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Hard labour in the bush for Outback Midwife

SOMETIMES you just need your mum. Especially when you're minutes away from becoming a mum yourself and your mum happens to be an experienced midwife.

So Beth McRae's daughter discovers in McRae's memoir, Outback Midwife, a book full of engaging, personal stories about love, birth, loss, life, strife and death.

The book is a first-person tale about her journey to her specialist nursing field - a long way from her cattle-farm childhood where sex education was non-existent and her dad didn't even let her help with the calving.

McRae tells of her early training, when women in labour were routinely shaved and given a compulsory enema, before the balance of power in the labour ward shifted away from the male-dominated doctors and towards the mothers themselves.

We learn of the trials and triumphs of a student nurse, her love for the soldier who didn't win her parents' approval until after they married, and her developing dream of being a midwife.

The author learned the hard way about some of the sadness in her professional field. Her first child was born at 26 weeks gestation and did not survive. Her surviving children were also born prematurely.

McRae takes us through the years of change, as a new generation of midwives led the way to more flexible birthing arrangements to be decided by the labouring woman - often against residual resistance from doctors.

We follow her on a steep learning curve as a midwife in remote indigenous communities with their own joys and troubles, including a pet brahman bull with a taste for laundry.

The appalling health conditions of her patients - endemic in remote communities - present a different set of challenges.

McRae tells her stories with honesty, sensitivity and humour. And having helped four children into the world myself, I found myself tearing up at some of her birth descriptions. It's a good read.


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