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What is midwifery?

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In her last blog as midwifery student editor, Anna Merrick, looks at how midwifery is presented to the general public and questions how assumptions can be challenged

Midwifery is frequently referred to as a ‘secret club’ - an underground network of scurrying spinsters who come out at night and deliver babies under the cover of darkness.

Some may picture us holding women’s hands and cuddling newborns with a string of knitting sitting in our laps. Others may picture us in front of a computer screen, with a woman strapped to a bed in the background, who we ignore indefinitely. The image of a student midwife is even more warped – the instant connotation is a lab-gowned unfortunate with a clipboard.

These are all images that I have had projected onto me over the past three years. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have interchanged the role of a midwife with the role of a nurse, or asked me repeatedly: ”what, you actually do deliveries?” or “is it really nice, cuddling babies all day?”.

There is also an impression that midwives are all older, wise women, who have had children themselves.

“The perception of midwifery is generally elusive, or completely outdated”

Overall, I feel that the perception of midwifery is generally elusive, or completely outdated. Whilst insightful and honest images of midwifery exist, they seem to be circulated within the sphere of midwifery itself, rather than communicated to the wider public. What is communicated to the wider public comes from reporting or edited media, rather than from the direct and unrestricted voice of the midwife.

The resulting impact is an invisible profession, clouded with assumption and only broken with snippets of reality passed between individuals or small groups.

Over the past year, I have tried to present my own snippets of the reality of midwifery, through my blogs with Student Nursing Times. Creating a modern voice and insight was the aim of my role, and I am sad to be writing my final post.

A lot of what I have presented was masked behind a myriad of jokes and light-heartedness, but in this closing blog and my final weeks as a student, I want to summarise what flickers to mind when I look back upon the past three years.

“Anxious journeys on the bus, an inner voice urging you to just turn around and go home”

Midwifery is harsh, white lights at 3am. It is eerie screams circling the ward like a breeze, passing in and out of windows, until the sound gently changes, and quietness resumes. Anxious journeys on the bus, an inner voice urging you to just turn around and go home. Standing in the handover room with dread and fatigue.

Midwifery is elation and achievement, indescribable joy.

It is the distant murmur of heartbeats drumming, of touching abdomens to see spines, limbs and heads in your mind. Wiping down equipment and freshening sheets, returning a room of momentary chaos back to calm. It is coming home and crying in the shower. It is days that pass in moments, or moments that stretch out for hours. It is always knowing the date, and the time.

Midwifery training  is somebody watching over your shoulder, a marathon of milestones waiting to be ticked off. It is mistakes and embarrassment, cluelessness and judgment. Laughing in the staffroom. It is introducing yourself, over and over again. Making connections in minutes, and then watching them go. A new face and a new story, but the same room. It’s the sound of adrenaline when the emergency bell cries out for help. It’s relief and gratitude.

”Sweat and hot lamps, stuffy rooms and quick turnovers”

Midwifery is aching legs and dry hands. Washing uniform and packing bags. It is intense friendships and knowingness, a sense of pride for each other. Sweat and hot lamps, stuffy rooms and quick turnovers. A whole new vocabulary of abbreviations. Seeing poverty and abuse, grief and vulnerability. It is self-doubt. It is lying in bed and playing the day over, again and again and again. It is lying in bed and passing out. It is warm towels, wet towels, bloodstained towels. Walking the hospital in search for equipment. Number checks every morning, a constant shuffling of people and places.

It’s three years of official training and decades more to come – of pushing, learning and pressure to perform. Strong faces but shaky minds, riddled with uncertainty. It is sidelined social lives and debt. It’s thanks and acclaim in the workplace, but disregard and scaremongering in the news. It’s being told we’re invaluable by some and being silenced and belittled by others. Midwifery can be everything, or nothing.

“It’s being told we’re invaluable by some and being silenced and belittled by others”

It’s difficult to capture the experiences we have been exposed to, and shaped by, in a few hundred words every month. It is also difficult to summarise how we feel about midwifery too – it is such a conflicted and unsettled vocation, with constant changes in emotion and understanding.

But I want to close with a final image.

Imagine a low stoned wall encircling a bed of flowers and budding seeds. There are a few pieces missing – broken segments, or crumbling edges worn down by time and misuse. The individual stones are varied – some new, some sun-blanched, some scratched. But standing back, the wall is strong, held together by each stone fitting into the next, supporting itself and balanced.

Unified, sturdy and resilient - the border of new life. Age-old, ordinary and weathered.

That’s midwifery.



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Readers' comments (1)

  • There was/is a children's drama called Millie Inbetween and one of the main characters is a midwife and we had a delivery on the show by one of the characters.

    Midwifery is amazing and there's nothing else you can really say about it.


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