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The One Time In Midwifery I Want You Not To Empathise (Read: ‘Free Yourself From Workplace Bullying’)

The One Time In Midwifery I Want You Not To Empathise (Read: ‘Free Yourself From Workplace Bullying’)

I suggest you rethink that care plan,” said the co-ordinator to me, quietly, but in front of a group of doctors.

Nothing so wrong with that. But in the context of daily puts downs, blank stares and a lack of humour or respect, it forms a pattern of bullying.

To summarise Aryanne Oade, author of ‘Free Yourself From Workplace Bullying’, bullying is made up of:

  • Personal attacks which you find emotionally or professionally harmful
  • Deliberate attempts to undermine you
  • Deliberate attempts to remove power from you, especially when the bully keeps the power for themselves

At first, it can present as the staff member testing to see if you react.

If you wobble at an nonconstructive piece of criticism - ‘that’s a mistake that I’ve never seen on this ward – ever’ - it can then progress to more frequent attacks.

But even though I've read all the books and have experienced bullying a few times, it's still really hard for me to react well. 

When I face bullying behaviour, I experience mental and emotional confusion. I don’t want to think badly of anyone so my first instinct is to think I've misunderstood or I'm overreacting.

The co-ordinator I'm writing about was particularly bewildering because I’d seen her been kind to women in her care. She had amazing clinical skills as a midwife.

And yet she was horrible to me.

I assumed it was my fault, that I wasn’t up to scratch, that perhaps I was annoying. That I should be able to show her what bringing me down in front of the doctors was doing to my confidence.

Surely if I could get into her head and heart I could convince her to be kind?

If you’re reading this and you relate you’re likely an empathetic, gifted student or midwife and we’re lucky to have you in the profession.

But with the greatest respect, this is the one situation in midwifery where I want you not to empathise.

Empathy is not going to work with someone who has chosen to use aggression in the workforce. This co-ordinator had chosen to remove my power so it's unlikely she had any interest in emotionally supporting me. I believe she already felt entitled and like she belonged at that hospital, and experienced little to no self-doubt. Me reaching out to her and explaining how I felt was unimportant to her.

This all sounds awful but the upside is, knowing how things can be will help you develop coping skills.

As a midwife you need many social skills in your toolbox. You don’t always have to be upfront and honest about your vulnerabilities with every team member and hope that they will have your best interests at heart. Sometimes clearly stating your boundaries and showing you’re not going to be bullied is the best thing you can do for the women and your workforce.

If you’re in a bullying situation, I would strongly suggest you get Aryanne Oade’s book.

You have no idea how much power you have in small moments.

Taking on someone older and more experienced can be done if you’re clever about it, stand up for yourself and remain calm.

Looking back, I had many opportunities to put things right. Once I lost my marbles and was using an obstetric wheel to work out a woman was term + 1 (doh!) and once I forgot to label something in the fridge. On both of these occasions I acquiesced to bullying behaviour because I felt I deserved to be ‘told off’.

But I was learning. I could respond carefully and accurately at times. I wasn’t letting my professional power be taken away nearly as much.

There’s a sense of personal accomplishment and breakthrough to be had. The ability to set professional boundaries is an essential part of midwifery.

A couple of years later I saw the co-ordinator out having coffee. By this point she’d retired. It would make a better story to say that she was like Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada, swinging a handbag and an expression of disgust under her sunglasses but she was out with a group of women and a toddler, sweetly laughing, drinking tea and ordering scones.

Thinking that holding a grudge wasn’t my style, I actually went and said Hi.

She looked a bit surprised but greeted me politely. Then she praised my midwifery skills and I thanked her and left.

I honestly don’t know whether she felt guilty, had no idea she’d been bullying me or simply wanted to keep things peaceful in front of friends.

It reminded me that she was just a person after all.

But save the empathy for the women and your colleagues that value it. They’ll get more out your kindness than a bully would get from five years of you trying to scale their walls.

This all sounds very severe - but the flip side is, if you show strength to someone with bullying characteristics, in a way that's the most empathetic thing you could do. You're not stooping to their level but you are showing you understand the dynamic going on. If I'd have been a push over, I never would have had the strength to approach the co-ordinator when she'd retired. Who knows, perhaps she appreciated me standing up for myself in the long run.

Have you read Aryanne's book? Have you got strategies to deal with such situations and people?

Let me know in the comments below. And if you're in a workplace bullying situation right now, I'm sending you strength and support.

Ellie x

*(details have been changed to preserve anonymity)

November 7, 2018 1

The Most Important Writing Technique Ever – and What Happened on ‘New Walk’ Launch Night

The Most Important Writing Technique Ever – and What Happened on ‘New Walk’ Launch Night

New Walk came out six days ago. I still feel like my brain has floated out of my head, probably sometime after the launch evening and it’s somewhere above the chimney pots in London.

It’s strange and wonderful and all I can do is take regular breaks to stare out at the Autumn sunshine on the buffeting trees and let myself re-calibrate.

I’m getting not enough done right now but I don’t have a choice. (Just a quick reminder here if you’ve done anything big recently – like getting an offer to train as a student midwife, qualifying as a midwife – if my experience is anything like mine, you need recovery time from the good things as well as the bad things!)

Here’s my favourite review so far:

'Hiya Ellie,

I'm not someone who would usually message but I just want to say Congratulations on your book release. I have bought and read the whole thing already!

I have currently entered my 3rd year of training and can strongly relate to Chloe. Within my training I have had to deal with my mum suffering a brain haemorrhage, my Nan passing and I also was pregnant earlier this year and decided it was not the right time for myself or my family (although i am still not 100% i did the right thing)

I have dealt with some unsupportive staff and felt like I have been taken for granted on shifts as I was an MCA previously at the trust I work in. I feel morale on placement within the trust is very low and the new HoM's idea of help is glancing at the boards and responding to concerns with 'but you always manage!'. With all this I feel like I have 'lost my way' however this book has re-ignited my love for midwifery and reminded why I came into it in the first place - for the women, their babies and their families, so for that I just want to say a big thank you. 

Looking forward to the next read!'

Needless to say, I sobbed when I read this.

If you missed the launch check out the video below. Comedy value of me half perching on the seat, not sure there are many 4ft 11 inch authors around! I talk about the single most important writing technique I’ve come across.

(The transcript is below if you’d prefer).

Thanks so much everyone who's shared about 'New Walk', posted pictures of them reading online or reviewed on Amazon!

Ellie x

The Single Most Important Writing Technique I’ve Come Across – my Book Launch Evening Speech

“This is really surreal for me.

It's really strange! Thank you very much everybody who's come, all my friends and family and my online family, please come and say Hi later and we can chat about whatever you'd like to chat about.

The reason it's surreal is I kind of remember when I was about six going 'I'd quite like to write a book, and now I'm 30, tomorrow, and I'm kind of looking down a tunnel in time - has anyone had one of those kinds of moments?

It's a very, very strange feeling.

I want to tell you about a writing technique because I think it's going to help you hack in to some of the stories, the TV series and novels that you like the most.

This writing technique is really simple; the idea is your book should have a single theme and this theme should be inherent in every single scene. It holds the story together.

And has anyone seen 'Breaking Bad'? Really good TV series! If you haven't seen it I highly recommend it. This series taught me the most about this particular technique. There's a very mild-mannered chemistry teacher called Walt, and over the course of the series he turns into this meth cooking drug dealer gangster sort of guy.

Right at the beginning of the first episode, he's talking to his chemistry students and he says 'chemistry is the study of transformation'. He talks about growth and decay, solution and dissolution and then you realise that what he's talking about is the transformation of himself.

It goes all the way through the series, it tracks back to every single scene.

And in 'New Walk' I had this one particular concept in mind, and that concept, I had it written down actually, stuck to my computer screen on a piece of paper.

That concept was 'life is not as it should be but you still have to try'. And the reason that was the concept is being a student midwife in the NHS is really difficult. The courage you need to do the job itself is incredible, but on top of that I really haven't glossed over some of the staffing issues, the culture of the NHS, and things like that. But then you still have to try and remember that amazing things happen, even in the same shift.

And I realised that I love 'Call The Midwife', I love the series and I love the book but I wasn't sure there was anything out there describing the modern experience of being a student midwife so that's why I wanted this phrase.

And then I realised once I'd finished writing that the phrase 'life is not as it should be, you still have to try' can be described in one word.

And that word is: resilience.

And I'm not talking about the kind of resilience that sometimes is pressed on us, you know, being masochistic and just absorbing really bad behaviour or y'know, there needs to be political change and you just put up with things.

I'm talking about the kind of resilience where you get home at the end of the day and you still like yourself. And you know you did a good job, and that's what I've tried to write a novel about.

I'll do a quick reading for you.

So in this bit of the novel there's a woman who's making a particular choice about her care and it's not necessarily in line with maybe what the medical advice would be.

And just to say, I've got really good friends who are doctors, and sometimes I think we don't celebrate the amazing things doctors do enough. I have a friend who's an anaesthetist who's here and the amount of work she's put in over the years, she has to know the atomic level of all the drugs she gives and we're sort of like 'oh, let's have an epidural, oo, pain fairy!' so this isn't me saying 'oh no I don't like doctors' it's just me wanting to explore some of the issues that I came across in practice - so here's the reading:

‘How’s Room Four, then?’ says Beth, sat at the staff base and
printing blood forms off the computer as she listens to Jo’s

I know I’m smiling like a lunatic, my feet barely meeting
the floor. I’m having major déjà vu. I have a particular memory
from a birth in Alabama where I was woken in the night, picked
up under the arms and plonked down in front of the pool to
see the baby born. I’ve always wondered why Mum thought
this was something I needed to see, and whether I’d ever do
it with my own child. I never thought to ask her before she
died. Since then it’s been a bittersweet thought, a touchstone
for pride, regret, sadness and passion that I’ve come back to
thousands of times. Tonight it’s clearer than it’s ever been.
Dr Roshni appears at the end of the corridor, some notes in
one hand and a cardboard cup of tea and a KitKat in the other.
I notice she’s changed her shoes for black wellies. She must be
coming out of theatre.

‘How’s it going?’ she asks me.

‘Yeah, very good. The woman in there is amazing.’

‘Oh yes? This is the one that refused monitoring isn’t it?’

She takes a sip of her tea, flicks to the correct page in her notes
and starts writing at speed.

‘She declined being on the CTG, yes,’ says Jo, reasonably.

‘Chloe’s doing listen-ins, aren’t you Chloe? All the makings of

a great midwife already.’

I beam at her.

Dr Roshni frowns. Some of her hair has fallen from her clip
and she brushes it out of the way and asks, ‘Fetal heart okay?’
‘Beautiful, as far as intermittent auscultation goes.’

‘Does she know the implications of what she’s choosing,

though?’ says Beth, and my euphoria fades as I tune into the
worried lines around her eyes.

Dr Roshni adds, ‘I can come and speak to her, if you like.

She knows me from the clinic and knows what my opinion is.
Healthy Mum, healthy baby is what everyone wants.’

‘I don’t think a chat’s necessary, but thank you. Brenna

knows everything she needs to. She’s signed the informed
consent.’ There is the barest edge to Jo’s voice. ‘She says she’ll
get out of the pool and go on the monitor if there are any
problems, but at the moment everything looks and sounds

Dr Roshni stops writing and glances first at Jo, then at me.

I gulp at the brightness of her look, feeling a bit like a mouse
about to be swooped down on by an eagle.

‘If the patient has consented to monitoring if there is a

problem, then I would find a problem.’

She says this with such care that I feel the weight of each

syllable and my mouth falls open.

Jo nods, thoughtfully.

‘I don’t think we need your input yet, but we may at some

point. I’ll pass on your best wishes, though.’

‘Of course.’ Dr Roshni resumes writing and smiles at both

of us. ‘Keep me updated.’

‘Come on Chloe...’

As we walk along the corridor, Jo says, ‘You look shocked.’

‘I just... I don’t think I could ever be a part of that. Telling

a Mum there’s something wrong with her baby’s heart rate
when there’s not. Does that kind of thing happen?’

‘Well, from Roshni’s point of view she’s keeping the ward
and the women safe. It’s really busy and she doesn’t want
to be in a situation she doesn’t have time to manage. So it’s
not great, I agree, but keeping women and babies safe is our
role as midwives too. You’ll learn, don’t worry. You’re mainly
observing right now anyway.’

Now my excitement has fallen away I can feel I’m tired and

hungry. My limbs are heavy. I follow Jo back into the room
and smile at Bob, who’s been making tea for all of us in the
kitchen, and try and pull the atmosphere of the birth room
back around me.

Um, so that's quite a sombre scene, but there's a really happy ending there!

Just I hope you can see the privilege of being a midwife - the emotions you get from the birth room are really amazing sometimes, it's what protects you as a midwife and there are some very uplifting moments in this book as well I hope.

I just want to say as well, I haven't written this book about stuff that actually happened to me as a midwife.

These aren't women who are real or events that are real.

But I absolutely don't think people are going to believe me.

This is based on something that happened with my parents. Um, so when New Walk went up on Amazon I rang my Mum and I said 'oh it's there' and she got to look at the front cover, it was a lovely moment where she looked at the blurb.

And I said 'you know some of my writing friends have warned me that you will probably see yourself in this book and I just want you to know I haven't written about you, it was the intention, you're really not there.'

And she said 'yeah okay, that's a good warning, that's really important.' She was very serious about it.

And then she passed the phone over to my Dad and I heard her say 'Ian! I'm dead and you're a drug addict!'

So, that's that.

Yeah, I just can't tell you how happy I am that Pinter and Martin decided this novel was worth pursuing and I'm really grateful to everyone being here.

And yeah, let's get back to the wine!”

October 24, 2018 2

Something About Breastfeeding I Didn’t Learn as a Midwife

Something About Breastfeeding I Didn’t Learn as a Midwife

'What happens if you breastfeed while pregnant?'

A Mum asked me this the other day – and I have to say, I didn’t know the answer.

I mean, I know lots of Mums who’ve tandem fed, sometimes even newborn twins and an older child so I knew it was possible.

But I didn’t have any advice. Statistics or info on milk supply dropping or what happens when colostrum comes in or anything.

Isn’t that weird? Should I know, shouldn’t it be part of midwifery training?

But since less than 1% of mothers breastfeed until their baby is a year old in the UK, I guess it doesn’t come up that much.

Maybe it was on the course and I forgot. But anyway, in true midwife style, I’ve been re-educating myself.

Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • It’s perfectly possible to breastfeeding during pregnancy, though some Mums may feel too tired – others will be fine
  • The fetus will develop normally, no evidence to say breastfeeding takes nutrients away
  • Breastfeeding in pregnancy isn’t associated with premature labour or birth, even though the oxytocin released can stimulate mild contractions. The effect of oxytocin is blocked by huge amounts of progesterone. If you women have any complications of the cervix or certain other medical conditions, it’s best to talk to an obstetrician to make sure
  • But...Mums might find their milk supply drops during pregnancy, again because of progesterone
  • Some women have painfully sore nipples because of the hormones
  • Some women get morning sickness and though they will likely still be able to feed, it can be a bit much to continue when they're feeling awful
  • Older children might start feeding again once they see milk when the new baby’s here
  • The colostrum might mean the older child has looser stools (it has a laxative effect) but it’s safe and healthy for them
  • But you have to be careful as older toddlers can be a bit kicky when dual feeding!

I have, of course, got this from ‘The Positive Breastfeeding Book’ which was released a few weeks ago.

Can I just say what an amazing book this is – it covers everything from skin to skin, to how best to support a transgender chestfeeding man, to feeding with a baby with a cleft palate, to expressing in the cinema.

I actually think it’s the first time I’ve read a text and gone ‘wow I’d really like to breastfeed’. It doesn’t sugar coat the hard first weeks, when it’s just feed, biscuit, feed, cup of tea, bit of a cry, Netflix, feed but the whole thing is just amazing, isn’t it?

Turns out each woman makes around 182,000 calories of milk over the first year. Blows my mind.

And it’s the perfect parenting tool for calming down little ones, it's not just a milk delivery system.

I recommend the Positive Breastfeeding Book particularly to student and newly qualified midwives, as the information is up to date, in depth and evidence based. It’s easy to read and the stories from mothers are also inspiring.

It’s targeted at parents, but really, the learning style is suitable for everyone.

The stories from families are varied and included throughout. From those who thought they’d never breastfeed but loved it, to those who were committed to feeding but had an incredibly tiny baby – like Rachel and her baby Taliesin who weighed just 560g at birth. I won’t spoil it, but there’s an incredible journey to hear.

The whole book reminded me of how little we hear about real breastfeeding.

It feels like a whole new level of feminism has woken up for me again – I think if men breastfed we’d see a lot more of it in public and in the media. There are stupendous breastfeeding achievements going on all the time, and this book helps celebrate them. Times are changing.

Needed, considering the UK has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world.

I’d love to hear from you...have you read this book? Do you think it would have helped you with breastfeeding - or do you think it might help your clients?

Leave me a comment letting me know.

Much Love, Ellie x

P.S. There's lots on social media right now about changes to the way student midwives are being trained.

Student midwives will no longer be'mentored' in the NHS - instead there will be 'practice supervisors' who will teach and 'practice assessors' who will sign off. Mentors used to do it all. This change is part of new NMC education guidelines.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Part of me feels there won't be much change, after all, as a student midwife you work with many people. But another part of me wonders whether the person working with a student is in the best position to make a decision?

Please do leave a comment with your thoughts on this one.

October 10, 2018 5

The Study That Shows Midwives are Overwhelmed

The Study That Shows Midwives are Overwhelmed

She emails me in the middle of the night because she’s going to give up.

When I see the email the next morning, I write back immediately with a few lines of support, letting her know I’ve seen it.

Midwives are suffering higher levels of depression and anxiety than the general population right now and I have visions of this midwife hurting herself because she feels no-one’s listening.

Later in the day I take the time to write something more carefully. I don’t know if I can help at all but I tell her I know the feeling, the circling and whirling, the onslaught of more tasks, more mothers and babies, unfeeling paperwork, desperate emergencies.

It seems to help a bit. I get an email back quite soon about the midwife going for a hike with her partner to get some headspace.

It’s nice she feels she can email me for support. I worry about the midwives who don’t talk about it all. I think they’re most at risk.

A month on from this email exchange, the WHELM study came out. You might have heard of it, the researchers assessed the emotional wellbeing of 2000 midwives using a survey. To quote the amazing Dr of Midwifery Sara Wickham:

'The findings were deeply concerning, indicating that midwives’ emotional wellbeing is compromised to such an extent that two thirds of those surveyed were considering leaving the profession.'

As I looked into things further, I found one statistic that said out of every 30 new midwives trained, 29 leave.

The profession of midwifery in the UK is profoundly, unnervingly in trouble.

I keep trying to come up with solutions but the sentences spin away, going no-where. The best midwifery minds are working on it so I don’t know what I can add. The politics needs changing. There are excellent blog posts here and here that I suggest you share so the public is aware.

But after talking to midwives and students this weekend, I have a small observation.

When you talk to a midwife who’s about to leave - often they're so depleted they’re like a battery who can no longer charge - you find it's never just the stress that causing the exhaustion.

Don’t get me wrong, we desperately need more midwives on the shop floor and when you can’t give good care it’s heartbreaking.

But the underlying factor under of all this, whenever I’ve talked to a midwife or student in crisis, is whether they feel they’re valued or not.

One of my best days as a midwife was, by most people’s standards, terrifying. There was a huge haemorrhage, one of numerous emergencies on the shift, and the midwives had to cope with it for twenty minutes before the consultant was free. I was two hours late off the shift and had so many loose ends I could have knitted a scarf. But we did it. We were an amazing team and I’m sure we saved the woman’s life.

I remember running down the corridor into the room and thinking ‘this is ridiculous’ because the emergency buzzer has gone yet again.

I caught the eye of my colleague and we were still running but we both laughed at the absurdity and the tension broke. I think we worked better as a team when we were in the room, because of this. It was the camaraderie that kept us going. Despite needing the loo, being thirsty and being so beyond hunger than we were floating.

On another occasion I tried to recreate this moment with a manager and she glared at me before going into the emergency. She clearly didn’t like the idea of emotional intimacy in that setting. Fair enough. But it also made me feel about three inches high.

Top the exhaustion, stress and the lack of quality care with a feeling of being an idiot for even trying and you have a set of circumstances that few can endure.

If the manager had turned to me and said ‘we can do this’ I would have walked into a burning building for her.

I keep thinking about the question Ina May Gaskin asked that time: What if the first rule in maternity wards was: ‘be nice’?'

I absolutely know there is incredible management going on, I've witnessed it and been coached by these professionals (MLU in Peterborough I'm thinking of you in particular here). I think being a manager must be so hard and lonely at times. This is not about the grade. It's about being respectful to everyone no matter what.

Staffing is a huge issue that needs to be solved and workplace culture is linked to it; but I still think everyone can afford to be kind and this would make a start. There's an example of this going on here.

If you’re a new or student midwife, please make use of The Secret Community For Midwives In The Making for support and advice. You can send in anonymous questions via

You also need non negotiable self care time and a mentor who’s ideally a good friend too who you can hang on to.

This is my current thinking on the WHELM study. Things will change - because they have to.

Now I'd love to hear from you.

1. How is life for you as a midwife right now? Can you leave a comment letting us know?

2. What would you do to fix the NHS?

October 3, 2018 35

My Concerns about ‘Copy and Paste This if You Care’

My Concerns about ‘Copy and Paste This if You Care’

A good friend of mine had put up one of those ‘copy and paste this onto your status if you care’ posts on Facebook. It was on mental illness, something I feel passionate about. But I didn’t repost. And then I felt bad about it.*

Does anyone else have problems like this?

My reasons for not sharing these posts range from not having time to consider them properly, to having an overwhelming number of these posts on my feed, to knowing another friend who’s experiencing the issue right now and not wanting them to think my status is because of them.

Also, even if the topic is really important, I don’t like being pushed into action. I’d much rather learn something and share in my own time.

I don't want to let people down, though. I really care about these issues and I'm devastated that people I know are suffering from a lack of support.

But my other concern with this kind of post is that they often contain subtle messages of shame. You know the kind of thing - ‘if you’ve read this far you’re better than most’ or ‘if you’re a true friend you’ll...’.

I suspect for every person who reposts, there are many more who scroll past uncomfortably, just because of the wording.

Even when a subject is as important as miscarriage, infant death or mental illness, I don’t think using shame as a teaching/communication tool is a good idea.

Shame might change our behaviour in the short-term but it doesn’t do anything for the issue. It doesn’t offer the individuals going through it any true empathy or help. It doesn't give us meaningful tools for discussion.

These ‘copy and paste’ posts evolved for technical reasons. They’re a powerful way of spreading a message as there's no deleting the ‘parent’ and all the shares in one go: when a post is being copied and pasted, you can't stop it travelling. The original post can’t be traced by Facebook and I’ve read the format is associated with scams.

You can see why people want to use this type of post for taboo topics. They get shared. It’s so much easier to paste something about mental illness than it is to come up with your own comment.

I guess this is the definition of a taboo topic: it’s hard to talk about. And then marketing techniques designed to take advantage slip into the cracks.

I have a suggestion.

These days if I see a ‘copy and paste’ post on a subject I care about, instead of reposting, I leave a comment.

Something like:

I care about this and I don’t always get my approach right. I found x (book, film, documentary etc.) very helpful in understanding. I wish we could talk about it more and I’ll commit to trying to be brave and asking people how they’re doing when the issue comes up. I'll try and hold a space for them to tell their story and understand. All my best to you and yours, Ellie x

Adding to the conversation lets people know you care. If I was suffering from postnatal depression, for example, and saw a comment like this written by someone I loved, as opposed to a viral repost, I'd feel much more cared for and understood.

It takes more time and more courage but this approach feels right to me.

A further suggestion.

If you're feeling really brave and you want to start a conversation about something taboo, can I propose you make some art?

Draw something and upload it, write a poem, write a song, make an area of your garden into a shrine and show us.

Make us understand your experience. This is so much more powerful than anything copied.

It's braver because it's a part of you that you're putting out there.

I know this won’t be for everyone but if you’re considering it, know that it doesn’t matter how ‘good’ your art is.

In my experience, people on social media today wandering through adverts of jeans (filled by unattainable sized bottoms) and angry fake news stories are desperate for truth.

They’ll recognise the freshness, authenticity and reality of your work many Facebook miles away.

Just to clarify, I’m not having a go at anyone who’s put together these kind of posts or those who’ve copy and pasted them. I know how hard it is to get heard. There are good people out there using this strategy too. It's just I think we can do better?

And, I suspect there's also an argument to be made that I've overthought all this and I should get off Facebook and go and do some writing of my next novel!

But I'd love to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment letting me know!'

*(I do have full permission to write this post by the way).

September 24, 2018 0

‘Your words and treatment will echo for a long time’  – Discussing Stillbirth Activism with David Moneith

‘Your words and treatment will echo for a long time’ – Discussing Stillbirth Activism with David Moneith

I first met David Monteith via a big hug - he doesn't do handshakes.

He’d just survived another summer parenting day but whirlwinded in to the Neros where we were meeting to have a milkshake and educate me about male grief with his punchy, inspirational style. 

If you have a look at the image for this post (above) you'll see David and his wife Siobhan have three daughters - Grace, their middle child, died before she was born and Siobhan chose to have a waterbirth. This family sound incredible to me, David dug Grace's grave as a way to be physically involved with his grief and Siobhan chose to be a breast milk donor. 

David is an actor, teacher, director, and writer. He uses his skills as a stillbirth activist.

In this interview, David offers countless gems of insight into caring for bereaved parents. I’ll hand it over to him!

What would you most like student midwives and midwives to know about infant loss?

One of the most wonderful things was a midwife talking about Grace's fingers and begin able to have a conversation comparing them to mine. At a time when everything changed little moments of normality are so important. In so many ways you need to treat our babies as you would a live one.

What’s poor advice you hear given about infant loss?

Not so much personally - the only thing I would say is make no medical assumptions about treatment or about the way you interact with parents at such a time. Don't draw on your own worldview in being 'helpful' but be mindful that babyloss is not an event but an ongoing continuum of grief in which your words and treatment will echo for a long time.

What are your favourite resources that teach about infant loss?

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elixabeth McCracken - at a time when reading is hard this book based on the authors own experience of baby loss was easy to read. Perehaps because she was already a writer it has a tone and structure that was mesmerising.

Carry Me by Dan Berry - a wordless comic about a Dad carrying his daughter through a field trying to keep her safe from a wolf. Beautifully drawn. It's not a comic about stillirth but in the weeks after Grace died it came to mean so much to me

The author said: 'Being a new parent is strange. Having a small new life who is totally reliant on you really got me thinking about death rather a lot. My death, my daughter’s death, my son’s death, my wife’s death: Death. DEATH. I’d obsess about it. Carry Me is a story about death and coming to terms with the inevitability of it all.'

In that unspeakable period of shock and grief just after a child dies – is there something someone did or bought for you which made things even a tiny bit more bearable?

Food is the best thing. At a time when you can't think, can't plan, working out meals is a much harder task than it has any right to be.

I got really annoyed with the amount of flowers we got. My daughter had died and people were buying me something I had to take care of and would also die within a week (disclaimer: Siobhan liked the flowers)

But we also ran out of vases after the 5th delivery!!! The other beautiful things were plants that would last - We have a rose bush and a Magnolia tree that still bring us comfort and stuff like this that acknowledges Grace's place in our family.

If you could have a giant billboard out there that everyone would see, what message would it have on it? 

Dead or Alive

The baby is still a baby

The parent is still a parent

The birth is Still a birth



David is doing amazing things in the baby loss community and uses his incomparable talent for public speaking to teach. He has a huge range of thoughts and strategies to offer, and if he’s inspired you, check out his lectures and videos.

Now we’d love to hear from you.

What is one thing you took away from this post which will help you care for families who’ve suffered infant loss? Professionally or personally?

Much Love x

September 19, 2018 0

Mama Unexpected – Student Midwife, Mother to a Disabled Child, and Total Hero

Mama Unexpected – Student Midwife, Mother to a Disabled Child, and Total Hero

Sometimes you come across a blog with a new and authentic voice which shows you what life is like for someone else. 'Mama Unexpected' is one of these rare finds.

Hana Young's blog is founded on writing about being a single parent to her disabled daughter. It describes a vibrant, challenging, loving life with Tilly, who has Guanidinoacetate Methyltransferase Deficiency or GAMT, a metabolic disorder which affects the nervous system and muscles.

Tilly has irreparable brain damage which means dangerous seizures and profound learning difficulties.

Hanna also has a little boy called Arlo and is a student midwife and hypnobirthing teacher. Hana is one of my heroes and I've chosen a few recent entries for you to get stuck in to.


21st August 2018

Tilly is away at the moment in Holland so I just have Arlo at home.

Good grief life is so much easier.

There’s no one to pin down to give meds. No nappies to change.

I eat my breakfast with both hands with no one to spoon feed theirs.

No thinking about whether my child is thirsty or hungry, he can just tell me so.

No very early wake ups.

No one to pull my hair or scratch my arms and face relentlessly.

No giant pushchair to think about.

No screaming in the back of the car.

No Mr Tumble.

No knobby stares from knobby members of the public.

We can go to the park and I can sit and watch, safe in the knowledge he won’t attack another child or attempt to kill himself.

We can pop places. Just in and out. It’s amazing. We can do whatever we want whenever we want. Just go and do it. No need to assess or plan. Just go with the flow.

Ultimate freedom.

And I hate it.

I miss my girl so very much that even writing this is making me well up. I miss how much she needs me, I feel lost not having to think at 100mph anticipating her every volatile move. I miss the ferocity with which she throws herself at me for a cuddle. I miss her so so much.

I didn’t think I was cut out to be a carer. I didn’t think being a mother to a disabled child was part of my identity, it was just the situation I was in. But I am a carer and a mother. Caring for my disabled child is a part of me and I didn’t realise how much I would miss it and how empty I would feel not having her with me. I’ve spent five and a half years with her by my side and it’s like missing an arm being without her.

It’s only been five days. I miss my best girl 


28th August 2018

So today went well.

So well I ate a whole tub of Ben and Jerrys.

This morning a social worker came round to assess whether or not my children needed to be put under a child protection order.

I realised this about five minutes into the appointment, when I realised the social worker wasn’t from the disabilities team. That the team had decided Tilly didn’t meet their criteria (she does) without meeting her and sent a child protection social worker instead to make sure my children aren’t at risk. I had to answer questions about my relationship with my estranged husband, my childhood and what type of mother I am. I said tired if you’re wondering. All to check my children weren’t at risk in my care.

Turns out they aren’t, the social worker was embarrassed the disabilities team had passed us on without ever meeting Tilly and called me superwoman.

Can’t say I could appreciate the compliment after having nightmares the night before that they’d say no and tell me she wasn’t disabled enough for them.

If my children had been placed under a protection order today, if I had been having a bad day and broken down in front of the social worker, I would struggle to ever find a job as a midwife in the future.

An appointment that was meant to discuss direct payments for a carer or respite care for Tilly turned into that. This is the fun and games that come with raising a disabled child.

Fucking hell how is it only Tuesday?

Woman on the edge.


2nd September 2018

Sometimes it can feel like a bit too much having a disabled child. Some times I can’t make it into a funny story.

This evening whilst I was cleaning up dog poo Tilly stripped off naked and pooed on the landing, covering every single step and the floor at the bottom in poo before smearing it all over herself.

I shed a silent tear showering her off and scrubbing every single step. The carpet is ruined.

I shouldn’t have to scrub my almost six year olds adult sized shit off of the floor. I shouldn’t have to wrestle her to change her nappies or even keep them on. I shouldn’t have to desperately try to find pyjamas options she can’t get out of or else I’ll find her naked and wet (if I’m lucky) in the morning. I shouldn’t have to throw away outfits after the first wear because she’s completely destroyed them by chewing them instead of the stupid chew toys I have to tie to her.

Sometimes it’s absolute shite and sometimes it makes me really sad.


3rd September 2018

Player One Ready. Her bags are packed, her clothes are labelled, her meds are sorted. My biggest girl is back off to school. Back to the same class. Her first year was difficult, she lost her able to communicate, she ended the year much more violent and volatile despite the hard work of

her brilliant teachers. No amount of brilliant teaching could battle against the epilepsy raging through her body. This year will be different however because this year she has been on treatment for her metabolic now for six months. She is no longer ruled by seizures. She’s now able to learn and retain skills. She is changing every single day. I can’t wait to see what this school year will give her.



To put it mildly, I think getting more midwives or other professionals who have a background like Hana's into the profession is a good idea. It's the bootcamp of getting things done and standing up for people's rights and Hana appears to be made of oxytocin and titanium. I have no doubt that Hana will be a huge asset to midwifery and a voice for those who are vulnerable (she's currently campaigning to get GAMT on newborn blood screening tests).

And the nice thing about Hanna's Facebook blog is that she always makes me feel capable of changing the world too!

What are your thoughts?

Hana and I would love you to see you take action....get over to her Facebook page and click 'like' and you'll get her stories popping up in your feed. If you see something on there that you think the world needs to know about, please share it.


1. Have you got a friend or family member who's a carer or who has a disability? Anything you wish the general public knew?

2. If you're a student or qualified midwife, have you cared for a client who has a disability, or who's a carer? Is there anything we can learn from you?

September 12, 2018 2

How To Listen To A Baby’s Heart With No Equipment (Important Safety Point)

How To Listen To A Baby’s Heart With No Equipment (Important Safety Point)

Today's post is chock-full of goodness on one midwifery topic: pinards in emergencies!

You know those moments in life when you find you’ve forgotten something critical? Passport. Housekeys. Drove to the vet and took all the correct paperwork and your purse only to find on arrival you haven't actually put the dog in the car 😛

There’s that sinking feeling and then maybe you laugh a bit as you start to put together a plan to correct the mistake.

But imagine you do that as a midwife and suddenly there are two people’s lives on the line.

Midwifery is full of safeguards and checks and it’s crucial to be diligent and careful. But mistakes can happen.

That’s why I wanted to publish this anonymous write in from a midwife who found themselves in a very sticky position (read on).

In those moments of hellish limbo, you need to keep your head and find a safe solution. The worst thing you can do is panic.

This midwife found their way through using an ancient practice that's underrated in the UK. 

Of course, I’m talking about being able to auscultate a fetal heart using a pinard!

If you don’t know what pinards are, they’re a type of stethoscope used to listen to the fetal heart. They're low-tech and old-fashioned, a bit like a horn crossed with an egg cup, see here:

(loving the hat!)

It takes time to learn how to use a pinard. Electronic sonicaids, like the one below, pick up the fetal heart much easier and the sound is amplified.


But once you have the skill, pinards are more reliable and accurate. Not to mention more satisfying.

You can hear different tones and it’s easier to distinguish between a fetal heart and maternal blood vessels. You don’t need batteries (a crucial consideration in some parts of the world).

And because you have to be skilled in placing a pinard to pick up a fetal heart, you can also confirm your palpation and work out the position of the baby.

They’re so important that I wanted them to be a motif in my novel. Chloe the student midwife inherits a pinard from her Mum and is determined to use it at every opportunity.

This is the midwife’s email…

‘So I have a midwife birth story for you all.

In the early hours of this morning I was called to attend one of my ladies who had gone into labour. I set out on the 45 minute journey from my house to hers.

On my arrival I took one look at her and could see she was in established labour. So I began to get my birth kit sorted. I opened my kit bag to realise to my horror that I didn’t have my sonic aid or pinards.

At that moment I had realised I had left them by accident at one of our MLUs the day before when doing an antenatal check. This birth centre was approx 1.5hr drive from her home. I must of completely forgotten to pick them up when I left the unit.

I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me up. She was having good FM and I could clearly see these as she was naked and dancing through her labour in a very mammalian way.

So I called a colleague to come and bring me some kit, however she was an hour’s drive away herself so I had to improvise in the mean time, as I could see the labour was advancing quite quickly for a first time Mum.

I asked for a toilet roll tube. Luckily they had one! I used it just like a pinard and it worked wonders! It also gave her birth partners a good laugh but I definitely could hear a good fetal heart.

My lovely colleague arrived an hour later with a pinards and sonicaid.

I used it just like a pinard and it worked wonders! It also gave her birth partners a good laugh but I definitely could hear a good fetal heart.

The labour and birth progressed without any intervention or vaginal examinations to a home waterbirth and a physiological 3rd stage with an intact cord until after placenta birthed. Intact perineum.

So if any of you homebirth midwives do find yourself without something to listen to an FH with, then use a loo roll tube - works wonders!’

The key thing to note about this story is the midwife in question has to be skilled with a pinard to be able to find a substitute.

I’ve heard really experienced midwives can sometimes find and listen to a baby’s heartbeat just using their ear to a woman’s abdomen! Amazing!

I know how difficult it is to find the time to learn how to use a pinard, as sonicaids are quicker. But be brave and start asking women and mentors.

There are some brilliant learning resources on how to use a pinard over on Sara Wickham’s blog:

Pinard Wisdom Part One

Pinard Wisdom Part Two

You never know how useful this skill could be one day. And during the zombie apocalypse, or maybe just if you forget your bag, don't forget the toilet roll trick.

Have you ever been in this position? Or have you used anything else as a pinard? I've heard of wine glasses but would love to know your story, leave a comment 🙂

Please do share this post with anyone who might find it useful as well.

Much Love, Ellie x

P.S. Goes without saying but please don't use a pinard or homemade pinard as reassurance that your baby's okay. Even if you have midwifery training, it's important to get medical advice if you're worried about movements or anything else.


September 5, 2018 1

What I Learned From Thinking Respectfully About Vaginal Steaming!

What I Learned From Thinking Respectfully About Vaginal Steaming!

I have a particular acquaintance who's an amazing business woman. She’s clever and beautiful and leads her family and community in ways I have so much respect for.

Every so often, though, she brings up something that just knocks me sideways.

Like employing a psychic to analyse what her dog’s thinking.

Younger Ellie was a harsh critic with no time for anyone’s beliefs if they weren’t evidence based. When I was sixteen I was proudly reading Richard Dawkins and similar authors and loudly criticising everything.

I’ve now grown up a bit and understand a) I don’t know everything, no matter how many books I read b) being friends with people who think differently is a healthy, stretching experience.

But still – when it comes to pet psychics, the evil judgemental bit of me is thinking, oh, god, really? And then I muse on the fact that she enjoys it, it'll probably help with her dog's behaviour as they're spending time together and getting advice, it's not my place to judge...

It’s okay, I have a jokey relationship with this person and some of the things I do make her think I’m mad so we’re even.

Recently she’s started to go for vaginal steams, otherwise known as yoni steams. She feels they are making her periods lighter.

Based on this, I reflected on how midwives might discuss such a practice with clients, and learnt about my own prejudices and how best to cope with them.

If you haven’t come across vaginal steams, they’re a type of alternative medicine, or spa treatment, which involves sitting or squatting over steaming water infused with herbs. It’s claimed they’re good for reproductive organ diseases or issues, including fertility, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to back up these claims.

Some midwives I know like the idea as a nurturing activity for women and feel it's a historic practice that celebrates femininity. 

Other professionals like gynaecologist Virginia Beckett, from RCOG and via the BBC, suggests the treatment is unlikely to be beneficial.

What is a midwife’s responsibility here?

Factors to consider:

· It's likely vaginal steaming will produce a placebo effect for some women.

· Placebos are very powerful

· But they work best when you’re not aware you’re getting a placebo

· Midwives have a responsibility to give evidence based information as per the NMC Code

· But they also have to respect client choice and there are cultural and spiritual needs to think about

My friend is completely genuine in feeling this treatment is helping her.

There is no formal evidence to show vaginal steams don’t work – but if we trust physiology we know that dilute herbs in steam absorbed by the vagina are unlikely to help with heavy periods.

It may be that the outcome of lighter periods is due to decreased inflammation and increased endorphins as placebos are known to cause these effects.

If my friend was your midwifery client, what would you do?

We have to be careful about validating treatments that aren’t evidence-based, but we also have to maintain good relationships.

After all, a good midwife/mother relationship is responsible for the amazing outcomes of continuous midwifery care.

It might be more simple to say ‘do whatever you feel is best’ but I’m not sure midwives can get off the hook that easily either.

Midwives sometimes work with women who are desperate for treatment to work, for instance, those having IVF.

Vaginal steams can be over £100 a treatment and some practitioners claim they can help with fertility issues. I think midwives have a responsibility to advocate for their clients in this situation, especially as this treatment could be recreated at home for pennies!

The cleanliness of facilities and dangers of hot steam on delicate bits of our anatomy might be worth discussing too. I wonder what this treatment might do to the vaginal pH, as well, could it kill off some of the healthy bacteria perhaps?

It’s also a little concerning that in some countries vaginal steams are performed as women feel they need to 'tighten' their vagina to make sex better, or because they think their vaginas are inherently dirty. I'm a little afraid that vaginal steaming might be similar to waxing or douching - it's done because vaginas are presented as needing maintenance to stay clean when really they're very good at staying clean all on their own.

If women are booking steams because they think there’s something wrong with their normal physiology, that’s an issue.

If you pick up on this kind of belief, it's might be a prime opportunity to quote Ina May Gaskin when she says ‘Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.’

On balance I think that midwives can be supportive of vaginal steaming. Like any other choice, it's important to offer information. But women might feel a special connection with the practice, or simply enjoy it. If you've offered all the evidence, you've fulfilled your professional requirements.

After that, trusting women to make their own choices and being a good, kind, respectful person is the name of the game.

What do you think - have you ever had a vaginal steam? Would you? 

How do you deal with differences in opinion when it comes to clients?

Leave me a comment letting me know and please do share this post with anyone considering these issues!

Much Love x


August 29, 2018 4

Travels of a Newbie Midwifery Novellist: First Meeting With My Publisher

Travels of a Newbie Midwifery Novellist: First Meeting With My Publisher

**This blog is outside my comfort zone because I usually try to write things that offer value to midwives. This is a post about what happened when I went to meet my publisher for the first time, with lots of my uncut fears and thoughts. 

It's an experiment, I may or may not write things like this again.

I've noticed the hardest bit of writing my novel, by far, has been promoting it. It's really grim. I'd much rather just release a book into the wild and see how it gets on - but that's not the job description for writers these days.

It's also true that I love reading about anything that happens writers. 

And I think women should talk about their achievements more.

I'm trying to learn and grow with all that in mind.

So, this is what happened!

Pinter and Martin are my wonderful publishers and they requested a meeting at their bookshop in London.

I live near Cambridge so the journey is a couple of hours. The meeting was at 2pm, but I wanted to get to the station at about 9.30am so I could sit in the waiting room and draft a new chapter for the next book in my midwifery series.

Here I am at the station!

You can’t see but I wore my charity shop little black dress with flowers, a cardy and some sensible black boots. Everyone needs a power outfit for the big days.

My train was at 10.44 so at 10.30 I was still sat there having a coffee and writing.

Then I realised the persistent and annoying tannoys were about my train. It was cancelled. Wonderful. I followed the crowd to talk to a harassed National Rail employee but the next announcement was about the train being put back on, so after a crowd of us ran over the bridge with just a few minutes to board, we got on our way.

There were no free seats so I sat on the floor of a vestibule with a Terry Pratchett novel (comfort reading). But I was happy curled up on the floor, it's better than a seat. After getting off at Kings Cross I got the Tube to Brixton, and then went and sat in a coffee shop to write a bit more.

I’m introverted in many ways so trips to London feel intense. I love the place, it’s associated with gigs, conferences and friends but still, I don't understand how eight million people can co-exist in one city. I always feel like I’ve met all of them by the time I've got home.

And things happen in London. After a while sat writing I looked up and got concerned because a guy was staring at me. This wasn’t paranoia, every time I looked up from my laptop he was giving me eye contact, no smiling, just staring.

As a security guard walked past (you get security guards in Brixton Costas) the guy deftly picked up an empty cup from another table to make it look like he’d bought a drink. I guess he couldn’t afford to buy anything. After a while he got up and went out. No idea what it was about or why he was staring at me in particular and I didn’t see him again.

I wrote for a while longer and it was coming out okay. I wanted to write a chapter about a woman becoming very ill after an unexpected postpartum haemorrhage. I have lots of awesome midwives in the first novel, but I also want to show doctors at their best.

After about an hour I needed a break and looked up to see a woman and her baby sat breastfeeding in the corner. I started to leave and she saw me grinning so I mouthed ‘beautiful baby’ and she smiled back like the sun coming up.

At 13.30 began to walk through Brixton, past Electric Avenue which was the first street in London to be illuminated using electric lights, past fish stalls, fruit and veg places and wholefoods markets.

I found Martin, the director of Pinter and Martin, behind the counter. He looks like he's from the book world, with Neil Gaiman cheekbones.

See exhibit A! Martin Wagner:

Zoe, who's the publishing manager, popped out from the office over the road. I needn’t have worried about being nervous, they were lovely.

If you're ever in London, 'Effraspace', which is Pinter and Martin's bookshop, named after the street it's on, is well worth a look. It's beautiful and has a rare and wonderful collection of books on midwifery, birth and parenting. And a coffee shop! And they do film festivals, yoga and events in their sunny, wooden floored attached room.

I'm not sure I was coming across as very sensible but Martin is a reassuring person who started the business a few years ago and his aim is to have the best bookshop on birth in the UK. And he made me a cup of builders tea.

We discussed a few things, the contract, some ideas for getting the book into the media including making some artwork out of quotes, and when preview copies should arrive (hopefully this coming week! Aieeeee!! I’ll let you know!).

We also talked about the trailer that’s coming out to advertise book one.

I had a few facepalm moments. When they asked me what my evening plans were I said I was going to see the new Alan Bennett play at The Bridge theatre near ‘The Shaft’. Rather than ‘The Shard’. Eerg. But they didn’t even laugh at me (though my London friends did later!)

We decided on a date for the book launch – anyone can come, there’ll be wine and snacks and books and I’d be so thrilled to meet anyone who reads the blog. It’ll be 7.30pm, 19th October at Effraspace, a day before my 30th Birthday.

Finally I thanked Martin and told him how amazed I was that ‘New Walk’ got picked up and how grateful I was.

I know it sounds stupid but I feel this stuff deeply, always have done. I’ve wanted to write and get a book out since I was about eight. Martin said some very nice supportive things that I'm too embarrassed to write about here and then I set off back to the Tube station, over to London Bridge, my nervous system like a lit sparkler.

I was joined there by two of my childhood friends – this is us, Hollie on the left is a games designer and Jenna on the right is an anaesthetist and that’s me in the middle:

I've known them since I was eleven. They've always read my scribbles and supported me. These days they live in London, and we were off to the theatre to see 'Allelujah', a play on NHS elderly care.

It was one of those plays that make you talk a lot afterwards, there's an evil character in it who thinks she's doing the right thing. No spoilers but it was horrid to see someone in an NHS uniform doing something so awful.

After a quick debrief, we let Hollie go home, it'd been a long day for everyone.

Jenna and I got back to hers around eleven, and sat around eating cherry scones with butter and discussing the play, how her shift had gone that day, and worshiping Alfie, her black and white rescue cat. When I went to bed I was so tired I ended up accidentally falling asleep without brushing my teeth.

I woke the next morning in the pale London sunlight. I love the early hours when no-one else is awake yet.

I sat on Jenna’s L-shaped sofa in her little flat. It's furnished so skillfully – inherited dressers that she’s repainted soft grey, paisley patterns, a clock made out of a bike wheel. And Alfie making happy pigeon like coos because I’d given him breakfast.

I had one of those moments where you take stock and realised the day previously I'd met with a company who were printing my book.

Written over four years, more or less an hour a day. Bizarre. In any given moment I don't have the faintest idea how I managed to get the first book done. And I constantly fight off feelings of being inadequate to write about such controversial subjects.

With my head split between concern that I couldn’t finish the next book and this brilliant feeling of the next book being an unopened present which will let me discover it bit by bit, I kept typing.

Alfie curled up beside me. I drank my coffee and after a while I got pulled into the story and didn’t worry any more.

New Walk is out 18th October. You can pre-order here. I'll love you forever if you do.


August 20, 2018 3

I Get Sent Midwifery Books Through the Post!…here’s what I thought of the latest

I Get Sent Midwifery Books Through the Post!…here’s what I thought of the latest

‘An Armful of Babies and a Cup of Tea’ provides a social history of a 1950s health visitor, just as the role was created and the NHS took off.

I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up had I not been sent a review copy. I thought my 1950s needs were met by ‘Call The Midwife’. But I’m glad I read it, I learnt some stuff.

Molly Corbally worked in a world before social workers when health visitors were the ones helping families make decisions about teenage pregnancy, crippling poverty and end of life care.

She actually wrote her book well before the ‘Call The Midwife’ craze started and it’s been rediscovered and republished.

Molly is starting out in a small Coventry village with new equipment, a new NHS role and a smart blue uniform, but she’s really treading a path that’s always been there. She’s overseeing the complex ethical and physical dilemmas that face mothers holding families together. An original NHS wise woman.


What struck me most is how much more relaxed life for an NHS worker was back then.

Molly had her dog with her in the car, or walked to appointments, stopping back at home for lunch and getting the shopping done in the middle of the day.

In one chapter, Molly pops in to see a postnatal mother and gets distracted by the rose garden and the new puppies.

As she turns to leave she realises she’s forgotten to do any checks. Rather than going back, she’s waved off by the mother and makes an appointment for a few weeks time.

This is the talk of the village – they find it very funny that the new health visitor forgot to even set eyes on the babies.

But can you imagine doing this today? What on earth would you document? ‘Saw rose garden (gorgeous but weak stems!), will assess twins on next visit’.

I don’t mean to sound critical, the relationship Molly builds with her clients protects them and her skill is immense.

But forgetting to do any of the checks simply wouldn’t be an option today, the risks of litigation are too high.


I guess we could wish we were back in that world of relationships being more important than documentation.

But as twee and heartwarming as the description of village life is, if you read between the lines, you can see oppression.

You can tell Molly is a gentle soul, but there are moments when she directs women a bit more than we’d think was okay. One woman isn’t told about her daughter's diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome until the baby is over 6 months old – something I think is deeply unfair, though Molly suggests this was a good thing for mother/infant bonding. Sexism shows through with most women not able to choose careers over childcare and the cast of characters are 100% white.

There are also no gay people.

I wondered for a little while whether Molly the health visitor might in a relationship with another woman. She lives with a nursing colleague who’s also her best friend. The village and their relatives don’t understand this, worrying about them not being able to balance out their dinner parties with male company.

But as the book progresses I realised that it’s impossible to tell, this information just isn’t offered to us. It’s like a world without LBGTQ people. I guess this is because homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967 but I thought health visitors and nurses would have insight and offer support for family members in this position.

I think I’m underestimating quite how much things have progressed since then. Having just watched the epic pro gay rights stand up ‘Nannette’ I can see how much damage this environment must have inflicted on the gay population.


Molly also describes the summer of 1956, which was when the polio epidemic broke out. This section was fascinating and heartbreaking and clearly getting vaccines to the whole of the UK meant every NHS staff member was more or less on active service for a while.

If you don’t know much about polio, you’re not alone, there aren’t many people left who have it in living memory. But it’s a horrible disease which goes for the young and causes the breakdown of muscles. This means death or paralysis. You might have heard about the use of an ‘iron lung’ - essentially if children has muscle weakness around their chest, they needed to be immobilised inside a machine that breathed for them. This could be a lifelong treatment for them.

Good to remember how lucky we are now.


the relationships with the women are what shone through, as with any book on this subject.

Molly follows whole families through their lives and her advice is accepted because she's built genuine, trusting friendships with her clients.

It's this which the slower pace of life prompts. You can see why The National Maternity Review from 2016 is aiming for continuity of care. I think it's really important for all new students to read books like this and see what time spent with clients can do.

The 1950s weren't an idyllic time, no matter how much nostalgia for A-line skirts and nursing hats we have.

The NHS today is more accepting of clients who aren't straight, white and 'normal' and we have better clinical care.

It’d just be nice to remember how important time in the rose garden is too.

What are your thoughts? Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!

August 15, 2018 2

How We Moderate The Secret Community

How We Moderate The Secret Community

I run The Secret Community for Midwives in the Making, the 20,000+ member Facebook group that discusses all things midwifery.

We’re having some challenges at the moment. I've needed several glasses of wine and long runs. Don't feel sorry for me - I chose this job and for the most part I love it. But I have some things to say.

Topics like breastfeeding, abortion, circumcision and vaccination frequently come up. While this is brilliant and we get to hear opinions and stories from across the planet, they’re also subjects that make us vulnerable.

Often debates turn into anger. As the group grows, this is getting more common.

I’m aware that some people can campaign for better care using anger – but I’ve never been that person. I’ve always been quick to cry when I’m angry and that’s not a very persuasive place to start debating from.

In the Secret Community, we have one main rule which is that every post and comment has to be written in an overtly kind way.

Passionate debate is fine but anger or contempt directed at someone isn’t.

The reason for this emphasis on kindness is that I’m at the helm. I didn’t think for a moment that The Secret Community would end up this big but it has, and because I’m in charge, we’re going to have to do things my way.

This means being extravagantly kind, even when you disagree with who you’re debating with. Even if what they are saying is in your opinion, unsafe or disrespectful. Contact a mod by all means and we'll follow our procedure, we sometimes get in touch with trusts or universities and we have a policy for what to do if someone's letting us know they want to hurt or kill themselves (it happens).

But don't start or engage in a fight about midwifery issues.

This rule is because, in my experience, an angry debate in an online setting doesn’t usually change anyone’s mind.

People typically have one response to anger and that’s to get angry back. Even if they agree with you in principle, if you have fighting energy they will likely have a similar response and you’ll get nowhere.

Think about it – when was the last time someone was shouting at you and you listened and changed your mind?

People don’t say ‘oh yes, you’re quite right. There is something fundamentally wrong with me as a human and mother. I’ll change that at once!’

They just think, what a horrible person for making me feel this way.

What might be better is staying calm, or if you can, using humour? Not sarcasm directed at the person but just something to get rid of the tension. It often builds bridges and then you can teach.

This is why I often start my moderation posts with something like ‘oof, G and T time for the mods!’

It helps get us back to human communication.

Notice I'm not saying 'keep your opinions to yourself'.

I'm saying be kind.

I know. It’s not perfect.

Many of you will be saying that nothing will stop you fighting for the rights of women. That if we can’t handle flashes of anger then we can’t be good midwives and censorship of any kind is wrong.

But the internet has some dark holes of horrible comments and threads which make most of us lose faith in humans. I’ve seen these in the context of midwifery and I’m not willing to be responsible for a community doing this, especially not one debating such important subjects.

If I and the mods stopped moderating, the community would go feral, you know it would.

In the Secret Community, if our policy of kindness means removing members, even if they’re esteemed midwives who we really respect, we have to do it.

It's 'just' a Facebook group. But everyone gets to have their own corner of the social media world and this is ours. If you'd prefer a different kind of moderation, please set up your own group for angry debates. I'd totally support it if you can find a way to get it working!

We have a truly amazing moderator team who do so much behind the scenes and I can’t let them down either.

Keep it kind, everyone, please. Online midwifery will be better for it.

Much Love and RESPECT to all x

(This post was directly inspired by Caitlin Moran, one of my feminist idols, and Reni Eddo-Lodge, who wrote ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race' – both are angry at injustice, both using techniques other than anger to teach and change things).

P.S. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

August 8, 2018 1

11 Responses

  1. Hi I’m 12 and hope to become a midwife when I am older do you have any tips or know anything I could work on now towards it??

    • Hi Katie, thanks for you comment, wow you’re very focused at such a young age! I would come and subscribe to for free blog posts on midwifery which are up to date, I have fun with them too so they’re good to read! Volunteering with people is always a good thing to do to develop your transferrable skills, could you get involved via your school with any caring volunteer positions? I’d also start to read everything you can get your hands on midwifery wise, and perhaps come over to the Secret Community for Midwives in the Making on Facebook for an idea of what midwives talk about x

  2. I love your blog and am currently reading your book. Unfortunately, I am from the US so the educational path and such is much different than what you describe in the UK. Do you know of any American midwife blogs? I’ve tried searching online but most are very, very established in their careers and the things they write about are so far off from where I am in my journey to be a midwife.

    • Hi Alicia,

      Great question! I don’t know many American midwife blogs sadly, though MidwifeThinking is a great Australian one, and is one of my favourite UK ones. Please do let me know if you find any good American midwife blogs, I’m always on the lookout! x

  3. Hi Ellie,
    I just wanted to share a bit of the furore that is occurring in the Queensland state of Australia. Obstetricians are moaning about the poor outcomes etc etc of midwifery led care.
    I thought we were passed all this but apparently not.

  4. Pille

    Hi Ellie,
    I’m a first year student midwife, and would eventually like to work as a midwife on First Nations reserves in Canada. Do you have any contacts who have trained as a midwife in the uk and moved over to Canada? Or do you yourself have any idea how the transfer would work?

    • Rachel Wild

      Hi Ellie – if you particularly want to work for First Nations’ families I would first contact some of the Aboriginal health organisations or governance bodies to scope out how they would see a midwife from the UK working out. Perhaps you have First Nations/ Aboriginal heritage yourself, but if not you’d need to consider the implications of working as a outsider in communities that have a history of colonialism harming their existing birth cultures. e.g. also your immigration and work visa would be through the Canadian government but perhaps you could also ask permission of First Nation government for the area you’d like to practice in?

  5. Miroslava

    Hi Ellie, i am a second year student of midwifery in Slovakia.
    I would like to ask you, what’s your posture for needs of women who are in puerperium ? What is your opinion for lactation and sports activities in postpartal period?

    Thanks, for answer 🙂

  6. Alysia

    Hello, I have always been interested in midwifery at young age. At the moment, I am a Senior in high school and I am writing a paper on a career that I am interested in. I am required to have an interview with a midwife for research for my pages.Would you mind if I interviewed you for the role?

  7. Keeley

    I’d LOVE LOVE LOVE to win a free month of your personal statement school! I’m a 33(nearly!) year young working Mum of 2, retaking 2 of my GCSE’s, training to become a breastfeeding peer supporter, and trying to save as much as I can for 3 years without a wage and shed loads of student debt, with a mortgage! I’ve got your book which I LOVE! But I am still struggling on how to even get started!!! And what experience I have that’s relevant enough to be worthy of going on my statement to stand out! I’ll be applying in Sept 19, to hopefully get a place in Sept 2020, so this would be amazing!!! Pretty pretty pretty please!!!! ??????

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