'Don't fall into line, and don't let the system make the women a burden to you. Place them first and foremost during your work and then leave it behind at the door to make room for yourself...'
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 independent midwife and entrepreneur Jessica Smart. She's a cool lady and as intelligent as they come. Hopefully this will give you some ideas about what else can be done in your career as a midwife.
'I work in West Sussex, both as an NHS midwife (bank) and independently. I teach an Access to Healthcare (Health & Psychology) course at a local college. I own SlingSmart, an online babywearing peer supporter training course. It's fabulous Continuing Professional Development and I always have a midwife discount.
I also run Boss Your Birth, an empowering online birth and baby prep course.
Additionally, I'm the Surrogacy UK midwife and I do some placenta encapsulation on the side too.'
On with our interview:
Which book do you recommend most often to students and midwives?
Not specifically midwifery related, but the autobiography/comedy How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. It's such an important read. It is brutally honest about coming of age as a woman, and she also discusses the difference between having a disempowering and traumatic birth, and one where she called the shots. Feminism and autonomy are at the heart of everything in midwifery for me.
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?
When I started as a midwifery student, I was 18 and I was a blank canvas. I had no preconceived ideas of how women, or myself, should behave in a birth space. One of my first mentors used to say 'good girl' to women in labour, and so I picked up the habit. I was working with another midwife and used the phrase, she took me outside of the room and explained that, whilst she knew I had picked it up from others, it was patronising. I was mortified and the language issue started to click. I am so mindful of the language I use now, avoiding negative or medicalised terms like 'delivered'. Birthing women should be respected as the most important person in that space.
If you could put a sign up on every labour ward or work place for student midwives worldwide, with a big message for every member of staff, what would it say?
'You are doing an amazing job under challenging circumstances. Free massages are provided during breaks. And remember, always be a little kinder than is necessary.'
What is something unusual you do as a midwife – is there something a bit odd you do or love which really helps in practice?
Not really something I do, but something I have noticed: I have a lot of piercings and tattoos, which I know some students and midwives worry about. In my experience it's certainly not bothered anybody, and for many more it has been a great conversation starter, sharing tattoos and being able to see me as the individual behind the uniform (in NHS practice). We have to build trusting bonds so quickly in this profession, small things can help.
How do you cope with the stress of being a midwife?
I'm fortunate that my workload is small and we can afford for that to be the case. I realised that if I continued working in the NHS full time, as I was, that I was in danger of losing all love for the job. Branching out into my own practice, teaching Access and sharing information online allows me to work 'sort of' full time on all these projects but without the demands and burn-out.
Caffeine or not caffeine for shiftwork?
A bit! I don't drink coffee or much tea, I find I only ever manage one glug of tea before it goes stone cold! I sometimes bring in a Coke or something.
Can you tell us about your most favourite midwifery moment you’ve had (keeping things confidential for clients involved)?
I'm sure I've had many moments like this, but my mind is always cast back to one birth I attended in hospital. A first time mum who laboured with ease and relative comfort in the pool. I felt so in tune with the family, and I was able to prepare her for every moment, to follow her intuition, and every moment arrived just as I had described to them, so there was no anxiety, only clarity. Whilst she birthed beautifully unaided, I felt that my gentle guidance calmed everyone and they felt fully supported and cared for. It was perfect.
My favourite moment in general is when the woman is in the birthing phase, when she is bearing down and baby is on the way, but they are so focused that their minds are not able to process that yet. I always feel emotional in the calm spaces between tightenings, as they rest I feel like I know the big secret, that their world is just about to turn upside down. It's the best feeling! I always end up a bit choked up here, but I never cry when the baby arrives!
What advice would you give to a passionate, intelligent newly qualified midwife just starting their career?
Don't fall into line, and don't let the system make the women a burden to you. Place them first and foremost during your work and then leave it behind at the door to make room for yourself. Debrief and be honest when you are struggling, it's not failure, and it may make your colleagues more mindful. Lots of self-care, weekends away, treasure your family and the joys in your life.
Thanks for that Jessica. Sometimes we get so stuck on being amazing midwives or students that we forget we can make the role work for us. Getting up at odd hours, into your uniform, documentation, team work, making the tea, saving the day. All very important things. But midwifery shouldn't just be one long list of goals to tick off. What are you wanting to get out of it?
It might be if you can find a role that makes you incredibly passionate, women and midwifery will benefit too. I'm impressed by Jessica's ability to do this.
Just a thought! Love you all.
And now, over to you...could you leave Jessica 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. See the quiz here.
Much Love, catch you next week with the next interview!