I have been a qualified midwife for three years. I recently sat down with one of the students who is about to finish her training and chatted all things midwifery and many things not as we realised that she will have completed a whole degree in the time since I experienced my own exit week.
I remember the fear, the fear that I would make a mistake, that I would let people down, or that I wouldn’t be able to cope. I wondered how on earth it would ever be possible to deliver a baby with only two hands, manage half a postnatal ward alone or create birth plans and make decisions. Despite all this, one thing I never realised at the time that I didn’t panic about was my ability to just be a midwife.
I always thought that the three years it took me to train to be a midwife would be the hardest I’d ever endure, but nothing prepared me for the three that followed. As I hugged a new mum goodbye this week, who thanked me endlessly for my care and support, I realised that the last six years have passed in a blur. The mum that hugged me was with me for a relatively short time, it was her second baby and her labour behaved like a typical second-timer. We were full to the rafters, no pool rooms available, just a quick make-shift area with mats and bean bags on the floor. I apologised profusely for this afterwards and she looked at me like I was crazy. She told me that she hadn’t noticed us throw the sheets down as she walked into the room, she hadn’t noticed me pulling on gloves as I walked her down the corridor, the other midwives gathering my equipment (and swiftly removing it from the room for their own use shortly after) or the people in the waiting room staring as we walked her past. She told me the relief she felt when I introduced myself to her as she walked through the door, after our brief phone conversation some 15 minutes earlier. She told me how happy she was that I had a kind face, that I found her husband a stool to sit on and extra pillows to support her swollen, tightening stomach. She could recall to me phrases I had said to her in hushed tones as she delivered her baby, giving her something to focus on other than the pain. She told me that she never could have given birth if it hadn’t been for me.
Crying at work is not a rare occurrence. There’s been no secrets in the media over the last few years about the strains of the NHS and midwifery, how we’re all struggling to keep our heads above water. There’s not enough people, there’s not enough money, but I defy you to question whether or not there’s enough compassion. When I started, I cried because I was overwhelmed, within weeks I was being asked to complete tasks which I held way above my abilities, we were all working with a caseload suitable for a number of midwives, rather than an individual, the shifts were long and I rarely ate or left on time. But then, you get a set of new parents hug you. They hug you and you feel that emotion building up again. You watch a woman deliver her baby, bring it to the surface of a pool, watch them fall in love as the new father exclaims its gender, and those tears you feel like letting out are of pure joy.
I can’t remember that turning point, from feeling like a lost preceptorship midwife to feeling like an advocate for women who could actually fight for the outcome they wished for. I still experience times where I feel out of my depth, times where I’m too overwhelmed, too tired, too pressurised, and I call upon my incredible colleagues for help. Together we cheerlead, we come up with plans, strategies and strive for outcomes. We accept interventions, we accept medicalisation, we make women feel in control and powerful.
To all expecting mothers, it will be okay.
To all the upcoming newly qualified midwives, it will be okay.
There will be times when you feel like giving up or giving in, but there will become a point when you realise how easy it is to master some of the most important parts of midwifery.
People can forgive clinic waiting times, they can forget that you wanted a second opinion on your palpation or that you needed to transfer them due to lack of beds. They wont remember you pestering for urine samples, hourly observations, checking pads, flighting with a pair of compression stockings, the needles, the paperwork.
They wont be angry that you ran off at the sound of an emergency buzzer in the next room, that they had to remind you twice to bring them another blanket or that they asked for jam not marmalade. They will not judge you for the leaked ink on your uniform pocket, for the dark circles under your eyes or that you’ve forgotten their partner’s name, again.
You will be remembered for the kindness of your voice, for the clear explanations you give in a way they can understand, that gives them the evidence, that allows them choice. Who explains that labour isn’t progressing how we would expect, or who tells them that baby is nearly here.
You will be the face they remember popping round the side of the curtain at 3am, with pain relief, at 3pm with visitors, with discharge paperwork. Who stayed and supported breastfeeding despite having 100 other things to do, the face that tells them their baby weighs over four kilos, the one that shares the news that baby has come off ventilation, who came back the next day to say congratulations.
They will remember your hands appearing as if from nowhere: in the middle of a contraction, assisting them to the bathroom, showing them how to burp a newborn, massaging their back and brushing their hair away. The hands that can calm both a mother and baby, that can perform clinical tasks and can put people back together again.
They will remember your emergency debrief, after being so calm and in control they did not realise they were in danger.
They will keep hold of the memories you help them to create, the carefully handwritten labels slipped onto baby’s ankles, the way you helped them to feed, to change, to love and to grieve.
You are the stranger with whom they form an intimate relationship, with who they will share every detail because they trust you, because they need you; they know that whether it’s pain, blood or meconium – you are the expert.
They will remember the tea and the toast.