Meet Áslaug Valsdóttir, President of the Icelandic Association of Midwives

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Áslaug Valsdóttir Iceland midwife

Brief introduction to yourself, including your member association, area of interest & expertise and why you decided to become a midwife:

My name is Áslaug Valsdóttir and currently I´m the President of the Icelandic Association of Midwives. Before that I was working in a very rural area as the only midwife and had the responsibility of antenatal care, birth for low risk women and postnatal care.

I´ve always felt inside that I would become a midwife so it was not a decision as such more just a logical step, even If I ended up taking that step rather late in life 😊. While growing up I enjoyed watching the natural flow of life and realized just how essential women were to that flow, even if there was little recognition of that in a male-dominated world. The questions I asked myself were: How did it happen that having a baby is now in a hospital under the watchful eye of a doctor even when mother and child are healthy? How come women have to see a doctor and request a prescription just to use contraceptives so that they can decide when they want to have a baby or not? How come doctors (mainly men) have been the most dominant in planning care for pregnant women? Why was this taken away from midwives in the first place?

What issues do you think impact the life of women and their newborns the most in your country?

Iceland is in many ways a very privileged country. All women here have easy access to a midwife during pregnancy and midwives attend nearly all births. We have very good outcomes for both mother and child and our main goal is to try and keep birth as normal as possible within a hospital setting and treat all women and theirs partner with respect. Doing all that is in within our power to make this life-changing experience a positive event in the life of the family.

What programmes currently exist in your country to support women and newborns, and do you think they are working? Why or why not?

In recent years, the trend has been to close birthing units around the country, which forces women to travel quite some distances to give birth in hospitals in the bigger towns. The good that has come out of this is that at least two places, instead of closing down,  allowed midwives to take over. Consequently, we currently have two midwifery-led care units where healthy, low-risk women can give birth and get antenatal care. Just about a year ago, midwives managed (after many years of fighting the system) to open a small birthing center in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík: the first in over 20 years! Here, low-risk women can get antenatal care and give birth. This increases the choice women have – at least, women experiencing a low-risk pregnancy – and having a choice in matters of giving birth is a very good thing, in my mind.

What could be improved by Governments and the public to save more lives of women and newborns?

Governments must follow the evidence and support an environment where optimal evidence-based practice is on offer for every woman, girl or newborn.

Another issue is that Icelandic midwives are getting older and we badly need assistance with the estimates of midwife workforce needed in the next few years. The government could assist by making it possible to educate more midwives, possibly by offering grants during study time.

What could be improved by Governments and the public to support midwives in delivering high-quality, respectful maternity care?

Here in Iceland, the Government could employ more midwives so that every midwife could give each woman the time and attention that she needs. They could also support midwives by making employment in rural areas more attractive by offering some kind of bonus for working there. The aim would be that midwives would be working in rural areas so that every woman would be able to get good antenatal care with a midwife without travelling long distances.

Aslaug Valsdottir Iceland Midwife poster

What do you love most about being a midwife?

The best part of being a midwife is the interaction with people. When attending a birth, you have to get to know people fast and you get to know them in a way that is different from knowing people on a daily basis.  And you have the privilege to be a witness to the moments in life when a whole new person is being introduced into the world and knowing that sometimes at least you make a difference in that process.

What progress is happening in your country, region, community or even just in your own professional life that excites you about the future of midwifery?

The newest project that we are quite excited about our new Twinning project: Twinning Up North. We are twinning with the Royal Dutch Organisation of Midwives (KNOV). I am hoping that the project will prove to empower midwives in both countries to take a stand, practice what they believe in and is evidence based, clinically sound, and to provide the right care at the right time. We need midwives in politics, in positions of power. We need to be heard and listened to – a force to be reckoned with when it comes to women’s reproductive and sexual health. That is what I hope that the future holds for us.