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Vomiting while helping birth a baby on the police launch Deodar while it was being tossed around in turbulent seas is one of the more interesting of Claire Eyes’ many midwifery experiences. The first-time mother was also vomiting and the two policemen were green around the gills while getting the woman and Claire from Waiheke Island to National Women’s Hospital in a really rough crossing of the Waitemata Harbour on a very stormy night. At that time, Claire had only recently gained her midwifery registration.
As a young midwife, Claire had managed births in the safety of maternity suites and with senior expert help at hand, but the experience on the Deodar was her first solo birth and the conditions couldn’t have been worse. Claire says it stood her in good stead as it made her think on her feet.
“Coming from a rural practice you get used to thinking on your feet when there is no ambulance or doctor on site, and you rely on your Midwifery colleagues,” she says.
It’s this resilience and ability to adapt to any situation that has helped Claire in her career as a remote and rural midwife based in Pukekohe.
In addition to the dramas, Claire has been a pioneer for midwives throughout the years, including fighting to have a mileage allowance for rural midwives retained after political changes at the time had planned to remove travel subsidies from the midwifery contract.
She was also instrumental in leading a community charge to keep the Pukekohe Birthing Unit open and in establishing the first water birthing pool in a birthing unit in New Zealand.
“It was an old Para pool and we had pipes from a bilge pump going out the delivery room window to empty it,” laughs Claire.“People thought it was some trendy new thing, but it provided women with the most natural pain relief assisting them in the labouring process, whilst keeping baby safe. It was a useful tool by itself, or with the use of gas, as a safe and very cost effective form of pain relief in healthy well women.”
“Seventy to eighty percent of women birthing at the Pukekohe Birthing Unit would use this medium either as pain relief or to birth their baby. Best of all, it means they can labour close to home with their family support systems nearby.”
Another trailblazing first for Claire and the team at Pukekohe was the establishment of a DHB and LMC midwifery-shared Maternity Resource Centre eleven years ago, which was the first in New Zealand to be based onsite at a hospital.
Throughout a varied and eventful career, Claire is still adamant that having continuity of care for mothers is crucial to ensure women are given options in their care.
“If we lose that continuity of care, women will also lose their ability to be part of the decision making process through the journey into parenthood. The continuity of care model is now well researched based, proven and internationally envied. Women must always have a voice and be the centre of care provided.”