One part of my life is about keeping up to date with midwifery, speaking with students and midwives, and passionately moderating the Secret Community for Midwives in the Making.
Another part of my life is being part of small business and learning how to make this work. Yet another part of my life (perhaps the most important to me) is writing, with no expectation other than loving the process.
This is why one of my favourite books of 2017 was ‘Tribe of Mentors’ by the entrepreneur Tim Ferriss – I don’t demand that you love it as much as me, it’s more business-minded than anything else. But it is clever in that the book is made up of chapters written by leaders and authors answering important, interesting questions.
I thought about all the inspirational students and midwives I’m in contact with and knew I wanted to do something similar.
I wanted to have a pool of encouraging, motivational interviews which also had 'nuts and bolts' strategies for the midwifery community to draw on.
I’m working on a series of posts based on Tim Ferriss’ work. I’ve borrowed or adapted some of his top questions and am aiming to get a picture of how inspirational midwives and students really do it.
This week I’d like to introduce Hannah, a second-year student midwife from Brighton who is training despite managing a serious autoimmune condition. She is one of the bravest, kindest students I know of.
We’re also lucky to have her as a moderator in the Secret Community. Here we go!
'Hi everyone, I’m Hannah, a second-year student midwife and moderator on the Secret Community. I suffer from fibromyalgia which brings it’s own challenges when training. I wrote about this previously on Midwife Diaries.
In the last few years, what is one realisation about midwifery that has improved your practice or life as a student midwife?
As part of expanding knowledge in areas outside of midwifery, I attended the local hospice for a day, to see how it worked and watch the nurses in providing palliative care.
It is an experience that I would totally recommend. I met with the spiritual care co-ordinator and one thing that she said to me will stay in my mind forever. A lot of people are scared of both birth and death. We don’t usually link the two together as they are at either end of the spectrum, but they are such similar concepts.
Both birth and death are inevitable, unexpected and affect the people involved in varying ways. Some people are scared, some people are more relaxed, some people are more open to the fact that both are normal processes. We are meant to be born and we are meant to die. It is how we interpret these phenomena that matters.
We need to explain to women that birth is meant to be normal, that their bodies were made to do this. When their labour is taking ‘too long’ based on policy, they can have the courage to speak up and say ‘my body can do this. I was made to do this.’
Although death is totally different in a midwifery environment, the way the nurses spoke to those in their care was incredible. Most of the patients were terminally ill and in the hospice to have a comfortable experience. I think there is a lot we can take from this.
They didn’t intervene with the natural processes, they listened to their patients and responded to their needs. Some midwives and obstetricians fail to do so, especially when there is a lot going on. A simple listening ear for any concerns or questions can eliminate a lot of fear in the birthing environment. I would highly recommend anyone to visit a hospice if you are able to. I didn’t think it would be a day I’d learn much from, but in reality it was one of the best things I have done this year.
Note from Ellie: There is an amazing podcast that goes into some of these lessons here.
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?
On my first labour ward shift, I was asked to take blood from a woman who had just given birth. It was very overwhelming for me as it was the first birth I had witnessed and I was only about 1 hour into the shift!
At this point, I was inexperienced with venepuncture and quite nervous about it all. The woman was also nervous which didn’t help things. I said I would give it a go if that was alright with the woman and she said yes.
My hands were shaking, everyone was watching! I got the needle in and the blood began to drain, then the woman flung her arm backwards with no warning. Blood everywhere, me panicking. Luckily not much damage was done and later on she made the joke when I was taking her pulse ‘you won’t hurt me or panic taking a pulse will you?’
I sighed with relief that it hadn’t caused her too much trauma. Now, I am much calmer when taking blood and have managed to steady my trembling hands! I am glad that the woman (and my mentor) allowed me to give it a go and I went for it, even if it all went wrong!*
What advice would you give to a passionate, intelligent new student midwife just starting their training?
Being a student midwife is like nothing else I have ever done. It is stressful, it is high pressure and there is a lot of responsibility. At the same time, it is a privilege, an honour and a reward.
There will be shifts where you wonder what on earth you are doing with your life. There will be times when you don’t get a good grade on an essay or can’t get your head around the theory you are studying. Women won’t mind what grade you scored. They only worry about getting the best care. You will smile, laugh, die with embarrassment and cry. Lots. That’s ok. It is a journey you are on, it isn’t a race. It isn’t a competition. As long as you keep moving, you will get there.
Stop to take a breath and carry on. You will change people’s lives. Always remember why you are doing this and you will make it through.
Can you tell us about your most favourite midwifery moment you’ve had (keeping things confidential for clients involved)?
My favourite moment began during my first ever community placement. I met a woman, let's call her Anna, her partner and child. She was 5 weeks pregnant. She looked familiar, I recognised her. She was smiling, chatting and was so relaxed.
I found out where she worked and it turned out I volunteered there, that was why I recognised her. I asked her if she would be open to me following her pregnancy. She was eager!
I attended every scan and appointment with her. The day after her ‘due date’ she texted me to say it was happening. I was so excited. She kept me updated, until around 3 pm when she was admitted to labour ward and I went to the hospital with her. The midwife told me to get changed and I could continue her care. I cared for her with supervision until around 11 pm, when her behaviour changed and she began involuntary pushing. I was gloved up and ready to support her birth. The lights were dim, we were listening to the fetal heart intermittently and with a couple of pushes, the baby was born, hands off and no trauma.
He cried immediately, was placed skin to skin and began to breastfeed. It was a beautiful experience and I had to hold back the tears. I stayed until 1 am, when she was transferred to the postnatal ward with her baby boy. I still see them occasionally now and they are the most lovely family.
It was the first labour and birth that I felt I knew what I was doing and gave me so much confidence. Continuity of care is a wonderful concept and I am looking forward to doing the same this year.*
How do you cope with the stress of being a student midwife?
Stress – a physical response in which the body is getting ready for attack, entering a state of fight or flight. The underlying reason? Usually fear of ‘not being good enough’. What determines how ‘good’ you are? What is ‘being enough’? Really quite subjective.
We all have high expectations and want to be the best version of ourselves, but sometimes, we need to take a step back and look at the situation in hand. After a long, hard, shift filled with emergencies and high pressure, our minds can’t switch off. What if I had done this or that? In order to put your own mind at rest, it is important to reflect with mentors, friends/family (confidentially) or talk through things by yourself.
You may find that after breaking things down, you did, in fact, do all you could. Treat yourself like you would a woman in your care – have a cup of tea and biscuit. Have a relaxing bath. Take the dog out for a walk. Listen to a meditation track.
Midwifery is all consuming, but don’t lose your sense of self. I am a student midwife, but first and foremost, I am Hannah and I am allowed to switch off.'
I LOVE this so much. Hannah’s writing highlights to me that young student midwives can be leaders. The wisdom about palliative care and its links with midwifery is impressive. And the advice on coping with stress is something we all need to hear.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. Could you leave Hannah and I a comment letting us know your most important realisation from her answers?
And also, do you know of an inspirational student or midwife who you think I should interview? We all know and love some of the big names in midwifery but I’m very aware that many brilliant midwifery leaders do their work under the radar – yet these are people we could learn a huge amount from.
Take care, Ellie.
P.S. If you’re wanting some help with getting into midwifery, Hannah is one of the coaches affiliated with MidwifeDiaries who offers personal statement coaching. We also do interview coaching. You can email for advice, support, or more information on email@example.com
*Please note, Hannah is very aware of the need for confidentiality and has changed/not revealed any identifying features concerning these learning experiences