The International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) has a Congress (conference) every three years. I remember in first year a professor told us that we needed to buy our tickets now, when the early bird special was still valid, even though the conference was over a year away. It was hard to see that far into the future, at that time I would be finished my first placement, have delivered several babies, and been successful in the rest of my courses, but it was important to go because the Congress probably wouldn’t be in Canada during my career again.
Well, this week was the Congress. I’ve been to 35 births, have been successful in my courses, and feel at home when I’m being a midwife. Time has flown by.
The Congress started with a March for More Midwives. I arrived at the start line by myself and waited for some friends at the top of the hill. Midwives from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Trinidad, Australia, England, and Germany all started to arrive. I couldn’t help it, my eyes actually filled with tears and my heart swelled with pride for all the midwives – my family. It was suddenly very clear to me that I was a part of something so much bigger than myself, an absolutely enormous community of people who are dedicated to keeping moms and babies safe. To be precise, more than 4200 midwives were in Toronto this week, from over 112 countries. And those were the people who could attend the conference, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of midwives who were still working at home, massaging a labouring woman’s back, hands poised at the perineum, or resuscitating a newborn… Sometimes it’s hard to think that you’re making a difference when you’re alone in a clinic room explaining glucose screening to a parent but when you find yourself in a space like the ICM Congress, you feel like you’re a part of a collective consciousness, all with one common goal.
I listened to research from Ethiopia, the UK, Australia, and Switzerland to name a few. Some of my favourites were about vaginal seeding, AIDS, and domestic violence in pregnancy. I got tonnes of free midwifery swag and resisted buying beautiful artwork, a birthing stool, and other wicked stuff (graduation presents, please!). I left feeling totally inspired.
I’m sure the conference meant different things to everyone but to me, it was about being united. It was about energy – to inspire, to strengthen, to share knowledge.
The best part about the conference didn’t even happen at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, it happened on the subway. I was wearing my purple CAM scarf and navigating through some travellers when a woman stopped me and said: “A Canadian midwife! I’m so glad I’ve found you.” Turns out she’s a midwife too, she’s lost on the subway, and we’re going the same direction… so we hop on the train together. She told me that she was just about ready to quit being a midwife after over 20 years of practice. The challenges as an Indigenous midwife in her country are getting harder every year, she was defeated. Until now. “This is your stop, I’m so happy you’re rejuvenated…” I said. “Thank you.” She said, “This conference has made me feel strong… 4200 midwives strong.” And with that the subway doors opened, she pumped her fists into the air and left.