'I was suspended and investigated for taking a woman on my caseload home and letting her live with me and claim asylum. It’s a long and terrible story, and it was an awful 3 months whilst awaiting hearings and being threatened with NMC referral, but I won the case with the help of friends...'
At the beginning of January 2018, I thought about all the inspirational birth world people I’m in contact with.
I wanted to have a pool of encouraging, motivational interviews on Midwife Diaries which also had 'nuts and bolts' strategies for the midwifery community to draw on.
I developed some questions to send out to those women and men who I know have stories to tell and ideas to add to midwifery's cultural bloodstream.
The response has been amazing. I have some brilliant advice sitting in my inbox and I'm enjoying the meeting of minds that happens when I get to post these interviews.
Today I'm sharing an interview with the beautiful Deb Hughes, experienced research midwife at Addenbrookes Hospital.
In this interview we cover her facing investigation for unjust reasons, how she keeps well and free from back pain, and why sometimes a lying down position in labour is exactly what’s needed (really).
Off we go!
What book do you most often recommend to midwives and students?
Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. I love those birth stories. It was the only book other than my two basic textbooks that I had as a student midwife. My copy fell apart eventually, it disintegrated completely beyond repair, but the stories it told had become part of me. That book influenced how I understood birth so much.
‘What’s the best money you’ve ever spent on an item or experience that relates either to midwifery practice or your self care as a midwife?’ It’s the money I have spent on homeopathy and cranio-sacral therapy. Homeopathy taught me so much about people and their well-being as well as keeping me well personally. I am a licensed homeopath after eventually studying at The North West College of Homeopathy for 4 years from 1999 to 2003. Homeopathy was so helpful in independent midwifery practice. Richard Harries, cranio-sacral therapist extraordinaire in Rishworth, turned me from someone perpetually plagued by back problems to someone who rarely has back pain.
What is your favourite moment of personal ‘failure’ you’ve experienced in midwifery – something that you now remember fondly or have made a ‘come back’ from?
I was suspended and investigated for taking a woman on my caseload home and letting her live with me and claim asylum. It’s a long and terrible story, and it was an awful 3 months whilst awaiting hearings and being threatened with NMC referral, but I won the case with the help of friends. After a year, I managed to retrieve her baby from Africa just three days before she was due to have FGM. She had been taken from her mother at 5 months (due to dispute over FGM) and we got her back aged 18 months. She is a happy, healthy 7-year old now and a British citizen. I defy anyone who claims helping a woman on one’s caseload constitutes breaching professional boundaries. It was a moment of failure because I had completely failed to predict the corporate onslaught it unleashed. I would never have told my Supervisor of Midwives if I’d known she would report it to trust managers.
If you could put a sign up on every labour ward or work place for midwives worldwide, with a big message for every member of staff, what would it say?
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. (A quote from The Dalai Lama.)
What is something unusual you do as a midwife – is there something a bit odd you do or love which really helps in practice?
If the baby’s head is high at full dilatation and doesn’t really descend much, I encourage the woman to spend 4 or 5 contractions pushing in McRoberts position, as it works just as well for stuck heads as stuck shoulders. Basically it pushes the pelvis up around the head and allows it to pass down to the outlet. It’s odd as we are so hung up about upright positions. Deep squatting does something similar it many women cannot get in a deep squat but they can lie on their back. Women have said “Oh I can push like this!!” But 4 or 5 contractions are enough.
How do you cope with the stress of being a midwife?
I walk a lot with my dog. I have had three dogs during my career - Phoebe, Murphy and now Clemmie.
In the last five years, what is one realisation about midwifery that has improved your practice or life as a midwife?
Toxic cultures are for exiting.
What advice would you give to a passionate, intelligent newly qualified midwife just starting their career?
Join ARM and get involved.
Caffeine or not caffeine for shiftwork?
I drink tea but never instant coffee which I loathe. But a nice cup of tea is always welcome.
Can you tell us about your favourite midwifery moment you’ve had (keeping things confidential for clients involved)?
Impossible, there have been so many lovely moments. I would say that my ongoing friendships with women I looked after 20 to 30 years ago are hugely important to me. That our experiences together were so important to lead to such long term relationships is wondrous.
What is poor advice you hear being given to student or newly qualified midwives?
To keep their heads down and fit in.
What do you do when you have lost your midwifery mojo, feel unfocussed or stressed by it all?
Go to the next Association of Radical Midwives event on.
Big thanks to Deb for this!
Deb is also an Association of Radical Midwives (ARM) leader – if you don’t subscribe to the ARM journal, Midwifery Matters perhaps think about it, it’s uplifting. ARM study days and retreats are also amazing at getting you back on to solid ground as a midwife.
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Take care, Ellie.