Fermanagh midwife “unphased” by disability wins award

Mum Sarah Griffiths is pictured with midwife of the year Brenda McCabe and baby Daisy
Mum Sarah Griffiths is pictured with midwife of the year Brenda McCabe and baby Daisy

A Co Fermanagh woman has been named the Northern Ireland ‘Midwife of the Year’ after she was nominated for the award by a disabled mum who said she was “went out of her way” to research potential complications as a result of the disability.

Brenda McCabe, from Roslea, was nominated for the ‘Emm’as Diary Mum’s Midwife of the Year 2019’ award by Sarah Griffiths, from Lisnaskea.

As a mother with cerebral palsy who is a wheelchair user, Sarah frequently came up against a lack of knowledge and a resistance among health care professionals. Pregnancy with a physical disability is, as Sarah herself proclaims, “not the norm”.

Thinking there was no alternative, Sarah had an elected C-section with her first pregnancy but after meeting Brenda, when pregnant with her second baby, any feelings of stress and anxiety quickly vanished. Brenda’s attitude and approach were a breath of fresh air and Sarah was lucky enough to receive her care both in hospital and at the Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC) clinic that she ran.

Brenda fully supported Sarah’s desire for a VBAC and took time to give her all the information she needed, backed up by the latest evidence and best practice. Brenda empowered Sarah to see herself as any other pregnant mum and in the end, Sarah made the informed choice to have an elected C-section and her beautiful daughter, Daisy, was born.

Brenda is a huge advocate of the importance of supporting good mental health in families as well as offering breastfeeding support, which for Sarah was vital in bonding with her baby – especially as her disability meant she needed assistance with other areas of her baby’s care. Brenda has set up support groups locally and is currently looking into setting up a postnatal debriefing service to help parents through any trauma, protecting mental health further and in turn increase mother and baby bonds.

Sarah Griffiths who nominated Brenda for the award, explains: “Not only was Brenda completely unphased by any potential complications as a result of my disability but she went out of her way to research this with me and then assured me there was no reason whatsoever that my baby’s birth could not be an amazing, magical experience. Thanks to Brenda my second pregnancy and delivery was an exciting and completely relaxed, joyous experience. I had a plan to cover every eventuality and I knew no matter what, she was there for me.

She continued: “Brenda delivers patient centred care at all times. Not only does she have mother and baby at the heart of her care but she is also meticulous in ensuring fathers are very much included and recognises their vital role in the whole process. Breastfeeding is one thing that only I can do for my baby and when suffering with the baby blues at one of Brenda’s postnatal visits, feeling disappointed over my baby’s weight, Brenda reminded me that I was a competent breast feeder and was able to help me reframe my thinking and focus. Brenda’s support and encouragement has meant that my breastfeeding journey has flourished, and I am now a peer support mum for the local breastfeeding group.”

On winning the award Brenda McCabe, Community Midwife Team Lead for the Western Health and Social Care Trust adds: “I feel privileged that a mum felt it fitting to nominate me for this award. It is a great honour and something I will cherish throughout my career. I would like to thank Sarah for her very thoughtful nomination as it took time and effort to do this at a point when Sarah would have been very busy looking after Miss Daisy and her brother Dexter with Sarah’s husband’s, Danny’s support. Sarah is an amazing and inspirational person who never sees anything as a problem, she only sees solutions. I honestly believe that fate brought Sarah and I together.

“However, I have no doubt had any other midwife in my team had the privilege of meeting Sarah, they too would have provided the same care and attention that Sarah felt I had given. I am very lucky to have been a ‘home grown’ Western Trust midwife, starting my midwifery training within the Altnagelvin Hospital’s Maternity Unit in Derry/Londonderry and completing it in the Erne Hospital in Enniskillen. I have met many inspirational managers, mentors and colleagues who have made me what I am today. I can only accept this award as part of a team as its team work that enables effective midwifery care. I hope that this award will portray that the Western Trust is an amazing place to work with many opportunities to be rewarded both professionally and personally.”

Emma’s Diary said it received a record 953 nominations from mums across the UK. All entries were put through a meticulous judging process by a panel of representatives from both Emma’s Diary and the RCM, culminating in seven regional winners.

The RCM’s Annual Awards, now in its 17th year, will be hosted for the first time by popular TV presenter Alex Jones on 5th March 2019.

Gill Walton, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, says: “This is a truly uplifting story with a wonderful outcome for Sarah and her baby. Brenda put Sarah at the centre of her care and focused on her needs and wishes. She empowered Sarah to make informed choices during her pregnancy and Daisy’s birth, using evidence based practice. I congratulate Brenda on this award, for her commitment, skill and passion for her work.”