So you want to know what it’s like to be a midwife?
Let’s start with the big question everyone seems to ask:
Yes. Women often have a little ‘accident’ when they’re having a baby. But no, it’s not a big deal. There are a lot of things you can do in this world but having a full bowel and a baby is not one of them. As a midwife, once you get used to it, it’s really not something you think about.
I’m a midwife. I like to help. I mean, when you get down to it, most people do and midwifery is a cool way to help. Watching a baby come out and cry often while its feet are still inside mum is cool. Watching a water birth is cool. Helping a scared mum become a confident and proud mum is very cool.
There are things that can suck however. Nightshifts are really hard. In fact, you don’t become a midwife without thinking about how hard it’ll be to be awake when everyone you love is asleep.
Or how hard it is when a baby dies and you have to muddle through comforting someone.
Or how hard it is not to get angry when someone drinks and smokes weed and their baby comes out so tiny it looks preterm.
Nurses do some amazing things but it just wouldn’t be the career for me. There are too many ill people. Midwifery is about helping women cope and teaching them to be strong. It sounds really corny but it’s true. We’re there to let women know they can do anything.
Midwifery can be downright frightening. We’re front line staff so we’re the ones to respond if someone starts bleeding or the birth pool turns red.
Or you’re pretty sure your expectant mother is going to pass out again.
Or if the baby’s gets stuck.
Or if the fetal heartbeat is so low you really don’t think this time it’s going to turn out OK.
Mostly, you manage to call the doctor in time, do the right thing, think on your feet and everyone’s fine.
No one explains to you that for around 50 per cent of your shifts you’ll be documenting, trying to phrase things professionally, amongst chaos.
There are buzzers going off, three of your adult patients are crying because their nipples are sore and they’re giving you attitude, not taking much notice of what you’re saying because you’re only 25 and have never breastfed a baby.
But then there’s the lovely times when women come in and birth softly, gently, smoothly in the birth pool. And there times when a woman you can’t remember the name of comes up to you in the supermarket and she’s breastfeeding and says you’re the only reason she kept going and now her baby weighs 1.5kg, which is the same weight as the pumpkin she’s buying.
And the times when the dad of the baby is sitting on his own when his baby is unwell down in neonatal unit, and his partner’s in theatre having her uterus removed because there’s been so much blood loss. And you think really hard about how you would want your partner, brother, or dad to be treated in that position and you do such a good job at comforting him that the next week the family brings you some flowers.
And then there’s the really hard shift when you have to do a forceps delivery with the doctors and you’ve been on shift for ten hours when it should have been eight. And it’s two in the morning and you sort it all out and the family’s being foul to you because they didn’t want a forceps birth. Even though it’s not your fault. And not only do you have to sort it all out, you have to clean the room before you go home not because your colleagues are busy, but because they believe if you’ve used a room you should clean it. At two in the morning.
And there’s being in charge of decision making at a birth, prescribing fluids instead of syntocinon and getting someone through their labour without having to call for the doctors. There’s the problem solving, tricky physiology assessments and making the right call and it all turning out just fine because of what you decided and the woman in question barely knowing there’s been a problem at all.
And then there’s the ‘acting like this bad thing has happened a million times before’ moments when you have to keep your game face on because if you don’t, the lady you’re looking after will lose it. And the joking with obstetricians on the good days when you’re working together just like you were both trained to do, and then the rubbish days when they criticise you in front of the clients and you hold your tongue because you know you were just doing your best (and actually you might be right).
And there’s the friends you make from midwifery, and the scary yet life affirming experience of catching their babies. And watching your mates having children and pictures all over Facebook, and knowing you have the inside knowledge that you really shouldn’t have when you don’t have kids yourself yet.
There are some incredible experiences that make it all worth it. Being at a twin birth is one of the most incredible experiences of my whole life, not just of my career. Having heartfelt thanks from a woman who’s been a massive pain in the neck all shift does make it all worth it.
No, you won’t get many coffee breaks and the lunch breaks you do get will probably be interrupted by the emergency buzzer. You will fall asleep at parties because you’ve been working nights. Your mates won’t get it because they do 9-5 jobs. But they’ll love you anyway. And ask you random gynaecological questions you aren’t prepared for.
You’ll be working in an all female workplace. With all female clients. Working under a feminist model of care. It’s like we’re all 15 year old girls again. The catty behaviour can be insane, and yes, sometimes midwives eat their young.
But then again, sometimes they bring them a cup of tea. And a cupcake. And give them a hug and let them know they’re appreciated.
Midwifery is life-expanding.
And it will completely take over your life. It will terrify, annoy, rob, comfort, engage, fascinate and motivate you. And you’ll be glad it did.