How did this happen? This was not the plan. The plan was to work in a bar, pull a few pints and take it easy. I’d only been qualified and working as a midwife for just 18 months in the U.K when I decided I’d had enough. After three years of intense training, being skint and then the dreaded first year as a newly qualified midwife I just couldn’t be arsed with it anymore. Sod it I thought, sod the student loan repayments I’m off to Spain to live with my parents. The Costa Blanca, now we’re talking! Sun, sea, sand, and not a labouring woman in sight – bliss! In hindsight I was probably burnt out but didn’t realise at the time.
After a few months of winding down and working on the tan the plan changed… There was a new hospital being built in the area. Would they need midwives I wondered? Turns out they did, and the fact that I spoke English was a bonus due to the large number of English speaking Europeans living in the area. So there I was being interviewed for a job as a midwife through a translator because did I mention that I couldn’t speak Spanish? Yeah that’s right, not a word, nada!
So lucky me was offered a job and told to learn as much Spanish as possible over the next six months before the hospital opened. Yeah no probs I can do that I thought. Now I did my best in those six months trying to learn the lingo, swotting up all day everyday but there was no getting away from the fact that my Spanish was crap, I mean really crap. And now here I was on my first day having my photo taken for my ID badge. They say every picture tells a story, that photo says it all, the look of terror on my face! How was I gonna pull this off?
Fortunately there were others there in the same boat as me – mostly doctors, from all over Europe. Clinging to our translation dictionaries somehow we all got by and made ourselves understood one way or another and thankfully there wasn’t reams of paperwork to fill out like there is in the U.K. Our Spanish colleagues were lovely people with a lot of patience; I’ll never forget how kind they were towards me cos no doubt I drove them up the bloody wall most days.
Of course over time things got easier, I even became useful and was called upon as a translator if an English speaking patient was on the unit. Usually the classic English tourist – sunburnt, and shouting loudly in English hoping that the Spanish doctor would suddenly understand them if they shouted the same sentence several times, each time a bit louder. I could probably write a whole book about my time as a midwife in Spain, (no plans to) but there was one particular night shift on labour ward that comes to me now and again, along with the realisation that no matter what language is spoken words are just that – words, and actually maybe we all talk way too much. Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words, you get the gist.
So I worked mostly day shifts but was asked if I could cover a night shift for a midwife who was off sick. It was a quiet evening, there were two of us midwives and two maternity assistants lounging in the staff room, nibbling on pipas whilst watching the Spanish version of ‘wheel of fortune’ (crap TV game shows in every country!) The only obstetrician on that night arrived to announce that the last patient on her list that she had seen in antenatal clinic needed her labour inducing. She was off to the doctors’ rest room to be called only if there was problem.
It was my turn to do some work. Within the hour the woman was in a hospital gown, on the monitor, with a hormone drip flowing through her veins to get her contractions going. No husband or birth partner with her, so it was just me and her and here’s the thing – she was Moroccan. She couldn’t speak Spanish or English and I couldn’t speak Arabic, so we communicated with the odd hand gesture and the occasional smile or nod.
With the lights off I curled up on a chair next to the bed near to the monitor. In the dark all you could hear was the baby’s heart beat, and the woman quietly chanting what I guessed was a prayer? An affirmation? Something from the Quran? Whatever it was it sent me into a chilled out trance. I gave her the occasional smile, offered her some water now and again and squeezed her hand to hopefully reassure her all was well. No words. After a few hours things hotted up, her contractions got stronger, she rolled from side to side and her chanting got loader. Then suddenly she looked me right in the eye and said something to me in Arabic which I guessed was ‘it’s coming?’ I lifted up her sheet and there were signs that she was ready to give birth so I called the maternity assistants and we moved her into the ‘birthing room’. This wasn’t her first baby, she started pushing, she knew instinctively what to do. Just the odd smile and nod from me. I caught the baby and put him in her arms. All straight forward, no problems and within half an hour the maternity assistants had cleaned her up, the baby was feeding at the breast, and she was ready for the ward. As she was wheeled passed me on her bed she leaned out and grabbed my arm, she looked me intensely in the eye and held my gaze for a moment. She smiled and said something in Arabic which I guessed was ‘thank you’ and then she was gone.
You know where I’m going with all this…… a woman in labour with a midwife by her side. They barely spoke yet a baby was born. All was well, the woman seemed happy with her care. Maybe the fact that we couldn’t speak to each other meant that she could focus more on herself, and switch off the thinking part of her brain which allowed her to labour better? (AKA Hypnobirthing). Some of you reading this will probably think, Yeah but what if something had gone wrong? Where was her informed consent? What about the lengthy discussions about the pros and cons of induction and what research backs up the evidence and the guidelines? What about litigation??? blah blah blah! I don’t know. Everyone will have their opinions on what’s right and wrong, but what I do know is that I remember that night shift, I remember the whole ‘not talking thing’ and it felt right, it felt peaceful, and sometimes I wish there could be more days when there is just less talk.
Here’s me and the only other English midwife with our lovely boss. Looking more tanned and healthy than your average NHS midwife in the UK!