I remember when I was younger, watching women walking around with their big pregnancy bumps and thinking, 'How does the body do that?' I find it incredible that the female body can nurture and adapt to support the life of another being for nine months.
When I was about 12 years old, I watched a programme on television with my mum that was all about midwives at work in a maternity ward. The midwives all appeared incredibly brave when faced with any dilemma. I remember turning to my mum and saying, "I want to be cool like that." From that moment on I decided I would become a midwife.
I work as a midwife based in a small community team and I’ve delivered well over 100 babies – I lost count after 60! My role includes running an antenatal clinic at least once a week, where I invite pregnant women in to be assessed; I also do home visits once the baby has been born, to provide additional support to the parents, such as infant feeding and weighing the babies. As a community midwife I also run parent education classes, which give an overview on labour, birth and caring for a newborn in the first few days.
At the moment I work five 7.5-hour shifts a week, a combination of weekdays and weekends. On top of that I also have on-call night shifts, which means I could be called in at any moment to attend a home birth or support the labour wards. Babies are born every day of the year, day and night.
I really struggled with night shifts; the change in my sleeping pattern made it really difficult to adjust back to day shifts, and I missed seeing friends and family. The worst was in the summer when you can hear people having BBQs and fun outdoors and you’re trying to sleep, ready for your night shift! My friends often plan things around bank holidays or the weekends and unfortunately, there’s always a possibility that I’ll be working. I often find that if I have a random day off during the week, there is no one around to spend it with. My boyfriend also works shifts in a hospital, which means that there can be a good few days with us missing each other entirely; I suppose you get used to it.
There’s a shortage of midwives in the UK, which has been the case ever since I began my training. The government has now also stopped providing NHS bursaries to students wishing to study midwifery, which I fear will see a decline in people applying to study. Lack of resources and staff are more apparent on some days than others – when staffing levels are low it can be incredibly stressful. Working together as a team and supporting each other is paramount.
Communication is such an important aspect of the care I provide that when I am unable to do so correctly it can be tough. When a woman arrives into the unit in the middle of the night in labour and speaks no English, it can be problematic! Working in London, where it’s so multicultural, is amazing. I’ve learnt so much about different cultures, customs and traditions and I find it fascinating how they influence childbearing.
It wasn’t until my first year as a midwife that I began to fall in love with my job. Once qualified, the feeling of being more independent was really apparent – there was no longer a mentor alongside me, I was the main caregiver in the room with the labouring woman and birthing partner, which felt surreal. I felt competent to do my job but it took a while for my confidence to build; fortunately the unit where I work were fantastic and there was always someone to approach for additional support or guidance. It felt extremely daunting and scary but once I found my feet and built a bit more confidence, I soon found myself enjoying my time as an autonomous practitioner.
Pregnancy and birth are probably the most significant times in one’s life, and I have the privilege of being present, supporting and empowering them on their journey. The best part of my job is being able to see the transformation of women and their partners becoming parents. I think midwives are among the few professions which people welcome into their homes. Building a rapport with women is a really special part of my job; women build trust with me and actively reach out to me for support and reassurance, no matter how big or small, which is a lovely feeling.
When I visit a woman at home with her baby and find her still in bed, shattered, with a list of questions, I do tend to see a look of relief when I walk through the door. I know then that I have built a good relationship. I've had women crying on my shoulder and expressing such personal and traumatic information; during these moments I feel a relief that women feel comfortable to come to me, they know I won't judge.
The majority of your role as a midwife is working, caring for and supporting women. Having the odd cuddle with a baby is just a bonus. Establishing a good rapport with the women is incredibly important. I find that it is when women begin to trust you that they open up and express how they really feel – I can then support them best.
As long as there are pregnant women, there will always be the need for midwives. I feel incredibly proud to work in the NHS, which is why I feel so passionate towards protecting its future. I really do love my job. It can be challenging, tiring and emotional but it has helped frame me as a person and I feel very proud to say I am a midwife.
This interview has been transcribed and edited for clarity.