The author Glennon Doyle Melton talks about a technique that carpenters use. A joist is a beam that holds together a stronger structure and sometimes it starts to weaken.
If this happens, a carpenter supports it with another joint to the left. If that doesn't help, the carpenter adds another to the right and with that extra support, the joist can carry an amazing weight.
The carpenter technique is called sistering. In midwifery we have a treasury of sisters, both male and female, waiting to support each other. No-one is supposed to do it all on their own.
I love this next piece of writing because it shows even the most experienced among us have difficult times in midwifery. It also shows the depths of support out there for us.
I'm now handing the keyboard over to consultant midwife OBE Sheena Byrom, to explain her expering with sistering recently. She'll most definitely be speaking at The Kindness Conference!
Sometimes, on the outside, everything seems rosy. For those looking on, a bright smile, cheeriness and sharing of love may mean that nothing is amiss and that life is carefree. Perception is everything or is it that sometimes a brave face gives a false impression.
I often feel vulnerable, and turn to the wise words of Brené Brown. Sometimes that’s enough, and I bounce back - I’ve had so much practice!
A few weeks ago my apparent resilience took a jolt. A beautiful, well-meaning friend mentioned the name of someone who intimidates me, and others, on social media. Two names actually, both of whom collude and dislike me. The effect of their actions means that when I see their names or their profiles, my stomach churns and my heart misses a beat. I feel sick.
It’s actually involuntary, and one of my biggest challenges is to try to be less ‘caring’ of their activities. So when I saw the post about one of my attackers within in a safely closed FB page, I wobbled. Major wobble. I shook, and tears rolled down my face. I contacted the author of the post, and swiftly it was removed. But this piece isn’t about trolling, it’s about what happened next.
A couple of weeks later I was returning home from London, when a friend contacted me to say I was being mentioned negatively again on social media, by one of the perpetrators. Oh my, the wobbles again. When is it going to end?
‘Hey, Sheena - a parcel arrived for you yesterday!’ Paul, my husband, called me a few minutes after I arrived home. I couldn’t believe the content inside the package, my favourite candles, luxury body cream, room diffuser and a beautiful card full of love, from ‘midwives and doulas’. Paul and I hugged, and my heart soared. From the card, I guessed the gift was the members in the ‘safe group’, but maybe not. I called my daughter Anna, and she told me that lovely Mark Harris had contacted her, so I sent a message of pure appreciation and thanks. Beautiful thoughts raced through my mind - I couldn’t imagine how this had been organised, and I felt so happy! I smiled and smiled. The action, not the content of the gift (though MUCH appreciated) almost saved me that day. It sounds dramatic, but that’s human emotion.
Then the next thing arrived via Messenger. A film, a compilation of video messages that rendered me speechless.
I was overwhelmed by the thought that someone had made a huge effort and done this for ME. I know how hard it is to collate these things. And those messages from friends and even acquaintances that I’ve only met through social media made me feel better, they melted my vulnerability. They have made me a little stronger. As each person spoke about me, to me, I was humbled and shy - and somewhat surprised that they felt such positivity towards me. You see when you are targeted or bullied, you start to lose confidence, self- doubt sneaks in. Being courageous is part of me, and what these wonderful human beings have done boost my courage to continue.
Kindness feeds courage. Because I know others are on the same page as me, lifting me, encouraging and loving me as I do them, I can continue to be who I want to be.
My deepest gratitude goes to Mark Harris, Maddie Mahon, and all those who joined in and made me safe. Your beautiful and generous actions worked, and I will never forget.
The best bit of this post for me is the knowledge that Sheena has supported many others throughout her career. She knows that we just take it in turns to sister and be sistered to support our colleagues and the profession.
It turns moments of 'weakness' into connection and strength. You'll go through life sistering or being sistered.
And you know there has to be a reason why this technique is called 'sistering' and not 'brothering', right? As much as many male midwives provide this support (like Mark Harris who put together this surprise for Sheena along with Maddie Mahon) this type of strength comes from the female skillset. We should be proud of that.
To kindness in midwifery,
P.S. Info on the conference can be found here: The Kindness Conference.