Chances are, if you’re a human, at some point you’ve wanted to just block out what’s going on at work.
In midwifery sometimes the pain and busyness can be too much, so you just put one foot after the other until you’re done with that day.
This midwifery reflection from a student reminded me of the power of turning up with your whole heart, even when you’re not feeling it.
I hope you find this insight from her.
‘My first day as a second year student midwife, didn’t quite go to plan in anyway. You might ask why. Let me explain...
A couple of months before my cohort were due to finish first year I was more than excited to be heading feet first into my second year. I am a go-getter, a hot head, a feet-first kind of person so facing second year was not a problem for me, more like another challenge.
However, as the days started to roll away I felt something in my stomach way down deep in the pit of my stomach. If I was having my obs taken my meows score would have been off the chart and I m positive a sepsis pathway would have been implemented*. What was this strange feeling? Nerves? Dread? Fear? Excitement? In fact it was all of them, the strangest feeling was the self-doubt, like really destructive self-doubt.
Anyway, as my first day loomed I couldn’t shake these feelings, my husband gave me copious and endless pep talks to get my head in the right place but not even he could influence my impending doom (or so I was convinced). My first placement area was high risk antenatal women and it was a night shift. I knew who my mentor was and I went out of my way to find out who she was and to say high in advance. She was lovely. I decided to get some sleep before my night shift so as to not be over tired all night. This is when I had a dream about being in community with a mentor and everything she asked me to do I just couldn’t. I literally tried to do a Guthrie** on an electric cable (dreams are crazy).
So when I awoke I was convinced I was going to flunk my whole shift and that I was going to walk home in the morning a failure (cue violins). That evening I walked into my local trust and found my mentor, unfortunately she wasn’t working on the ward and I had no mentor (argh my feelings of dread were coming true). However, another mentor quickly and without hesitation said she would have me and I could genuinely see that she was happy to mentor me, phew!
We went on ward and the shift was crazy busy and the first 5-6 hours were a blur. My mentor said ‘this is how I want you to do this’ and ‘this is what I expect’. I took a breath and off I went. I was actually shining, doing what was expected and learning all night long. Bye bye anxiety, hello confidence, what exactly has I been I worried about!?
Now what I haven’t mentioned was on this ward wad the suite for infant loss and the suite was being used for a couple who had suffered an Intra Uterine Death. My mentor was so supportive and suggested that she offered the care to the couple. However, when they wanted baby taken away, that I should come and meet the baby and assist with laying the baby in the place where they rest. She mentioned it’s best to be introduced to these heart breaking situations as a student when there is constant support around you.
My heart dropped when the bell to the suite rang, I knew what was happening, I wasn’t ready for this, I just wanted to stay in my safe bubble and only experience the glory of midwifery. I went to meet baby, a beautiful baby, my heart skipped a beat. How can this happen to a full term, fully developed little baby? My heart sank a little and I realised for the first time that midwifery can leave you with a lot of unanswered questions, which for someone like me was going to be hard to deal with. I need to know the why of everything, and I mean everything. I am a Google Queen.
As I am introducing myself to this precious baby, I hear something, I hear pain a deep soul wrenching pain. It was the baby’s parents. My heart broke into a million pieces. Their souls were crying out for a baby they would never see grow, a baby they would never play with or get to do all the things that I do with my children. Whilst in pursuit of becoming a midwife I always thought seeing a baby that had passed would be the worst thing in the world but, rightly or wrongly, it wasn’t. It was the pain the parents and family were suffering that broke me.
I debriefed with my mentor and let me just say when I was on shift and until I left the ward I held my life together. I smiled and said my goodbyes at the end of shift and made a sharp B line for the exit. I rang my cohort friends and cried my eyes out. How could I continue doing this? I felt haunted. After debriefing with the support from my girls I went to sleep.
When I woke up I had their words echoing in my mind, I had a new lease on life, as long as I was a student midwife / midwife I would support women and advocate my behind off for them to give them the best service through the good and bad times.
Am I still worried about failing and not being good enough to be in year 2? 100% yes, but I can’t let those fears hold me back because I have women, babies and families to care for and I will not fail them.’
* This is an observation chart to identify illness early - ‘MEOWS’ stands for ‘Modified Early Obstetric Warning Score’ see more here
** See more about heel prick tests ('Guthries') ‘
A few things I learnt from this reflection from this student:
- I’ve written about intuition before. I'm quite sure what’s going on here in terms of this student having a sense of this shift being something important/heartbreaking before it happened but I always find it fascinating and reassuring when students display the beginnings of a ‘midwifery spider sense’
- This student brings her whole self to work. She is vulnerable, unsure and passionate and not at all concerned with anyone who might think she’s a bit ‘keen’. I think we can learn a lot from this
- Did you notice how important it was to this student that her mentor was ‘genuinely’ pleased to have her? You can make all the difference to a fledging career, midwives!
- This student had good support from her cohort members and knows how important this is. I think she underestimates how brave reaching out is, I’m so impressed.
- And finally, this student experienced a huge depression when she first saw a baby who had died. I remember this feeling too. Sometimes in midwifery, there aren’t any answers or even when there are they are unfair
But the inverse of all this is: if you let yourself feel the lows (while still being there for the parents and being professional, of course), you get to feel the lovely bits too. The knowledge of what you're doing to help a family in a lifelong way will hit you just as hard.
Take care, Ellie and the student who wrote this.