The experience of being a midwife lies along a continuum somewhere between the extremes of sleep deprivation and an addicting, adrenalin pumping, thrill ride. Being a midwife is exciting on many levels. It can be challenging at times, rewarding and humbling. There are many articles that already outline the existing ways in which midwives lives manifest themselves but I thought I would share what I have learned over the past five years and what my experience of being a midwife has taught me.
First of all, while studying midwifery for four years, midwifery taught me how to connect with women. It taught me how to sit and really feel what life is like for various different people and their families. It taught me how to be wrong, and to admit it. It taught me how to put others needs before my own and most importantly, it taught me how to come up with 5 or 6 different plans or strategies for whatever you encounter, every single day. Whether that would be an emergency situation, or whether your car broke down and you really needed to be somewhere. As a midwife, you need to be ready to stop what you are doing and leave at any moment. Here’s one of the beautiful things about midwives that often sets us apart from many other healthcare providers- we are incredibly resourceful and amazingly resilient. If you can think of a group of people that have been pounded into the ground over and over again (whether that is by other healthcare providers, each other, or the government) and have managed to pick themselves up time and time again-that would be us.
Midwives literally have multiple different strategies playing out in their head at any given time. If you come in with a pregnancy, birth or post-partum related issue, we often have multiple different solutions and because we know you so well, we can usually pinpoint the strategy that A) you would pick for yourself and B) would be the safest and most ideal for what you are looking for. I bet most people reading this wouldn’t be able to even fathom the incredibly hilarious stories and events that we have sometimes found ourselves in. Whether it would be the birth of a baby in a car on the side of the road (bad winter roads can hold things up), or finding ways to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable within the constraints of an established hospital setting. An example of this would be when a midwife makes four different phone calls in the operating room to authority figures until they get support in providing skin-to-skin contact in cesarean section- after they are told that they “aren’t allowed to”. I cannot forget to mention that we can literally catch a baby being born in any position that the woman finds herself in, and we know we can do it well.
As much as midwifery training taught me how to be thoughtful and strategic, above all else, it taught me how to have thick skin and be vulnerable. Training under multiple different care providers (midwives, obstetricians, lactation consultants etc) really forces you to see things from everyone’s perspective and (if you are humble and gracious enough) to feel compassion for the types of care each person provides.
Once I was done school and started to practice on my own, a major shift occurred for me. I learned how to be truly present with women, to tap into their worlds and see their visions, fears and dreams through their eyes. I learned how to identify with women and their families. No more teachers looking over my shoulder and micromanaging my every move-for better or for worse. I was able to start shaping the midwife I wanted to be become.
Over the past 5 years of being a midwife, I’ve learned to have thick skin. My job is never completely “comfortable”. It’s always a day full of negotiating and educating, and fighting for women’s choices. It’s often a day full of arguments and conversations with other care providers about the best course of action. It’s about protecting women’s autonomy to make their own decisions for themselves and their babies (this is a lot harder some days than people think it is). It’s often about inventing new ways of turning unfavourable clinical findings into a glimmer of hope that women can hang on to.
Being a midwife has meant going into the hospital to attend a labouring woman on a Sunday night and finally leaving on a Tuesday night. It has meant sleeping in on-call rooms, eating terrible food and having late night amazing conversations with the nurses while my client is sometimes sleeping with an epidural. These conversations often result in me walking away after thinking, “ We really aren’t that different after all, turns out we seem to be fighting the same fight.” It’s meant building relationships of trust with the OB consultants. It’s meant making multiple different phone calls to many different obstetricians until you finally get the consult that you are looking for, or until you find one who is willing to honour your client’s choice. It’s about not always taking no for an answer.
It means calling up a colleague, or another care provider to discuss recommendations that were made that caused fear and anger and were found in meaningless evidence. It’s meant having more compassion for the residents- that need to learn just like we did. It’s meant holding people accountable for their words and actions when they are wrong or disrespectful. It’s meant shutting up when I am wrong or disrespectful.
“Being a midwife means being humble enough to admit when you are wrong. It’s acknowledging that things are never about you, but about the woman and what she thinks and needs. It’s about being truly authentic- and giving women the support to be their true authentic selves in return.”
Being a midwife has taught me that you don’t have to be perfect, and that the work is hard and exhausting, but above all else it’s thrilling and igniting. It can bring so much joy that you feel spun for weeks. Sitting and connecting with women while sharing mutual experiences is one of the most empowering things we can do for each other.
“Being a midwife is about protecting and fostering the connection that pregnant women and new mothers need to grow and raise their babies feeling empowered and informed.”
Being a midwife has meant that I get to share some of people’s most memorable moments, some of the hardest days of women’s lives. It leaves me lying in bed many nights thinking about how happy I am when I leave a long fulfilling clinic day, an intensely amazing birth or a birth that I know was extremely hard both mentally and physically for the woman. My work often leaves me with an immense sense of gratitude. Being a midwife has helped me so much as a mother and being a mother has helped me grow as a midwife.
Both motherhood and midwifery deepen my level for empathy and compassion to a sense that can be overwhelming. Being a midwife means opening yourself up to feel what everyone around you feels- good or bad. This can be exhausting some days but mostly worth the time. This is because you learn much more from the women than you do from the textbooks. You learn much more about birth from sitting back and watching than you do from telling her what to do.
The days and months run into each other and sometimes it feels like the work will never end (we are human too). Most of the time though, when you get that labour call, you jump out of bed, throw your clothes on, grab your keys and run out the door with a smile on your face knowing that you already have 5 or 6 different plans for what is about to come up and you can’t wait to see what will happen next.
Thanks for listening!