Here I am at Kingston and St Georges midwifery conference, 2018. Today there will be ten talks and events exploring the concept 'I Have a Voice' and I’ll be reporting on each of them in this series, ‘Notes on Midwifery Voices’.
Kathryn Gutteridge is newly elected president of the Royal College of Midwives.
She is also a consultant midwife who has completed over twenty years of diverse clinical care in the NHS as a midwife. But I think just as important to her story is that she’s a bereaved mother who understands how complex life can be. She's a passionate advocate for women who don’t have a voice - and a clinical psychologist. In short, a woman to listen to.
Anyone who’s followed Kathryn on Twitter knows this is a woman who speaks her mind.
Today she discussed the impact of care and opened with a story about choosing to give birth at her own workplace - and mentioned how a senior colleague of hers got her out of bed the day after her birth to make beds, something which stayed with her long into the future.
Through sharing her birth journey we understood how we can communicate ideas to women without meaning to - the lack of auscultation (listening in) to her daughter meant she thought she may have suffered an intrauterine death. But the power inequality meant she didn't feel comfortable asking, even though she was a midwife herself. Amazing. I don't think good care can be given without true, equal partnership between women and midwives in the forefront of everyone's mind.
As famous, feisty midwife Mary Cronk would say, midwives are 'professional servants'.
You might dislike the term but the woman should be in charge. A midwife has no right to presume power over women.
Kathryn also discussed one of my favourite subjects: dreams. The hormonal changes women go through in pregnancy means their dreams may get strange and intense. As I and my sister say, when you're pregnant, you have 'business in other worlds'. I'm not sure we ever discuss dreams in clinical practice with women - but why not? Could listening to women discuss their dreams help us understand what they need? A great suggestion but hard to get into a booking session.
We then talked about one of our favourite subjects in the maternity services: risk. Kathryn commented that risk is managing us rather than the other way around.
A woman who knows the information and is making decisions based on the risks is a very different to midwives and obstetricians 'managing risk' on their terms.
Kathryn has a lot of experience with women who have been traumatised, through birth, abuse, or many other things. One of her key tips would be apologising. It's may not be her fault that the woman in front of her was raped when she was sixteen. But apologising acknowledges what happened. She's there, listening, validating that pain. Good care can proceed from the relationship that this listening begins. To quote her - 'if all you have is tears, share them with the women. They will be precious.'
Today is Valentines Day. By practising the courage to listen – 'courage' being a word which comes from the word ‘cor’ meaning heart, and originally meant ‘to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart’ - you'll develop as a midwife.
You’ll train the muscles you need to speak up. You’ll realise that no-one will give you permission to act on what you've heard from women but if you keep practising you’ll begin to trust it. And that’s where advocacy comes from, both for others and yourself.
And you’ll inspire clients and others to be courageous, which is one of the things that Kathryn Gutteridge is so good at.
Now we’d love to hear from you - are you here at the conference? What was the most insightful thing you learnt from Kathryn?
Or what was the best thing you learnt from this post – leave a comment below!