In this month’s ‘My Job‘ section, we talk to Cheryl, a young midwife working in Cheshire.
Cheryl is 28 and has been a midwife since leaving university. Cheryl followed a fairly familiar route into her first job, in so far as she made the decision to go to University straight after her A-levels.
“Like most students, I considered having a year off and whilst I was making up my mind I applied to several universities via the UCAS system. I never thought of myself as particularly academic, and the prospect of a traditional nine to five desk job didn’t really appeal to me. A friend of mine’s mum had a midwife’s job and I really liked the sound of it; it seemed like a happy job, dealing with happy people.”
“There are usually hundreds if not thousands of applicants for midwifery positions, and only a small number of vacancies. So I guess I was covering the options. Typical of that age, I guess, I found the prospect of full-time employment somewhat daunting. I was lucky, I suppose to be accepted into midwifery in my first batch of applications.
I asked Cheryl why she chose midwifery, and after a moment’s thought and a brief laugh, she replied,
“I just like talking! When I was a little younger I helped my Mum doing some care work and acted as a kind of nursing home helper. I loved talking and listening to the old people in the home; every single old person has a story, usually many stories, and I realized I enjoyed listening as much as talking. I really liked the people interaction, and I guess this influenced my decision to go into some form of care role.”
“I may have been just a bit naive though, because pretty soon I realised that being a midwife was not simply about delivering the baby! It’s not all about the time in the delivery room, helping the mum convert the bump into a baby. As I trained both in the hospital out in the comm”unity with the help of my midwife mentor, I began to understand that the midwife is involved during a 10 to 11 month process; you get close to the families and the people and get to know their issues and lives. Good and bad! This came as a bit of a surprise that not everything about having a new baby was happiness and smiles.”
“I was working in Leeds; a typical modern city, with all the variances and extremes of society and culture. I’d been brought up in a fairly small, Middle England town in Cheshire and had not witnessed first-hand the relative extremes of life and living that exist in many of today’s cities. Getting out and about and meeting the families in their own environment meant a daily adjustment and at just 18 years of age this was something of a culture shock. My training involved a 50-50 split of in-house and community learning, and there is only so much that in-house training can deliver to prepare you for the diversity of culture, ethics and behavior. I quickly learned that every family, and every situation is as unique as the baby being carried. Once I adjusted to this, however, I realised that one of the most important skills would be to build a rapport with each and every family to build up their trust. Looking back, it was a pretty steep learning curve and not all delivery rooms and smiles.”
I asked Cheryl could she describe a typical week.
“yes and no”, she replied cryptically.
“I’m lucky in the hospital where I work, as we are organised in a way that allows me to cover all aspects of midwifery; from the first signs of pregnancy to the birth and then anywhere from 10 to 28 days of postnatal support. I have a large variety of tasks and activities covering all pre-and post-natal issues, and now, as a deputy team leader, and responsible for staff, student mentoring, ward management and job assignment for the team.”
” We organise things according to a kind of skills matrix to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be involved with all aspects of midwifery. This isn’t the case, I don’t think, in all hospitals, where there is a tendency to specialise more in one particular activity. In fact, there is pretty much nearly always something new and challenging to do particularly in the area of recognizing and supporting ‘at risk‘ families and there are always new techniques and regulations to learn.”
” In fact, you never stop learning. It’s a bit like driving a car, you get the training, and you learn how to do it and then one day you pass the test and realise you can do it. But suddenly you are on your own; if you ask any driver about those first few times of driving alone with no one-man beside you and full responsibility for your own decisions and actions; well that’s different is in it? Knowing how to drive and being a good driver are different things; you are always learning and getting more skilled and more confident. Being a midwife is a bit like that too. And of course, you are responsible for your actions and decisions.”
Considering the scope and range of the many activities involved in being a midwife, I asked Cheryl to she have any particular favourite aspects of the job.
“For me, the best bit being on the labour ward. You have to work under pressure because every baby is unique. This means that every birth is unique to some degree, and because of this it is hard to define a normal pregnancy and a normal birth. There is always the latest technology and techniques to be learned. And of course, there are always potential complications, which makes each and every case a potential emergency so to speak. Most days it’s the adrenaline that gets you through. I love that. I always try to remember that it’s not the midwife that delivers the baby, the mother does. I still find it all quite amazing to witness how wonderful the human body is. This week, I helped in a lovely water birth and just supported the mother. Unfortunately, they are not all like that.”
“Our priority is to maintain a healthy mum and therefore, hopefully, a healthy baby. It’s important to remember that every mother is individual. Every case has to be dealt with that way, whether there are personal, health, family, social or financial issues, it is my job to make sure that if I can’t help the mother personally that I find someone who can. This could involve counseling for smoking, support for depression or attempting to find financial assistance. It is all important to try and keep a healthy, happy mum.”
“The hardest thing is talking to on when she can no longer feel the baby’s heartbeat. Death in the womb is horrible because the mum still has to give birth.” I didn’t see any need to expand on this point. I will say for the record, however, that I’m pretty sure that I myself could not deal with this and find a hugely increased respect for someone who can and does.
I have always had a professional soft spot for nurses and their like. I have been fortunate enough in my career to have earned significant rewards, mainly, but not limited to, financial remuneration. My job, gave me money and my money, gave me experiences and ‘stuff‘.
I considered how superficial this was compared to Cheryl’s job, and so with no small amount of trepidation I asked whether she considered what she did a ‘life‘ or a ‘job‘. I’ve always thought that people in the caring industries did what they did for the joy and pleasure of helping and caring as much of the financial rewards. In particular, whatever their motivation individually, I held a personal belief that these professions were never recognized nor rewarded sufficiently, Cheryl, with a surprising amount of professional detachment responded thus;
“It’s a job. It’s a good job and I love it, but it’s still a job. I think it might be like that for every one who works in the public sector. You can’t do everything let alone fix everything so you have to find a way to leave to switch off.”
I must admit I find this quite humbling and refreshing, having frequently let professional concerns over this year’s budget and the latest business requirements accompany me to my home and family life. A huge personal lesson to be learned, me thinks.
So, what does the future hold Cheryl?
“I cannot see me leaving midwifery but there are loads and loads of areas that I could decide to specialise in. I am particularly interested in teenage pregnancy but haven’t decided anything yet.”
” I just love talking and helping. Every day I know that I can have a positive impact on other people’s lives and this is permanently satisfying and motivating. Making someone smile because you just heard a baby’s heartbeat . . . . ”
She smiles, and so do I. I say there is nothing I can add to that statement. I think that’s a good decision but Cheryl has one last thing to say,
“I love my job”.
Interview by Phil Birch, Business Editor.