Guest Post- How I ended up as a Midwife’s Assistant

I often get asked by people ‘Why did you become a midwife’?  To be honest the answer has changed over the years but I knew I always wanted to work with children and I knew I loved babies. But now it’s much more about the women. For me, at just the tender age of 18 (gulp) there was no gap year to be had after finishing my A-Levels, it was straight to Uni in Bristol as I wanted to embark on this exciting course. As midwifery is a vocational degree I knew I would have a job at the end of it all and to be honest I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

It’s mad to think the whole of my working life to date has been midwifery based.  How can you really know at 18 what you want to do for the rest of your life?  For many midwives I’ve met along the way they didn’t know, and left all sorts of jobs to re train as a midwife. Louie is one of those people, she hasn’t started her midwifery course yet….. she has decided to embark on a career change as a Midwife Support Worker. Louie joined our case loading team in December to support us 6 midwives. Is she brave or just mad? Either way she’s amazing. Here’s her side of the story.

I was terrified of blood and it meant taking a pay cut – but it’s been worth it!

Louie and Florence

Louie and Florence

After uni, I wanted to rebel against my teacher parents and enter a ‘glamorous’ profession so I did a post-grad in journalism and got a job on Take a Break, the weekly magazine you might have read at the dentist. It wasn’t exactly Marie Claire, but as a Features Writer, I got invited to PR launches, bagged lots of freebies and even wangled a press trip to Spain. As for the work, I helped reunite long-lost relatives, chased a stolen child across Italy and tracked down a paedophile. The hours were regular, the pay was good and I spent most Friday afternoons down the pub. What more could a 25 year old want?

But the job had big downsides too. I was often asked to ring a recently bereaved relative to ask if they wanted to tell their story (ambulance chasing as it’s known in the business). A few – amazingly – said yes, but a lot told me where to go. When I did convince someone to speak, I felt uncomfortable asking them the lurid questions I needed answering in order to make the story as sensational as possible. After about five years, I knew I needed to change careers – but to what?

Then in 2008, I had my first child, Arthur, closely followed by Florence in 2009. During my pregnancies and labours, I met some amazing midwives but also some rude and unhelpful ones. It struck me how much power a midwife has to make your experience a magical or an upsetting one. To try and make sure more women got a magical experience, I started volunteering at my local hospital, sitting on a committee whose aim was improve maternity services there. I walked round the postnatal ward, asking women their opinions and fed them back to the staff . I loved hearing everyone’s birth stories and discussing important issues. It was all the things I had enjoyed about journalism – but without any of the downsides.

It was while doing this that an idea started forming in my mind: I wanted to be a midwife. There was just one problem – I was terrified of blood. Everyone in my family is a big wuss: I still remember my dad sitting with his head between his knees, trying not to throw up because my Mum had tripped over and broken her tooth. As for me, I’d had to lie down after blood tests during my pregnancies. Not exactly the stern stuff midwives have to be made of!

And yet, I couldn’t shake the idea. So when I heard about a role called a Maternity Support Worker (MSW), I decided to apply. It meant assisting midwives with everything from weighing babies to removing catheters and – eek! – taking blood. Would I faint or could I be the first person in my family to ever work in a hospital? There was only one way to find out!

On my first day in the job, I was absolutely petrified. I managed not to faint but I did have to leave the room when a midwife was describing a particularly nasty obstetric emergency. I persevered, though, and gradually got used to talking about – and seeing – lots of blood. They say the best way to overcome your fears is to confront them head on – and working on a postnatal ward was definitely that for me!

The first time I actually had to take blood from someone, I was convinced I would hit an artery and see blood go splashing everywhere. But somehow, I managed to stay calm and do the job – although my hands were slippery with sweat afterwards!

With that fear conquered, I felt optimistic I could do other stuff without fainting too. A few weeks in, I watched a caesarean section and found myself more fascinated than scared. The same was true when I watched a normal birth – I was just in awe, both of the woman giving birth but also of the brilliant midwives I saw helping her.

I worked in the hospital for four months and then was given a role helping a small team of community midwives who do a lot of homebirths. Now I spend my days driving around, giving breastfeeding advice to women and doing the heel prick test on newborns. The midwives I work with are some of the most inspiring women I’ve come across and I adore helping women in those precious early days following a baby’s birth.

The pay’s not amazing but even a bad day in my new job is better than the best day I ever had doing journalism. I really like the fact I’m helping people and it’s invigorating learning so many new things every day.

Will I train to be a midwife? Who knows. For now, I’m loving my role as an MSW and would recommend it to anyone. And at least if I do go the whole hog and retrain, I know I won’t faint at the first drop of blood!

For more information about training as a Midwife Support Worker go to nhscareers.nhs.uk

The Big Apple, The Big Question

I’ve been to New York. This is a big deal, not only have I drunk frozen Margaritas in the BEST Mexican in Greenwich Village, eaten amazing banana pancakes in a dive diner, I’ve actually seen a Brooklyn brownstone building and I swear I saw Sarah Jessica Parker and her twins walking though Soho. Ok it just looked a bit like her, from a distance, if you closed you eyes and squinted. Ok in truth this never happened but I did see the coffee shop ‘Grumpys’ where Hannah from Girls worked part time until she went a bit OCD and had to call Adam because she counted everything in eights. That did happen and New York was pretty amazing. It really is the city that never sleeps.

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Anyway none of this really matters, because my trip gave me a tiny insight into what it would be to live there, with my husband and 2 kids. The truth is, it would be incredible. New York is a city I cannot describe to some one who hasn’t been there, it’s just everything I hoped it was but it lacked something I feel so passionately about. It would be impossible for me to work there as a British midwife. There are lots of American trained nurse/midwife practitioners but with long and complicated additional exams and training to do, it’s a no win situation. To be honest I’m slightly relived as I love my job at the moment, and giving it all up would be heartbreaking. Plus I’m not sure New York is the city for our girls.

922721_10151392665592186_453595571_nBut New York is a city I will be returning to, there was so many places we didn’t see and with my husband clocking up on his air miles I think another child free break is necessary. So for now we’re staying put, in London where are children are settled, my job is secure and women can have one to one midwifery care through the NHS.

The Birth I Want

With my new job as a case loading midwife looming, I came across this campaign via Facebook which really struck a cord with me.  It’s been set up by Vicky Garner, a busy Mum to 3 boys who strongly believes that all pregnant women deserved one-to-one midwifery care throughout their pregnancy, birth and postnatal period.  I was lucky enough to speak to Vicky and find out more about the campaign.

Tell me about the campaign

It’s a campaign for mums, by mums.  We’ve set up now because for years successive governments have promised changes in maternity services – changes that would put the wants and needs of the mother-to-be at the centre of care, where she should be.  Yet we are still not at that point.  Back in May 2012 the current government pledged to reform maternity services and we want to encourage them to deliver on those pledges – to ensure that every mother is given one-to-one care with a midwife/midwives they know through pregnancy, birth and beyond and also given the option of having their baby in a hospital, a birth centre or at home.  Since maternity services should reflect what mums want and need, our campaign is based on the thoughts and experiences mums have of birth and maternity care.  We aim to take the collective voice of mums to policy makers.

What made you want to start it?

After my second baby was born at home under the care of community midwives I was surprised when pregnant with my third to be told that there was a possibility that the same group of midwives might not be able to send out a midwife to my home(if the birth centre was busy) and should that happen, I would have to go into the birth centre to have my baby.  I knew that I wanted a home birth and I also knew that I didn’t want to be worried about whether or not I had to go into the birth centre, so we took on an Independent Midwife.  This brought two things to my attention.  One, that independent midwifery is under threat and we need to do something about it and two, that women across the country are not being given choice over where they have their baby and many are also not getting continuity of care from midwives that they know.  I decided to put my experience as an environmental campaigner to use and set up The Birth I Want.

How important do you think one-to-one midwifery care is for women?

One-to-one midwifery care, before, during and after birth is, in my mind the single most important factor in a positive birth experience for mum, baby and family.  It makes complete sense to me that getting to know your midwife and your midwife getting to know you is an essential ingredient in having the birth you want (even if things don’t go to plan).   And of course, the benefits of one to one care in terms of reducing interventions, reducing c-sections and increasing breastfeeding rates are well known.   And I don’t think one to one care should just be for those mums who are having babies at home or in a birth centre. Mums who chose to birth in hospital or who are high risk so have no choice should be able to be accompanied by their midwife.  It may sound like pie in the sky but it would make such a difference to the birth experiences of so many women.  That’s what mums are telling us too, so we want to try and make it happen.

Do you think the lack of case loading midwifery encourages women to choose an independent midwife?

I think the lack of case loading midwifery certainly does drive those women who understand the importance of a close relationship with their midwives, to Independent Midwifery.  I also think that not being given choice of place of birth is doing that too.  What those women will do come Sept 2013 if the insurance issue hasn’t been sorted I don’t know.  The fact is that we could deliver a case loading system far more widely without many more than the promised 3500 more midwives if those in the driving seats were able to think in new ways.  I’m pretty sure too that if we went down the route of more case loading, we would see less Postnatal Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, because mothers-to-be who feel supported throughout their pregnancy and birth experience are less likely to have an experience that leaves them feeling out of control and disempowered.

What can be done?

We need to let policy makers know that mothers (and their families) want change. We are the ones who have the experience of maternity services, we need to have a say about the shape of them. We have various ways that you can take action via our website and there has never been a better time!  www.thebirthiwant.org.uk