When I started training as a student midwife I had a few mental images of what I might experience, having supported several other women as a doula (birth companion), and having birthed four children myself!
Although some of these have played out, the women I envisaged caring for were childbearing age, and every pregnancy was happy news. I had never imagined spending time nursing very elderly women on a medical ward or supporting women having made a choice to end their pregnancies.
During our second year of midwifery training we are given a task – spend 75 hours of placement time focusing on women’s health, expanding our knowledge of gynaecology, of the issues of reproduction and reproductive life that fall before and after childbearing.
For me this has meant time on a gynaecology ward, learning the hard way how nurses are just as overstretched, underpaid and underappreciated by the system as midwives – but also re-evaluating our role in caring for women across the age spectrum.
“To share in the experiences of women faced with ending their pregnancies was not something I imagined I’d be doing”
A surgeon remarked to me, as I observed prolapse repair surgery, ‘this is all your fault!’. He was referring to the incidence of prolapse after pregnancy and childbirth and how we all need to get better at talking about pelvic floor health, well before pregnancy and throughout our lives.
It was a moment of realisation that those of us caring for and supporting women into motherhood must always see the importance of that moment in time, one that affects mind, body and health for many years to come.
The moment of birth is always a privilege, to share in the making of a family; the blood, sweat, tears and immense physical power of women never gets old. To share in the experiences of women faced with ending their pregnancies was not something I imagined I’d be doing as a student midwife and I had no idea I would feel equally privileged to offer that care.
Although an optional part of completing the women’s health focus I knew the experience for me, whilst emotional and sometimes distressing, was important in considering all the journeys women can face and how often their care is truly “woman-centred”.
“I encourage every student I talk to to take every opportunity to seek out new experiences”
Caring for women ending pregnancies they couldn’t continue, on their own journey managing blood, sweat, tears and pain, taught me as much about women, autonomy, power, strength and the transition to motherhood as birth has.
Empathy and compassionate care are free and no matter her age, her situation or her decisions, make all the difference along the way – whether not yet a mother, imminently a mother, or a great-grandmother, women should remain in control and at the centre of all that we do.
This quote sticks with me through every birth and now resonates too with thinking of women who are not yet able to take that journey, or who made it long ago….
“The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new. The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before.” - B.S. Rajneesh
Having had this opportunity to broaden the boundaries of caring for women I encourage every student I talk to to take every opportunity to seek out new experiences and to push through comfort zones – you just never know what you’ll learn to bring back to doing what you love.