This only makes sense if you’ve watch the time-travel series ‘Life on Mars’. Sorry to start a midwifery blog in such an inappropriately inaccessible way. Just the way it goes – it’s the only way to get across my initial feelings when I started as a student midwife 10 years ago.
Maybe this will work even if you’ve not watched it. So there is a scene when the main character, a 21st century policeman, walks into the 1970s backroom of the police station. The room is filled with smoke and hard-drinking men slouched around desks – as the newcomer enters they barely offer him a grunt in welcome but stare sourly with an aggressive disinterest. The man from our modern world feels disorientated and disturbed.
It took me a while to work out why it felt familiar but eventually I did – it was exactly like walking into delivery suite office for the first time. Admittedly there was less smoke and it was more female, otherwise, pretty much identical. Everyone is waiting for handover – when the co-ordinating midwife from the previous shift goes through all the women who are on the ward. I had only ever worked in office environments at that point. I was used to going to new places as a temp, being introduced to everyone, being shown the toilets etc, settling down with a cup of tea and slowly approaching some work. Not how it works in hospitals apparently, at least not mine.
No one asked who I was or even showed the slightest interest why a woman they had never seen before had appeared in front of them. I thought I should introduce myself to someone but it was hard to choose who. Everyone wore the same pyjama-like scrubs and blank expressions. I picked a woman with a clipboard which turned out to be the right woman, not that she really let on.
“Hello,” big smiley expression in desperate bid to cover my fears, “I’m a student midwife…”
“Who are you working with?” she interrupted in gruff tones.
“She’s on Hodden,” she said as if that was my fault – which it might have been for all I knew at the time. What the hell was ‘Hodden’? “You can work with Linda,” at this one of the blank women gave a barely perceptible flicker of her head – I guessed this was Linda. Great. I’m riding with Linda. Not exactly as a partner though, just as an annoying shadow tagging along trying to learn how on earth the job is done.
I understand now – the difference between a maternity ward and, say, an insurance company is a massive amount of resources and the acute nature of the work. Not to mention everyone has to start work at 7.30am so bad-morning-behaviour is exacerbated.
The co-ordinator might have only had six hours sleep after working 13 hours the previous day. She’s got a list of the staff who are on that day and she knows that one of them will probably call in sick, another two have only just qualified and can’t be left alone for too long and there’s an old experienced midwife who is currently taking out the anguish of a divorce on everyone around her and might disappear half-way through the shift to cry for an hour in the toilet. [Crying in the staff toilet is very much a regular part of the scene.] Her best asset is Angela Didcot and she’s been assigned to work on the postnatal area, Hodden Ward. She’s comparing her tattered array of staff to the list of women in labour with their various complexed needs and every single one is a lawsuit in the making. What she wants like a hole in the head is a cheery, nervous, utterly useless, needy student turning up – at least she didn’t grab me by the lapels and punch me in the stomach.
That was 10 years ago. I’m still going….qualified even…the only thing is I’m genuinely unsure of whether I should have called it a day on that morning. I could have just thought I can live without this, I’m thirty six years old and I can get on ok without midwifery. But there’s a lot of stuff that keeps you going – moments that are sublime. As I write this the lyrics of Belle and Sebastien’s “I Want the World to Stop” are going around and around my head. The music was playing in a woman’s room after the quite amazing birth of her son (a long story in itself). The sun had just risen outside and the light on the town was beautiful, I felt tears coming to my eyes. Now I re-cry every time I hear the song. I had my role in something wonderful.
So this blog is about whether that was a good call, and what’s happened to me since deciding to stick with it. I’ll keep all the names false and indeed many of the situations may be a bit altered to protect others (and my registration – the NMC are very strict on confidentiality) but I will keep the spirit as true as possible.