I qualified as a midwife ten years ago and I have never felt more passionate about my job. But it hasn’t always been like this. There have been several times that I have seriously thought about giving it all up.
When I was a student midwife I came really, really close to leaving the course. Just so you don’t think I am a quitter; I am not alone in my feelings. Midwifery training has never been more popular, in part thanks to ‘Call the Midwife’ and ‘One Born Every Minute’, but up to fifty percent of student midwives will drop out of their course. The reasons for this are multitude. Basically the academic side and going to placements and working shifts as well is tough. Many students are doing this whilst looking after families. People come into their midwifery training with a real passion and the reality of midwifery in the NHS today is often very different to what we hope it to be, see here, and here.
The first year of qualifying was tough. The difference between being a student and the awesome responsibility I now had. The peace I had to make with myself between what I knew was best for the woman and what the hospital guidelines and procedures dictated I do. I like to call this ‘selling my soul’, something I still struggle with now at times.
I am really, really glad that when the going got tough I stuck it out and I wanted to offer some words of ‘wisdom’ to all the wonderful people who are going off to start their midwifery training now, who are just qualifying or who are struggling;
- Write- Write down why you want to be a midwife and keep it somewhere- when the going gets tough (and it will sometimes) it can really help to refer to this. Write down when you have a difficult day and want to offload or reflect. (Bearing in mind confidentiality.) Keep all the thank you cards you get- also really helpful to look at.
- Read, read, read – not the just the stuff they tell you, but Ina May Gaskin, Michelle Odent etc. My favourite birth books are here
- Observe – The role of the midwife is really one of watching more than doing. You can learn so much just by watching a woman in labour. Notice the sounds, often this alone will give a really good indication of what stage of labour a woman is at. The smells (yes really!) The distinctive smell of amniotic fluid, so you can tell if waters have broken and notice the smell of birth. Look at the woman’s skin; how her legs become more mottled, how her sacrum may move and lift up, the purple line in her bottom. You don’t need to just rely on vaginal examinations to know what stage of labour a woman is at. Watch what other midwives do (good and bad) Do you want to be like them? Or not?
- Give yourself time – you are not going to master all the skills straight away. They take years to learn. For example vaginal examinations (VE), where you asses progress in labour by how thin and open the cervix is, how many centimetres dilated, baby’s position etc. When I first did them it felt like a lucky dip in a bowl of jelly! It honestly wasn’t until I qualified that I properly felt a cervix (god knows what I was feeling before!) and couldn’t believe that it actually felt like a circle. When doing a VE give yourself time and remember that the woman will have a cervix in there! She got pregnant after all. Just finding a cervix is sufficient in the early days. Remember that very experienced midwives sometimes get it wrong. I know of a Band 7 (top dog) on Delivery Suite who told a woman she was fully dilated and she was only 1 cm!
- Find like minded people – they are out there and can be a great support. Other students, midwives, doulas. In person or online.
- Trust – trust yourself. Time and time again I have found that a gut feeling was right; ignore those feelings at your peril. Even as a student, or newly qualified when more experienced people may tell you that you are wrong. And trust in women’s bodies and their ability to give birth.
- Be kind – to the women, their partners, their babies. Remember their names, hold their hand, make them a cup of tea. You may not feel like you can do a lot to start with but these kindnesses matter more than anything and will be remembered. (Unkindness likewise). Be kind to yourself – it is hard doing the job you are doing. You need some time and support for yourself in order to support other people well. Yoga, swimming, mindfulness, massage, good food.
There is an amazing quote by Aristotle that I love on the qualities a good midwife should have
“A ladies’ hand, a hawk’s eye and a lion’s heart.”
Best of luck on your path, I promise you it gets easier. Remember just as you say to the women “you can do it!”
This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on my blog the vintage midwife