I really wish I wasn't writing this.
But I'm researching for a conference on bullying I'm putting together and I've been chatting to midwives and students about their experiences.
I wanted to share a good strategy I'm come across for dealing with bullying.
The outpouring of grief and injustice on the end of my mobile has been hard to listen to, especially as I have personal experience of bullying.
I was bullied both as a student and a qualified midwife.
The worst of it included having someone who was much more experienced and physically bigger than me shouting with her face an inch from mine.
It was on a late shift and I knew the midwife in question was going home the same way as me. But she was in a car and I was on my bike. In that moment, I was truly concerned she might be angry enough to knock me off as it was an isolated rural area and no-one would find out.
Paranoia, maybe, but she made my life very difficult for a long stretch, to the point of feeling sick before coming in to shift.
Luckily, I had some excellent colleagues who supported me through it and I don't think it ever impacted care. But if I'd have been in a different environment, it definitely would have started to affect how I behaved around women and babies. I was most scared of this because I knew I'd never forgive myself if I was intimidated into making mistakes.
I'm really hoping that change is coming.
The 'Caring For You Campaign' from the Royal College of Midwives, the 'Bullying Toolkit' from the Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the countless references in government reports and other official documents on the importance of a good culture at work for midwives makes me hopeful.
Certainly, we're talking about bullying in a way that wasn't possible back when I was training in 2007. That's why I think the time is right for the conference.
Today I want to share with you a technique from an experienced male midwife. This advice was given to a student midwife who had such a hard time that she left the course, but I'm thrilled to say is now reapplying. It offers some amazing insight into midwifery and why these issues are here in the first place.
'Not all of us are like your mentor, in fact, the overwhelming majority aren't. We all have bad days, which affect our ability to interact with others, and the world around us.
I certainly do, and I'm not proud at the way I have acted. It's a sad fact that for many old school midwives, who may have started as nurses, their training took that form. They were taught via humiliation. A student nurse learned quickly because she was too scared not to. It wasn't a valuable learning experience unless a student cried. I'm not exaggerating. Read some nurse autobiographies.
Because they were taught that way, they follow suit. It's not robust learning, it's bullying. The world has moved on, but some are too set in their ways to change.
The great sadness is that these midwives have an enormous amount of knowledge that could be tapped, but you can't access it, and it will fizzle out when they retire.
I'm not seeking to make excuses, I'm trying to give context. I've met ratbags, we all have. The trick is to deal with them.
Being uber keen is one way. Think about saying something like: 'Gosh, I'm sorry I got that wrong, it's hard when you're a learner. I'd really love to learn the right way, so I can do it well.'
If you say this with a bright-eyed, this side of mickey taking expression, it works wonders. They don't know if you are flattering them or making fun.
With the right support you will find your own way. I hope you get back onto the course. It would be a great shame if your passion for midwifery was knackered by a poor experience. You will see that we're not like that person, that we are here to nurture the next generation of midwives, and that we take that role very, very seriously. And as I say, it would be nice if I can have a role in that.
May I also say that the bright eyed and bushy tailed approach even works if the student is, for example, a 34-year-old man... '
- Male midwife Andy Gorrell-Robbins
What I love about this is it's a helpful technique to use on the shop floor to address bullying just as it's starting. And it's from an experienced professional who has come out the other side.
I also admire the fact that Andy has broken the cycle so he is not teaching his own students using fear and humiliation. This kind of comment is proof we're moving on. And he's dead right about there being amazing knowledge from these mentors that could be passed on.
As a student or newly qualified midwife, you shouldn't need to use these kind of strategies. I'm hoping to address some issues with the conference I'm putting together.
But the issue crops up for many students and midwives at the moment - if you come across this behaviour and manage to address it using this technique and then manage to learn from that mentor to be able to use and pass on their wisdom....well, you've won, haven't you?
The conference I'm putting together has an amazing line up so far.
We have an OBE, amazing midwives who have changed practice against the odds and while being bullied, an incredible lecturer, a newly qualified midwife who astonishes me with her ability to be positive and change what she can, one of the midwives who helped put together the Caring For You Campaign, and someone very exciting who has researched bullying in midwifery...and they all have ideas to help change the culture.
Because we can't have any more students or midwives leaving over bullying, especially with the staffing challenges in midwifery at the moment.
And student, midwives and others being bullied as they try to care for women and families is just plain wrong!
I would love you input on this one, so we can work together and try to address things.
Leave me a comment letting me know:
1) Do you think this 'uber keen' technique will work for you?
2) Would you be able to attend a conference 30th September, in central Cambridge, 10am-5pm? (I'm just getting a feel for if the venue is ok, this is not commitment or anything 😉 )
Much love to everyone that's concerned about this, Ellie x
P.S. If you're interested in coming to the conference and want to be alerted when tickets are around, subscribe to MidwifeDiaries.com and you'll be first to know 🙂