It's been pointed out to me recently that I get my confidence in part from running and cycling.
I hadn't realised this but I guess it's true.
This is inherent to my character and has been since I was about sixteen.
I have other friends who don't feel this way about exercise. They do it because it's fun and to stay healthy but it's nothing to do with expressing themselves as a person.
They have other things they get their sense of individuality and confidence from.
Like the way they paint or draw, or dance, or dress a certain way. They have their own brand.
Midwifery tends to attract feisty, strong women (and to a lesser extent, men). Many of these people express themselves by having funky hairstyles, tattoos and piercings in non-standard places.
I think one of the best descriptions of why people have body art is from Billy Connolly. He got his nipple pierced pretty late in life and he said once it was done, the piercer sat back and said 'that's one more of us and one less of them'.
It's about belonging to a clan of people who like to express themselves that way.
Many universities and hospital trusts have rules about piercings, jewellery, visible tattoos and even the colour hair that midwives have. Here's a typical policy*:
For infection control reasons, personal safety and in the interests of professionalism, the following are not acceptable:
- Tongue, nasal, lip and other such visible piercings must not be worn
- Visible tattoos can be seen as unprofessional by many patients and offensive by some. Staff in clinical practice are therefore discouraged from acquiring new visible
tattoos while in Trust employment.
- Tattoos that contain nudity, swear words or symbols associated with extreme views
must be covered regardless of the area of work.
*some trusts are far more lenient about these kinds of rules than others
I understand the ideas behind these policies.
In part, they are for infection control. Piercings and rings are thought to be places where bacteria can be harboured. Though I have done a search and not found much evidence to support this, it seems sensible to keep jewellery to a minimum.
But if we're going to ban nose piercings, we should be thinking about why earrings are fine. And, for that matter, why nursing badges clipped on to uniforms are ok.
Tongue piercings have no risk (as one student in the Secret Community noted, she isn't planning on licking clients!) so there's something other than infection control going on there.
Professionalism is a consideration. The policy makers may be concerned that some clients will be concerned by piercings and tattoos as they are associated with risk taking behaviour.
However, I've never seen any evidence for this. I couldn't find any research, but my experience and this MumsNet thread suggests that it's experience and expertise women look for in midwives, rather than a particular appearance, within reason of course.
Anything offensive or that shows a particular prejudice is not ok, but this is an expectation for healthcare professionals in general. It's not ok to be prejudiced just as long as you don't have a tattoo about it!
Body art is something that pre-dates hospital policy. The oldest frozen mummy ever found is 5,300 years old and had stretched earlobe piercings.
In New Zealand, Ta moko (Maori body art) is considered sacred (tapu). Working in New Zealand, I began to realise that this particular kind of tattoo was associated with people of significance in Maori culture.
For me at least, when I see a healthcare professional with a non-standard piercing, a tattoo or wild hair colour, the first thing I do is smile. The second thing is I do is feel a bit safer because I know I'm being looked after someone with a sense of individuality and who can think for themselves.
I'm concerned by the dehumanisation that can happen in healthcare. Healthcare professionals are not just cogs in a machine, they are people and I'd much rather they are their authentic selves at work.
It's a hard enough job already without having a part of their humanity taken away.
If I couldn't have cycled to and from the hospital as a midwife, I'd have been devastated. And the more I think about it, the more that was to do with my identity as much as anything else.
I'm opening this up to the floor as I'd like to hear what you think. The research isn't sufficient to have an evidence-based policy that bans tattoos, brightly coloured hair and small piercings similar to earrings.
Is it ok to make assumptions about what women want from their midwives in this way? Is there something cultural going on?
And how can we support midwives to be themselves in practice?
Before I round this one off, I want to remind everyone how hard midwives work. This is a quote from a student midwife I've known for a while online:
'I was a single parent through my degree. It was a tough old slog, I won't lie. I put my head down and battled though. My university and placement were 50 miles from home so I commuted a lot. I was lucky to have my sister nearby who was my childminder but that still meant getting my children up and ready at 5:30am, sometimes I didn't see them for days.
My advice would be to accept help wherever it's offered and don't be afraid to ask for it. Be organised and prepared to do a lot of late night working. Be honest about your situation with university, mentors and peers (there were times when my peers had to pick up the slack for me and that's okay because that's what friends are for). Also coffee, all the coffee!'
With that kind of intelligence, drive, passion and compassion going on, I'm having problems caring how this midwife decides to decorate her body!
Let me know what you think in the comments? Thanks in advance!
I hope you're having a good week and are getting to be 'you' out in practice or whatever you're up to right now.