Increasing workloads mean that our midwives are busier than ever. Emily Maclean, 35, a midwife at a London hospital, talks us through her 12.5-hour shift…
Every day on a labour ward is different. That’s what I love about my job. Some days I don’t deliver any babies, either because a labour is long or I’m caring for mums who have already given birth. Other days I can deliver up to three babies.
Not all births are straightforward. Sometimes I’ll find myself in theatre helping as surgeons perform Caesareans. Or I’ll be caring for a woman as she’s given an epidural, or forceps are used by a doctor.
But most of the time, women go through natural labour and my job is to make it as smooth as possible.
Here’s my typical night shift as an NHS midwife…
I wake up at 6pm to be at work for 7.15pm. I throw on some scrubs and a name badge, then make myself a huge cup of tea and a jam sandwich, as I don’t know when I’ll next eat or drink.
I sit in a meeting with the day-shift midwives and they pass over our women’s notes.
I’m assigned a woman (or sometimes a few) in early labour.
I introduce myself, then always ask: ‘How are you feeling?’
It’s so important to understand the woman’s thoughts and emotions at this time. I do the same with her birthing partner. Then I take the mum’s blood pressure and temperature. I feel her tummy and listen to the baby’s heartbeat.
Every baby is different so I make sure I know each one well, so we can make the right decisions as labour progresses.
9pm As time passes, I do everything I can to keep my woman comfortable.
Though I try to fade into the background, so the mum and her birthing partner can appreciate this moment in as much privacy as possible, I constantly ask her if she’s comfortable.
I’m often rushing around fetching mattresses to lie on, exercise balls to rock on, or putting on music to keep her occupied. I’m always active, so it can get tiring.
Sometimes the woman will need pain relief for her contractions.
It’s usually at this point that I’m asked: ‘How long will this last?’
I always feel like it’s inadequate but I have to answer: ‘I don’t know.’
Midwives can’t predict what’s going to happen. As soon as a woman is in active labour, she gets one-to-one care: my full attention.
Sometimes I take a break to eat and rest. I’m allowed an hour but don’t always get that long. Sometimes I won’t get a sit-down break, so I just grab a drink and snack. But that’s OK, my women’s safety is priority.
Women have such human or animalistic instincts when they’re giving birth, and I try to tune into that. If they want to be left alone, I stay away. If they want to be reassured and have their brow mopped, I’ll be there with a towel and a soothing voice.
Often my most important job is to keep the woman and her partner calm. Lots of people have heard horror stories, but I remind them that we, as women, are built to handle this.
‘You can do it,’ I tell them.
I check the mum’s heart rate, plus her temperature and blood pressure, and the baby’s heartbeat every 15 minutes. I try to do this discreetly.
My woman isn’t in hospital being managed — she’s having a baby and I want her to feel strong and free.
When my woman starts to complain of pressure, I suspect things are cracking on! I gather my equipment — towels, a bowl for the placenta, swabs and other bits and pieces.
The woman starts to push. It’s exhausting for her and can last up to two hours.
6am I ask the mum to stop pushing and blow gently as the baby is born. Each time, I feel so privileged to be part of this special, intimate moment.
No matter how tired I am, it gives me a huge surge of energy — and love. A wonderful feeling comes over the room as I wrap up the baby and place him or her skin-to-skin on their mum’s belly.
After delivering the placenta, then making sure my woman and her baby are healthy, mentally well, and the mum has a good cup of tea, it’s time to pass on the baton to another midwife.
In the last 30 minutes of my shift, I sit and fill in paperwork. Then at 8am (if I finish on time, which often isn’t the case!) I cycle home with a big smile on my face.
With the NHS cuts, midwives are becoming increasingly strained. For well babies and mums, we need well midwives. We all love our jobs but we’re spending less time with each woman, and having smaller gaps between each delivery, as more women need our help and there aren’t as many staff.
But I can honestly say that the novelty of bringing a life into the world never wears off. I’m so proud to be a midwife, I’m proud of all my women and I’m proud to be part of our wonderful National Health Service.
Edited by Kim Gregory