My journey in midwifery has not been a linear conventional one. In fact I am totally amazed that I’m still a midwife and actually have a contract working in the NHS. But I’m an intersectional feminist birth activist, so giving up was never really going to happen was it? And this year my own daughter became pregnant so more than ever I have a fierce fire burning down to the core of my being – to protect her right to birth in her power.
Pre-student midwife I read Margaret Jowitts’s book ‘Childbirth Unmasked’ about the cascade of medicalisation stamping all over physiology and my own innate power to birth my first baby. I witnessed my own story and knew what kind of midwife I wanted to be. One of integrity, with an core desire to be part of the change, to question the system, the rules and the dogmatic adherence to a medical paradigm.
Unfortunately that’s not the sort of behaviour that makes for a compliant employee or a happy midwife. Unless cognitive dissonance is included in the plan. Being prepared to support physiology, sit on your hands and watchfully wait is not what the system needs. It doesn’t need people who question or debate. I soon learned to keep quiet, keep my head down or get out. I dipped in and out of the NHS. I dipped in and out of independent work. I ran antenatal classes, postnatal classes, hypnobirthing, pregnancy yoga, worked in a shop, became a doula and even ran off to Spain.
But the fire in me to be a changemaker never went out. And I’ve realised there is only so much change we can affect from the outside.
So last year I rolled up my sleeves grabbed my gloves and went back. Supported by a manager who ‘got me’, I started in an office based position, and was slowly pulled back to birth. I rebuilt a confidence in my midwifery expertise, using hypnotherapy to reduce that anxiety and imposter syndrome that bubbles away beneath our skin.
I witnessed and held space for one beautiful birth after another on our birth unit until I asked if I could be a core midwife. Yes they said.
I put my money where my mouth is and applied for an Iolanthe Award to bring the Biomechanics Study Day to Cornwall, as part of my Optimising Birth project. I was successful. OMG. Fifteen more midwives are now trained in biomechanics and have a thirst for spreading their passion and skills. They are making a difference to our women, birthing people and families in Cornwall.
Make a Difference
I know what it feels like to be burned out and disillusioned; bullied and drowning under the unending tide of increasing medicalisation. Perhaps you need to step back or step out. Just for a bit. They say you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you help others. But please don’t give up. That inner feminist midwifery spark is still in there. The desire to make a difference is still burning.
So what can you do?
- Write an article. It’s not as hard as you think. – Optimising normal birth tips from a midwife
- Organise an online study day – Biomechanics Study Day to Cornwall.
- Create a movement of real change in your NHS Trust. We have our Optimising Birth Project, which is cascading ways to optimise birth through movement and physiology and will be incorporated in the mandatory training update for midwives and staff from next year.
- Start a local online reading and reflection group. I’ve teamed up with a fab colleague to launch ours this week.
- Keep learning and sharing on social media, at work.
- Join the ARM to find likeminded birth folk. We have a members only Facebook group so we can share practice tips, stories and definitely activism work that is happening in your area.
The system has cogs that turn very slowly. But they turn. Sometimes you have to keep going until the right cogs are all in place.
PS. Applications now open for Iolanthe Awards 2021.