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; that 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, while juggling your family and personal life, often with very little financial support and 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.
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, adding 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, so you’re 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.
2. 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 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 actually turn up! It might be ARM, a positive birth group, a group focused on knitting, healthy eating, yoga, spirituality or bodywork, depending on what you’re into, or it might be something completely different, but 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, especially 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 years ago, I was where you are, and twenty 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