
 space to focus on the study which was probably one of the major
 things that caused me to have a marriage breakdown. My partner got
 more and more resistant to me wanting to put another room on the
 house so I could study in peace, and so I did it all on the kitchen
 table, and would clear away every night to put the tea out and get
 it all out again the next day. Um, how did I juggle it? I don't
 know. By the time I was doing the randomised control trial I'd
 actually also taken on a job at the hospital as the clinical
 midwifery consultant ... that was my job as well as independent
 midwifery as well as trying to manage the home. (Maralyn Foureur)

Maralyn juggled research with husband, children, a position of responsibility and a caseload of midwifery clients. My impression is that people like Maralyn, Karen and Sally had such a passion for making midwifery care better for women that they gave every last ounce of time and commitment to the quest, sometimes at deep cost to themselves and their families. Cheryl similarly carried a huge load:
 James was born, and he went back to work with me after seven weeks.
 It was the norm for me. That was pretty tough. I was trying to
 breastfeed a baby, I'd put him in the childcare centre at the
 hospital, go and work with the students, run back to feed him, back
 to the students, teach at the university, you know back and forth.
 It was pretty exhausting but we survived that and coped reasonably
 well. About a year after he was born I had this "oh I need to study
 again". Because you're working academically you're expected to do a
 masters degree and then go on to a doctorate. (Cheryl Benn)

Cheryl's commitment was as an educator. She felt the pressure to enrol in her PhD, and had the passion to want to do that. Her life was already so busy that it simply meant continuing the pace of 'pretty exhausting'.

My question is: do New Zealand midwives, as a profession, expect the same level of overwhelming commitment from future scholars? If not, where are the scholarships, the funded PhD opportunities that are prevalent in the more established professions to make scholarship a viable career pathway for midwives?

Research and Politics

Maralyn reminds us research is political
 Research has to have practical applicability. For me as a midwife,
 that's fundamental. It's a political activity and you have to be
 making a difference to childbirth for women. So, how do you teach
 research--you start with politics, the 'so what', why are you doing
 this and what contribution are you trying to make to the world and,
 in our business, to women in particular. (Maralyn Foureur)

Recognising that the amount of midwifery research that will get done in this country is always going to be limited, Maralyn challenges us to remember to think strategically about the questions we ask, and the purpose for which we engage in a process that is costly in time and money. She draws us back to the quest that has been such a powerful driver of the last two decades: to make a difference to the childbirth experience for women. At the same time she shares something of her own battle:
 I've applied for several external grants and been unsuccessful.
 It's very difficult to get funding. I've applied to the Health
 Research Council on three separate occasions for grants for
 projects to do with maternity care. The feedback we get are things
 like 'this is a beginning researcher who does not have a big enough
 track record'. (Maralyn Foureur)

Maralyn is a leading midwifery researcher/scholar yet she is decreed a 'beginning researcher' by those who allocate research funds. Our scholarship is so new when competing against medicine, science and a host of other well established disciplines. Yet, without winning large research grants it is very hard to establish the kind of track record funders have come to expect. Further, the favoured randomised controlled trial research method enrolling large numbers of subjects and then introducing an intervention to the experimental group often does not sit comfortably with the partnership model of midwifery practice. Until we win such grants we will not have the funds to offer scholarships to PhD students. In this highly competitive environment the message is to work with an inter-disciplinary team drawing on the expertise of other disciplines. Such strategies, while offering valuable support, also present the danger that the research priorities midwives bring may be sidelined by the interests of the more experienced researchers from other disciplines.


Having reflected with these participants I believe none of us could have sustained our journey through scholarship if we had not had a passion for the nature of the learning:
 I did a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Psychology and
 Sociology and in the first year did Fine Arts and History. It was
 the most wonderful course. I loved it to the 'nth' degree and that
 is very much still part of what I like to do, delving into the
 history of art and architecture. I have an abiding interest in
 history; and so when I first moved here, I looked at the history of
 St Helens Hospital here in Wellington. I found a whole cupboard of
 archives, all of the birth records from 1907 to 1980 were stuffed
 in a cupboard and people were going to throw them out. And I
 thought ooh. (Maralyn Foureur)

When this pioneering generation went to university there were few papers (if any) directly related to midwifery. We therefore found ourselves exploring knowledge from a wide variety of other disciplines and bringing those insights back to midwifery. Maralyn has skills in historical analysis that today's students are less likely to acquire. As a profession we need to recognise the value of scholars exploring outside of the domain of midwifery so they can challenge, expand and grow our own knowledge base. When there is passion, scholarship flourishes.

Sally talks about the nature of her experience:
 There's been exhilarating moments; total exhilaration when we got
 the 1990 amendment. When I think about what we've achieved in New
 Zealand, I think that's incredible; amazing. I was really, really
 happy when I handed in my doctorate. For me it's always we, what
 we've done. Each thing is not just one person. I think that Karen
 is an individual person that none of this could have happened
 without. I don't particularly feel like that about me. I mean, I
 think we've all helped the process along the way, but it has been
 us. (Sally Pairman)

Scholarship and the shaping of New Zealand midwifery have been so closely intertwined for people like Karen and Sally that you cannot talk about one without the other. As a witness to the past two decades I stand in awe of the leadership of Karen and Sally, both have offered extraordinary gifts of 'self ' without which New Zealand midwifery would not be where it is today. But Sally is right; they could not have lead without the commitment and support of New Zealand midwives. Her doctorate tells the story of 'us'. It has been an exhilarating, amazing story. Scholarship now holds it as history, telling the story to enable future generations to understand the commitment, struggle and gains of this era of New Zealand midwifery.

But what next? Who will be the scholars of the future?
 I don't see the next generation of leaders coming through and that
 worries me ... People get very, very involved in their own lives,
 their own practice, their own environments, their own sort of
 analysis of 'this obstetrician' and 'that hospital dynamic'. They
 can't lift up another level and think 'how does all this work in a
 bigger picture context?' We don't seem to be developing that
 ability in people ... They're turning their minds to practice.
 They're not turning their minds to politics. I think that's a
 challenge for us as a profession, is how we actually get them
 involved. (Sally Pairman)

As I read Carolyn Young's data of independent midwives who have valiantly struggled to maintain a 24-hour a day, seven day a week caseload I am not surprised that they have no energy for anything more than their practice. The commitment of being an autonomous practitioner who works within the partnership model is huge. It seems the next layer of scholars, such as Carolyn, will bring challenge to the model of practice that emerged from the 1990 winning of independence. As the new tensions emerge that midwives become passionate about, so they too will recognise scholarship as a powerful tool to provide evidence. Perhaps now that scholarship is more established the route to change will find its beginnings in the university and then be translated into political action. Or perhaps those two will always walk hand in hand.


Midwifery scholarship in terms of university qualifications is in its infancy. We have a very short list of midwives with PhDs, research grants, or significant international peer-reviewed publications. Yet consider the commitment, passion and capability of a group of women who had to find their own way, forge a midwifery pathway, support each other and at the same time carry the leadership of the profession in political, practice and education domains. Scholarship has brought credibility by establishing evidence and articulating the knowing. It has equipped midwives with valuable skills of critique and given them the confidence to publish. It has opened doors to new insights. For undergraduate students who sigh at the scholarly expectations of their education, I remind them of the battles that were fought to ensure they had the opportunity to be regarded as competent scholars able to contribute to the establishment of their own knowledge base as opposed to borrowing knowledge from others.

The rise of midwifery scholarship has been phenomenal over the past two decades. We have proved ourselves more than capable. We have kept closely linked to practice. We have recognised the politically contested nature of knowledge and developed research skills to enable us to produce our own evidence. We have come a long way, but the journey is far from over. It is for the next generation to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before and reach higher. In a climate where scholars, who are often in education, hold the tension of needing to teach, practise and research, the Midwifery Council needs to re-consider the expectations related to competency-based practising certificates. In my view a small proportion of the profession needs to be permitted and supported to make scholarship their priority. History shows that the knowledge that surrounds birth will always be contested. Midwives must be poised to add their voice to each new debate over what counts as truth. It is scholarship that builds a strong foundation for women-focused, politically attuned, midwifery practice. Joan Donley proved that you do not need to be within a university setting to be scholarly, yet for most of us it is the university that equips and lends credibility to outputs. Let us invest time, money, support and encouragement in the scholars of the future, helping them to access the resources that enable scholarship.

Accepted for publication: August 2007


Caelli, K. (2001). "Engaging with phenomenology: Is it more of a challenge than it needs to be?" Qualitative Health Research 11(2): 273-281.

Coney, S. (1988). The unfortunate experiment. Auckland: Penguin.

Crowe, B. (2006). Heidegger's religious origins. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Donley, J. (1986). Save the midwife. Auckland: New Women's Press.

Donley, J. (1988). Midwives or moas? Midwifery Conference, Auckland.

Flint, C. (1986). Sensitive midwifery. London: Heinemann Midwifery.

Gadamer, H. G. (1982). Truth and method. New York: Crossroad.

Gilkison, A. (1995). New Zealand's first doctorate in midwifery! New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, April, 12, p.11.

Grondin, J. (1991). Introduction to philosophical hermeneutics. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Guilliland, K. & Pairman, S. (1995). The midwifery partnership: a model for practice. Monograph series 95/1. Department of Nursing and Midwifery, Victoria University of Wellington.

Gunn, J. (1992). Diploma in midwifery (3 year Direct Entry), New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, June, 6-7.

Harman, G. (2007). Heidegger Explained, from phenomenon to thing. Chicago: Open Court.

Pairman, S. (1998). Women-centred midwifery partnerships or professional friendships? New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, 19, 5-10.

Pairman, S. (2005). From autonomy and back again: educating midwives across a century, New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, 33, 6-10.

Pairman, S. (2006). From autonomy and back again: educating midwives across a century, Part 2, New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, 34, 11-15.

Rowley, M.J., Hensley, M.J., Brinsmead, M.J., & Wlodarcyzk, J.M. (1995). Continuity of care by a midwife team versus routine care during pregnancy and birth: A randomised trial. MJA 163, 289-293.

Schmidt, L. (2006). Understanding Hermeneutics. Stocksfield: Acumen.

Skinner, J. (2005). Love and fear: risk and the midwife. A descriptive and interpretative examination of the referral for obstetric consultation practices and attitudes of New Zealand midwives. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Victoria University of Wellington

Smythe, L. (1998). 'Being safe' in childbirth: A hermeneutic interpretation of the narratives of women and practitioners. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Smythe, L. (2000). Being safe in childbirth -what does it mean? The New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, 22, 19-21.

Smythe, L. (2001). The meaning of 'being responsible' for safe care in childbirth. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 17 (1), 34-41.

Smythe, L. (2003). Uncovering the meaning of 'being safe' in practice. Contemporary Nurse, 14 (2) 196-204.

Smythe, L. (2007). Yes, we are prejudiced, Community Development Journal, 42, 400-402.

Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience. London, Ontario: The Althouse Press.

White, G. (1990). Toward autonomy: An examination of midwifery education in New Zealand, Unpublished masters (Hons) thesis, Auckland University.

(1) A moa is a large bird once prevalent in New Zealand, now extinct.

Liz Smythe RGON RM PhD

Associate Professor

Auckland University of Technology

Liz has a background in midwifery. She supervises a wide range of postgraduate students who choose to use hermeneutic methodology.

Contact for correspondence:
COPYRIGHT 2007 New Zealand College of Midwives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Smythe, Liz
Publication:New Zealand College of Midwives Journal
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Previous Article:Surfing the net.
Next Article:The New Midwifery: Science and Sensitivity in Practice (2nd Ed).

Related Articles
The world's midwives represented at the ICM's Executive Committee.
Celebrating midwifery research in the South Pacific: Alison Eddy, Professional Projects Advisor at the New Zealand College of Midwives (NZCOM)...
Exhibition to mark midwifery centenary.
Defining and delivering core midwifery care: International Midwives Day is celebrated on May 5. In this article, a core midwife outlines her...
Scholarships offer little benefit to nursing students.
Honouring nursing practice on International Nurses' Day.
International speakers at Midwifery forum.
Assisting nurses to further their studies: NZNO members need to make better use of the wide range of scholarships and grants available to assist them...
New Zealand midwives and tertiary study.
Rural midwifery and the sense of difference.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters