Babies, Babies and More Babies

MY16_Babies-Kirstin-ConningsHow many babies can you see into the world without ever losing that wonder and joy of a new life? ‘Never,’ says Kristin Collings who is about to retire from 45 years of midwifery, 35 of them here on the Kapiti Coast. 

Over those years she has tended to about 1500 women in Wellington, Ōtaki, Waikanae and Kapiti, 1320 of them as an independent midwife.

Kristin hails from Stokes Valley, trained as a registered nurse in Wellington, and spent three years working abroad. While working in France before returning to St Helen’s Maternity Hospital in Wellington to do her midwifery before settling in Te Horo with her husband Mike in 1979. They bought Timberley Gardens in Te Horo off the State Highway.

What was it about midwifery that prompted her to change from nursing, undergoing further training in the process?  She says she was working in France as a general nurse together with another who was a midwife and became fascinated by the whole process of birth. General training gave new nurses a wee teaser of maternity work but working alongside a midwife prompted her to complete further education in midwifery. She loved it right from the start and found her true niche.

When she and Mike moved to Te Horo she was approached by the then matron of the Ōtaki Maternity Hospital where she worked for twelve years until it closed down to became a Birthing Unit. It was at that time that the new legislation allowing midwives to work independently was passed and in 1990 Kristin took the opportunity to work independently.

Former Ōtaki doctor, Anne Smith suggested she apply to the Waikanae Health Centre where there was a vacancy for a practice nurse who was also a midwife. She remained there for twelve years. She tells the story of elderly women coming to the practice for their annual cervical smears cackling with laughter to each other that they were here to see the midwife.

When she left the Waikanae Health Centre in 1998 she went totally independent and joined the independent midwifery practice at Nikau. She loved the kaupapa and philosophy of that practice. 

She has seen great changes in the role of midwives over that period as women moved from being patients under the care of doctors to becoming women in control of their own birthing experiences.  Midwives were no longer the handmaids to doctors but worked directly with women building up a trust by the time of delivery. She believes the outcomes are much better.

‘What’s next?’ I asked. After the adrenaline rush of midwifery she is taking her time in slowing down and deciding. There is her wonderful garden and a spot of fishing in Taupo with Mike. They will probably be able to get away more often now she is not on call to the vagaries of baby delivery times. Reconnecting with the community is on her list after a frenetic life on call.

I asked her for some memories. ‘Well’ she said, ‘there are the town and country babies.’ I raised an eyebrow as she explained she had a client, carrying twins who went into labour quickly. As Kristin rushed her to Paraparaumu Hospital it was clear they were not going to make it to the specialist in Wellington. One baby was born in Paraparaumu as they whipped the mother and new baby into the ambulance to Wellington Hospital where the second twin was safely delivered. All in a day’s exciting and wondrous work for this intrepid midwife.

Life will indeed be very quiet now.