Sunday, 16 September 2012

How it feels to be a midwife

Sometimes, I hate being a midwife, and consider on a fairly frequent basis that I might leave the profession.  My problem is however, that midwifery is an intrinsic part of who I am; it is my calling;  my vocation; my life.  And as much as I hate it, I also love it passionately and I know there are midwives out there who will be nodding in agreement to these thoughts.

I remember so vividly the day I actually qualified as a midwife and the day my NMC Pin number dropped through the letter box.  I spent the next few weeks like a small child telling anyone who would listen that 'I'm a midwife'; I sang it round the house (albeit out of tune), I danced around my garden, and I posted it on facebook.  I really wanted to skip down the road shouting it too, but managed to restrain myself from actually doing that.  Still, there's time.

Anyway, after three years of blood, sweat and lots and lots of tears (a bullying NHS culture and colleagues ensured that) I had finally made it to the other side.  Alive, sadly not well (it took a long time to recover emotionally), but I had made it!!

I never practised in the NHS, but chose to go straight into Independent Practice; I had a midwifery partner and mentor to support me, and despite others doubts, I felt confident and competent to practice autonomously.  I had ensured throughout my training that I had gained a good understanding of the knowledge and skills I wanted under my belt (suturing, home birth, water birth, physiological third stage) etc..  Not always easy, and one of the few in my cohort qualifying with such experiences (that's a whole other issue in it-self!), but with some fantastic mentors and a lot of effort on my part, it had paid-off.

Midwifery is such an amazing profession; but there are so many politics involved, so many issues, so much angst that, at times, it's hard to remember that.  I can only write about midwifery from my view point as an IM; I have a deep respect for my NHS colleagues who work to be the best midwife they can, often under difficult conditions, and although I have worked a few 12-hour shifts on a busy labour ward, I am not in a position to comment about how it feels to be part of the system.

So, how does it feel to be a midwife?...........

When you are invited to care for a family during her pregnancy and for the birth of her baby, you are given a great gift: you are given the gift of Trust, of Respect, of a deeply personal Relationship at a vulnerable time in a woman's life.  You are asked to ensure the well-being of the Mother and her baby, to work in partnership with her, to empower her to make decisions and choices that will affect her health, her baby's health, and eventually her potential to labour and birth with confidence and self-belief.  
This feels like magic; like warmth filling your every cell; like the last piece of chocolate cake nestled on your plate.  It feels like a weight on your shoulders; have I done enough? have I put into place the appropriate advice, plans of care, evidence based information? have I documented it?! Do I convey my belief in her and in birth at every given opportunity?
When you are called to a birth, there is no feeling like it; the wait is over; but the work is just beginning.  Finally, she is labouring; you have put your life 'on-hold' for the past few weeks, you have kept your phone by your side, you have turned down that glass of wine, the invite to a trip that is just a little too far away in case 'the call' comes.
This can feel like coffee when its been burnt - looks amazing but the taste that lingers can be bitter.  It can feel like being invited to the party of the year, but then being grounded when they day arrives! It can feel like your life is passing as you watch from the side; like you are present but not fully participating; like a small shadow lingering over your shoulder.   
In the dark, small hours, I stumble from my bed to reach for the phone; I know it is my client and I hear her husband speak to me: "she want's you to come".  I check she is well, baby is moving, any concerns?  All good, her husband confirms.   I prepare.  Wash, brush teeth, dress - I pretend I am quiet, my husband tells me other-wise.  I breathe.  Deeply. And centre myself before I climb into the car.  I know where I am going as I have been there many times, my equipment is already in the car - always ready in the car.  I think; what do I need to be aware off, will my children be OK, how long might I be gone?  I hope and trust all is well.  You never stop thinking as a midwife; it's just you learn to do it quietly and calmly - that art of 'drinking tea intelligently'.

As labour unfolds, you appear calm, confident and relaxed.  You trust in the process - this is essential: if you do not trust the mother, her labour, her body, then your emotions will affect the birth and the potential outcome.  Without this innate belief you can not be a midwife.   Inside, you are quietly noting where she is in her labour, what you might need to do - or not do - to help and support.  Birth approaches; you breath.  Deeply.  Emergency equipment to hand (just in case); you watch.  Patiently.  And you lovingly encourage the mother to work with her body; you do not tell her what to do.  Her body knows, her baby knows.  As her baby enters the world, and the mother reaches for her child, you calmly, quietly check all is well.  You breathe. Deeply.
And you remember; you remember why you love midwifery, why you answered the calling to be 'with woman'; why birth is the most amazing event to witness, and why women are courageous and inspiring.  You remember why you do this.  It feels like Christmas morning; like the first sparkling frost of winter; like tasting your first bubbles of champagne; like nothing else on earth.  It fills your heart and soul.

A mother meets her baby after an emotional birth;
I was honoured to welcome two of her babies into the world
Midwifery is a roller-coaster of feelings; it is good, bad, beautiful, challenging.  It is rewarding beyond belief, and frustrating beyond measure.  It is a battle of wanting to be the best that you can, in a climate of fear and control and politics.  Midwifery is a way of life; it's not a job to come into because you like babies, or because you're good with people, or because you need a change.

Sometimes, I hate being a midwife, and as much as I hate it, I also love it passionately;  so, for as long as I still love it, and the women I serve, I shall continue on my midwifery journey.

Ask yourself this; how do you feel about midwifery?

angela x


  1. Angela - have you been reading my mind, looking into my soul? You have caught the essence and the deep taste of midwifery as I know it. May I use this for Aspiring Midwives Workshops? With love and in sisterhood. Liz xxx

  2. This is a really beautiful piece. Thank you so much for sharing. I had a wonderful independent midwife for two of my children's births and I couldn't have done it without her. I think what you do for women and their families is amazing. The world need more people like you.

  3. Thank you for your comments; please do share and use. I am working on a book so there will be elements of this within it.

    Glad you enjoyed; it was good to write it and to try and capture all those feelings I have almost every day!

    love angelaxxx

  4. Wow. This definitely rang true for me. Encapsulates the emotions I struggle with as a Midwife every day. Thank you for writing this, helps other Midwives know that we are not alone.

  5. Angela, you write so eloquently. We will be forever grateful that we had the enormous good fortune to have you as our IM. You are so good at what you do that you make it look easy (always the sign of someone who truly knows what they are about). My labour was everything we could have wished for (despite the complication of Leo getting stuck!) thanks to your expertise and your wonderful non-invasive, supportive approach. I wish every labouring woman could have that experience. I hope that through your workshops and blog you inspire many more women to become midwives 'with woman' with your passion. Thank you for all your sacrifices :)