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Bullying in Teams: How to Survive It and Thrive – A book by Chartered Psychologist Aryanne Oade

Bullying in Teams: How to Survive It and Thrive – A book by Chartered Psychologist Aryanne Oade

Have you ever worked incredibly hard, only to find yourself being criticised and dominated? Especially in midwifery, where all you want to do is get it right for women and families, this can be hugely damaging to your confidence and your practice.

If you’re a kind and empathetic person it can be hard to identify that what you’re going through is bullying and that you need to do something about it.

Enter Aryanne Oade’s ‘Bullying in Teams’. I’ve written about Aryanne Oade before, she’s a chartered psychologist who specialises in challenging workplace dynamics. I came across her on a recommendation of an NHS midwife friend of mine.

Bullying is a toxic, dangerous phenomenon in midwifery.

Research and reports (The Francis Report, The Kirkup Report) show that care is compromised and morbidity and mortality can occur when the culture is bad enough. Every student and midwife needs to know how to stand up for themselves and their workplace.

I know many of us go into midwifery wanting to believe that all professionals will be kind towards everyone.

The problem is when you believe everyone in the midwifery is lovely, you bend yourself into pretzel shapes to keep this belief intact – even if they’re being unkind. When they’re having a bad day, or when they have methods of coping with the work that adversely impacts other staff members, you find yourself making excuses:

‘They’re reacting to the pressure of the service.’

‘I must have a personality that they don’t gel with.’

‘They’re lovely to the women, they probably just don’t have the head space for me.’

You might find yourself thinking things like this even when a midwife colleague has just said something like:

Some people pick things up quicker than others – don’t they (your name)?

Charming. And not constructive.

Without getting into my personal life too much, I’ll just let you know that it was unacceptable for me or my siblings to get too angry or advocate for ourselves while growing up in our family.

If there was someone bullying us my parents would always ask ‘and what did you do? What’s your part in this?’

This isn’t a bad thing, I owe my parents a lot and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my mother and both my siblings are in caring professions.

My parents were doing the best job they could to keep three wild kids under control and we probably needed reminders to think of others.

But in the adult world, if empathy is the only tool in your toolbox, you’re going to struggle.

There are patterns of behaviour that prelude bullying and in midwifery practice, they’re just as important to pick up on as clinical signs of pre-eclampsia or APH.

The information in ‘Bullying in Teams’ is vital. In practical style with lots of examples you’ll learn how to:

  • Protect yourself from being affected by poor culture
  • Restore your dignity
  • Understand that bullies are adept at exploiting any room for manoeuvre you may inadvertently give them through using unassertive behaviour. You can learn to protect yourself and the book will show you how to do this, through acquiring both mental and behavioural skills
  • Identify patterns of behaviour that lead to bullying and how to respectfully challenge them, for you and others
  • Recognise undermining behaviour
  • How to use phrases and body language that will establish your reputation as a student or midwife who deserves respect
  • How to encourage those around you to support you and challenge bullying
  • Restore your self-confidence

A ‘standing up for yourself’ toolkit is vital and you have a very good chance of turning poor culture away from you and your practice.

And as a sensitive, excellent student or midwife you have every right to get your voice heard. In fact, we need you to lead.

But if you’re anything like me, the thought of even needing such a toolkit is difficult to accept.

In practice, I aspire to be a midwife Gandhi. I rage against the idea any midwife could be unkind, I’m committed to seeing the best in everyone.

In reality Gandhi was actually lawyer and was amazing at standing up for himself and others.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learnt in my life is this:

You can empathise even while recognising someone is behaving badly.

You can know that a person attempting to bully you is a good human being at heart and they’re doing the best they can.

But at the same time, you have to realise that not everyone experiencing distress reacts in the same way as you.

There are many who are desperate and though they come across as tough, they’ll do anything to save themselves, including bully and power grab.

Empathy is wonderful but there have to be boundaries. Without boundaries, you lose yourself as a person and a midwife and you let other people decide your path.

You might also be thinking ‘but constructive feedback is important, shouldn’t I be listening to everything and working out what might be helpful?

Yes, absolutely. But there’s a big difference between constructive feedback and someone trying to take you down. You know the difference in your gut. Trust it.

In the example at the start of this blog, where the midwife said ‘some people pick things up quicker than others – don’t they?’ a good response might be something like ‘you seem to be implying I’m not a good midwife or learner. What exactly do you mean by that?

This would have alerted the midwife in question that her colleague’s good standing and ability to learn wasn’t up for debate.

We have record numbers of newly qualified midwives leaving the profession. And one RCM report found 43% of midwives and student midwives have been bullied (NB: there are study limitations)

There’s only so much self-doubt that is actionable and helpful so you need to draw your own lines around your self-belief and keep them there.

To me, this is just as important as knowing what to do during a PPH. Women’s safety depends on it.

Aryanne’s books are like nothing else on the market; I have no idea why this isn’t a mainstream topic? Why are there not guides to behaviour in Myles and Mayes midwifery?

Possibly it’s just a hard skill that few are prepared to teach professionally.

The RCM ‘Caring For You’ Campaign and the government report ‘The National Maternity Review’ are drawing attention to the importance of workplace culture in achieving satisfying, safe care for women. The way we think about these skills is changing.

I believe both Aryanne’s books, ‘Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying’ and ‘Bullying in Teams’ should be on every student and midwife’s reading list.

Now I’d love to hear from you:

  • Have you read any of Aryanne’s work? What did you think?
  • Do you already have a ‘standing up for yourself’ toolkit? Any tips?
  • Have you developed any of these skills and is there anything you can share?

Leave a comment below. I hope this helps and I’m sending so much love and respect,

Ellie x

February 6, 2019 1

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I got to talk to a lovely trans male midwife this week. He’s called Nathan and I’ll try and get his whole blog post up soon.

The most important thing I learnt from Nathan was this:

He and every other trans sibling he’s asked believe that motherhood and womanhood are what midwifery are made of.

I don’t know if you’ve heard but there are some debates that ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ are too gendered and shouldn’t be automatically used in midwifery?

Nathan believes that all midwives and other healthcare professionals should be aware that you can’t tell someone’s gender by looking at them, and be open to asking questions about pronouns, especially if there are cues like more androgynous clothing.

But motherhood is too important a word to take out of childbearing. It's just we need to ask people what they need from us with sensitivity.

Nathan stance on this argument goes with my gut, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

There’s a fantastic blog from Shawn Walker (RM, PhD) here that covers the concept: Can “mothering” be gender-neutral?

In other news, I’ll be going to Mary Cronk’s funeral tomorrow. I didn’t know Mary but I think she’s extraordinary. The daughter of a unionist, she campaigned for women’s rights in maternity care, became a breech birth expert and was amazing at handling complex politics.

You can see more about Mary and some important fundraising in her honour here.

If you have a few seconds this week please think of her and her family. Also the fundraising is for the Association of Radical Midwives, if you can add anything, she'd so appreciate this.

It’s a strange coincidence that as I was putting this blog together I found out another Mary, one of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver has died today. I'm quoting her in the title of this blog:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

May we be as brave, clever and funny as both Marys, and as open and wise as Nathan.

Much Love,

Ellie x

January 17, 2019 0

Christmas Midwifery

Christmas Midwifery

Thank you if you're working Christmas. We're all impressed and comforted by the people who keep caring for us. There's sacrifice involved and we don't underestimate it.

Some students and midwives shared their thoughts on Christmas time with me and I thought you might want to see. I asked them how they coped and this is what they said (picnic in the lounge anyone? 😉 )

'I practice smiling, telling myself I am empowering my women and their families! I’m an enhanced midwife so my clientele includes safeguarding/MH/teenagers/asylum seekers/learning disabilities/domestic abuse/substance misuse.
And let’s not forget alcohol and cake/chocolates haha! Merry Xmas x'

'By reading! Getting lost in an evocative novel in another time and place. Releasing and processing emotion and memories that way! Kate, student midwife.'

'I’m going to drink lots of gin! On a more serious note, I’m going to cherish every precious moment I get with my beautiful babies. I’ve taken the pressure off everyone this year by saying we aren’t making a traditional Christmas dinner as we all spend so much time stressing about it and then precious time on Christmas Day is spent in a kitchen cooking. Instead we are having a picnic on the lounge floor with the children and I’ll be soaking up every second (whilst in my PJs with an all important gin)! '

' - How to "keep afloat" during the Christmas season? Spend the Christmas season nourishing your body with good food, thoughtful conversations and reflect on the year. What was my midwifery highlight? What was my personal life highlight? And look closely at the balance between our midwifery lives and our personal lives. It needs to be balanced! I believe the happiest, most productive midwives have many passions besides midwifery to keep them refreshed in their midwifery roles. But sometimes it can be very easy to have that balance 'out of whack'. Spend the Christmas period planning for the next year and 're-balancing' where necessary. Sometimes filling up our own cup doesn't mean we're selfish, because we need a full cup to give to others. And empty cup has nothing to offer. 
Have a beautiful Christmas, Meg.' 

'I stay afloat with lots of coffee, and I finally started seeing a counselor (online). The stress of everything has been getting to me and as much as I’d love to connect with other women in person, it just hasn’t been happening. Its been a good release. It’s a hard gig trying to be a mum and a midwife. ' - Allie

' I start my midwifery degree in September! But a massive thank you to all the midwives out there who are working so so hard this Christmas, everything you do is appreciated. True superheroes.'
- Mia Gwynne - Smith 🙂

'I will be working Christmas on Delivery Suite, very happy , I really love it!! ' - Amaia

'I keep afloat by focusing on the positives and the women. It's easy to dwell on everything that's wrong with the system. And believe you me I indulge in that plenty but when it's really tough I find focusing on the tiny things you can do to hone in on individual women in a system that just doesn't, makes all the difference. A section that shouldn't have been a section… When everyone is focused on the baby, I focus on the woman, hold her hand, explain what's going on, tell her how amazing she is for having just birthed a baby etc etc. In a booking where she's been waiting for hours, listen to her, tell her she's amazing for getting this far and she's well able for what's to come. Knowing that these tiny insignificant things are night and day. Knowing that while the broken system ties your hands and restricts your practice, there are some small ways you can make a difference. Seeing your very sick women from antenatal come back to a postnatal clinic with a beautiful baby… These tiny things all keep me afloat, especially at this time of year when inductions are Christmas crackers.' - Deborah

Here's to 2019 being amazing for care and I'm hoping midwifery and the NHS in general will receive much more funding and political support.

Love to everyone, from Ellie and all the midwives/students involved in this post xxx

December 25, 2018 0

Refreshing My Learning on Midwifery Support For Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Refreshing My Learning on Midwifery Support For Asylum Seekers and Refugees

I think most of us would like to provide incredible care for anyone having to flee their country. It occurred to me that I haven’t learnt anything on this topic since I was a student and given all the events in the world right now, I was overdue for some study.

I headed over to, made a cup of tea and settled into their refugee module.

Here’s what I found, both from all4maternity and from my own research which the module prompted:

Refugees are people who have been granted asylum in the UK.
Asylum seekers are those still going through the process.

In 2017 there were more than 120,000 refugees and more than 40,000 pending asylum cases in the UK.

Interestingly, it’s developing world countries that offer the most places for refugees. Turkey currently has 3.5 million refugees with Pakistan and Uganda also taking large numbers.

Reasons for this might be Turkey receiving international credit for taking refugees but there's also a culture of helping others in Islam which is prompting this care. Though obviously, Turkey shares a border with Syria so proximity is a reason too.

Being a refugee in Turkey is very different from in the UK, though. Refugees often receive only a temporary right to stay in Turkey and they may be expected to stay in camps.

I think many people in the UK believe that refugee applications are rising but actually they've been stable since around 2002.

The UK asylum process is incredibly tough, complex, and often seems unfair; for instance, in 2015 38% of appeals on asylum cases were upheld in the asylum seeker’s favour.

Imagine what it would feel like to run from your country, apply for asylum, supply all documents and evidence that may be very difficult to get and then to have your application refused on unfair grounds. You’d have to be brave to challenge this, even if you knew the decision was wrong.

It’s intensely distressing to think of a pregnant woman or a new mother going through the asylum seeker process.

Other factors that healthcare professionals need to consider include the experiences of mothers and families escaping from political or other persecution. Refugees have often walked hundred of miles, lost their homes and possessions, and seen death and violence. Mental illness, particularly PTSD will be a concern. There’s good evidence to suggest continuity of care might be a wonderful way of supporting women in these situations (imagine having to retell your story every time you see a midwife, as it’s a new person – continuity of care would avoid this and help you find coping strategies for labour and parenthood).

Malaria and tropical diseases screening and care are also factors to think through with this group of women.

If a woman presents as very unwell and she is a refugee or has spent time in a refugee camp, she is at much higher risk of these. A midwife caring for a woman being removed from the UK needs to consider if anti-malarial prophylaxis is necessary as well.

Asylum seekers do have the right to full, free NHS care but sometimes they don’t know this.

Women in the immigration system are at risk of not coming for care anyway so it’s important to get this info to them. Combine a woman reluctant to seek care with a language barrier, and perhaps inappropriate translation going on and you can see why this group is at risk. Professional translation services should always be used, there might be safeguarding or accuracy risks if friends or family members are used.

What I found extremely startling was the transition between being an asylum seeker and being a refugee. In the UK, once you’re granted refugee status, you have 28 days to start claiming benefits and find new accommodation; in practice, this is often unachievable and many refugees end up on the street.

In summary, being a refugee can be a lonely, terrifying process and midwives can offer life changing care. You can support someone at their lowest. (see the 'p.s.' below for a real example of this).

I would highly recommend subscribing to and heading over to do some further learning with their refugee module. It's the online learning tool put together by the journal The Practising Midwife, perfect for aspiring, student and qualified midwives.

The references are all there too.

All4maternity has some brilliant learning on subjects as diverse as refugee women, delayed cord clamping and midwifery resilience. It’s easy to navigate and if you learn best curled up with a hot drink with your laptop, instead of at the library with lots of hefty books, you’ll love it.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Leave me a comment letting me know your experiences with women seeking asylum – or your own personal experiences?

Is this care you’d like to be involved with?

I know you might feel stretched thin at times but your contribution to women’s lives means more than you realise.

Much love and keep going x


For a bit of inspiration on what midwives can do for asylum seekers, see this interview with Deborah Hughes – who offered a woman on her caseload asylum and helped her retrieve her baby from Africa where she was scheduled to have FGM.

Honestly, if you’re ever doubting midwives have an impact, this blog will help #faithrestored

December 5, 2018 1

What happens if a woman wants a homebirth and it’s too complicated? (UK)

What happens if a woman wants a homebirth and it’s too complicated? (UK)

This is just about the most important question in midwifery. A woman's right to choose where she gives birth says a lot about the system that's offering her maternity care.

In the UK, it’s a situation that’s recently been impacted by some changes to midwifery law. In particular the removal of supervisors of midwives.

The basic answer is: if a woman with complex needs chooses to give birth at home, even if a medical team and trust feel it’s unsafe, care must still be provided.

Unfortunately in practice it's a lot more complicated than that.

Back in 2016 if a woman with complex needs was planning a homebirth, a meeting might take place with the head of midwifery, obstetric team and a supervisor of midwives.

Or if a client was in labour and no plan had been made, there would be a supervisor of midwives to call to try and find a solution. Supervisors of midwives were on call 24/7.

These days because supervisors of midwives no longer exist, the process is different. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have different approaches to supervision but it’s now employer based as opposed to midwifery profession/NMC based.

In England, ‘Professional Midwifery Advocates’ (PMAs) have now sort of replaced supervisors.

However, they don’t have legal responsibility towards midwives in the same way as supervisors did. It’s now the trust who have this responsibility. Supervisors can encourage education for midwives and good communication between midwives and clients but they no longer regulate. Some trusts offer 24/7 support from PMAs and some don’t and midwives are telling me it's a weaker style of advocacy for women.

There are also some other challenges midwives and women are facing around homebirth.

As we all know, we are thousands of midwives short in the UK. Trusts can refuse to send a homebirth midwife due to lack of staffing and this does happen. (I have heard of one trust who got fined for doing this repeatedly).

I’m also hearing from homebirth groups that sometimes paramedics are sent to provide care for labouring women in lieu of a midwife. Paramedics are amazing in emergencies. But a labouring women needs a professional able to support her normal physiology and recognise when medical expertise is needed. Paramedics haven't been trained to conduct planned homebirths.

Another alarming report I've heard from midwives is of social services being sent to visit women planning a homebirth against medical advice. This seems very unkind and unhelpful to me, unless there are true social issues that need addressing.

Finally, there may be times a midwife feels she's not the best person to attend a certain woman - for instance if a baby is on its way in the breech position.

If a woman is labouring and a midwife refuses to attend her because she’s not skilled enough for the situation, it’s unclear what the legal ramifications would be. It might end up with the NMC trying to investigate whether that’s true, though obviously that's not very helpful to the woman when she's needing a midwife there and then.

As far as I know, human rights laws mean that if a trust tried to stop a midwife from attending  a birth and any harm came to the woman or baby, the trust may have breached the ‘right to life’ (I’m quoting from Birth Rights legal charity here).

Often in practice a woman will be asked to sign to say she understands the risks and midwives are sent to support her, though any of the above situations could happen.

Essentially, any woman still has the right to birth at home. But the logistics can be complex.

Has anyone been through this recently, as a woman accessing care or as a midwife? I’d love to hear what happened to get it clear in my head. Please comment below. Much love, Ellie x

November 15, 2018 3

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

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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