Streets Paralysed By Panic

my journey of conscious uncoupling from nhs midwifery Aug 12, 2023

Please note that I have changed the names of any colleagues and I will continue to ensure any of my colleagues' privacy. 

On September 12th, 2005 I cycled to the Medical Biology Centre at Queen’s University Belfast for the first day of midwifery school. I had big expectations, this was what I had wanted to do for a lifetime. I parked my bike outside the campus and walked into the building. Who were the other students? What was ahead and could I just time travel to being qualified in 2008? It’s hard to describe how much I wanted to be a midwife already.

Sadly, the day was cut short due to what turned out to be hoax threats of further roadblocks after a weekend of escalation and rioting in Belfast. Businesses and schools were closed early on my special day and everyone trying to get home all at once caused serious disruption that afternoon. My disappointment was real, the curriculum for the afternoon included meeting the midwives who were going to teach us our craft. I truly couldn’t wait to meet them. It wasn't going to be that day, we were sent home after our first lecture. By the time we all got going the roads were chaotic. Traffic through the city centre was backed up in all directions and public transport was overwhelmed.

Do you know how good it feels to be travelling by bicycle on days like this? I was riding my bike full of purpose. I knew exactly where I was headed. I was going to be the midwife I wished for when my own daughter was born in 1999. I had met a role model in Germany but in my wildest dreams I was modelling myself on Ina May Gaskin. Her book ‘Spiritual Midwifery’ didn’t only describe a way of being with woman that I was aspiring to but it also modelled a lifestyle that was right up my street. I had three years of school to suss out how to set up as an independent midwife in Northern Ireland!

I remember looking at the people in their cars jammed up in the city centre gridlock that day feeling like I was freewheeling not only through this chaos but into a bright future; my road was clear.

 


           The News on the next morning.

 

When we finally did get to meet the midwifery faculty, I remember feeling a little disappointed. That’s by no means a reflection on the individual lecturers. I came to love and respect many of them throughout the three years of my studies. My disappointment is testament to my expectation at the time of what a midwife looked like. I was expecting Birkenstocks and flares and our lecturers were in their uniforms. They were wearing standard blue uniform trousers and white tunics with red rimming; the sister’s uniform at the time. Even though I recognised the uniform as the same one my own community midwife had worn when I was pregnant, the fact that our lecturers chose to meet us for the first time in anything other than their own clothes was disorienting. I was straining to see past the uniforms and catch a glance at their personalities and in that moment I recognised that in my own pregnancy my midwife’s uniform was a barrier to forming a fully trusting relationship with her. It showed that her alliance was with her profession, not with me. I never got used to wearing a midwife’s uniform. The only hospital attire that I ever enjoyed wearing were scrubs, those are worn in the labour ward, they are comfortable and they make sense. 

A few weeks into my very first placement as a student midwife, I got the opportunity to observe a baby being born. This would be the first birth that I would witness other than my daughter’s (and my own I suppose). My placement was not on a labour ward specifically, but my mentor on the postnatal ward arranged that I would get to observe a birth. I remember how excited I was when Leanne the labour ward midwife phoned over to say that the woman she was looking after was happy for me to bear witness to the birth of her child, her second. ‘Go to room six and quietly knock on the door, Leanne will let you in’ my mentor said. And so I did; I took myself to the labour ward, knocked on the door of room six and waited. The door opened; I whispered an introduction to Leanne. ‘She’s just breathing her baby down’ she said as I slipped through the narrowly opened door. 

A woman was lying on her left side with her right leg lifted onto a stirrup. She was quietly moaning, holding her ‘gas & air’ in her right hand, occasionally breathing it in. She was in between worlds, ‘Hi’, I said as gently as I could, ‘I’m Nicole, thank you for having me here’. She stayed in her body, just a slight nod of her head, eyes closed, no words needed. I remember there was no birth partner with her but I don’t remember why. Leanne was quietly preparing her trolley for the baby to arrive in the way that I would show my own students in years to come. She didn’t speak much, only whispered that I would learn all this later, for now, I was just there to watch.

Leanne was amazing at letting this mum know that she wasn’t on her own and yet giving her the space she needed in order to stay in her zone. I just stood and watched in amazement as this woman continued to breathe. A little bit of the baby’s head started to appear, then a little more. ‘This is called crowning’, Leanne whispered as she gently supported the baby’s emerging head. Then the head was born. The baby’s face was looking towards the mum’s back and I learned that that’s what usually happens. ‘The baby’s head is going to turn to the side now, that’s called restitution’ said Leanne. She was right! The baby’s little head turned towards his mum’s right thigh and before I could think another thought, his little body slipped out completely. His mother’s expression changed almost immediately. She was reaching for her newborn son and he went straight onto her chest for the two of them to adapt to the moment. She was now quietly alert, talking gently to her new baby. I felt myself well up in awe. These were not the last tears I would shed on this labour ward. Happy tears, sad tears and tears from sheer exhaustion were all part and parcel of what was to come. This was only my initiation into the very special community of midwives in Northern Ireland. There always was a hug available when I needed it; and plenty of tissue.

Leanne was focused on the next step. ‘This is Syntometrine, she’s happy to have it…Wee scratch coming up’ and that was the drug for the third stage of labour administered into the mum’s right thigh. I barely heard Leanne, I was totally mesmerised watching this mama-baby-unit interact. My gaze was fixed and I don’t remember the placenta arriving or anything else. I barely paid attention to anything after this baby was born.

This was magical. I felt so grateful to have seen this little boy arrive into the world and yet, I  also felt a yearning. Hospitals hadn’t become like a second home to me yet and I felt deeply that birth didn't belong in those clinical institutions, not routinely. Would homebirth leave me with the same yearning? I was fairly sure it wouldn’t. I had no idea then that what I had just witnessed was not a typical scenario, that Leanne was not a typical midwife. I now know that Leanne and I hold similar values when it comes to birth and she is still out there doing her best in a broken system. This was as good as it can possibly get on a labour ward and I wouldn’t see a birth like this in a long time.

 

If you are currently pregnant, and you would like help with setting yourself up for a positive experience in a system that produces astronomical caesarean section rates of over 60% in some labour wards in Northern Ireland, please feel free to send me an email to [email protected]. 

I am here to help you with body work, (including help with breech babies), birth preparation classes and advocacy.

Would you like more of my writing? You can! I have written a book called¬†'7 Secrets Every Pregnant Woman Needs To Hear Before Giving Birth: The New Midwife‚Äôs R.O.A.D. To Birth‚ĄĘ Hypnobirth System'.¬†

It offers perspective on common misperceptions about pregnancy, birth and risk and it gives you my R.O.A.D. To Birth hypnobirth system that my clients have used for years. It shows you how to Recognise and Release your Fears, Overcome obstacles, Accept what you can't control and Do the work. 

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