A midwife's legacy, Elaine McArthur reflects on 50 years

Elaine McArthur reflects on half a century as a Katherine midwife


Life & Style
NEXT STEP: Retiring today, Elaine McArthur, holding newborn Savannah Winn at Katherine Hospital, leaves behind a legacy of support, patience and kindness.

NEXT STEP: Retiring today, Elaine McArthur, holding newborn Savannah Winn at Katherine Hospital, leaves behind a legacy of support, patience and kindness.

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Elaine McArthur has shared treasured memories with likely thousands of Katherine mothers.

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Elaine McArthur has shared treasured memories with likely thousands of Katherine mothers.

After more than half a century of delivering babies and mentoring students and doctors, the nurse and midwife Mrs McArthur is retiring. 

Arriving in Katherine in 1981 with her then husband, a truck driver, Mrs McArthur started work as a nurse at Community Health - which was situated in a building next to Kintore St School. 

The population was at around 2000 and while the hospital was smaller she remembers it being much busier as people stayed longer to recover. 

Katherine was made up mostly of meat workers and truck drivers and she would regularly visit Indigenous camps along the river to provide support to expectant mothers. 

With 38 years of experience working in the Katherine region, Mrs McArthur has seen significant changes to both the town and the workings of the hospital. 

On her last day, today, feeling a mix of excitement and sadness, she reflects on the strong connections she has made with thousands of new mothers and their families

The 67-year-old said she didn't take to midwifery at first, but through perseverance, she grew to love it. 

"I only wanted to be a nurse," she said. 

Elaine McArthur at the back in the middle with Di and Sue at Katherine Hospital. Picture: Katherine Hospital.

Elaine McArthur at the back in the middle with Di and Sue at Katherine Hospital. Picture: Katherine Hospital.

"I was living in a small country town in NSW and to work at the hospital there you had to be a midwife as well." 

While she did not get a chance to step foot in the hospital with her new qualifications, she is now thankful she was pushed into the role. 

"At first it was a love hate relationship. The deep connections you make with people in labour made it worth it," she said. 

"People don't forget you when you have been through labour with them, that is why people stay as midwives. 

People don't forget you when you have been through labour with them, that is why people stay as midwives. - Elaine McArthur

"If you are sitting there for 16 hours with an expectant mother and her husband they will know something about you and you about them. It is a strong connection." 

It was the strong connection with her team at the hospital as well, which kept her in place for so long. 

"The team spirit here is special, when I had cancer cut out of my eye it was the midwives who were my biggest supporters.

"While I hope it stays that way, I see a difference with students and midwives coming and going so quickly. 

"It used to be such an effort for people to get to Katherine, that once they did they stuck around for a year or so. Now we see people for six weeks.

"If they stayed longer they would develop pride in the hospital, and that is something we really need."

After many years of work, Mrs McArthur knows the hospital's corridors like the back of her hand.

She was the last person to leave the maternity ward in the 1998 flood - women in the middle of delivery are quite hard to transport. 

Elaine McArthur is excited to spend more time with her family and volunteering with her church.

Elaine McArthur is excited to spend more time with her family and volunteering with her church.

"We had a grand-multi. We were expecting a quick birth but it took three hours," she said. 

"Water was lapping around the place, but we couldn't hurry her up."

Soldiers were waiting to take the last remaining staff to the temporary set up at RAAF Base Tindal, making for a hurried and stressful experience.

"We didn't know what was happening, the water came up half way to the hall and apparently there were snakes and kangaroos trying to keep dry.

"The aftermath of the flood was tasking as well, we were cramped in because we had medical records, pathology and medical and surgical all moved to the maternity ward. The tea room was a bombshell."

I have been through two floods and I had to leave before a third. - Elaine McArthur

Over the years there have been big changes to healthcare, changing the lives of midwifes and for the most part, bettering the delivery experience for mothers, Mrs McArthur said. 

"When I trained the doctor was always involved, but now the doctor is only involved in abnormal births.

"Doctors were always in charge, but now with more of a team approach clients have more continuity of care. 

"Midwives are likely to be a constant throughout the pregnancy, building a good connection. 

"People feel more comfortable with people they have just met which is important for one of the most special times in someone's life." 

New parents Kate Finegan and Cam Winn with their new born baby Savannah Winn, spent much time with Elaine McArthur in the lead up to their delivery.

New parents Kate Finegan and Cam Winn with their new born baby Savannah Winn, spent much time with Elaine McArthur in the lead up to their delivery.

And while she sees that training is advancing, it is the basics of care that are slowly slipping. 

"I feel like I learnt how to really care for patients, these days you might walk into a room with a patient and the water jug is on the opposite side of the room. 

"Hospital training sees you learn to care for someone, but university training teaches you the theory."

Ending her last day with a small gathering of hospital staff and friends, Mrs McArthur said she will miss her co-workers who are now like family, and building connections with new mothers. 

Retirement now will mean more time to spend with her children and grandchildren, as well as volunteering  at her church and the Bethel Christian Book Shop. 

Third in from the right, Elaine McArthur celebrates Christmas at Katherine Hospital in 1993.

Third in from the right, Elaine McArthur celebrates Christmas at Katherine Hospital in 1993.

She won't be straying too far from the hospital either. Having recently trained to be a chaplain she plans to visit patients to provide support and advice. 

"I know the culture and the people and I wanted to stay connected to the hospital. After so many years here I couldn't imagine anything else," she said.

Clinical midwife manager Sara Potter has worked with Elaine McArthur for 20 years in different capacities and only has kind words to accompany her farewell.

"I have worked with Elaine as my senior and with me as her manager," Ms Potter said. 

"Her knowledge of surroundings and culture is amazing. She is a gentle educator and incredibly patient. 

"Over 20 years she must have orientated thousands of midwives and thousands of new doctors and she always does it with patience and kindness. 

"We are incredibly sad to see her go but excited to see her grow in the community."

Katherine Times

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