Today’s guest is Romola, and Romola and I have been going to church together for a while, probably a long while …
Probably nearly thirty years.
But we sit on opposite sides of the church. I don’t know if your church has that problem but our church, often you don’t talk quite so much to people who sit on the opposite side.
It’s too noisy on your side. It’s quieter on ours.
So Romola and Peter have four children and they’re all pretty grown up now.
Yep, the youngest is about to turn 18 this year. So they’ll all be adults.
Amazing. And having had a few people on the podcast who’ve been working in some aspect or other of palliative care, I thought I’d come and talk to Romola because she works on the opposite end of the spectrum, being a midwife.
So you are very welcome, thank you for joining us.
So we always start with how did you become a Christian?
OK well I was born into a Christian family. My parents and all my grandparents were Methodist and I grew up in the Methodist church, my dad was the superintendent of the Sunday School and played the organ in church, my mum was in the choir. So I’ve always believed. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God or in the Bible. I grew up with a very strong sense of being loved by Jesus.
But then I did sort of, it was more head-knowledge really, I turned away a little bit as a teenager.
When I was 13 my mum died of breast cancer. So that, well there’s never a good time to lose your mum but for a 13 year-old girl it was pretty hard.
So I didn’t lose my faith, I kept going to church, but it was really just something you did on a Sunday and the rest of my week I wasn’t really living as a Christian. And that went on for a while.
And then when I moved to Australia, I started going to a Bible study group. My cousin who lives here, who I’m still quite close to, used to do a KYB class at her house. And I knew she had this but I was never really interested in going along.
So KYB is Know Your Bible. I know there’s KYM which is Know Your Midwife, as well.
Oh yeah, that’s right.
No this is nothing to do with being a midwife.
So I asked her what they were doing this particular term in Bible study, and they were studying Revelation. Which I knew nothing about. I’d never even heard a sermon on Revelation. It was totally new to me. So I thought, ‘that sounds interesting.’
She said, ‘Come along.’
So I said, ‘I’ll just come for one term. I don’t want to actually join the Bible Study.’ But I think I was actually in that study group for about 20 years, at least.
It made me realise how much I didn’t know. And it was through that Bible study group that I came to have a real relationship with Jesus and to really understand what it meant and that it wasn’t just about going to church on Sunday. We had an amazing Bible study teacher, Norah, who’d been a teacher, and she’d been a missionary in Paris. She was incredible. There was nothing that this lady didn’t know about the Bible. And she was able to answer every question. And I had so many questions.
There were times when I thought, ‘She won’t know this.’ But she always had an answer. And it wasn’t that I was trying to catch her out. I was really seeking. The Bible says that whoever earnestly seeks the truth will find it. And I feel that I really did, through that.
There’s a difference between argument for argument’s sake and asking questions.
Yeah, and really wanting to know what the truth is. And, you know, having a faith that’s based on the truth, and not just what you want to believe.
So it wasn’t one particular moment that I became a Christian, but I think over those years my faith grew.
As a teenager I’d been to a Billy Graham rally in the UK and that had a big effect too. He was incredible. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.
So there’s been various times.
So there wasn’t a time where, as an adult, you thought, ‘Right, this is it, I’m drawing a line in the sand here.’?
No it was much more gradual than that. Although there was a time when suddenly I felt as though everything made sense in regards to the Bible.
We were studying Genesis, so the other end of the Bible, and I’d been brought up, you know, on Sunday it was Adam and Eve, and in school it was, we’ve evolved from apes. I could never really understand how both those things could be true. And whenever I’d asked it was always, ‘Oh well, the Bible’s not necessarily literally true.’ And that was never good enough for me. It’s either true, or it’s not true.
And we were doing this class at Bible study on Genesis. And I suddenly realised that everyone else in the room actually believed that God created the world in six days. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t stay here, they’re all crazy.’ Because I had so many questions.
But again, Norah, it was amazing, gave me lots of things to read and tapes to listen to and one day it was like a light bulb had gone on in my head and it just sort of made sense. And I realised that no other explanation for the world makes any sense. This is true.
Fantastic. And we were talking a couple of weeks ago to Jenny Baxter, she lost her mum at 16 and she was talking about the whole coming into motherhood thing without your mum there beside you.
Yes, I’ve listened to her. Yeah that was a hard time. When you get married and when you have your own babies it’s really difficult. So that’s been an ongoing struggle. But knowing that my mum was a believer and is in heaven, that’s always helped me.
And you came over to Australia from the UK?
Yeah, so I did midwifery training in the UK and then after that I decided to come and visit my cousins that were living over here. So my uncle was an Anglican minister, and he came out in the 70s with his four children. So I took the opportunity to come out just for a holiday. And really liked it and got back to Manchester and it was cold, grey sky, raining. And I thought, ‘Mmm, I might go back to Australia where it’s nice and warm.’
So I came back for a working holiday, I worked at Calvary Hospital for a little while. And at the end of that I applied for residency and was very fortunate, I believe it was meant to be. It’s certainly not as easy now. But I got residency and got a job at Calvary and worked there for a few years. And then went to the Hobart Private, and now I’m working at the Royal.
So what made you choose midwifery?
I think I decided I wanted to be a midwife around the age of 14 or 15. I’d always been one of those kids that loved babies. I used to go and knock on doors and say, ‘Can I take your baby for a walk?’
She does the same thing at church.
When I had my own children I realised why they were always so glad to see me. They just pushed the pram out the door with the baby in it and off I’d go. And I’d walk up and down the street pushing babies and I was as happy as could be.
And that was in the days of the big old-fashioned prams with the big wheels.
So anything to do with babies, and I was always fascinated by anything to do with pregnancy or birth or breastfeeding or all that. I was passionate.
So I did my general nursing, but really so that I could do mid. So I went straight on to do midwifery at St Mary’s in the UK. And when I came to Australia, in Tasmania there was a bit of a shortage of midwives at the time so I was lucky enough to get a job as a midwife here.
And you obviously met Peter over here?
Yep. So I met Peter after I got my residency, I met Peter through a friend. And he wasn’t a Christian at the time. But I could see in him Christian values and I was very sure that he would become a Christian. And he was very happy to come along to church and learn and he became a Christian quite early on.
So how does your faith show through midwifery?
Well, I’m not somebody that goes around talking about it a lot I suppose. As I get older I do probably more. But just knowing that, I mean I pray a lot. And I’ve prayed a lot in situations at work. And just to know that God’s in control of all those situations is hugely reassuring.
There’s been some really interesting times where I’ve met women, and this has happened on several occasions, where women have said to me that they’d prayed for a Christian midwife, and they’d got me. And I just think, wow, that’s amazing. To think that you are the answer to somebody’s prayer.
Being with women at that time of their life, it’s the most incredible time of their life, for the woman and the family. And to be able to be involved in that, it’s not a job, it’s a real privilege. And I just think that every birth is special, and every baby is a miracle. To me it’s a miracle from God, it’s not just a job that you do from 9 to 5.
Definitely not 9 to 5 because most babies are born at night.
And I had a really interesting conversation with a lady not that long ago at work. She was a Muslim lady. She came in, and she was having an iron transfusion, she was anaemic. And I could see she was quite troubled. And we got talking, I was asking about her children, she started to tell me that she was worried about some of the things that her children were being taught in childcare, not even school yet, and some of the things that are going on in the world. And we got chatting because I was with her for about an hour.
And she was worried about where to send them to school because she was worried about the secular education. And I said, ‘Have you thought about sending your children to a Christian school?’ She said, ‘Yes I have, actually. In fact, I’ve been sitting out there in the waiting room, praying that my midwife would be a Christian.’
So I thought, ‘This is amazing.’
She was a Muslim woman?
Yeah, so we had a really amazing conversation and had a lot of the same values. She’s worried about the things that we worry about with regards to her children. So we had a good chat. We talked about the Bible. She told me that she believed in Jesus but as a prophet. I didn’t take that any further at the time because I didn’t feel that that was where God was leading me. I felt that I was just meant to be by her side and care for her, and be her friend.
And when she was leaving I asked her, I just said, ‘I hope everything goes well with your birth, and would you mind if I pray for you and your baby?’ And she just started crying, and she said, ‘I’ve got a big Muslim family, but I’ve never had anyone ask if they could pray for me before.’ And she had tears down her face.
Yeah, so there’s been times like that where I think God’s put you in a place. I don’t think he brings people in to your life by accident. I think often there’s a reason.
Because it’s not always a happy occasion, is it?
No. No, there’s been sad times. Looking after women who have been having a still-birth, that’s happened several times in my career. And that’s really difficult. In fact, there was one time where I’d looked after a lady all day in labour, knowing that her baby had died. And she gave birth, and it was an exhausting shift, obviously. And distressing.
Anyway, I went home, and Peter and I were going away for the weekend. His brother had a shack (beach house) on the East Coast at the time. So we went there for the weekend, and we went out to the pub for dinner. Walked in, and who should be there but this lady and her husband, who I’d looked after.
I thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I tried to back out because I thought I’m the last person who she wants to see. They’ve obviously come away to grieve and recover. So I tried to get away, but they saw me. So we went over.
Anyway, they invited us to have a drink with them and we spent the whole evening debriefing. It was hard, but I think it was meant to be.
Sometimes we need to put ourselves aside.
Sometimes you want to just back away, but you can’t.
So there’s been a few difficult times like that. And there’s been really amazing times.
My happiest memory of being a midwife is probably in the UK because part of our training was in the community. So we were able to go out with the district midwife and do home births. And delivering a baby at home was amazing. Because that’s how birth should be. It should be normal. Unfortunately, it’s been so medicalised I think it’s really sad that a lot of women now have been so frightened that they’ve lost their confidence to give birth. So to be able to be in a home environment and be part of how it should be was amazing. I’ll never forget that.
I know I asked you were there any special memories that you had?
Well that was definitely one. Home births was one.
Just a lot of the people that I’ve met over the years. I’ve made a lot of really good friends. A close friend is someone that I’d looked after in labour.
There’s so many because every birth is special and a miracle.
I looked after a lady in the UK who had triplets. That was really amazing. She had been told she couldn’t have any children. And then she went on to some medication and had twins. And four years later she was pregnant again and she went for a scan and they said, ‘Oh there’s two babies.’ And then when she had her next scan there were three babies. So she was too scared to have any more scans after that.
And she was in hospital quite a long time for rest so I got to know her quite well. She had a beautiful, normal birth of triplets that you probably would never see now.
Because I was just thinking, comparing the palliative care and the midwifery. With palliative care there is a long period of time there, it’s not a short thing, but with midwifery, often, I know that the midwife I had, especially for Caleb, it was totally a special time. But I don’t even remember her name.
That’s right. You do build up a relationship. And as a midwife you get very good at building up a relationship with a woman in labour in quite a short time. It’s a skill that you learn. And they always remember you, they might not remember your name, but I often will be out somewhere at the shops or whatever and someone will say, ‘Oh you looked after me, you delivered my baby.’ I won’t remember them but they remember their midwife. It’s an important relationship.
It’s nice if you can get to know women through their pregnancy. I meant that’s the great thing about the KYM scheme at the Royal, the Know Your Midwife. That you can get to know that midwife before you’re in labour.
But there’s so many unknowns about how long it’s going to take, whether you’re going to be on your shift for it.
Absolutely, yeah, it’s definitely unknown. Babies are not 9 to 5, they come when they’re ready.
Not from before birth, not during birth, not after.
And women go home so soon now. When I was training women would be in hospital for often quite a long time before the baby was born because they might be there for rest. Then they’d have the baby, then they’d be in for several days afterwards. Now women go home, often after four hours, which is fantastic if you’ve got the support at home. If you haven’t I think it can be a bit difficult.
Four hours is such a short time.
I think so, yeah.
If somebody wanted to become a midwife what would you, if there’s a young girl listening, what would you say?
I think it’s a fantastic career, definitely. Yes, there is a young lady at church who has just qualified as a nurse who wants to be a midwife so I’m encouraging her. I think, you can go straight into midwifery now you don’t have to do general training, but I think it’s probably a good idea to be a nurse as well, because a lot of women have underlying medical conditions that it’s a good idea to know about.
But you can go straight into midwifery, but it’s definitely, it’s not a job, it’s a vocation. And you need to be passionate about it. You’ve got to have patience. You’ve got to be able to do shift work, long hours. And it’s not something that you just come home and forget about at the end of the day.
But definitely very rewarding.
Awesome. When do you feel close to God?
I feel very close to God in church, I feel close to God when I’m listening to hymns. I think that’s the one thing that I’ve found that I miss from my Methodist church days coming here to St Clements is that we don’t have as many hymns, which I really miss. They remind me of my dad, my granddad. I remember singing them.
I think the time I’ve felt closest to God in my whole life would be when my dad died. My dad passed away in 2010 and I was here and he was in the UK. So I had a phone call to say that he’d had a fall. Initially, my brother said I didn’t need to rush over there, but about two days later things went downhill. So I got the phone call and had to make the crazy dash over to the UK.
It was the middle of summer here, 28 degrees every day, beautiful weather. The UK was having the coldest winter in forty years and every airport was closed except for one which wasn’t anywhere near where I needed to be. So it was quite traumatic.
I’d had two nights of no sleep, then the flight to the UK, then couldn’t land anywhere, then a big drive to get to the hospital where my dad was, and not knowing whether he was still alive, or whether I’d get there in time.
But I did get there in time, so I sat with him for the night, he wasn’t conscious and he died the next day. So I was grateful that I was there.
But I had a very, very strong sense of God’s presence with me. I knew there were a lot of people here praying for me. I could almost feel their prayers. So although I was sad, I wasn’t devastated. It was as good as it could be. It was peaceful.
In fact, before Dad died, even though he’d been unconscious the whole time, the Chaplain came in and said The Lord’s Prayer, and right at the end of that Dad opened his eyes and looked at me, and we were able to say goodbye. And he just gave a big sigh and passed away.
And it was incredible because the Chaplain actually said to me afterwards, ‘Something really amazing happened there. I’ve been doing this job for many years and I’ve never experienced anything like that. I felt his spirit leave the room.’ And I did too. And I really felt God’s presence in that room, it was incredible.
Otherwise I don’t think I would have been able to deal with it all.
I’m thinking you’re there, and you’re without your support network …
I’d had to leave my four children and rush over there, and financially it was hard because we hadn’t planned for that trip, and I was exhausted, but I knew God was with me.
That’s fantastic. And what’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
This is a brilliant question.
There’s probably two things.
One is, I wish people could understand that Christianity is not religion. I hate it when people say to me, ‘Oh you’re religious, oh you go to church, you must be religious.’ Because I don’t feel religious. And I don’t think Jesus was religious. He didn’t have a lot of time for people who were very religious. I wish people could understand that it’s about a relationship. It’s about having a relationship with God through Jesus. And that’s so different. Because if we had to be religious, I’d fail, straight away.
And it’s just knowing that it’s not about following rules and regulations. I’ve had friends say to me, ‘I believe in God but I don’t want my life to change, I don’t want to have to follow rules.’ But it’s not about that. Being a Christian actually gives you freedom.
Not freedom to do whatever you like, but freedom from the burden of sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from having to worry about when you die. That’s true freedom, I think. And I just wish I could get that over to people, but I don’t think they get it, really.
And what was the other thing? I think that a lot of people think of being a Christian is just another religion and that they’re all kind of the same and it doesn’t really matter. You can believe in God or you can be a Muslim and it’s the same. But it’s not the same. There’s a big difference between following a religion and being in a relationship with God.
And I don’t think any of the other ‘religions’ offer that at all. You’re under a lot of pressure if you have to be good.
Well, thank you very much for sharing with us today, it was very precious.