A New England midwife has set up an online prenatal class aimed at rural people who find it hard to get to a hospital maternity unit.

Story Ken Eastwood   Photo Antony Hands

The first person to buy a copy of Edwina Sharrock’s new online prenatal course Birth Beat was a huge surprise. Edwina had set up the course for remote, rural and regional women and men who have trouble getting to a maternity unit. “Forty-one maternity units have closed in the past few years, and 40 of them were in rural areas,” she says. Even if there is a maternity unit within a region, many rural people face a drive of several hours to get to it, which makes it hard to attend a prenatal class every week for a month.

So, Edwina assumed the first person to buy the course would be someone in the bush who was soon to have a baby and was keen to gain the information in their own home. But the first sale went to a pregnant doctor from Coogee, Sydney, who was just having difficulty getting to a course with her busy work schedule.

A qualified midwife and manager for emergency medical response in the New England and Newcastle regions, Edwina has been running her own Birth Beat prenatal classes in Tamworth for five years, teaching 1000 people face-to-face. She began to realise the pressing need for her classes when every course booked out, and people were travelling from as far away as Sydney to attend. “It made me realise that what I’m providing is a really good class,” she says. “My focus is the rural, regional and remote woman. Just because we live in the country we shouldn’t have to have sub-par medical care. There was a couple who came to my class from Cobar. Their nearest prenatal classes were in Dubbo. That’s 250 kilometres each way.”

So in 2017 she spent six months writing and videoing eight hours of content across six modules, which cover everything from birthing pain and positions, to swaddling a baby and breastfeeding. They include a combination of practical exercises, useful information and powerpoint slides. Throughout it all, Edwina keeps up a casual, easy banter free of jargon, and explains principles very easily. Her style is warm and homely rather than overly professional and icy.

“I’m anti-telling women their opinion or what to do,” she says. “I’m going to give you a whole lot of tools and you work out what’s best for you.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #119

Outback Magazine: June/July 2018