I have always had a passion for matters around pregnancy, birth and babies. For years I have enjoyed being a midwife, clinically in research and in teaching. My passion started at around 4 years old when my brother was born. Mesmerized by a growing belly and the fact that another human was coming in to the world, I read my mother’s antenatal books from cover to cover. Having just experienced the birth of my own baby, I felt compelled to write my own reflections and experiences down….
Please note: For personal reasons I would request that close family members do not read any further.
*Long post alert*
What happens when the midwife has a baby? We are people just like any other having a baby…right?…probably. Did I know too much?…Did that affect my choices? did I have a better choice and/or experience because I had ‘insider knowledge’?… One thing is certain. Having a baby as a midwife was unique for me.
The stick turned blue
Yes, our little Autumn baby was planned….and thankfully, we had no trouble conceiving our little darling, who was due to arrive conveniently after I had been awarded my PhD. But my period being late and the pregnancy tests showing up negative confused me. This was my first experience of feeling as though ‘I should have known better’! … Of course, though I knew that all I was looking for was a little Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the cheap sticks I had bought clearly were not sensitive enough to detect it…it took a friend to prompt me to spend a bit of extra cash on the test. Of course a fancy pants digital stick did the trick….Silly me. The midwife should have known better (was one of my first thoughts… and a recurrent theme throughout my pregnancy)! The pressure was on!
Of course when the stick did officially ‘turn blue’ my heart jumped into my mouth, knowing that this was an ‘oh sh*t’ moment. No take backsies. Yet, I have no idea why I panicked …it was planned after all! Perhaps it was because..
- My parents would know for sure that I was sexually active (ridiculous I know…especially as my husband and I have been together 18 years)!
- I really would need to finish my PhD in time
- Life was about to change for ever
- I think this pregnancy is a good thing (probably)
My unicorn was on her way..
Choosing my care givers
Unlike many women who my just meet the nearest or most convenient midwife. I had the luxury of knowing a myriad of great midwives who could provide great care for me and my baby. I also had the luxury of knowing how and who to ask directly for what I wanted. I felt spoilt. This felt like a luxury that many women don’t have…but it was also a perfectly reasonable thing to be able to do. I was able to chose a midwife who I knew was ‘on the same page’… and who would care for me continuously throughout…Do all women get this opportunity?
For years I have been caring for women with ligament pain, pelvic pain, odd sensations and physical stresses and strains. Being pregnant myself meant that I could finally feel what I had been describing… ‘Ahh…that’s what hey mean by feeling a ‘twang”
One great benefit of being a pregnant midwife is also knowing what symptoms to worry about and what symptoms not to worry about. I imagine that this may have enabled me to experience somewhat less worry than others experiencing such things for the first time….In the beginning anyway!
To tell or not to tell…that is the question
Other than the midwives I knew, there were other care givers throughout my pregnancy who were meeting me for the first time. They all began with the usual spiel about risks/benefits/routine and procedure. The question is (or was).. do I let them go on talking like I know nothing.. or do I let them know that I am a midwife who is used to spouting this spiel myself.
In not telling them, I felt like a fraud.. Like I was making a fool of them… But in telling them of my profession, I felt as though I would be giving up my status as a ‘regular’ maternity service user. My cover would essentially be blown.
A desire for honesty got the better of me. I told all new care givers that I was a midwife. The following happened:
- Clinicians dropped any facade of being ‘ultra professional’ – They became more friendly… like we were ‘on the same team’.
- I was told frequently ‘Well you know all of this already so I won’t repeat it’
As they did this, I felt a mix of emotions. On the one hand…I felt truly part of the team…a sense of power and autonomy…On the other hand… I felt like I no longer had the safety net of being ‘nurtured’ through my pregnancy. Was I missing out?..I’m not sure. But I was no longer treated as a ‘regular pregnant woman’.
Choosing my own care pathways
In my experience as a midwife, I have seen how some professionals can dismiss the thoughts, feelings and desires of women wanting to make decisions in relation to their own care pathways. For more on this, please see Michelle Quashie @QuashieMichelle
As such, I sometimes had to fight hard to make sure that the women in my care got what they wanted. I was expecting to have the same fight.
However, I found that once people realised that I was a midwife, they were more willing to trust that my own decisions were informed decisions. They seemed less intent on trying to persuade me one way or another. They seemed to respect and accept my choice more than I had seen some maternity staff respect the choices of other women.
For me this highlighted issues around respecting women’s choice. When do we feel that women can make their own choices without question?…and when do women’s choices cause clinicians concern?….
Whatever the opinion of others… I, as a midwife could seemingly make any choice I wanted with ease…. Is this the same for all? I think not.
I have actually known what my own birth choice would be for a long time now. My main fear was that my choice would be made unavailable to me. Pre-conceptually I had consulted the obstetric team to discuss my birth choices…Would they be facilitated? because if not…did I really want to get pregnant in the first place?… the answer was ‘Let’s wait and see once you get pregnant’…Damn. I was really looking for a signed deal beforehand.
Once I became pregnant of course, they held all of the cards. I was pregnant…. trapped… The baby had to come out somehow, but I was beholden to them.. as they were the ones who would decide whether or not to facilitate my choice. This also altered the power balance and really made me feel vulnerable… at the mercy of those with the power to say yes or no. It was not a nice place to be.
My midwife, and my consultant midwife were 100% supportive of my decision, but they were not in a position to sign on the dotted line. I wanted a beautiful planned cesarean section. Something which goes against the grain for some.
When it came to meeting the consultant team, I was nervous about what they would ‘allow’. Now… I hate the word ‘allow‘ in maternity services, but this is how it felt. I was asking permission to have this… asking them to facilitate this. They had the power to say no. As a midwife, I believe I knew the right things to say to maximize my chances of them agreeing to my birth choice. I also had all of the up to date guidelines and research to back up my arguments should I need them. I was still nervously holding my breath.
There was some resistance, I had some extra appointments and some hoops to jump through, but with some firm words and some strong midwifery back up, I was able to get my birth choice ‘agreed’ or ‘allowed’. Though the clinical reasons for my birth choice are too complex to explain here, it felt as though my decision making was not so trusted by other professionals in this case. I also had to repeatedly sit and listen to the list of risks involved, and be repeatedly asked if I had wanted to change my mind. Would this be the case if I had chosen a vaginal birth?
The sense of relief was immense…I could finally start to look forward to the birth and enjoy my pregnancy!
Though this relief could have come much earlier for me… having the obstetric team on board pre-conceptually would have made my experience so much better!
What I really wanted to do was have my birth choice go unquestioned. I wanted to know all of the facts and then be trusted to make my own decision. Doesn’t every person want this?…
But I felt as though I may be denied my choice if it did not conform with what the health professional believed was the ‘right’ decision… This was utterly terrifying. The consequences of my choice being denied would literally mean that I would have less control over what would happen to my body. This was a horrifying thought. I would literally be forced to have a vaginal birth against my will. This is literally how the reality felt.
For more information around birth rights see: @birthrightsorg
These experiences in relation to birth choices got me thinking about ‘informed’ choice in maternity care…
Everyone is ever so concerned about gaining ‘informed’ consent (and rightly so)… but is it disconcerting that we forever talk about the risks of Cesarean section and rarely the benefits? Equally…do we (as healthcare professionals) inform women of the risks of a vaginal birth? or a hospital birth? Wouldn’t that be ‘true’ informed consent?
As a midwife, I have to admit that my favorite type of birth to be in attendance of is an uninterrupted home birth….they are fab!… but that is my preference as a midwife. My preference as a mother was a cesarean section, and I have to ensure that I remain objective in respect to all women’s choices regardless of these facts.
At the end of the day.. a baby is coming out of you. There are a variety of ways in which this can happen. Should there be a default or ‘preferred’ way? or is this ‘preferred’ way subjective to each and every woman? If so then we must stop talking about the ways in which we might prefer women to give birth…and instead celebrate women’s choice in pursuit of their own subjective ‘positive birth’.
In my case, I felt a solidarity with Helen George from Call the Midwife, who was shamed for choosing to have a cesarean section. I also identified with some of the reasons she gave for her very personal choice. Of course there are many other reasons why women may choose a cesarean section. Some have been explored in the following paper:
Why do women request an elective cesarean delivery for non-medical reasons? A systematic review of the qualitative literature
From my perspective…the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of one’s birth choices are too subjective to ever cast judgment upon.
Challenging poor practice
The care I received from the English maternity services in my area was fantastic….For the most part. Unfortunately I did encounter one incidence of poor practice. Sadly this episode warranted escalation.
As a midwife, I know my duty is to take further action (escalate) mistakes in practice where appropriate. However, as a mother, I was nervous about escalating the poor practice of someone whom I relied on for my care (and to facilitate my birth choices). Would they take revenge? would I loose my place of birth? or would my birth choices be taken from me?…It was a very vulnerable position to be in.
“After all…If you complain to the chef..they may spit in your food.”
Thankfully, with the support of my midwife, I am now working with the General Medical Council (GMC) to ensure that other mothers and babies can be protected from the same actions being repeated.
Aside from this… as a midwife, I feel highly privileged that I was able to spot this poor practice and call it out. Another pregnant woman (non-midwife) may not have spotted this poor practice, and been put at risk unknowingly. This highlights how vulnerable women may be, as they trust us all with their (and their babies) lives. Here the role of the midwife as an advocate becomes even more important for those who cannot always safeguard their own care.
Patient & Public Involvement in research
INVOLVE briefings state that there is an important distinction to be made between the perspectives of the public and the perspectives of people who have a professional role in health and social care services. As midwives are not considered to be patients under this guidance, I have felt unable to participate in Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) activities during my pregnancy. This was difficult, as I would have loved to have participated in PPI whilst pregnant in order to contribute to the improvement of maternity services from a user perspective. This issue is worthy of further discussion… after all, health professionals can be ‘patients’ too right?
My husband is surely sick of my chums and I always talking pregnancy and birth…and of course passion for the profession can get a little sickly for some. So, I wanted the father of my baby to hear what I already knew from someone other than me. I didn’t want him to rely on me for information…after all, I may come across as a know it all rather than an equal partner in his parenting journey. So we went to NCT classes.
The classes were great and the information was sound….Yet, as a midwife… I could feel myself wanting to ‘approve’ of the information given out to the group.
During the challenges set out for us as a group, I was anxious. What if I got a question wrong? or stuck an anatomy sticker in the wrong place?
…oh the shame!
Thankfully, I made no mistakes and my midwifery knowledge held strong. Yet again, I felt compelled to disclose my profession to the group. Not to do so felt dishonest somehow, like I was tricking them into thinking I was new to pregnancy and birth from all perspectives…and not just from a parental one. As such, I was relied upon at times for the lived experience of maternity services. People were also generally glad to have me on their ‘team’ during group challenges.
At the end of the course, I think my husband was glad to learn from someone perhaps more objective than myself. I also think that hearing the facts from another birth educator strengthened my husbands faith in what I had been saying all along…For example.. he now trusts that it is indeed OK to have a glass of wine whilst breastfeeding (Very important)!
And just like any other mum of course… I needed to meet other people sharing the same journey as I was.
And so little ‘Loveday Alice Pezaro’ came into the world. I had the perfect ‘positive’ birth (for me).. The breastfeeding is going wonderfully…and we are now knee deep in baby sensory groups and Costa Coffee chats. This experience from the other side of the fence has provided me with more empathy for women and more passion for womens rights in childbirth. The journey was less scary than I thought it might be. But…………………
What if I can’t breastfeed?
This was another real fear for me…having supported so many other women to breastfeed… what if I couldn’t do it myself? I mean… if the midwife can’t do it…What hope is there? 😮😨😩
These types of fears and anxieties resonate with other midwives who find themselves becoming mothers…In fact, the very pertinent research of my friend and mentor Dr. Sarah Church demonstrates how;
“a reliance on professional knowledge may create opportunities for choice and increased autonomy in some situations, although the need for intervention during childbirth, for example, may challenge the degree of autonomy exercised by midwives and the choices available to them. As knowledgeable experts, midwives demonstrate a very different understanding of risk and safety in relation to their own experiences of childbirth. Professional knowledge may increase their anxieties which may not be addressed appropriately by caregivers due to their professional status. The use of knowledge in this way highlights potential conflict between their position as midwives and their experience as mothers, illustrating that midwives’ ability to exercise agency and autonomy in relation to their pregnancy and childbirth experiences is potentially problematic.”
Final thoughts and reflections
- Being pregnant as a midwife increased both my anxieties and my autonomy.
- My professional knowledge impacted significantly upon my own perceptions around risk and safety in maternity
- As a midwife I knew how to best ‘get’ my birth choices.
- I felt vulnerable at times, especially in calling out poor practice.
- I felt as though I was treated differently because of my professional background
- The pressure to ‘get it right’ was always on.
In conclusion, the whole experience of childbearing was much better than I thought it would ever be. I feared much more than I needed to, and in retrospect, I had a wonderful experience. If only I could have anticipated such good outcomes in advance…the fear of the ‘worst’ happening may have never been an issue. One thing is for sure. My experience of being on the other side of the fence will enrich my midwifery practice forever.
On another note..There are so many wonderful midwives and initiatives out there making births better for women and their babies…There are not enough words to mention all of their wonderful work in this single blog. But I would urge further reading around the following groups:
…and Many more (happy to add to this list if suggestions are given)!
My baby ❤️ ‘Loveday Alice’
If you would like to follow the progress of my work going forward..
Until next time…Look after yourselves and each other 💚💙💜❤