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A Midwife in Notts

10 April 21 illustrations: Kasia Kozakiewicz

"We run a 24-hour service that never stops, meaning we have to be in a constant state of readiness."

I was in secondary school when a girl who I was close to had a baby. I went to visit her on the postnatal ward and was astounded that she and her partner had made a human being. I remember her asking a question and receiving a terse response – maybe because she was a teen mum – but I made the decision there and then that I wanted to be a midwife. And what’s more, if I was going to be part of something so monumental that happens perhaps just once or twice in a person’s life, I wanted to be remembered for the right reasons. 

There is no typical day or night on the labour ward. We run a 24-hour service that never stops, meaning we have to be in a constant state of readiness. On some shifts I can walk straight into an emergency with very little introduction to the family or the situation, whereas on other shifts I can spend a whole twelve hours supporting and getting to know a family, but never getting to meet their baby. I chose to work on the labour suite early on in my career because I prefer the unpredictable high-octane nature of intrapartum (labour) care. 

The science and biology behind making and growing a person within another human body still amazes me every day, and midwifery is a profession that relies on touch and feel as well as expert knowledge and intuition. 12.5-hour shifts are gruelling and breaks are not regular or even guaranteed. Almost every shift is busy and you can often reach the end of one to realise that you have not even been able to go to the loo. Due to the changeable manner of our work we obviously have very little control over how many, or how quickly, babies arrive, but as a more senior midwife it is my job to have an overview of the labour suite and to manage the capacity and flow of workload so that the midwives can be supported and can fulfil their basic human needs.

Even if we don’t get a break, as a shift worker there is always another team scheduled to take you off duty at a certain time, whereas community midwives have caseloads that they, more than likely, take home with them at the end of a working day or week. Those midwives are less likely to switch off from work. I often come home wondering how the people I care for have got on after I’ve left. We usually check in with the person who took over from us, or go and visit the family on the ward when we’re next on duty.

Fetal loss is rarely talked about, and when you tell people what you do their instant reaction is to say what a lovely job being a midwife must be. I think unless the loss of a baby has touched your family personally you may not appreciate that side of our role. There is no way to describe a birth that does not end in joy or happy tears or the shrill cry of a newborn. Yet, these moments spent with families have been some of my most worthwhile. I am always overwhelmed by social media posts from colleagues during Baby Loss Awareness week because we all feel that pain and try everything in our power to help bear the burden for the families that never get to take their babies home.

Midwives are some of the most mentally resilient people I know… We cry, we laugh, we run on adrenaline, but we survive because we have such a strong camaraderie within the team

Midwives are some of the most mentally resilient people I know. They have to be, it’s such a hugely emotive job. We cry, we laugh, we run on adrenaline, but we survive because we have such a strong camaraderie within the team. It’s physically and mentally draining, but the friendships I have built with some of my colleagues are impenetrable. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what we do; we don’t actually get time to sit around drinking tea and eating cake! Midwives don’t get to deliver a baby every day either; the birth process can take hours, or even days, and requires patience. More than once a Dad has said “It’s not like this on One Born Every Minute!” But with that said, on a very busy shift you could well be present at two or three births, and on one of my most hectic nights we had eighteen babies arrive in the space of twelve hours. 

I try to keep my professional life separate to my personal life, but there are a few people that I may have formed an extra special bond with. Generally, I will try and catch up with someone I have cared for before they are discharged, but once they go home they’re busy with their newborn. I will occasionally be recognised in the supermarket by someone I cared for if they’re local. On one occasion, my Mum was in a coffee shop talking to a new mother about her baby and her birth experience. She happened to mention that I was a midwife and the young woman said how well she had got on with her midwife and proceeded to show my Mum a picture of me that I’d had taken with her after the birth!

I can’t imagine ever doing anything else other than being a midwife. I’m a people person and am at my happiest when face-to-face with others. I had an office job briefly as a student and didn’t particularly enjoy it, yet no one in my family had any medical background or training when I announced my career path. When I trained and qualified, midwifery was like a ‘black art’. No one really knew what you did, just that it was a hugely responsible and privileged position. However, the media, with programmes like One Born Every Minute have opened the doors and lifted some of the mystery around the goings-on of a bustling labour ward. 

Over the years I have cared for friends, colleagues and complete strangers. The beauty is that every day and every family is different, no two stories are the same and it never gets boring. There was a woman who personally requested me by name to deliver all three of her children; I feel like that goes some way towards my aspiration to be remembered for the right reasons. 

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