From Student To Midwife: The First Year

For the past 2 weeks I have had a great student midwife working along side me. Ailish has almost completed her first year into midwifery training and has offered to write a series of blog posts to help answer any questions you might have about starting your training. If you are thinking about becoming a midwife or you’ve already qualified and have forgotten what those 3 years really entailed, these guest posts should help you along on your journey or remind you of how challenging your training was.

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Next week is my last as a first year student midwife. It’s been a long journey getting to this point. The stress, excitement, fear, joy (or any other emotion you could think of) that I’ve experienced over the last year have merged in to a blur and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m not saying that it’s been easy, and there have been times I have seriously thought “what am I doing?! Why I am I here?!” but whenever that happens I can step back, take a breath, and realise how lucky I am to be doing something I love.

I’m not one of those people who you encounter at interviews, who put their hands up and declare that they knew they wanted to be a midwife from the age of three. Firstly, because it seems unrealistic that a toddler has the ability to make a valid career choice, and secondly, because it’s not true. At twenty-one years of age I was studying Society and Culture at university, working part time and had possibly less of an idea of what I wanted to do with my life than I did when I was in nursery. Then I fell pregnant and everything changed. I quit university, upped my working hours to full time and desperately tried to get my head around the fact that I was slowly but surely growing a teeny person who would be entirely dependent on me. It was totally overwhelming. My long-term partner was supportive, and I was still living at home with my parents who were amazing throughout the whole pregnancy, but I still approached my due date feeling unprepared and (if I’m honest) completely terrified. I don’t remember a single midwife from my antenatal care – a lovely mentor I have since worked with as a student suggested this was because I hadn’t felt empowered by any of them, and sadly, I agree.

Then in labour I had support from a beautifully kind midwife who changed my perspective entirely. She encouraged without pressure, enabled my independence without deserting me, and created an environment which nurtured the concept that I could birth my baby without fear. Six hours later and 6lb 3oz lighter, I was holding my little boy; still pretty terrified, but more positive and confident than I had felt in the nine months preceding that moment.

Fast forward past nappy changes, sleepless nights, weaning issues and moving to a new flat; I was back at work part time but my heart wasn’t in it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d been interested in the whole “your baby is the size of a grapefruit” emails as much as the next pregnant lady, but now a hobby which I’d cultivated over nine months became something I wanted to pursue further. I started researching midwifery as a career, using sites like StudentMidwife (www.studentmidwife.net/) and NHS Careers (www.nhscareers.nhs.uk) but they just told me the basics. I applied for work experience placements and got two separate week long assignments full of antenatal clinics, postnatal visits, natural birth and instrumental deliveries – I observed and absorbed it all.

More aware of what I was getting myself in to, and even more sure it was the path I wanted to take, I enrolled on an Access to Nursing course. Working two days a week, studying three days a week and being a mummy 24/7 wasn’t easy. Biology, psychology, health studies, exams, essays, presentations… I could not have got through it without a good support system, passion for what I was doing and huge (no, massive) amounts of gin. I also completed a three day training course as a Doula through Nurturing Birth (www.nurturingbirth.co.uk/) purely as a foundation for research and ideas in to natural childbirth. It was an awesome experience and I met some inspiring people, but it also cemented the fact that I wanted to take the extra step in to midwifery as an undergraduate.

I was accepted in to three out of four universities which I had applied for; choosing which to accept was a personal decision. As a mother, block placement and study (e.g. seven weeks academic block, followed by seven weeks clinical block) did not appeal in terms of childcare or family life. Integrated study (e.g. two days per week at university, 3 days on clinical placement) suited my lifestyle not only for my personal relationships, but for my learning preference. Learning a subject in lecture on a Monday, performing the skill in a clinical lab on a Tuesday, and then applying it all to real-life midwifery the next day works well for me. Choosing a university is difficult for anyone, but for a midwifery student, you have to be slightly more mature (who said boring?!) about your decision. Rather than meticulously working out which student union will meet your musical/drinking/love life requirements, try pondering which hospital you want to train in (busy inner city? Mellow suburban?), how you are going navigate public transport for an early shift at 6.45am or how you’re getting to that home birth when you’re on call at 3am.

I’m making it sound a bit rubbish, aren’t I? It’s brilliant, honestly. On every single interview day I went to for uni, the opening line was “you can still have a social life and be a student midwife!” and it is true, I promise. I have friends training as midwives in numerous other universities and the set up for first year seems pretty standard, so let’s break it down:

First term – going crazy at Fresher’s fortnight, am I right?! Ummmm, no, not really. The first five weeks are 9-5 with a mix of mandatory training, lectures and time in clinical labs learning skills such as abdominal palpations and taking a blood pressure. You can try doing this hungover (quite a few did), but by the third week most of us had settled in to a routine and accepted that this was just not going to be the carefree, waking up at midday, strolling to a one hour lecture existence that had been advertised. Anyway, as a mama to a toddler, it was mainly a case of organising childcare, then arranging back up childcare should your first let you down, and then arranging a back up for your back up JUST IN CASE. Social life wasn’t a priority – by the time we had started integrated study in week six I was happy to come home from a twelve hour shift, neck a stiff cup of green tea and fall asleep whilst reading a good book (Michel Odent or Ina May Gaskin, natch).

Second term – by this point, I was feeling a bit more in control of both my home and professional life. Lectures were interesting, skills labs were becoming more complex and placement was something I looked forward to (most) days. I’ve had shifts where I have met amazing, strong women and been given the chance to input positively in to their experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Mentors I worked with inspired me to be a better student and take advantage of every single learning opportunity. Saying that, I also had shifts where I had to go and have a little cry in the toilet because I felt so overwhelmed and incompetent, and I’ve worked with midwives where our ideals and ways of practice have clashed. It’s such a rollercoaster, and was so important for me to have a supportive partner and friends to sound off on particularly after the bad days, but also after the good ones.

Final term – did I say I felt more in control?! Exams, essays and a whole summer of full time placement rounds off first year. My little boy has both started and finished his first year at nursery and I can count on one hand the number of times I have been available to drop him off or pick him up. I am attempting to cram eight months of biology and medicines management for exams in to a frazzled brain whilst having two essays on the go. My student loan is going down, whilst my responsibility on placement is steadily going up. Friends the same age as me are getting married, travelling the world, buying houses, and are established in their careers. I however, am grunting at my boyfriend, travelling on the 8am train home from my third night shift in a row and establishing the rule that pot noodles are an acceptable dinner to eat from my rented flat.

This week is my last week as a first year student midwife and I can’t wait to start my second. As hard as it has been on me, it has been just as hard, if not harder on my family. I’ve kept going throughout for the one reason that I know, deep-down-in-the-gut-KNOW, that midwifery is what I should be doing with my life. Women’s bodies and minds are astounding – conceiving, growing and birthing new life is an incredible occurrence that I have the privilege of being part of on a daily basis. Training for me is not just about juggling workloads or meeting pass rates – I want to be the type of midwife who could also one day empower a scared new mum and stir up a passion in her to start this same journey. I’ll just remind her to stock up on the ginbeforehand.

So You Want To Be A Midwife?

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How my life has looked for the past 3 days

And relax.

I’ve just finished a mammoth 3 nights on call and I’m shattered. It was up for every one of them, you could say we’ve been busy in our little team. I don’t think you realise how exhausting this job can be when you’re training to be a midwife, I certainly didn’t. Back then when I was a naive 21 year old, the only person I had to get up and dressed in the morning was myself and that was sometime a chore (especially if we had been out to Vodka Revolutions the night before, Vodka and a mixer for 50p, bargain!) Now I have to co-ordinate my shifts with my husbands work schedule, throw 2 children in the mix and it sounds like a recipe for disaster. But we somehow manage.

I often get asked ‘why did you become a midwife?’ and others ask what the training was really like. Programmes such as ‘Call the Midwife’, ‘One Born Every Minute’ and ‘The Midwives’ have increased the public’s knowledge of what midwives really do and according to The Royal College of Midwives the number of applications for starting a midwifery degree has shot up! This is excellent as there is still a national shortage of midwives.

Kathryn over at The Vintage Midwife shares her views on midwifery training and why she loves her job despite the long hours and hard work.

call the midwife

‘I was recently contacted by someone who wants to be a midwife and I have been wondering what to say to her.  Midwifery training is incredibly popular at the moment, no doubt thanks in part to Call The Midwife and One Born Every Minute.  I have lost count of the number of people who have said to me ‘I would love to do your job…’ with a wistful look in their eye.  At our local university over 1,000 people applied for the 50 spaces available on the next Midwifery course.

But I wonder if there is any other job that is so romanticized and where the harsh reality of life on the shop floor is so different to what we hope for?

I don’t think people always fully appreciate the enormous RESPONSIBILITY that you have as a midwife.  At times it can feel overwhelming.  You are responsible not only for the health and safety of that woman but also for her baby.  You may be responsible for a baby dying or being severely disabled.  Just let that sink in for a moment, it’s quite a big deal huh?

Sometimes, despite the best care babies can be born in an unexpectedly poor condition and I know of several very good midwives that have been involved in these tragic cases. This involves investigations, court cases, a very hard and long process before their name is cleared.

Childbirth is a natural, normal function that is a momentous event for a woman and her family.  But in the litigation fearing, policy following, hugely overworked, overstretched and understaffed NHS then this can often feel lost.

The heartbreaking fact for midwives is that if you have only 15 mins per antenatal appointment, have to do 13 postnatal visits in a morning, look after 10 women and babies on a postnatal ward, catch 3 babies on a night shift then you just simply can not give the care that you know these women and babies deserve. Meanwhile you are answering endless phone calls, buzzers, doorbells, doing reams of paperwork, hunting for missing equipment, mopping blood up, chasing social workers, teaching students…

All of this in a twelve hour shift without time even for a wee and only a handful of Quality Street to eat all day.  Working loads of weekends, night shifts, Christmas Day, New Years Eve.  Still want to do it?  Have I put you off yet?

I decided I wanted to be a midwife when I saw a baby being born whilst training as a student nurse, fresh out of school. I was just 18 and it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.  Like a magic trick, a baby appearing out of a woman’s body.  I have lost count of the number of babies I have seen born since then, it must be several hundred.  And do you know what?  I still find it as exciting as that first time I saw it.  When you see that tiny scrap of hair, that new life emerging, knowing that you are the first person to see this new person, it never loses its thrill.

Yes it’s hard work and nothing like the ‘lovely’ job people often imagine it to be but I still want to be a midwife.’

Snap Happy

I’ve recently had an amazing 2nd year student working with me on labour ward for a few weeks.  She reminds me so much of how I was at that stage in my training; excited, eager to learn , pro normality, interested in natural birth I have to say I’m going to really really miss her.  She was so great with the women and their partners and she taught me a lot too about my practice.  And she was a brilliant photographer.

I’m sure she would admit it was just luck or the type of camera but at many of the births we attended together she captured some amazing photos of the moment a new person was being born.  I have to say this pleased me immensely as I LOVE birth photos.  I’m always that midwife grabbing the camera and clicking away as the new parents wipe away their tears and look shocked adoringly at their new baby.

So today when I saw this article on the Daily Mail’s website it got me thinking.   Would you pay for a photographer to attend your birth?  You pay for a photographer to take pictures on you wedding day, so why not your birth?

I didn’t have a photographer at my birth well ok I had my husband who isn’t a professional photographer but he does take a mean photo (bit of Instagram and some nice 1970’s filter works wonders).

See, you can’t even see how tired I was

After my first daughter was born I was a little bit disappointed at the lack of photos we had of the labour/birth.  I think looking back we were just so overwhelmed with it all, (I say we, I mean me) that I kind of wish someone had taken more.  The birth becomes a bit of a blur but it would have been nice to look back at them and remember the hazy parts.

So when I was pregnant with my second daughter I made sure of one thing, Photos!  I wanted my husband to take loads of photos throughout the labour and birth.  I didn’t want to be aware of him taking them either.  But you know what, afterwards when we were back at home it was so special looking through them; it filled in the hazy gaps when the gas and air had kicked in.  I’ve managed to collect a few photos I took at the birth of these babies, and their parents have kindly given me permission to use them in this blog.  Feel free to add your own birth photos, they don’t have to be taken by a professional photographer, an amateur husband with a shaky hand will do.

Baby Harris

Baby Marni

Baby Art

Baby Jake

Baby Edith

Baby William

Baby Edith

Baby Eva

Baby Thisbe