Today I attended the opening ceremony of the 31st ICM Congress in Toronto. I had certainly been looking forward to it but I was unprepared for the impact it had on me.
I had been to the multi-faith event earlier in the afternoon which welcomed midwives of all faiths, and none, to come together and reflect on Midwifery and to respect our differences in beliefs, culture and traditions and celebrate our strong midwifery connection. I don’t have a particular faith but I understand and appreciate that others do and that it may play a meaningful part in their lives. I loved the idea of coming together in this respectful way. There was beautiful singing and music and drumming! Four midwives each gave a short talk on how their faith impacted on their life and work as midwives. It was heart-warming to see. Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish midwives together in this way. At a time when we are constantly reminded of examples of discrimination and even hate based on differences, it was a powerful reminder that we all have more in common than we have differences
A key message from the session for me was from the words of one of the songs that were sung. I think it sums up how we are inextricably linked, whatever our beliefs and backgrounds.. From memory ( which can be a bit iffy) I think it is a song by Peter, Paul and Mary and goes something like this:
There’s only one river, there’s only one sea. I’m flowing through you and you’re flowing through me.
The is only one river. There is only one sea.
And it flows through you, and it flows through me.
There is only one people. We are one and the same.
We are all one spirit. We are all one name.…
Soon after the multi-faith service we assembled outside the Plenary Hall for the opening ceremony. The atmosphere was buzzing with energy and anticipation. Some midwives were dressed in costumes that reflected their countries and cultures. Some countries co-ordinated their look which made it easy for them to be identified and easy for them to identify each other amongst over 4000 other midwives. The Australian contingency had the best hats for sure! The British Midwives had no such accessory but we waved our union jacks high in the air to be identified and gradually all the British Midwives gravitated towards each other. We all entered the Hall and took our seats. The excitement was palpable.
The ceremony was one of the most moving occasions I have ever attended. I was moved to tears several times and know that I was the only one. There were extordinary, inspiring speeches and there was a wide variety of artistic and traditionally inspired performances of music and dancing. All of these were fascinating and we were all mesmerised by the the world champion hoop dancer and the Inuit throats singers to name just two of the more unusual acts. But the traditional flag ceremony was the absolute highlight for me. Every country had a big flag on a flagpole which was carried by a midwife representative from that country. Our flag was carried by our wonderful Lesley Page who was our President of the RCM until very recently. In alphabetical order each flag was carried up to the stage. This parade of flags from 144 countries has been likened to the Olympic Games of midwifery! It was the most inspirational and moving experience and I think everyone in the room felt it.
It was absolutely fabulous. I have never felt so proud to be a part of this profession which has been around in some form since the beginning of human civilisation in the world and has developed into something that has such a huge impact on women, babies, families and the whole of humanity. Midwives making a difference in the world.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to go beyond the idea of midwifery in the context of something that happens in a particular maternity setting or place and really saw the midwifery of the entire planet. We all get a little blinkered by what we are used. I don’t want to underestimate the differences in different countries. One of the most obvious is the economic, social and political differences. Many midwives had left their countries for the first time and had difficult journeys. Some midwives work heroically in their own countries to provide care with so little in the way of resources or in areas of conflict or civil unrest. But fundamentally we are the same. We are one. One midwifery.
Thank you for reading. More tomorrow.