I have a treat for you today. You know those pieces of writing that you find yourself slowing down to read as if savouring the last bites of a delicious meal? It’s one of those.
It’s novelist Anna Quindlen’s university graduation speech which you can find here.
It’s about the pressures of being perfect and conforming to those around you. I remember feeling great pressure when I was starting university as a student midwife. I wanted to get it 100% right for the women in my care while being confident, approachable, pretty in my uniform, never breaking rules or making a fuss etc. (Wait, is that a standard list of things women worry about or what?!)
Women and men being ‘perfect’ like this don’t change the world.
Even if you’re a mature student, you may have experience being you rather than trying to be perfect, but midwifery is so intense you can find yourself bending into pretzel shapes to do what’s expected.
It’s very important for future midwives to be skilful in standing their ground and doing what they feel is right.
This is a lifelong practice and challenge.
On first read, there is one bit of Anna Quindlen’s speech which you may not necessarily agree with, which is about making choices ‘for me, for me’. Midwives always make decisions based on what’s right for the women and often put themselves last, right?
But if you think about it a bit more, I bet many decisions for the women are the ones you want to make because you care. I know you didn’t come to midwifery for its excellent working hours and exuberant benefits. You want to give care that is as brilliant as possible and that embodies the 6Cs (Care, Compassion, Competence, Communication, Courage and Commitment).
Even if you are making a decision to have a nap half way through writing an assignment, ask for a break, or you turn down an extra shift because you know you’re exhausted – these things are still about getting it right for the women.
Making choices for yourself is still important in a caring profession. In fact, it's probably more important than in other careers.
Evidence shows that the more self-compassion you have the better you can care for others. It's all about a general attitude of kindness. Great news! I know there will be times over your degree that self-care goes out of the window (this is real life after all) but the better you treat yourself, the better you can treat the women.
And I know this is difficult, I’ve been there, people sometimes don’t like it when you say no to things or query practice.
But it’s really important in the long term that you can do it.
I’m excited for you! This journey of training will be totally amazing, rewarding and heartfelt. It also won’t be easy. Lean into the exciting times, this doesn’t make you naïve. Don’t stop yourself from beaming like a looney when you first use a sonicaid. Nothing can stop the hard challenges ahead but enjoying the good times will help so much with your resilience.
No matter how old or experienced you get you'll always be surprised and challenged by midwifery, so in some ways the emotions you’ll be feeling now will continue with you through your career. Welcome them and make room. If you can see ‘fall down’ moments as learning opportunities right from the start this is good practice for what you’ll need to do throughout.
I think you lot are uncommonly brave and midwives will always be my role models.
I’m just going to share one tiny bit of the speech that gives me chills:
'Look at your fingers. Hold them in front of your face. Each one is crowned by an abstract design that is completely different than those of anyone in this crowd, in this country, in this world. They are a metaphor for you. Each of you is as different as your fingerprints. Why in the world should you march to any lockstep?'
Definitely, some of you reading this will change the face of midwifery and women’s experience. How amazing are you!
I'd love to hear what you think. Leave me a comment letting me know:
A) Are you starting this week? How’s it been so far? What will you want to remember about this time? How do you plan to avoid perfectionism and remain true to yourself in midwifery?
B) Are you a midwife or senior student? What advice do you have for new midwives?
C) Are you an aspiring midwife? What are you most looking forward to in terms of midwifery and being an individual, autonomous practitioner?
Lots of love, Ellie x