This week I want to share with you a bit of the midwifery novel I've been working on for the last three years.
It's about midwifery, marijuana and abortion but it's actually quite cheerful.
It's set in Leicester and has the working title 'New Walk' (which is a famous pedestrianised thoroughfare in the city and, despite the name, is not so new since it was paved in 1784.)
I don't set out to write about complex midwifery matters. They just get in there, somehow bubbling up. Apparently, I'm obsessed.
In the two excerpts, I've chosen for you Chloe is a very new student midwife, just a few weeks into her training.
Chloe's Dad is a handful and her cat is called Helga. That's all you need to know for these bits of the book make sense.
Chapter Four: Uniformity
At first, we’re out at the Nursing and Midwifery Campus which is separate from the rest of the university and in a converted Victorian manor house. Everything feels slightly Hogwarts with a stained glass coat of arms in the front door and ivy climbing the walls. The head of midwifery is called Enid and is Irish, elderly and wears a crucifix.
Mostly it’s induction stuff, manual handling and fire safety which we do alongside the nursing and occupational therapy students. But we are shown a video of a birth one morning, an oxytocic dream of a birth with a midwife in jeans and an apron and the woman in her lounge. The woman is making a deep lowing sound, resting on her hands and knees and when the baby is born his cries chime in with hers, she rocks back on her feet and receives him through her legs. She laughs and waves at the camera like, yeah, how easy was that! As she’s stroking his velvety head I’m near tears but when the lights come back on one girl with straight black hair has packed her things into her bag and walks out then and there. We hear her say to the lecturer, ‘I wasn’t sure, but now I am. This is so not for me.’
This first 8 weeks is full-time study hours, Monday to Friday. I fall into a routine. I get up at 7, feed Helga who yowls through the door as soon as she can hear me moving, then shower and dress and make porridge. Tuesdays and Thursdays Dad’s up before I go. He’s in a settled phase and is teaching a woodwork class at Leicester college so I make him eat breakfast and we chat. I walk to the Charles Frears campus and meet the small group of girls that I’ve fallen in with. I'm having a good time with them, the small group of freaks and geeks who are as enthusiastic about birth as me.
On uniform day there’s a hum in the air as we mill around waiting for free bathroom cubicles. I breathe in; new uniform smell has to be one of the most expectant, clean, satisfying aromas on the planet. It feels like the first dress rehearsal of a school play as we open plastic packets and hold up white cotton dresses, tunics and slate grey trousers for inspection.
We do however survey them with less enthusiasm than we were hoping for. Even in the extra small size, the white cotton tunics don’t skimp on material and the trousers are polyester and have a ‘fully elasticated waist’.
Everyone is taking turns to use the full-length mirror in the hall. A quiet black female lecturer with tiny cornrows watches us. When it’s my turn I unbutton my favourite blue plaid shirt and put on one of the tunics with the trousers. I also coil my hair, fix it with pins and take off my necklace. I want to see what it will look like on placement, the full effect.
When I look into the mirror in the hall I see the tunic is far too big for me. It's like I’m wearing a white A-line tent. Noeila, Ada and Mehreen watch me, also a little uncertain .
“It’s alright for you guys. You have boobs,” I say, turning to catch the light.
“They’re ok,” says Ada, “They look smart. Official.”
“You all need darts put in,” says Noelia, “Take them off. Come round Friday, I’ll give them shape, no problem. You’ll all look thin and gorgeous.”
“You already look gorgeous,” says Mehreen.
“Thanks,” I say softly, still looking at myself. I'm struck by how much like Mum I look, her nose and cheeks obvious now I'm wearing something I associate with her, though I can't remember a specific time when I saw her in uniform. She always used to change before coming home. Maybe I'm thinking of a newspaper article about the opening of the new maternity unit. Or maybe when you grow up with a parent who wears a uniform, it's always in the background, just a quiet fact of life.
I remember Mum ranting about uniforms and how midwives shouldn’t wear them, that they were a combination of a nun’s habit and something military and we like to use them for authority.
Still, though, I’m excited. Unlike the candy striped dress that picked me out as a healthcare assistant, these white cotton tunics will be the first thing I wear to catch a baby. Everything is beginning.
I've had a lot of support from the midwifery community so far, which is wonderful. In particular, the moderators from The Secret Community For Midwives In The Making have been very encouraging (whilst also reminding me that 12 hour writing days are not sustainable).
This is a story that has jumped on me and insisted on being carried around like a small child getting a piggy back. Sometimes it's heavy, sometimes it's hilarious. Either way, I'm not allowed to put it down until it's ready.
I hope you enjoyed this preview and I'm always interested in feedback. Comments are welcome.
In particular, if you were a student in the late 1990s/early 2000s can you tell me if you owned a PC or laptop? This will help me write about Chloe's world accurately.
And if you were working as a midwife or nurse around that time, what were some of the challenges you came across? Does it differ from today?
If you've haven't subscribed to Midwife Diaries already consider doing this - I'll let subscribers know first when the book is done.
Best Wishes for your week,