An Inspiring Celebration and Global Call for More Midwives
In late June, I had the honor of attending the 31st Triennial Congress of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), in Toronto, Canada. The theme was, “Midwives---Making a Difference in the World”. I’d heard rumors that more than a 1000 midwives attended these events, but as I arrived at the Toronto Convention Center on the first day, the numbers didn’t look like they’d add up. Helpful ushers guided the us down escalators to the meeting rooms below......far below, it turned out. There are at least four levels of conference facilities below ground level. As the escalators delivered us 3 levels down, the noise of a crowd became louder and louder. A colorful, diverse, mass of people soon came into view. Midwives from more than 100 countries filled a vast lobby. They held flags from their countries and many dressed in traditional costume, and waited for the Opening Ceremony doors to open. They spoke the languages of Africa, Asia, the Americas, and beyond. The excitement and anticipation was palpable.
The doors soon opened to a massive room, with seats for thousands; more than 4,000 it turned out. Many midwives sat with colleagues from their countries, hundreds from New Zealand, UK, USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Kenya, Mali, France, Italy, Philippines, Indonesia, and many more. The conference was opened by Ontario Regional Chief, Isadore Day, from Serpent River First Nation, Ontario. Chief Day spoke with eloquence and humor, and deep reverence for his heritage and Mother Earth. A fitting way to kick off a conference focusing on maternal and neonatal health, through the care of midwives.
For the next two hours, we were honored to be entertained by many incredible talents, including Midwife Alison Walker, who beautifully sang the Canadian National Anthem (in French and English!); Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith, a leader in indigenous performance and dance; Ms. Abelone Melesse a 21(!) year old rapper who is the National UNICEF Ambassador to Ethiopia; two Inuit Throat Singers; Lisa Odjig-Hoop Dancer, who has danced before Queen Elizabeth, using up to 17 hoops at a time; Jade’s Hip Hop Academy dancers (amazing) and fantastic fiddler/step-dancer Stephanie Cadman. Perhaps the most moving part of the afternoon was the parade of nations, where a representative from each country carried their flag in procession, placing them on the stage, creating a colorful backdrop for the week. Optimism filled the room; we know there’s so much work to be done, but the connections and friendships made during this week will turn into positive action, benefitting pregnant people, their families and communities world-wide.
The following four days offered an overwhelming schedule of provocative scientific presentations and skills workshops. Topics ranged from access to ultrasound in developing countries, to leadership development, to preserving vaginal breech skills, to building cultural understanding, to increasing access to VBAC, to LGBTQ & trans people’s health care, to abortion access, and hundreds more. The plenary sessions focused on the promising impact that midwifery care has had, and will have, on the health of refugees, indigenous and aboriginal people, and other vulnerable communities around the world.
A highlight of the week was a presentation by Ms. Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations. She discussed the role of midwives in increasing humanity & compassion in the world, as well as the connection between human rights and midwifery care. It was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard.
Make your plans now for the 32nd ICM, which will be in Bali, Indonesia, in 2020. It promises to be another inspiring, powerful event and there’s so much to learn!
Lauri Hughes, CPM, RM, CLC