“Ahhh, how lovely” she says, her eyes all glistening and rosy. “I would have loved to train as a midwife”. I smile. “I bet you love it! Seeing all those babies”. I nod encouragingly and say all the right things “Yes, it’s amazing”, “I’m so lucky”, “It’s so special”. This is the third time today I’ve had the same conversation, and what can I say? “Actually, it’s really hard work and a member of staff cries almost every day”. I think not. Everyone wants to think that midwives are these lovely, plump middle-aged women obsessed with babies. I hate the break the illusion everyone, but we aren’t.
I remember looking around the room during my first day at university and thinking “I have nothing in common with any of these people”. As time when on I realised that we all did have something in common; we are all strong, we are all resilient, and we all care. Now I know that it sounds very wishy-washy but it is true. I have met many different midwives, from many different backgrounds and that is what unites us all. And it is also our secret.
Midwifery is a challenge, an exciting, thrilling challenge, but a challenge no less. Getting through the university degree now necessary to be a midwife is a uphill battle, followed by a marathon, followed by a good old slap around the face. Once you survive all that, which around 20% of student midwives don’t, you are set loose into a world full of pregnant ladies and paperwork. Those first few years make you see how little you really know, despite what you thought was tough training, and how much you have yet to learn. If I told you about some of the things I’ve seen you wouldn’t believe half of it. Some stories would make you cry, some would make you laugh, others would down right shock you. But I won’t start, because once you start talking shop with a midwife she just won’t stop!
12 and a half hour shifts are the norm for midwives, in that time you could have; delivered a baby, rushed to theatre for an emergency, seen a handful of women in the early stages of labour, been called in to help another midwife and almost toppled over while monitoring a woman who hasn’t felt her baby move all day. Oh – all while not having time for lunch and forgetting when you last went to the bathroom. Yes, seeing a baby enter this world is a beautiful and magical thing. But while that is happening I am busy trying not to drop the baby on the floor, memorise the time for the legal records, check that mum isn’t bleeding too heavily, assess the baby for breathing and blood flow, clean the bed so the birth partner doesn’t pass out, keep an eye out for the placenta, give any necessary drugs, assist the mum into a more comfy position, turn off the equipment that we don’t need now the baby is born, support the birth partner to cut the cord (and no baby’s genitalia!), let the delivery suite co-ordinator know that the baby is safely arrived, support mum to breastfeed and rearrange my uniform as no doubt I now look like a homeless person who hasn’t washed in 3 weeks. Once me and the parents have weighed the baby and change the bedding I can then step back, look at the new family and think “how bloody amazing is that”. Then of course I have to run off to finish all the paperwork and clean everything up.
Despite all that I do love my job, I really do. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about quitting at least twice a day and try to control my scowl when people try to tell me how wonderful my job is. Maybe it is the naivety of non-healthcare focussed individuals, maybe it is the fact that I’ve just finished nights and I’m a bit tetchy, or maybe I really am just a bitch. Whatever it is, I just don’t need to be told how beautiful my job is and how lucky I am, I need you to tell me you think my job is hard and that I must be tough to be a midwife. I want you to understand that although many people might think they want to be a midwife, not everyone can be a midwife.
Not all our stories are positive ones, we have sad stories, we have had our hearts broken and we have been touched by the love that you feel for us. As midwives we care for you and we fight with you, for you and alongside you and we will give you all that we have. Because that is what we do. And maybe, just maybe, that is what makes us lovely.