Podcast: Celebrating midwifery friendships with story competition winner Leanne O’Connor

NMS Podcast
Leanne O’Connor joins the Your Health Matters podcast to tell the story of her three-decade friendship with colleague Rowena.


Podcast details

Episode: 35
Guest: Leanne O’Connor
Duration: 15:37
Tags: friendship, collegiality, story competition
Soundcloud: Listen to Episode 35


We are delighted to introduce the winner of our story competition celebrating midwifery friendships. Competition winner and registered nurse Leanne O’Connor joins us on the podcast to discuss her friendship with fellow midwife Rowena and share her winning story.

Read the story: My Friend Rowena

Leanne (left) with her friend Rowena (right)
Leanne (left) with her friend Rowena (right)

Leanne’s story tracks her friendship with Rowena through training and acknowledges how they have helped each other to grow as passionate new midwives, supporting each other through the hard times. Leanne says:

“The friends we make in this profession are like no other. We share a passion and an understanding of each other that you simply cannot describe to someone outside of it.”

We discuss how our friendships help us through the tough times in this episode of the podcast and the previous episode with the winner of the nursing story competition, Mel Jesudason.

We’re here to support you through the stressful times too. Give us a call on 1800 667 877 or email us.

About Leanne O’Connor

About Leanne O’Connor

Leanne has been a registered nurse for 26 years and a registered midwife for 22 years.

Leanne has worked across all areas of midwifery mostly in a regional hospital in South West Victoria.

Although she has enjoyed many years working across all areas of midwifery and thrived on the buzz of working in birth suite, she has always had a passion for educating expectant and new parents working as a Childbirth Educator and in breastfeeding support.

This has seen Leanne become an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and recently change direction in her career to supporting breastfeeding mothers and their families. This is where her passion now lies, working in this role both in a public hospital and her own private practice.

Leanne’s story tells us about her friendship with Rowena of 25 years. She was inspired to put pen to paper when she heard of this competition as she had reached out to Nurse & Midwife Support herself during a recent tough time both personally & professionally. Her story is one of unconditional support she received from a colleague and friend.


Mark Aitken [0:09] Welcome to the Nurse & Midwife Support podcast: Your Health Matters. I'm Mark Aitken, the podcast host. I'm the Stakeholder Engagement Manager with Nurse & Midwife Support, and I'm a registered nurse. Nurse & Midwife Support is the national support service for nurses, midwives and students. The service is anonymous, confidential and free, and you can call us anytime you need support. 1800-667-877, or contact us via the website: nmsupport.org.au.

Hello, and welcome to the Nurse & Midwife Support podcast. It's my pleasure to announce the winner of the Nurse & Midwife Support 2022 Story Competition, celebrating the friendships of midwives, and the support those friends provide us. I'm delighted to say the winner this year is Leanne O'Connor for her story, 'My Friend Rowena.'

It was such a pleasure to read this story, and I'm so glad you entered the competition. Hello, and welcome, Leanne.

Leanne O’Connor [1:24] Thank you, Mark, and thank you for the opportunity to share my story.

Mark Aitken [1:28] Congratulations once again. I know that our listeners will enjoy hearing you read it as much as I've enjoyed reading it, several times. So if it's okay, we'll launch into hearing you read your story, 'My Friend Rowena.' Thank you.

Leanne O’Connor [1:47] Thank you, Mark.

My Friend Rowena.

In the beginning ... Let me tell you about my dear friend Rowena. We met early in our careers 24 years ago as RNs on a busy medical ward in a regional hospital in Victoria. I had completed my degree straight from high school, but Row had as a mature age student. It was a heavy workload before ratios and always a hard slog. They were the type of shifts where there were minimal breaks, bladders were bursting and feet were throbbing. We went home still thinking about the patients, fell into bed exhausted and wondered why we had chosen this career path. We shared the same life values, working as valuable team members, treating our mostly elderly patients like our own family, and making the best of each situation, venting to, and leaning on each other on those tough workdays. We shared the many frustrations of work conditions, a natural friendship easily blossomed and made coming to work with Row something to look forward to. We both had not grown up in the area living away from our families and quickly became like family to each other.

Becoming midwives ... We learned that we both had career aspirations to become midwives. In 1998 Row spent the year completing her Grad Dip in mid. I stayed on working full-time nights to save money to complete it the following year. Early days in our midwifery careers saw us working in different states from each other whilst we consolidated our skills, neither of us at the hospital where we had met. We were passionate new midwives, for us both it felt like a vocation, we were honoured to be part of such a precious time in a woman’s life. It almost seemed wrong to be getting paid for something that we loved so much.

Despite distance, we kept in touch and often spoke of the joy we'd found in our new roles. Midwifery is a profession that is mostly joyful but when there are lows or poor outcomes, they are devastating for women and their families but also for their midwives. We shared these experiences, always reflecting on our practices and leaning on each other from afar.

Moving on in our careers ... 2001 found both of us back in the place we had met working together briefly before Row welcomed her first of three children. We delighted in her new role as a mother. We went on to work with each other at that hospital for another 12 years. During that time, we welcomed three children each. Rowena was present at my births in 2004, 2008 and 2011. I felt safe and loved in her care and know this was due to her presence and support, she made a difference to my birth outcomes as she has to many women. How blessed I was to be on the end of her care. I was at the birth of her third child in 2005. These experiences brought our friendship to a whole new level.

In early 2005 I was struggling with breastfeeding my first born. Row, then a mum of two, got me through one of life’s toughest times as I know now to be likely undiagnosed post-natal depression. This inspired me to become a Lactation Consultant and I now support new parents with breastfeeding. For me this is the direction my career is now heading. Lactation Support is another passion we share with each other, Rowena has also recently gained this qualification. I am still working in regional Victoria, Rowena moved to Melbourne eight years ago, where she now works and for me, my workplace has not been the same since she left.

I have personally witnessed the care that Rowena gives to women and families. She shares knowledge and experience and cares with compassion and respect. Row empowers women and their families with reassurance and love like they are part of her own family. Her life values align with the care she gives, going above and beyond for her women, sometimes at the expense of time with her own loved ones. Who would not want to work with her or be cared for by her?

The physical time we spend together these days has been limited and recently COVID has complicated this further, but our friendship remains stronger that ever. We had a trip planned to Bali in 2020 for a Midwives Conference that may happen one day when the post-covid world settles.

Tough times ... The last three-four years have presented both personal and workplace challenges I have never experienced before so far in my life. I have been fortunate enough to be well-supported by workplace counselling and have accessed Nurse & Midwife Support on several occasions. I am grateful this service is available to nurses and midwives, it has been needed for a long time. As nurses and midwives we give so much of ourselves to our profession, we need to be mindful that there are times we need to care for us. I have recently learned this the hard way. We can’t pour from an empty cup. There have been times where a career I have loved for so many years has brought with it issues I have never thought I would have to deal with and made me question if I should leave the profession. I am hanging in there for brighter days ahead.

Our friendship ... Rowena is my rock especially in the toughest of times lately. Row has not changed since the day we met. It doesn’t matter if we haven’t spoken for weeks or months, we pick up where we left off. In May 2021, in between lockdowns when I was struggling, my husband surprised me with a visit to Row, just the therapy I needed. There are never any explanations I have to give to her, she sees the raw me, warts and all. Row keeps it real, helps me put things in perspective and always looks at the silver lining. She reminds me of the things to be grateful for and does not sweat the small stuff. I feel incredibly blessed to call her my friend.

I am fortunate to have a few true friends in life. There is, however, no one quite like Rowena that understands me as both a friend and a midwife, she just gets it. The friends we make in this profession are like no other, we share a passion and an understanding of each other that you simply cannot describe to someone outside of it.

If the two of us chose different careers, we may never have met. Midwifery has brought mostly joy to my life, but the most precious gift it has given me is my friendship with Rowena. They say we become stronger when faced with challenges. Row has reminded me of my strength. Whatever we face in our future lives I know we will always have each other, and one day we will go to Bali, midwifery conference or not!

Mark Aitken [9:00] Thank you very much Leanne. Beautiful, heartfelt, poignant, honouring story of your friendship with Rowena. It just amazes me how different a story often feels and sounds when it's delivered by the person who wrote it. So thank you very much for reading your wonderful story.

Leanne O’Connor [9:22] My pleasure, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to share it, but also the prize as well, for some education or a conference and the great resource on mental health. That's very appreciated. Thank you.

Mark Aitken [9:37] Our pleasure, Leanne, and there's a chapter in that book, Mental Health Nursing, around professional self-care, which is why we provided that book as part of the prize for this competition, because it's vitally important that midwives and nurses know that their own self-care is absolutely important.

I think you summed it up, Leanne, in your story when you say, "we can't pour from an empty cup." I know that you've accessed Nurse & Midwife Support, and I'm really pleased that you have. Do you have any further message in relation to that?

Leanne O’Connor [10:13] Well, I guess there were some times that I was struggling, like I did mention in the story. What I found was that helpline that I called, it was kind of like another Rowena if you like, so it was somebody that I could speak to who just understood where I was coming from, you didn't have to talk about … they understood the stressors in your career and the different things that I chatted to them about. I felt like there was someone I could truly confide in, and they would just get it, I guess, and I feel like, it's a bit more above and beyond any other type of counsellor, you know. They were really ones in that field that had maybe similar experiences themselves, or perhaps helped other people in similar situations as myself. So I found it really, really valuable.

Mark Aitken [11:06] Thanks, Leanne, we're so pleased, we're really privileged to be in the business of supporting our colleagues, midwives, and nurses. And if any person's listening to this, and feels that they need support, you can contact Nurse & Midwife Support anytime, 24/7 no matter where you are in Australia. The service is anonymous, confidential and free, and you can contact us on 1800-667-877, or via the website, nmsupport.org.au.

Great message to put out there and yeah, I really like that sentiment that Nurse & Midwife Support is like another Rowena, I think we could use that into the future.

Leanne O’Connor [11:53] I think particularly with midwifery, and I know that there's lots of things that happen in in general nursing too, but with my midwifery hat on, I just think we go into that profession really wanting to strive to care for the women like we would like to be cared for ourselves and give them the best outcomes we can. And sometimes when that doesn't go well, the women and their families feel it, but the midwives really feel it as well.

So I think we should talk more about it in our profession, and I think we should have more debriefing and be better at supporting each other than we are, because sometimes we're just expected to sort of pick up and get on with it, and off we go. But it does affect us as the carers as well as the women that were care for.

Mark Aitken [12:43] Great point, Leanne. At the end of the day we are midwives and nurses but we're also humans, and at the end of the day, we're only human, with all the vulnerabilities and frailties of any other human. You don't have to be Wonder Woman or a superhero, as people called us in the early days of the pandemic, because we need permission not to be okay, if we need support. A really important take home message, everybody. If you need support, it's available, and we're here to support you. What has it meant to you, Leanne, to be able to share this story about your great friendship with Row?

Leanne O’Connor [13:26] To me, I think it highlights that if you've got someone in your corner like Rowena, they can really help you through those tough times, I suppose. When I said she reminds me of the strength that I have, when I forget that I've got it myself, and she's always looking to the silver lining, and she's always there to just bounce things off and give her opinion. I think if we've all got someone like that in our career that we can relate well to and chat with and debrief with, we're lucky. It's a real blessing to be able to have her in my life and to be able to talk to her.

So I think hopefully people, if they can relate to my story and think about a person that is their Rowena … if they're having a tough time, they don't have to just suck it up and keep going. Have a chat, and they will understand because they've been in your shoes. I hope that's what my story reminds people of, their own strength and that they might have someone in their life that can help them through as well.

Mark Aitken [14:36] Thanks, Leanne. Well, your story certainly reminded me of that, and no doubt it'll remind anybody who listens to it. So thanks once again for entering this competition and sharing your beautiful story about your friendship with Rowena.

If you're listening out there and you don't feel like you have anyone to talk to Nurse & Midwife Support is available to talk to you, as I said anytime, 24/7, no matter where you are in Australia. 1800-667-877, or via the website, nmsupport.org.au. Thanks again, Leanne, and look after yourselves and each other, everybody. I'll speak to you next time.

Leanne O’Connor [15:21] Thank you, Mark.