Being safe practitioners and safe mothers: a critical ethnography of continuity of care midwifery in Australia
Muir-Cochrane, Eimear Caitlin
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Objective To examine how midwives and women within a continuity of care midwifery program in Australia conceptualised childbirth risk and the influences of these conceptualisations on women’s choices and midwives’ practice. Design and setting A critical ethnography within a community-based continuity of midwifery care program, including semi-structured interviews and the observation of sequential antenatal appointments. Participants Eight (8) midwives, an obstetrician and seventeen (17) women. Findings The midwives assumed a risk-negotiator role in order to mediate relationships between women and hospital-based maternity staff. The role of risk-negotiator relied profoundly on the trust engendered in their relationships with women. Trust within the mother-midwife relationship furthermore acted as a catalyst for complex processes of identity work which, in turn, allowed midwives to manipulate existing obstetric risk hierarchies and effectively re-order risk conceptualisations. In establishing and maintaining identities of ‘safe practitioner’ and ‘safe mother’, greater scope for the negotiation of normal within a context of obstetric risk was achieved. Key Conclusions and Implications for practice The effects of obstetric risk practices can be mitigated when trust within the mother-midwife relationship acts as a catalyst for identity work and supports the midwife’s role as a risk-negotiator. The achievement of mutual identity-work through the midwives’ role as risk-negotiator can contribute to improved outcomes for women receiving continuity of care. However, midwives needed to perform the role of risk-negotiator while simultaneously negotiating their professional credibility in a setting that construed their practice as risky.