Lessons in Appreciation

by | 22 Mar, 2021 | Midwifery Experiences | 4 comments

I am sure I am not the only midwife who has found themselves desperately trying to look patient, while observing a newborn babies first nappy change. It’s hard to enjoy the special moment unfolding before you when you are twelve minutes in and you did not even have two minutes to spare. It can feel excruciating to slowly step-by-step talk the nervous ‘first timer’ through the process. I often find myself clasping my hands to stop them from jumping in and taking over. At last the final speck of sticky meconium has been tenderly wiped away and I don’t need to tell you what happens next… every newborn baby knows this is the perfect moment to deliver a fresh batch of black gloop, startling the adult into dropping the babies ankles into the mess. It should be funny, I force a laugh. But time pressure steals all the joy.

The role of the partner

The adult in this story is usually the partner, a word I use to mean- ‘the member of the parenting team who did not give birth’. It is situations like the first nappy change which left me believing that partners were a drain on my already overstretched time. Even experienced adults can be taken aback by a newborn; as for first timers, all the parenting classes and baby doll changes in the world wont stop the nerves when facing the real deal. I confess I often thought to myself: ‘partners try to help, but they just get in the way’.

I have always considered the role of the partner to be very important as someone to support the mother, as well as having an equal place in the babies life. I just had no idea how valuable they were to me as a midwife, until Covid-19 came along banishing them from the postnatal ward. In that first ‘lockdown’ last year, for 3 full months not one single partner or visitor was allowed to step foot through the ward doors. It did not take me long to feel their absence. At first I had been enjoying the ‘peace’. A welcome break from the loud background noise of so many people and the constant interruption of the door buzzer.

When there is no one there holding the baby

Generally we had good staffing (back when we had not yet become exhausted from a never ending pandemic and home schooling) yet despite this the workload felt heavier than ever. When I thought about it, I realised I was spending a lot more time than usual helping care for the babies. It seems obvious to me now. The partners had been saving me a huge amount of time all along. I remembered how partners would spend a lot of time on the ward simply sitting holding their baby while the mother got some rest, ate or had a shower. All those times I walked passed a partner holding their sleeping baby for hours while the mother also slept, and I thought ‘how lovely they are having a cuddle’. Now I know what happens when there is no one there holding the baby. Let me give you a clue, it’s rarely a baby sleeping peacefully in their cot. I did not see how much they were contributing until they were gone. Maybe I never would have seen it. A letter of apology has been forming in my mind:

Dear Partners,

To the person who has been quietly holding the baby for hours while the mother rests.
You are invaluable. For years I have not appreciated you and I am so sorry.
I promise I will never make that mistake again.

Yours sincerely,

A humbled Midwife

Last year it was decided that partners could visit our ward from 13.00-20.00. Now that they are back I notice all the ways they help, and so many unsupervised nappy changes with just a quick ‘does that look alright?’ at the end.
Now I know how hard it is to get everyone showered when there is no one to watch the baby. Sensing my divided attention the mothers often choose to wait until their partner is there. Most days I am counting down until one o’clock just as much as they are.

Appreciation

I’m sure this is one of many important lessons that has come from the pandemic. There is one lesson the Government are ignoring. I can’t help but draw a comparison between the way I did not appreciated the partners and how the government do no appreciate their NHS workers. I include myself in one of the many NHS workers who have felt less appreciated by the government than ever in the last year. Will our contribution be invisible to them until we are gone?

Dear Politicians,

To the people quietly holding the power while the NHS never rests:
We are Invaluable. For years you have not appreciated us and you are not even sorry.
You make that mistake over and over again.

Yours sincerely,

An under appreciated NHS Midwife

Mairi Thomson
My name is Mairi Thomson, I live in Scotland with my other half and toddler. I have been a midwife for eight years. I am a rotational midwife currently working on a postnatal ward.

4 Comments

  1. Pat

    Well said

    Reply
  2. Lynn Ritchie

    Enjoyed reading your article immensely Mairi as it so very honest. Support from Government,peers,partners and family is so important at this time & onwards into the post covid era. We often don’t notice or appreciate what people do until they are no longer present. Best wishes for the future in your career…many lessons to learn here about capabilities & purpose. As a mother, grandmother, ex Midwife & of course your Aunt I’m very proud of your voice! Well done!

    Reply
  3. Margaret Bean

    Another former Midwife salutes you, and I’m Euan’s great Aunt, once removed . (Really twice removed – once to the U.S., and once to Guatemala !) I endorse everything your Aunt Lynn says. I wish you great Joy in the super-special career you have chosen.

    Reply
  4. Margaret Jowitt

    Thank you so much Mairie. I well remember that first nappy change with my first baby and I hadn’t a clue! I didn’t know how disposable nappies worked, I was going to use terries. And I did the watching while my partner did his first – that was a laugh – and I managed to keep my hands to myself somehow. I can picture it now! Yes, this Government certainly holds NHS staff in contempt, despite possibly saving the PM’s life. Keep on writing …

    Reply

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