Most midwives are great, but occasionally, you get the not-so-great ones. Unfortunately.
A special someone has prompted this post. Emily of Emly The Strange is a budding midwife-to-be who is currently at Uni and going through her training. I know Emily through Twitter and via her blog, as well as a few emails (although I will meet her in person come July – YAY!), but if my initial impressions of her count for anything, she comes across to me as someone who is very mature, thoughtful of other’s feelings and an enthusiastic, caring and considerate student who I have no doubt will become one of the great midwives of the near future.
It was Emily’s recent posts that got me thinking about the midwives that helped me (as well as those that didn’t, really) during the births of my three sons and in those days in hospital that followed.
The first midwife I ever encountered was Shelley. About 3 days before my first son was born, I was concerned that I hadn’t felt any movement for a while (and I was about 5 days overdue by that stage, so I had good reason to be concerned). I met Shelley at the birthing suite of the hospital that all my sons would later be born in, as she strapped me up to the monitor that measured my baby’s heart rate and my contractions, and assured me that everything would be sorted very soon. After seeing my child’s heartbeat, Shelley continued to assure me and comfort me the whole time I was there. She was fantastic. Not once did she make me feel like a paranoid, first-time mother (even if I actually was).
Three days later, after going in to labour late the night before, I found myself back at the birthing suite in the early hours of 5 March 2002. The midwife I met then, Sharon, was nothing like Shelley. Firstly, she seemed to act as though Hubby was a nuisance, and when I told her I seemed to be having one contraction on top of another – not after every contraction, but often - she shook her head and said, “I don’t think so, love. You only get that when you’re closer to the birth, and you’re a loooong way off yet.” However, after strapping me to the thingy that shows my contractions, she had to concede I was right. “Well, ok. It looks like you’re having multiple contractions. But still..you’re a long way off.”
A couple of hours later, I decided to try some gas to ease the pain. “Oh, that last one hurt,” I announced after my contraction. Sharon smiled smugly and said, “Honey – it’s going to get a lot worse than that. Sometimes you hear women screaming from down the hall!” And then, “I think you’re going to need drugs to get you through.” I recall her patronisingly patting my shoulder.
I didn’t have a “no drugs” policy or anything, but I had said I wanted to try and avoid an epidural if possible (because I was afraid of having a needle so close to my spine!) but I had told my Ob/Gyn I would have it if the labour became long and/or difficult. (It did, so I ended up having one in the end, at about midday that day.)
Apart from that, she also showed me how to breathe the gas in incorrectly. She had me hyperventilating it in basically – no wonder I felt dizzy – and this was only rectified at the change of shift in the morning when another wonderful midwife, Susan, walked through the door. She immediately showed Hubby how to turn the gas up (seems that Sharon had, not surprisingly, kept it on low. Nice).
Sharon also told me that my baby was posterior (when the baby's backbone is facing the mother's backbone). I was dubious. The position of my baby all during pregnancy had been perfect, and although it wasn’t an impossibility for the baby to turn so late in the game, I was surprised when she told me. And, of course, having read that labour could be quite painful with a posterior baby, I started to worry. When Susan walked in that morning, I mentioned this to her almost straight away. She checked, looked puzzled and then said, “No. The baby’s fine. It’s where he or she should be. You’re doing great.”
It was only later after my son's birth, that I realised just how out of line Sharon really was. I’m not sure why she had such a big chip on her shoulder, but she most certainly did, and she made my first birthing experience (the first 7 or so hours anyway) not a pleasant one. First time mums have enough to worry about without a midwife adding to their concerns.
During that first hospital stay, I had a few midwives that, when I asked for settling ideas, weren’t very helpful. And when trying to breastfeed and suffering from grazed and bleeding nipples (nope – it was nothing like the brochures thank-you-very-much - when is it?), one midwife became quite impatient at my pleas for a break. And then, one other lovely midwife practically whispered to me to have Hubby buy a tube of Marcalan ointment to help me out. (Which, once I started using, eased the discomfort considerably.) I think some of the midwives were so hell bent on keeping everything as “natural as possible" that it skewed their very purpose: to make things as easy for me as possible. To help me make the tentative transition from pregnant woman to mother. No one in their right minds back then could have disputed I was like a deer caught in headlights – absolutely thrown in to the deep end and in some dire need of guidance. Some of those midwives let me down.
When my second and third sons were born, I knew what I was in for and what I would and, more importantly, what I wouldn’t put up with. I told my Ob/Gyn about Sharon, and he said that if I ended up with her again, just to politely point out that we had differing views on the process and ask for someone else. Fortunately, for my second son, I ended up with Sally – the best midwife in the world. She was amazing. So supportive and wonderful. But then whilst recuperating, I had yet another midwife who practically refused to take my son’s temperature before his feed (he was being monitored after I had discovered whilst pregnant with him that I carried the Group B Strep virus – and he would be monitored for, from memory, 24 hours). It was about 6 hours until the end of when monitoring him could stop, but this midwife decided that she deemed it ok, even after my insistence his temperature be taken. (I mean really, what was the upside in stopping the monitoring earlier than planned?) I complained. Quite frankly, I was going to follow my Ob/Gyn’s orders – not some midwife with a power trip going on. She was sent in to carry out her job, and to apologise.
With my third son, I realised about an hour in to being at the hospital that the first midwife, Sharon, was once again assigned to me. However, this time she was courteous and pleasant. Not at all like she had been the first time. I wondered if she had been reprimanded, or perhaps she'd had an off day that evening five years earlier, or perhaps she was nicer with the mums who had been down this path before? In any case, within a few hours she was gone, and I once again had a great midwife, Jocelyn, for his delivery. And, once again, I had some good, and a couple of not-so-good midwives, but knowing what I knew by then, it mattered less to me.
But that’s the point. For first time mums, a good midwife is essential. If you’re a first time mum-to-be, I have one piece of advice for you: during the labour, the birth, and the recovery – if a midwife doesn’t sit right with you, don’t be afraid to ask for someone else. This is your experience – not theirs. You call the shots, and you deserve nothing less than a wonderful experience, guided by those midwives who are worth their weight in gold. Thankfully, they do exist (moreso than the not-so-great ones) and I have no doubt that Emily will be joining the great ones in the future.
How about you? If you’ve had a baby, were your experiences all good, or do you have any tales of midwives who were not so fantastic at their job?