I came to Midwifery later in my career, but began my journey when pregnant with my first child twenty-one years ago. This was my second pregnancy, made difficult through hyperemesis (extreme pregnancy sickness) and the memory of my first one with a baby that died at 14 weeks gestation. But I had the most fantastic Midwife this time, Terrie Waddington, at a time when NHS staff had more time and support to provide women with the care they need. He was born, all was well and I carried on teaching photography both on a University Fine Art programme and with community groups and schoolchildren with complex requirements. I loved it but something was niggling away. I explored my interest in birthing through my artistic practice, making work which represented this process as a thing people do, rather than something done to them, as I’d found so many representations of birth sadly lacking.
My third pregnancy, also complicated by the dreaded hyperemesis, brought me back into Terrie’s care. She was amazing again, warm, caring, hugely knowledgeable and with a fundamental belief that pregnancy and birthing were exciting but perfectly normal events in families’ lives and that women’s bodies were wonderfully designed for this. I knew what I wanted to do: she was inspirational, and I thought she had the best job in the world.
I went back to University, and into the NHS for the first time. I met some amazing midwives, and had fantastically supportive mentors but I found the hospital an increasingly strange environment for birth. I fully support the NHS, all Independent Midwives do, and I continue to work the odd bank shift on a busy maternity ward. However, I cannot support clients within the NHS the way I can working outside of it. I found not knowing the women and their families, not having enough time to spend with them and the resulting overuse of ‘box-ticking’ difficult to cope with and unfulfilling. This wasn’t what I had envisaged.
I also encountered a strange unspoken but pervasive assumption that women didn’t really know what was best for themselves or their babies, that they should be encouraged, persuaded, even coerced into compliance with whatever plan was being presented to them. But I was looking at evidence, attending conferences, reading research articles that indicated that very often NOBODY KNOWS what the best plan is in any given set of circumstances, but that one thing was certain: women had lived in their own bodies all of their lives and had grown their babies from conception so nobody knew them better, and they themselves would be living with the pros and the cons of the decisions being made. So they, and only they, needed to make the decisions, without pressure, free from coercion and with time, information and support from their care providers in order to do so. I knew what I wanted to do.
I wanted to be this kind of midwife, an advocate, a supporter, one who would explain that there was no ‘golden path’, and never any guarantees but one who would be able to take the time to go through the various options, who would protect a woman’s right to make the best decisions for herself and her family regardless of whether this slotted nicely into the local protocol or not.
I’m convinced of one thing: where a person makes a decision based on the best available information (and there’s so often just not the robust research evidence I’d like there to be), having been given the widest choice of available options, time to go through the risks and benefits of each of them, and has then consulted with their own intuition, all with support and all without pressure, they invariably make the right decisions for themselves and their babies.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the absolute harm that not facilitating women’s empowered decision making does. I sometimes book clients who are frightened of birth, who have had previous negative experiences, and have been left anxious or with psychological trauma as a result. When we talk this through, trying to unpick it so we can work together to make this time better, this time a healing experience, what comes through again and again is not the clinical side of things, but the absence of control, the feeling of being ‘done to’, of having no voice, no agency, no autonomy during their birthing. Women don’t lose control, they have it taken away and that’s harmful.
I worked for the NHS after qualifying, and still work an occasional bank shift but I’m most able to be the Midwife I want to be when I’m working independently. I was part of the Yorkshire Storks Independent Midwifery Collective for five years providing ‘team’ midwifery care, but started taking on my own clients so that I could provide a more personal one-to-one continuity of carer model. I still provide and require support from my other Independent colleagues, we meet frequently, back one another for birthings, share experience and knowledge and keep our emotional wellbeing healthy through the chance to debrief.
I have homebirth experience supporting clients with twin pregnancies, following caesarean sections, with gestational diabetes, with a variety of pre-existing health conditions, where there is prior social services involvement, with first babies, with fifth (and more) babies, with IVF pregnancies, with plans which do not include monitoring of the fetal heart, or which do not include routine vaginal examinations, with previous history of shoulder dystocia, with previous history of postpartum haemorrhage, in birth pools, on dry land, with bigger babies, with pre-existing anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and tocophobia (fear of birth). I have also supported women with some of these complexities to birth in hospital. It’s absolutely always your choice.
I live in Leeds in a Housing Co-operative, have two kids
(now grown up) and a big friendly dog. Life is good.