This is an article that has been a long time coming. What being a midwife means to me.
It seems obvious that I’d want to write about why I became a midwife and what doing this job for the past twenty years has come to mean, because it means an awful lot!. Being a midwife is not just something I do for a living, it’s a key part of my life and the filter through which I face all kinds of other experiences. Even when I’m not a work, it informs how I see, do and feel about things.
Let’s just say it’s not the average job where you get to spend every day with women and their partners going through one of the most significant moments of their lives. Special doesn’t even come close. Life-affirming doesn’t quite cut it either. I’d say being a midwife is both extraordinary and profound, and I know I’m extremely fortunate to be able to do such fulfilling work.
As a career option, midwifery wasn’t necessarily my first choice. In fact, I thought I was going to be a physiotherapist or psychologist at one point, but the fact that midwifery is one of the oldest professions (and at the same time one that will never go out of fashion) as well as the attraction of the physical and emotional, straight forward and complicated, calm and adrenaline fuelled scope, made me want to become one!
A huge part of midwifery is about working with and responding to the dynamics between people in stressful situations and during moments of high adrenaline. Negotiating people and situations has always been an area of interest to me – including how certain situations and events impact us afterwards. I truly believe that pregnancy and birth impact women and men for the rest of their lives. They are such transformative moments – physically, emotionally, mentally – even anthropologically-speaking, I never cease to find it fascinating.
My first labour
In certain jobs there’s always a ‘first’ that stands out. For a surgeon it might be their first operation but for me, the first baby I delivered without any supervision confirmed that I had found what I was meant to be doing.
I was 21 years old and was in charge of looking after a woman in labour in St. George’s hospital in London. Her and her partner were expecting their first baby. Saying that they looked horrified as I walked in at the start of my shift and said: Hi, my name is Sofie and I will be supporting you through labour and deliver your baby safely into the world – is an understatement. I knew that I had all of 5 minutes to show them that eventhough I was only 21, I was in control and that I had the knowledge, confidence and experience to help their baby safely into the world. And so I did. About 12 hours into my shift their baby girl was born. And I knew I had found my calling.
The thing that stayed with me from doing that first labour and birth completely on my own was having to carefully balance a bunch of nerves of steel with a softness that is required to put a labouring woman’s mind at ease and make her feel secure, while encouraging her in exactly the right way to do what she had to do. It was intense and it overwhelmed and inspired me in equal measure.
The good, the bad and the ugly
I’m glad to say that most of the time, my days are spent surrounded by joy and love and awe, but sadly that’s not always the case. There are births which are complicated, traumatic and stressful and then there are births and situations which are truly heart-breaking. Miscarriages, stillbirths, maternal death, life/death situations. Circumstances tainted by abuse, addiction, effects of genital mutilation and prostitution. Not every labour or birth is memorable for good reasons. Over the past twenty years I’ve learnt ways of compartmentalising the hard parts of the job, simply because I have to. And no matter what scenario I find myself in, it’s my job to make every woman feel understood and well looked after, no matter what their circumstances.
There’s much more to being a midwife than simply being there in the birthing room. The educational side of maternal care is something I am extremely interested in and feel deeply passionate about.
Especially because these days we’re living in an age of information overload and I feel that as a midwife it’s important to help prepare women and men with unbiased, accurate information that allows them to stay true to their instincts and feel well-informed about pregnancy, birth and beyond.
There are hundreds of different ways to give birth or to approach labour or even parenthood, but every birth is ultimately a unique and personal experience, which is why there shouldn’t ever be any judgement about how women give birth, how a baby is being fed and whether the parent is a working parent or not. The important thing is always the wellbeing of the entire family.
All too often though, childbirth education gets mixed up with opinion, judgement and popular trends for birthing. In my opinion, childbirth education should be convenient and accessible and include information for women as well as men because inevitably men and women are approaching the same situation from very different standpoints. (Quite literally). This balance of education and preparation is something I devote a lot of time to as a midwife. There’s a lot more to midwifery than simply being there on delivery day.
Midwifery, motherhood and sisterhood
Finally, on a broader level, one of the things that makes me want to jump out of bed and get to work each day, is my devotion to helping women support and understand each other. All too often I see women’s decisions and choices related to pregnancy, birth and postpartum, picked apart, scrutinised and judged, mainly by other women. It makes me mad because it’s this kind of negative scrutiny that masks women’s natural instincts and reason at a time when they need them most.
It has to stop. That’s why I’m determined to help bring sisterhood back into pregnancy and motherhood. The more supportive, understanding and informed we are, and the less judgemental, scared or competitive, the easier it will be for women to experience pregnancy, birth and beyond, on a level playing field.
So that’s it – in a nutshell, (albeit a large nutshell), that’s what midwifery means to me. It’s the job that allows me to help women and men as they prepare for parenthood, as they give birth, as they learn to feed their infant, as they go on to become experienced parents. It’s a job that allows me to educate them and help provide support and information that can be disseminated through other parents to be and new parents. It’s a job that helps women and men feel supported and less alone. It’s a job that sees me through incredible highs and devastating moments, but it’s a job that fills me with hope and inspiration every day, and for that reason I really can’t imagine doing anything else.