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Labour of love is an honour for Lismore’s Midwife of the Year

Midwife Renay James holds her Dorothy Edwards Scholarship award

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Tamara Hamilton
Published
31 May 2024

To describe Renay James’ midwifery career as a ‘labour of love’ is far more than a play on words. For the mum of three teenage daughters, being awarded the Our Kids Dorothy Edwards Education Scholarship for ‘Midwife of the Year’ is recognition of her passion for the job, as well as sacrifices made for her career.

A Lismore Base Hospital midwife of 20 years, Southern Cross University alumnus Renay admits her role, while highly rewarding, is often hard on her body, mind and family.

“My children know that I love what I do, that it makes me a better person and a better mum,” Renay said.

“I could not have achieved any of this without their support, as well as the love and support of my parents and my husband of 22 years, Luke."

Renay became a Registered Nurse in 2000, then returned to study several years later to earn her Midwifery qualification and realise her dream of working with babies.

She remembers her first time helping to bring new life into the world as ‘an amazing experience’.

“It is such a special moment in people’s lives and to be part of their journey is an honour. Witnessing a birth for the first time is something you never forget,” she said.

Nor, it seems, do some parents forget Renay.

“I walked down the street one day in Casino and a man said to me, ‘Oh, you were at my child's birth’. His child was 13!” Renay exclaimed. “They remember because parents place extraordinary trust in a midwife.”

“You’re not just looking after one person, usually you’re looking after two, and those lives are in your hands, especially through labour and birth.”

Renay has seen many changes in maternity and birthing during her career, including a growth in knowledge about birthing choices among mothers-to-be, and an increase in shared decision-making between women and their care team. 

Renay welcomes the evolution and is always open to new information from colleagues.

“I always learn so much from the new career midwives,” she said, “we rely on each other. It's not just me teaching them, it's them teaching me as well.”

“It is such a special moment in people’s lives and to be part of their journey is an honour. Witnessing a birth for the first time is something you never forget.”

Three midwives cut a cake for International Day of the Midwife

Congratulating Renay on her award, Lismore Base Hospital Midwifery Manager Amber Dalby praised her as “empathetic, adaptive, gentle, kind, and a great listener.”

“Renay is acknowledged for being an exceptional midwife who intuitively provides compassionate and knowledgeable care of a high standard to women and families,” Amber said.

While an event such as International Day of the Midwife helps to raise awareness of the role, Renay believes the wider community has limited understanding of the specialised skills that are needed in her job.

“You certainly need to be a super caring and empathetic person,” Renay said, “but you also need to be able to quickly build a rapport, often reading between the lines to realise what is really going on with someone.”

Southern Cross Faculty of Health Executive Dean and Professor of Midwifery, Julie Jomeen believes the relationships that midwives build are vital for a healthy and happy transition into motherhood.

“Midwives make an invaluable contribution, often through their unseen work, building relationships that support the mother’s emotional wellbeing and that of their baby, not just in those early days but across their lifetime,” Julie said.

As a registered lactation consultant – another ‘labour of love’ – Renay believes her future lies in child and family health nursing and breastfeeding support.

“I would love to support families in their postnatal journeys as their babies are growing,” she said, “to give parents the resources they need and to empower them to give their children a great start in life.”

The ‘Midwife of the Year’ award is supported by the Our Kids Dorothy Edwards Trust Fund, that was established with funding from Noel Edwards in memory of his wife who was Nursing Unit Manager of Midwifery at Lismore Base Hospital for many years. 

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