Being a Midwife- Part 1: Expert in Normal Pregnancy, Birth and Childbearing or Night Nanny Nappy Changer?

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I am a midwife, and I am proud to call myself a midwife. According to the International Confederation of Midwives a midwife is a “responsible and accountable professional who works in partnership with women to give the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, labour and the postpartum period, to conduct births on the midwife’s own responsibility and to provide care for the newborn and the infant. This care includes preventative measures, the promotion of normal birth, the detection of complications in mother and child, the accessing of medical care or other appropriate assistance and the carrying out of emergency measures.” Let that sink in. This doesn’t even include the counselling, education and advocacy side of things. When we go to work, there’s a lot to think about.

I am a midwife- not a nanny, not a nurse. I completed a direct entry midwifery degree at an Australian university to become a midwife only, although I could have done a double degree over 4 years to be both, which held no interest for me. I very specifically wanted to support and empower women and their families at this exciting, scary, vulnerable time in their lives. I could have avoided going back to uni at all and become a nanny, but I’m not very patient with other people’s kids… or mine for that matter, so that wasn’t a smart option.

I started the 3 year midwifery degree when Miss M was 13 months old, full time for a year. I took a year off to have Miss A, then went back part time for the following 2 years, including hundreds of hours of hospital prac, night shifts and on call periods included, plus around 200 extra hours with our 10 mandatory ‘follow through women’, or ‘continuity of care experiences’ (CoC). These women are angels who allow a student to keep in touch with them throughout their pregnancy, accompany them to antenatal appointments, be on call for and support them during their birth, and follow up in the postnatal period. At its best it is a mutually beneficial experience that provides extra support for the woman and invaluable learning opportunities for the student. I am so grateful to all my CoC families and literally couldn’t have done it without them! I completed final year in 2017 at a full time rate.

I honestly believe that if I’d let it go a second longer I wouldn’t have made it. I was just hanging in there. It really is one hell of a degree and I salute all the students and new grads out there. If you love it, carry on and don’t let anything get in your way. If you’re not sure, maybe consider a break to check that it definitely is what you really want to do– otherwise I don’t think it’s worth the sacrifice. In my opinion. People say it’s a calling not a job. I think that’s probably true although I do meet midwives who have either lost their passion for the calling or never had it in the first place. Maybe they changed too many dirty diapers and it muddied their love for midwifery… but I digress.

When I finally graduated, Miss M had just turned 6 and Miss A was 3 and a half. It had been a long journey and I had to be very determined to finish it. Health issues threatened to derail my efforts on several occasions but I ploughed through damn it and got there in the end. Man I was proud. I had made it. We had made it. My husband was an incredible support, picking up my slack and sharing all the parenting and domestic duties, working 18 hour days doing his gardening business in the morning before afternoon shifts at the hospital. The man was a machine, never once complaining or wavering in his conviction that I was doing the right thing. Even now, his kind words ring in my ears, “It’s a noble profession, and you’re doing a great job. Keep going.” My parents, too, were wonderful, helping us financially and practically with the girls as much as they could. I tell you, it takes a village to get through a degree with kids!

When I graduated I was so excited to start working and learning for real. I was thrilled that I could finally swap my coffee and Tim tam-fuelled essay-writing all-nighters for night shifts I would actually be paid for (and start repaying my mounting HECs debt). I interviewed successfully in my final year, meeting merit for the grad position I wanted. Then I waited a year to get started. 6 years after the first lecture.

So clearly, in answer to the title question, midwives are qualified health professionals. They are not night nannies or expert nappy changers. Never even covered it at uni. (Okay so we do it on prac I guess but personally I learnt from being a mum, like many people around the world!) People know that, right? Maybe not. It seems a good number of women in hospital, and their partners, think that changing nappies is a critical part of our job. Sorry to disappoint but it’s not. Although we do do it- (pause for Friends reference to register because I’m a Certified Friends Tragic) and I’m very happy to- when it’s appropriate. More to come in Being a Midwife- Part 2…because we are all time poor and this blog is already too long. Thanks for staying!

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