RFDS midwives of the skies: Elation and heartbreak of birthing babies mid- air.


By Alice Roberts.

It is a career that sees families through one of the most joyous occasions of their lives — and sometimes, one of the most tragic and heartbreaking too — all made more challenging by doing it thousands of feet in the air.

Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) midwives are flown to some of the most remote locations across Australia to help expectant mothers deliver their babies.

Nurse and midwife Laura Foy has been assisting with births for more than a decade but said it had its own unique challenges when she performed the task high in the sky.

“We really don’t want to be having a baby on the plane,” she said.

(Image: ABC)

"If we think they're close enough to birthing their bub, we will actually wait there on site and then move mum and baby when they're both safe after the birth.


"One of the major reasons we don't want to birth a baby is because a lot of things can go wrong and it's safer to have a lot of support and other hands on deck to be around.

"In our aircraft — you can't actually stand up in them ... it's very small, what we refer to as a tin can — it's not a lot of space to be doing resuscitation and these life-saving manoeuvres."

Pre-term labour a shock for remote mums

Midwives worldwide are being celebrated on May 5 as part of the International Day of the Midwife.

It is a tough job but for Ms Foy, it has been a lifelong dream to work with the RFDS.

"I hate to admit it but I used to love watching the TV show as a little child and I used to think it would be a wonderful way to be able to help people," she said.

Many of the expectant mothers who need to call on the RFDS are those experiencing pre-term labour — going into labour before their due date.

Ms Foy said early labour could come as a shock to families.

"Quite often, when you're a first-time mum, you don't plan on having your prenatal classes until much later in your pregnancy," Ms Foy said.

"So when you go into premature labour, you haven't had a chance to know or learn too much about what the labour experience will entail.

"[Sometimes] when I'm flying with these women, I'm down the back giving a childbirth education class in between contractions on the way down to Brisbane or Townsville."

Delivering bad news 'gut-wrenching'

On occasion, it is also the role of the midwife to give heartbreaking news to families.

Ms Foy said one case that had stayed with her was of a woman who was full-term and receiving regular monitoring.

"I was trying to find the baby's heartbeat, it was difficult and I couldn't find anything," she said.

"I remember at that point she looked at me and said 'it's never taken you this long to find the heartbeat before'.

"With that we took her into the ultrasound room and unfortunately, yes, her baby had passed away."


She said conveying such news is "gut-wrenching" and can be hard to deal with.

"It's not the news that you want to be delivering to anybody," Ms Foy said.

"Saying that you're very sorry that your baby has died — that's a very tough thing to say to somebody but very important to be using that language so people can't misinterpret it or think that it's not actually happening."

She said in those times, it was about nurturing the family and helping them with their grief in any way possible.

"When you're having those conversations, in my experience I've found that it's more difficult for the fathers than it is for the mothers at that time," Ms Foy said.

"I think the mothers know. They have that maternal intuition and they know that baby is not moving around so for them, I think it's been in the back of their mind whereas for the fathers, I think it can come as a shock.

"I think most of us would go off and have a little bit of a cry, you're only human, that affects you.

"But it's important that you have a chance to debrief and generally, I find debriefing with my colleagues is the best way to get the support — they understand what that's like."

Delivering new life into world 'incredible'

After 11 years and hundreds of births, Ms Foy said sharing in the experience of bringing a new human into the world was like no other.

"It's incredible [and] I still love it," she said.

"Even though I used to ultrasound these babies all the time [in utero], it amazes me that the baby can look and live like that inside.

"Guaranteed every time if the dad cries, I'll be crying as well — it's just beautiful."

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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