Eight things I’d like to share with midwifery students who care…

medium_3657889982Dear Midwifery Student,

I am sharing this with you in reply to your request for advice or words of wisdom on your journey. I hope you will understand when you realise that I have shared this with others before you, but I would far rather send you a shared response than no response. It is my hope that it might also give you hope to know that you’re not alone. Many others have sent a similar message out into the Universe, and most of them are now qualified midwives.

I understand how painful, difficult, tiring, challenging and heart-wrenching midwifery education can be.

You are expected to cope with undertaking degree-level work at the same time as learning the art and science of midwifery practice. You’re juggling your family and personal life, often with very little financial support. AND you’re doing this in a culture which is fraught with inconsistencies, doesn’t always enable people to offer care that you or they think women should receive and often doesn’t support, promote or even seem to understand the values that you hold dear and which brought you on to this journey in the first place.


You’re not alone.

Midwifery isn’t for everyone, though only you can know whether it is for you. Some people will tell you that, as with labour, pain can be a normal and essential element of the growth that one needs to undertake in this role. Ina May Gaskin’s late husband Stephen, for instance, once said that being a midwife puts you in danger of having your heart pierced. He added that this was okay, because that’s how your love gets out. But it doesn’t have to be THAT painful! And there are lots of people and groups around who share your goals and have had similar experiences.

You’re SO not alone.

I may have learned a few things on my journey that might help a bit to ease the difficulty of yours, so here are a few suggestions from me, offered with a virtual hug, and I invite anyone who cares about midwifery students to add their own in the comments below this post.


1. Learn to work out when to campaign, when to inform, when to advocate and when to accept that someone isn’t in a place where they want to know right now. 

Sometimes I meet students and midwives who are SO passionate and who want everybody to have an empowered, awesome, magical birth, and yet that’s not where everybody else is at.  If you are with a woman who knows what she wants and needs support to get it, then please help her with all your might.  But that won’t be where everyone is at on their journey, and trying to persuade people to take a whole new view of something is a counterproductive waste of energy which is better preserved for those women who want and need that from you. 

Accept that it may be too late for some women to gather information and/or make different choices this time around – especially if you’ve met them on the labour ward – but know that kind, loving care and your words of wisdom may help them take the next step on their journey.  And accept that their journey may be completely different from yours, and work out how you can effectively accompany them rather than trying to persuade them onto the path that you would choose if you were in their shoes.  Learn to figure out when it’s good to speak out and when your thoughts are best kept to yourself. 

This may take you a lifetime.


medium_107735084562. Breathe. 

Be mindful, and find your centre.  Remember that you can’t change other people, only yourself, and that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, no-one can make you feel a particular way without your consent.


3. Read stuff.

Read stuff that nurtures you, that makes you think, that helps you better communicate, that challenges you. If you aspire to be like someone, read lots of their work. If you aspire to be able to cite the research, then read the research (and maybe the critiquing books!)

While we’re at it, if you’re not already signed up, you might like to jump on my newsletter list, because that means you’ll get a free monthly newsletter with updates on birth-related research and thinking. Apparently it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert, and just think about how many of them you’re getting under your belt already! 😉 

You have it within you to start on your journey to becoming an expert by focusing on what you want to model when you become a midwife. And you know what? I know it’s very old fashioned of me, but don’t buy everything in electronic form.  Buy a real book every now and again, and curl up with it under a blanket on the sofa with it and a bar of chocolate!  If you’re interested, you can find out more about my books via the Books page on this website … or see here for details of the labour of love that I wrote especially for students!


4. Find at least one – ideally more – real-life groups of similarly-minded people in your community, and then join them.

And then make sure you actually turn up!  It might be ARM, a positive birth group, a sports team, a charity, a group focused on knitting, healthy eating, yoga, spirituality or bodywork, depending on what you’re into, or it might be something completely different. I have noticed that, for many people, having a regular ‘real-life’ outlet with people you can talk to about birth-related stuff really helps.


5. Keep in touch with pre-course, non-midwifery friends too.

And you might even try having a conversation not about midwifery sometimes! (Radical thought, I know!)  It’s tempting to isolate yourself from your other friends – and goodness knows you’ve got enough on with your assignments and placements – but even a biweekly or monthly get-together with your friends and/or a group you can relate to can keep you grounded. I’m not sure I would have got through my degree (and I KNOW I wouldn’t have a PhD) without my non-midwife friends.


6. Create or join an online community.

This is especially important if you feel isolated from like-minded people in real life.  Join a facebook group – you’re welcome to come play on my page – click like and then tick ‘get notifications’ to see what we’re chatting about or find cool people on instagram. There’s the relaxed midwives facebook group and lots of other places where you’ll find like-minded people.  You might want to subscribe to a group, website or blog feed. Find people or groups who inspire you, and sign up to get their e-newsletter. Join a birth-related organisation in your country, and know you’re not alone.  Helping to raise funding or awareness for an organisation or cause whose goals you share can help channel frustration into positive action and with a bit of luck you’ll meet people who share your concerns and your passions and you can swap ideas and solutions.


7. Engage in radical self-care.

I firmly believe that, if we don’t adequately tend to our own energy reserves, we can’t adequately give to others.  We need to figure out what nourishes us, and then find ways of regularly topping up our reserves.  Everybody needs to engage in self-care, but midwives and midwifery students need RADICAL self-care.  What can you put into each day, week and month to help you build your reserves?  No excuses!  Find out more here.


8. Just know you’re not alone.

You’re now part of an ancient circle of midwives who share the privilege (and yes, sometimes the pain) of knowing the world in a way that most people can’t see. Twenty five years ago, I was where you are, and twenty five years from now it will be you that younger midwives turn to for words of wisdom. I hope there’s at least a snippet in here that helps you. And I hope you’ll remember to hug them when it’s your turn.


Thank you for caring enough about women, babies and families to be undertaking this journey.

Travel well xxx


Students, I’ve written a book for you! It’s called ‘101 tips for planning, writing and surviving your dissertation’ and it ‘combines sound, practical tips from an experienced academic with reminders of the value of creativity, chocolate and naps as investments in your work’. And you don’t need to wait til you’re thinking about your dissertation; lots of the tips are really useful for other assignments too!  You can read more about it on my website or check it out and read the first chapter for free on Amazon.  I hope it serves you well 😀


heart photo by qthomasbower and hands and feet photo by VinothChandar via photopin cc and cc


27 comments for “Eight things I’d like to share with midwifery students who care…

  1. Catherine
    December 15, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Dear Sara,
    Thanks for your piece for students. Knowing we are part of a caring community really helps esp for the dark days. Personally, so far I’ve had more positive days that keep me going!
    Catherine Wood. Second year. Trinity College Dublin.

    • Rahma
      January 19, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Dear Sara

      Thank you soon much for this, it truly warms my heart to know there is a loving community. And to know that others have and are in the same position we are in today.

      The transition and training of midwifery is one that no one can prepare you for. And I’ve slowly come to learnt the importance of keeping a balanced life style in order to keep upto date with everything.

      Reading this tonight has given me an inspiration and a motivation. I felt that warm hug 🙂

      Thank you once more..

      1year student

  2. Meg
    December 15, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Thank you so much. As a third year student, this spoke to me on so many levels. Radical self care, that one is sorely missing I think.

  3. December 15, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I’m a breastfeeding counsellor, not a midwife, but these are wise words for me too – thank you!

  4. Susanna
    December 15, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks so much, this brought tears to my eyes. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by my application to study midwifery and this was really inspiring.

  5. Anna
    December 15, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks Sara – what wise and wonderful words and ideas for students and midwives…..thanks for sharing. I will pass on your message to UCLan midwifery students.

  6. Vonny
    December 15, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Oh Sara, how true. I am very inspired by your words, you definitely know how we feel. I am a mature student on the short course at UCLAN and only just starting my journey but already have seen and witnessed so much emotion, strength, vulnerability, power and love amongst my fellow students, women and our wonderful tutors. Thank you x Vonny

  7. Tracy Hagadorn
    December 15, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Very insightful and wise words. Thank you.

  8. Rebecca
    December 15, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Such wise words & beautifully written. Thank you.

  9. Carley Oates
    December 15, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    So perfectly timed Sara, like a gift. Second year midwifery education is a tough ride, so thanks for this really sound advice and reminding me of what the heart of midwifery is about xx

  10. shogoufa
    December 16, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Thanks so mch Sara i am a second year midwifery studeor wise words has really inpired me spciially where you said it takes 10,000 hours to become expert an it is really nice to see someone else can understand how students feel through out their course

  11. Fiona
    December 16, 2014 at 6:55 am

    Very true words for students and midwives alike. I teach in an undergraduate programme and will share this with our students. Thank you.

  12. Nadine
    December 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    Such wise and honest words!! Thank you for posting this!!

  13. Joycelyn
    December 17, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    What a refreshing, inspiring, loving letter, thank you so much Sara. This has been such a difficult eek for me as a student & you have reminded me the journey is well worth it. Blessings to you & thank you for such lovely words to nourish my soul.

  14. Rosanna
    December 22, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I echo all the above. Your words of wisdom are needed at any age and stage.. had many self doubts pursuing my dream at the age of 57. What you have said will remain in my heart! Blessed to be a blessing!

  15. December 31, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Olá Sara,
    Obrigada por suas palavras, me emocionaram muito.
    Estou indo para meu 4º ano de Obstetrícia no Brasil, e aqui a realidade é muito do que você escreveu no ponto 1.
    Vou levar suas recomendações no meu coração neste novo ano!


  16. kasia
    January 29, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Very beautiful letter. I;m a Polish student and this text touch me a lot. Thank you! I hope se that I will be a great midwife like you. Sorry for my grammar but me English isn’t so good 🙂

  17. Susie
    February 17, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    lovely words and wisdom. I remember reading a book by Caroline Flint ” the sensitive midwife ” when a student in 1987 . it empowered me like Sarah’s words. Nurture yourselves as it feeds you the strength you need.

  18. Lisca Hoy
    February 18, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    thank you for your words. They resonate deeply with this well travelled, celebrating 25yrs, midwife who is also verging on “burned out”, weary, very sad. Maybe putting them into action will get me through this period.
    I can also see how they could help in any period of your life, personal and professional.

  19. Dianne
    May 3, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Very encouraging words Sarah…. wish you would have been around 30 years ago to help me out!! Student midwives are our future and they need all the support they can get!

  20. Abbi
    July 28, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    Thank you for your wise words, it is sometimes easy to forget you are not alone on this journey. As a third year student, I am definitely still on that lifetime journey of learning when to share my thoughts and when to keep them to myself. It’s emotionally exhausting when you want to fight for a women’s right to birth her way and have choices when the MDT sometimes forget she is still a person, and not a product. The saddening part is when women submit, some women don’t want/need you to speak up! I hope I master this.

  21. Cheryl
    July 29, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    I’m just coming to the end of my first year. I’ve been analysing myself a bit as I’ve become quite miserable and I have realised that I’m nourished by having time with my husband and young children (even though this isn’t rest) and other friends. The hours I work on placement and the study means that sometimes I wont see them for days (13h shifts mean they are sleeping at each end of my day) and even when I’m with them my mind is elsewhere thinking of all the study I have to do. I’m completely undernourished. I’ve started dancing and running (when shifts don’t stop me) to see if that will help. Now that I dont have exams (summer is only 37.5hpw) I’m also picking up my paints now and then. My grades are pretty good but I don’t honestly think I can continue like this. I wanted to be a midwife because I think how you are cared for effects your confidence to move on and be the mother you want to be, but I’m no longer the mother I want to be, and I don’t think it’s worth that sacrifice.

    • Aine Alam
      August 4, 2015 at 1:18 am

      You made it through the first year that in itself is an accomplishment, be proud of that. Progress happens with small stepps. Don’t give up. Aine Alam

    • Debbie
      August 4, 2015 at 7:09 am

      I feel your pain, I beat myself up for neglecting my 3 little ones for 3 years of my degree too, you do feel like a rubbish mum, you’re definitely not alone in that! However now they’ve seen me struggle through through and persevere without giving up, the example I’ve set and the lesson or taught them has been invaluable, I’ve inspired them to work hard to achieve and aim for their goals and you will do the same, one of my daughters even wants to be a midwife to, hope this makes you feel better. I’m now 6 months into being qualified and I can tell you it’s worth it, but being a student is the best x

  22. Madyasa
    February 2, 2016 at 6:20 am

    Thank You for this. It was exactly what I needed to read today <3

    Madyasa, 1st year, Amsterdam

  23. Nkay
    September 19, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    This I find inspirating , thank you

  24. Sandra cussons
    February 15, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Sara this is wonderful . Ive followed you for many years and am 10 years qualified. The majority of your post is still very appropriate to qualifieds too. We continue studying, attempting that work life balance, try to understand some of our colleagues “ways” and co ti ue with our passion. I moved into community to provide my support to families where i can build trusting relationships, and yes your heart is regularly pierced, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    I have recently cut my hours to 30 enabling me to start living a bit more instead of being utterly exhausted on days off, and am looking forward to reflexology training “studying again”.

    I’m going to read your post again….

    Ps half way through your vit k book, many thanks for putting in the effort, that research had been long over due

    Best wishes Sandra x

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