At the beginning of January 2018, I thought about all the inspirational birth world people I’m in contact with.
I wanted to have a pool of encouraging, motivational interviews on Midwife Diaries which also had 'nuts and bolts' strategies for the midwifery community to draw on.
I developed some questions to send out to those women and men who I know have stories to tell and ideas to add to midwifery's cultural bloodstream.
The response has been amazing. I have some brilliant advice sitting in my inbox and I'm enjoying the meeting of minds that happens when I get to post these interviews.
This week I’d like to introduce Hilary Coombes. She's fifty-three and is in her first year of training at Oxford Brookes University. She's a Mum of three adult children, and has formerly worked with the homeless and women with complex needs. She tells me she's undaunted by student debt as she'll likely die before she pays it off!
In her spare time, she knits, crochets, and keeps looking in the jobs column for 'village wisewoman' but the position hasn't come up so she's gone for midwifery instead.
Here we go!
What advice would you give to a passionate, intelligent student midwife just starting their training?
It is hard work, but if this is for you then you'll handle it. Be prepared for overwhelm and for fatigue - but also for having your heart swell with love and achievement. It will be everything you think - and not what you thought at all.
"Be the change you want to see in the world".
And if you are later in life and wondering if you have the guts or the stamina to do this - you DO. And you will be brilliant, and you will love it, because you bring your whole life lessons with you; and your genuine bravery.
Which books do you most often recommend to midwives and students?
This is such a broad question, as midwifery is a blend of art, science and intuition.
My own midwifery journey began as a newly pregnant 23 year old who read Ina May Gaskin's Spiritual Midwifery until the pages fell out. I still see it as a seminal work which challenged the language of midwifery and really showed the importance of relationship and attitude in achieving good outcomes and in empowering women to do this amazing thing they are designed for.
I still have it in my head now that I am starting to practice; it helps me think about my energetic contribution to a birthing scenario and how to help others present to manage theirs in a positive way.
Sheila Kitzinger's The Politics of Birth is a straight-talking analysis and inquisition into why we do what we do, as women and as midwives, within a feminist context; it always encourages me to think within a bigger picture and with a sense of social responsibility. Women's own, real experiences and feelings can easily get lost in the noise of practice and we need to keep them at the front of our awareness...easier said than done!
On a practical level, I'm a Myles Textbook For Midwives basic text user...although basic texts are limited, I read an ancient copy of this 25 years ago and soaked it in like a sponge. My new, shiny copy sits on my shelf marking my final arrival in the profession and I feel very proud of it.
Can you tell us about your favourite midwifery moment?
Delivering a mother whose anxiety had been through the roof - she just used just gas and air. As a student, you can give a unique amount of attention and encouragement to women. Her feedback made me cry with happiness.
What is poor advice you hear being given to student or newly qualified midwives?
"Haha, you'll learn..." and "good luck with that". Infuriating and unnecessary - students are the new blood of the profession and may be the agents of change. Don't crush them.
If you could put a sign up on every labour ward or work place for student midwives worldwide, with a big message for every member of staff, what would it say?
You lot absolutely rock.
I love that last one and I totally agree it's never too old - you never know what's going to happen next in life and if you're giving excellent care, the NHS and women will be very lucky to have you around, regardless of your age. It's important for you to know how many emails I get from people who think they're too old to train - but there's an equal number from people who think they're too young so I think we just come up with stories to talk ourselves out of things!
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. Could you leave Hilary and I a comment letting us know your most important realisation from her answers?
And also, do you know of an inspirational student or midwife who you think I should interview? We all know and love some of the big names in midwifery but I’m very aware that many brilliant midwifery leaders do their work under the radar – yet these are people we could learn a huge amount from. See the quiz here.
Take care, Ellie.