Those who stay up-to-date with midwifery news will have noticed or, more likely, been unable to escape, the fact that the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) held its 31st triennial congress in Toronto, Canada this month. This was no doubt thanks to a stream of tweets and photos shared on social media, designed to keep friends and colleagues informed—if not also a little envious.
Throughout the event, social media performed multiple duties. It acted as a mirror to proceedings, and as a gently expanding web of connections, that grew as delegates exchanged names, opinions and Twitter handles. It also performed the role of lens to the outside world, one which occasionally burned through the conference centre bubble, where, for a few days, life revolved only around presentations, networking breaks, and plenaries.
For British readers, the tragic events of the past few weeks and months will need no introduction. Indeed, as one delegate at the conference put it: ‘the UK has been having a bit of a time of it recently’ (a comment that surely could be a contender for understatement of the year). News of the attack outside a mosque in London's Finsbury Park, which was reported as the first full day of ICM 2017 came to a close, was met with a mixture of shock, horror and undeniable sadness, before reports turned, all too easily, to the talk of anger, division and retaliation that masks fear and uncertainty in the face of change.
Yet in the centre of Toronto, events were taking place that were an unmistakeable antidote to the news. Each day, midwives came to hear and exchange ideas with colleagues from all around the globe. At the British Journal of Midwifery stand, delegates hailed from Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Japan, France, Germany, Mexico, and many more, and it was a privilege to learn about the challenges and successes in midwifery in delegates' respective countries. In every session, midwives stood up to share aspects of their practice that they felt could help others, and were met with encouragement, interest and respect. In the opening and closing ceremonies, the loudest applause was reserved for those who represented some of the most difficult places to practise midwifery, such as Afghanistan and Somalia.
The event came to a triumphant crescendo when, on day 5 of the conference, midwives banded together and entered the record books for the largest group of people performing infant massage. Anyone watching this achievement would have been struck by the determination that was shown, but seeing delegates uniting with colleagues who may have been wildly different in terms of language, experiences and beliefs, is testament to midwives' capacity for understanding, respect and compassion, and a demonstration of what can be achieved through unity and collaboration.
The ICM conference may have dominated the newsfeeds of those in midwifery circles, but even with an entry into the Guinness World Records, ICM 2017 will not have made headlines in the way that aforementioned events have done. This is a shame—there is much the world could learn from midwives, who once again led by shining example.