When you are looking after a woman in active labour you aim to be at their side for as much of the time as possible. As, for some, labour is slow, that can cover an entire 12-hour shift, so obviously you are not there 100% of the time. You have personal needs (going for a wee, eating Quality Street) and professional ones (discussing progress with midwife-in-charge, talking to doctors, preparing drugs). Also giving a couple the space to have a massive argument about why the hell he forgot the evian spray when she told him to get it four times. All important stuff.
Last week I looked after a lovely couple who were a little older and had conceived through IVF. I was a little surprised when she had told me, while her partner was in the toilet, that she had never really wanted children. Now it’s a tricky thing having a conversation with someone who is in labour without much pain relief. The flow tends to get interrupted by one of you suddenly being overwhelmed by debilitating pain on a regular basis (or having to focus positive energy on their body’s surges if hypnobirthing™). Either way conversational threads get left hanging so I didn’t really explore this.
An hour or two later I checked the woman’s blood results in the office and another midwife asked how things were going in my room – just out of conversational politeness, really. She then said, “She must be so happy finally having a baby.”
I bristled a bit about this remark. It was the assumption that all women are desperate to have a baby and that it is their ultimate fulfillment. So I answered, “Well actually she never really wanted to have children.” So far I was only repeating what the woman had told me but then I realised I needed to follow that up, so I did that annoying human thing of making a narrative out of minimal information. “I think her partner was actually the one who was keen to have a baby.” Because, I smugly thought, we need to remember that it’s not only women who want children.
I returned to the woman who eventually had an epidural which meant conversation was easier (I promise I have never encouraged a woman to have an epidural just because I thought she seemed really interesting and I wanted a chat… although I have been tempted). Both her and her partner were very open about the process of IVF and she followed up her earlier remark by explaining that although she had previously not wanted children she had changed her mind when her sister had a family. I’m not telling this to imply that all women ultimately want children – that was just her story.
So a few days later I was chatting to a colleague on my way into work. She had worked the shift immediately following mine – not looked after my women but had heard the handover and could fill me in on what happened (forceps delivery if you are wondering).
“She was the one who had been persuaded to do IVF by her husband wasn’t she?”
“What, no? Who said that?”
Couldn’t remember – a remark at handover probably. So my vague supposition had turned itself into a quasi-official fact. I tried to follow her up – I had a panic that someone might have thought the partner worth investigating for some form of spousal abuse. It seems not but I felt pretty terrible about it.
Strictly speaking what I had done was against regulations. The Nursing and Midwifery Council have rules about sharing information. It should only be between professionals who need to know about a case. But we are only human, sometimes we get the wrong end of the stick and we like to chat. Unless details are obviously sensitive I’m afraid we don’t think about the consequences of our conversations.
Just in case someone from the NMC is reading this (a) all the details are a complete fiction (the real situation is actually way more interesting but also way more identifiable) and (b) I have learnt my lesson and I won’t make any more offhand remarks again. Especially not to prove I’m more woke-than-thou.