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 Val Elderkin, a research and audit midwife who practices for the NHS in Kent. She is no stranger to hard times in midwifery - but still loves her role. She has worked in the maternity services since 2010 when she was a breastfeeding peer supporter and is now three years qualified as a midwife.
Which authors and books do you most often recommend to midwives and students?
Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth; and Dream Babies by Christina Hardyment for a 500 year perspective on why almost all baby care advice is nonsense.
What’s the best money you’ve ever spent on your self care as a midwife?
A monthly subscription to Pilates - this solved my back problems.
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 still chuckle about a messy cord cutting experience as a student which taught me not to get my face too close! More seriously, I am open about having taken time off for anxiety in my first year qualified, and share my view that I have come back stronger with others who are struggling. I believe some of us struggle because we more clearly perceive the gap between how things are and how they should be for childbearing women and families.
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?
'Put your oxygen mask on first, then help others.'
What is something unusual you do as a midwife?
I offer hypnobirthing relaxation between second stage contractions to encourage ‘micro rests’ even in the most medicalised labours. I’m sure my delivery suite colleagues would think it very strange to see the syntocinon drip, CTG, epidural pump, etc and hear me saying “and let all the tension drift from your forehead, cheeks, and jaw...”
In the last five years, what is one realisation about midwifery that has improved your practice?
The job for an NHS Midwife is literally impossible if you try to deliver fully person-centred care while following trust guidelines, your employment contract with the trust, the NMC code, the evidence base, and your personal integrity. A midwife must learn to live with the 100% inevitability of imperfections and mistakes when attempting the impossible each time you show up for work.
What advice would you give to a passionate, intelligent newly qualified midwife just starting their career?
Thoughts are just that, thoughts - don’t believe all the thoughts you have, especially ones which are unkind to yourself. Please make mistakes. It really is how we best learn.
Caffeine or not caffeine for shiftwork?
I’m all about caffeine at the moment, but have gone through phases of red bush for a couple of months here and there.
Can you tell us about your most favourite midwifery moment you’ve had (keeping things confidential for clients involved)?
A woman with a medical condition who had been told not to do active pushing for more than one hour and had been prepared for the probability of an instrumental delivery. With my coaching, she breathed right through that second stage with no active pushing. Her birth partner and I exchanged happy glances as she found her rhythm and experienced some moments of ecstatic birth during the process. A little while after the baby glided into the world, she exclaimed how different this birth had been to last time (when valsalva use had left her eyes stained red with burst blood vessels). Yes, birth can be so different to that!
What is poor advice you hear being given to student or newly qualified midwives?
'You’ve got to protect your PIN at the end of the day.'
What do you do when you have lost your midwifery mojo, feel unfocussed or stressed by it all?
Go snowboarding. Or if that’s not practical, watch Call the Midwife.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. As I mentioned in the MidwifeDiaries newsletter this week, exercise is a really good way of coping with midwifery and life. For me at least, a lot of clarity about what to do next and what kind of small acts of self care I need come to me when I'm exercising. I had a bonkers yoga teacher once who used to say 'wisdom comes from the body, not the mind' and I know what she means - Val is using snowboarding to get her whole body into doing something different and it's from this that the learning from midwifery settles and new ideas about self care emerge.
Could you leave Val 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.
Take care, Ellie.