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

And A Baby Was Born!

Our single mother nativity scene

Our single mother nativity scene (we can’t find Joseph)

This year as we were decorating  the house for Christmas and singing very loudly (and badly) to The Pogues ‘Fairy Tale of New York’, I set up our little wooden nativity scene.  Now we’re not a religious family (ahem) but I have told my girls about the birth of Jesus minus the virgin bit – far too complicated.  But as I am a little obsessed with all things birth, I felt it was important to talk about one of the most famous births in history.  And a BBA too!  This term stands for Born Before Arrival (of the midwife) and I have to say I praise Mary for being a woman and just getting on with he job in hand despite the circumstances.  In a cold stable, with various cattle watching on and not an midwife in sight.  Joseph stood by and watched his very young wife give birth all by herself.  I often wonder, who was really supporting and looking after that young girl?

There is a joke about what would have happened if three wise women had shown up at Jesus’ birth instead of three wise men.  It goes, “Three wise women would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.”  I wonder if perhaps a wise woman did attend that young mother in the stable. I always hoped that Mary had someone around who could support her, dry off her baby, help her get started breastfeeding, keep an eye on her bleeding—these are the same things I wish for all women, but unfortunately many lack this very basic care.

If the image of a birth in a stable captures your imagination the way it captures mine, I ask you to think about the conditions and circumstances surrounding birth around the world today.  As a midwife, working in a affluent area of South East London, it is easy for me to forget about the deprivation and poverty that babies are born into every day.  Whatever your personal beliefs, I know that we all wish for safe births attended by loving and supportive midwives.  I know we wish for all children to be educated, valued, fed and loved.  I know we all wish for peace on earth and goodwill for humankind.

Thank you to all of you who read Gas and Air, and I wish you a very merry Christmas.

Top Tips for Dads-to-be

*Warning this post contains an image of a half-naked man*

Now that that’s got your attention…………

We arrived in hell, somewhere just South of Forest Hill. The satnav directed us here bright lights, roaring music and a LOT of sugar intoxicated screaming children. I’m terrified. We’ve brought our children to Gambados. Actually without sounding like a total snob it’s fine for a grey wet Sunday, the 4 year old is lost in the giant soft play and the toddler is throwing herself off soft building blocks. Perfect opportunity to be creative and attempt to think up my next blog post whilst closely making sure the toddler isn’t licking every ball in the ball pool (which to be honest if it wasn’t for her already nursery acquired every 3 weeks snotty nose I would care a bit more, maybe).

I watched One Born Every Minute the other night, something I’ve sort of stopped doing as I usually work on a Wednesday and the thought of switching that on having just done a 12 hour shift is not exactly ‘unwinding’, but for some reason I found myself catching the last 10 minutes. Next thing I know tears are streaming down my face. Ok not that unusual for a midwife but having spent quite a full on day with an amazing woman and her husband getting them through a very long and difficult, labour I thought most of my tears had already been wept. In fact it was this burly tattooed Northern guys reaction to seeing his little baby being delivered which set me off, a reaction not that uncommon for me. Seeing men cry at the birth of their baby is so emotional I find it hard to even say the words ‘congratulations’ as I blubber away searching for a tissue whilst trying to pull myself back together into midwife mode.

My husband is very emotional, I remember once, him coming in half way through Marley and Me to me tutting and muttering ‘God I just loathe Jennifer Aniston and this bloody dog, this film is crap’. Next thing I know he’s curled up in the fetal position on the sofa sobbing ‘I need to be held and loved this is too much for me to cope with’, I didn’t quite know what to do or say…………..

Anyway, it didn’t quite feel right for me to write this next part of this post as he has been there for both our daughter’s birth making him pretty much an expert. He really was amazing and I couldn’t of got through those contractions without him, here he is doing skin to skin with our first daughter minutes after she was born, all together now ‘ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’

So with a certain amount of apprehension (similar to when I leave him in charge of cleaning the house and looking after the kids whilst I have a mani / pedi and come back to find the kids drawing on the carpet, wet washing still in the machine, his tools out on the kitchen table, grease on the new tea towels and him watching the rugby) I hand over to my husband to share his wisdom.

Hello all, I’ve been roped in share my insights into what Dads should be doing/ thinking about/ not doing etc in the run up, during and after your lovely partner has done all the hard work and brought your newest mini me into the world.

First things, first – I’m going to be breaking this down into 3 stages: before, during and after. There are a million things I could write but I’m going to limit to a choice few so as not to scare / bore you.

Before the birth – The woman you’re with is growing a baby for you inside of her – that’s pretty bloody amazing. Just take a second to think about that. She’s the one that carrying the extra weight, suffering from mood swings (although you’ll see the blunt end of those), feeling dreadful and generally having a bit of rough time so just make life a bit easier for her. She’ll moan at you and nothing you’ll do will be to the standard she wants (as if it ever is) but just make that bit more effort than you normally would around the house and maybe rein in those drinks on Saturday nights with the boys – she’s not going to be out on the smash is she, so be sympathetic.

Be interested in what she’s been reading about – invariably your other half will have been looking up stuff on the internet (hopefully from this blog) and want to share it with you. Don’t just pay this lip service as this is obviously important to her / scaring her stiff. The more you understand at this point the less likely to are to get completely freaked when all the blood and guts stuff starts happening. Things to learn include all the birth options, the birth plan if you have one and which drugs do what – (get a go on the gas and air if you can – awesome fun!)

During the birth – Realise from the outset that you’re probably going to be in the way and whatever you do will probably irritate her. I remember pouring warm water over my wife’s back while she was in the pool, I then cracked a joke about it being like pouring gravy over a big fat turkey -the phrase ‘like a lead balloon’ doesn’t do it justice.

Be brave – if your partner wants you to get involved and have a look at what’s going on, then grow a pair and have a gander – that’s your child coming into the world. At least you’ll be able to then look at your child when you’re older and say “I was involved and encouraged your mother to be active in birth” rather than “I got a cup of tea and a floppy cheese sandwich and when I came back you were there!”

After the birth – not that you wouldn’t anyway, but kiss your partner and thank them for what they’ve just done for you. You will probably never do anything on the same scale for them so make them feel like a million dollars.

Get the house ready – clean it, and that means actually get out those cleaning products (even though the likelihood is you don’t know which one is for which job) and make that house sparkle – all helps with the nesting process and making you partner and new addition feel at ease. (My wife has just told me to include flowers on here so do it)

Push present – Now this one is an area of debate for me. The debate isn’t on whether you should get your partner a present or not – you really should. The debate on how much to spend. I know some dads that have spent a grand on a new handbag and some that have just got a pair of cashmere socks. Whatever it is, put some thought into. Flowers from the garage just won’t cut it.

Get ready for the shock – your life is going to change irreversibly so don’t fight it. Nights out with the boys on Brick Lane will become limited and you’ll be tired all the time. But the upsides massively outweigh the downs – of course, I won’t bore you by going through those. I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself – that’s what being a Dad is all about.

How many is too many?

My shifts are long, 12 hours (well 11.5 to be precise as we don’t get paid for half of our lunch break and that’s if we even get a lunch break I mean who has lunch 5pm?) but it does mean that I work 3 shifts a week and still have 4 days off a to spend being the perfect yummy mummy (I’m joking, for the record I bloody hate that term, its degrading it basically means if you’re remotely good-looking you’re classified as yummy and if you haven’t been blessed in the looks department you’re what, you’re just doing a great job?).

Anyway I was looking after this really sweet young woman the other night having her first baby and she had fantastic support in labour. Her Mum was there, her boyfriend, her sister, her niece, her sister’s best mate ,her granny, I think a pizza delivery boy was there at one point, I mean the list was endless I lost count of the constant flow of people in and out of the room offering their ‘support’. I say this term loosely as I’m not wholly convinced that they were all there in the girls best interest. The hospital policy states that you are only allowed 2 birthing partners in the room at any time, mainly due to security reasons plus the rooms aren’t huge and it makes safety an issue if there was an emergency situation (at a home birth you can have as many people as you like).

So this one girl who I have no idea whether she was a cousin, sister or friend of the woman in labour instinctively grabbed a sick bowl and started fanning the woman’s face. Now I’m not the kind of midwife who just sits in the corner of the room and jots things down in the notes whilst the birth partner does all the support. I will massage backs, mop brows, clear up vomit, wipe away poo (more on that subject in a later post) and I can usually tell if a woman needs fanning and looks too hot. But this friend was amazing, she then took to massaging the woman’s sacrum I mean really doing a fab job almost a professional standard, like she knew exactly where to press and reassure her friend through every contraction.

Well there I was not really needed, it felt shit to be honest sob sob oh I do love to feel like the one person who can help the woman (after all that’s why I love my job) but I did sort of feel like a loose end. So I sat back and observed this amazing birth partner. Eventually the other members of her family got bored as there was no sign of baby and went to Nandos to fill up on hormone and protein enhanced peri peri chicken and soggy chips. But this girl just kept on going, I did offer to take over with the massaging but nope she was not giving up working her thumbs to the nub and the labouring woman was certainly benefitting from all of this.

Anyway the baby was born, a gorgeous 8lb baby boy and all was fine. My inquisitive side of got the better of me and I had to ask the birth partner ‘So where do you learn how to do that, you must be a doula or had at least 10 babies to be that good.’ The girl just smiled and a burst of deep loud hearty laughter erupted around the room ‘From One Born Every Minute you know on the telly, I bloody love that show watch it every week!’ Of course the Bafta awarded Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary, where else?! I honestly think that show is great, not only does it really portray a maternity ward, it shows you pretty much all scenarios you could be faced with when having a baby (NCT take note). I congratulated and thanked the girl on her wonderful techniques and banged on about how she should train to be a midwife oh how we need people like her at all births, you were really amazing for your friend bla bla bla and then the laughter came again,

‘No way babe, you wouldn’t catch me seeing lady bits every day, women screaming in pain, I’ve got a job anyway.’

‘So what do you do?’ I asked,

I’m a beautician, mainly specialise in bikini waxing’.

Before my brain had a chance to register her answer (I blame the hour and lack of break) she was gone, thrusting her business card in my hands on her way out

‘Let me know if you ever need a trim down there’ she said nodding at my nether regions. Shit did she know I was soooo over due my last wax that my husband had given up on the promised Valentines/birthday/Christmas treat? Who knows, but what I do know is that she was an amazing birth partner. The point of the story is readers – ‘its quality, not quantity’, choosing the right person/people to have in the room can make the difference between reliving the pain in your back or being a pain in the neck. And if there’s a free bikini wax at the end of it for the midwife, then everyone comes away satisfied.