Midwifery at it’s core is about relationships. Deep heart felt connections with others (often woman to woman but not exclusively). Supporting, caring, holding space, witnessing and being a companion and guide throughout the unfolding perinatal period. To meet those taking that journey where they are at and helping them to navigate it with kindness and compassion. To also stand along side others called to this sacred work and be able to extent that same support, compassion and safe space holding to our colleagues and peers.
When I was called to midwifery THIS is what drew me in and I know many of you will be able to relate to this. Unfortunately so many of us feel deeply unsatisfied with midwifery at the moment for lots of different reasons but what I’d like to share is my understanding of one element that is playing out and how we can recognise it and challenge it to move forward.
From the beginning of time, women have instinctively ran in packs. Creating informal support groups, to laugh, cry, cook, care for each other during birth and with raising their families, grieve, rejoice, and commune and this can be seen across all cultures.
Then patriarchy and the burning times happened and a woman had two choices — submit to the ways of the “new” world and betray her sisters OR become an “outcast” and risk harm or even death. This divide between women was precisely the point for patriarchy. The more divided women became, the less power they had together…and believe me we are POWERFUL- they knew this and it scared them. So then if we are busy fighting amongst ourselves and turning on each other then we are not fighting against the patriarchy and challenging their agenda.
The Sister Wound is the manifestation of women living in a patriarchal society who have had to use unhealthy coping mechanisms to survive. Unfortunately so many midwives are practising a very matriarchal art (midwifery) through the framework of a very patriarchal system which leaves so many of us feeling conflicted, frustrated and unfulfilled. It’s not natural and we feel it.
Have you ever been hurt by another woman? Felt betrayed and rejected? Have you ever had side-eye and catty cackles directed at you by a group of other woman? Have you ever been side lined, belittled, competed with and not supported by other women?
That’s the sister wound playing out!
It also shows up like lack of trust, insecurity and feeling anxious and unsafe amongst other women, particularly in groups. Feeling jealous or like you just can’t compete with the ‘shine’ of other women are also common.
Midwives turn on each other, on the students, on other colleagues and even on the women they are caring for sometimes, all out of fear and self preservation and this is the sister wound being activated time and time again.
So that essence of fulfilling midwifery practice and that true feeling of connected sisterhood is lost. We don’t feel safe showing up as our true self. We hide away, play small and our roar becomes a whisper. Our power stays lost.
It’s not our fault that we have ended up here but we are all responsible for what happens from here on in. To start to turn the tide we need to first be honest with ourselves and challenge the sister wound and how it shows up for us.
Helping midwives and student midwives to be honest with themselves about some of the subconscious patterns they have been stuck in is a fundamental part of the work that I do as an emotional health coach. Helping them to challenge their beliefs and ways of thinking and behaving to be able able to show up authentically with healthy self expression without fear of judgement or rejection for who they really are.
I’ll be talking more about healing the sister wound and strategies for this in another blog as it’s a huge topic. I may create a workshop if people want to learn more about it…so watch this space!
How have you seen the sister wound playing out in midwifery or even in yourself?
Autumn 2020…I was running a busy NHS antenatal clinic day. I was behind and feeling the pressure to catch up and it wasn’t even lunch time yet. 30 minutes to ensure the wellbeing of mum and baby (blood pressure, urinalysis, fundal height measurement etc) as well as discussing fetal movements, birth preferences, infant feeding, mental health, covid anxieties, domestic abuse, safeguarding….with the number of appointments being reduced due to covid restrictions and new guidelines and procedures I felt like I had so much to cram into such a short space of time (and I know some midwives are only allowed 15 minute appointment with their clients!?!) What if I missed something important? What if I didn’t tell them what they needed to know to help them prepare for this powerful and transformative experience of growing their family?
Most days I felt like I was on a covert operation working under the radar. Borrowing 5 minutes here to give an extra 5 minutes there, sharing my knowledge and experiences of REAL midwifery and childbearing. About the power of the human body. About the sacred and transformative rite of passage into parenthood. I loved it, I really did but it felt like a lot of pressure. I was desperate not to slip into just covering the basics to be safe and professional, as I knew I had so much more to offer than that and that those in my care deserved more, they ASKED me for more, but I was done sacrificing myself to try and give more in a system that didn’t encourage or promote it. I thought “how does everyone else manage to do it?” Then I had a massive realisation. They’re NOT doing it.
There are so many midwives in self preservation mode right now and its crippling them. Emotionally, spiritually and physically. They are suffering with compassion fatigue, conflicts around having their core values being compromised time and time again, anxiety, stress and burnout. This is not just the midwives working on the ground but those in middle and senior management too. Everyone is struggling in their own way but the root cause is the same.
They are having to deal with ongoing chronic short and unsafe staffing level, longer busier shifts, poor work/life balance, increasing complexity of care and processes, bullying, poor support…the list goes on and on…..
None of us came into this profession to work like this.
So many phenomenal midwives leave the NHS daily as they are not met with the compassion, level of autonomy or flexibility they need to thrive. They have to get out even though it breaks their heart. And those who stay? Well, some get worn down over time, feeling defeated. They become just another cog in the machine, taking home their salary and counting down the days until retirement.
Some look around them and conclude that everyone else can manage, so it must be something innately wrong with them. That they don’t have what it takes to be the midwife that they know they are inside (which made them answer the sacred calling of midwifery in the first place). This eats away at their self esteem and confidence, increases their need for external validation and drives fear of failure and rejection and leaves them feeling stuck and powerless. They stay but are waiting for their breaking point.
Then there are some who have a gut feeling they can help themselves and things can be better but maybe just don’t know HOW.
They are done with having their voices muted.
They are done with playing small.
They are done with diluting themselves to please everyone else.
They are done with being at the bottom of the priority pile.
They are ready to discover and bring in change.
Now to do this takes time, it’s not a quick fix. It take’s courage and vulnerability. It means having boundaries and holding yourself and others accountable to them. It means being a leader by example and being prepared to ruffle some feathers. It means holding up a mirror to yourself and being prepared to go deep or go home and keep on fighting.
I know so many wonderful birth workers who have already answered this call to arms but it will take more of us. Some are doing in under the radar like I was and more and more of us are doing it loud and proud. KNOWING that things cant go on as they are.
The real reason I left a contracted post in NHS midwifery was because I knew I had a vision of how things could be and I wanted to have the time and personal freedom to share it with others for the benefit of all.
I was done with hearing about and feeling the fear and frustration of other midwives. I wanted to help them see WHY they had those thoughts, emotions and feelings and how they could channel it to help them to realise THEIR truth and help them to own it.
I wanted them to rediscover their inner power and their potential. That they could step back into the leading role in their own life story and that it wasn’t too late to start a new chapter.
It’s not that you’re not good enough my lovely. It’s that you’re a round peg being forced into a square hole and I say enough is enough.
What do you think?
If you’re already in a leadership position in maternity services and what I’ve said resonates with you, then why not get in touch to see how we can support your team together through my 1 day group workshop? Click here to find out more.
I recently received my annual email from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) inviting me to pay to retain my name on the midwifery register for a further 12 months (to practice as a midwife in the UK you have to pay an annual membership fee to the NMC and revalidate every 3 years to show your competence and ongoing professional development). I know when the yearly email or letter lands so many thoughts start to emerge… “Why should I have to pay to be a midwife?”, “What do I actually get for my money?”, “Do I even want to remain on the register?”, ‘Am I good enough to be a midwife?”, “Am I good enough to do anything else?” , “I feel trapped and powerless”. These thought’s often lead to anger, frustration, anxiety, uncertainty and self doubt and in turn an influx of issues such as nausea, fatigue, headaches, poor appetite, insomnia, skin issues, menstrual issues, reflux and more! The last 18 months have been such a challenge for midwives all over the world and with September just a few weeks away (the start of a usually very busy time for maternity services), having to pay financially, emotionally and physically to stay part of an already exhausted and struggling workforce can seem like an insult.
Personally I’ve been taking an intentional break over the past few weeks to reflect and recharge after what has been a whirlwind year for me. I recognised I needed to practice what I preached – taking personal responsibility to look after myself – so I could prepare for continuing supporting the midwives who want that much deserved second chance to enjoy their career without sacrificing so much of themselves, but are struggling to see how.
It’s been 2 years since I trained as a 3 step rewind practitioner, the intimate training weekend with 2 phenomenal doulas and the fabulous Midwife Mark Harris which catapulted me head first into my own healing journey but looking back I wouldn’t have had it any other way! 12 months later I launched the Midwife Sparkle Method to help anxious and overwhelmed midwives to reclaim their sparkle through my 8 week 1:1 positive mindset and self empowerment coaching programme. I’ve worked with dozens and dozens of students and qualified midwives from all over the world and it’s been the most tremendous journey so far but I know this is just the beginning…
As I look towards the next 12 months and beyond I am looking forward to helping so many more courageous and heart centred midwives to own their power, speak their truth and take up space. To recognise their unique talents and gifts and own their successes and achievements. To find the confidence to sparkle in their own way and be the trail blazers to help start to shift the patriarchal and systemic toxic bullying culture. Putting self empowerment and encouragement of true individuality back at the heart of midwifery where they belong.
Are you in? I’ve just opened my diary for new clients to start with me 1:1 in September. Book a chat with me today!
Have you ever considered the difference between self confidence and self esteem? Take a moment to reflect on it now. Many people use the terms interchangeably but I believe not knowing this difference is keeping us from making progress in our career and life in general.
Confidence is about trusting our innate qualities like intelligence, talents and physical beauty. It’s our belief that we can evaluate and deal with things and handle our abilities in a self assured way. It’s the side of you that you show to the outside world, even if it’s a mask you’re wearing as you’re actually pretty terrified. You can fake confidence and often people won’t be able to tell.
Self esteem however is different. Esteem is the lens through which we view ourselves, our self image if you like. It’s the value you place on yourself as a person and your recognition of your skills, qualities and achievements and acceptance of your flaws and weaknesses. We need to be able to value ourselves and in turn allow others to value us too.
You are inside your head 24/7. You can’t fake high self esteem as it’s at the very core of you and sets the tone for your whole life. If your self esteem is low is has a negative impact on everything, puts limits on your hopes and dreams and makes your head a very miserable place to be.
People with low self esteem often struggle with self doubt, anxiety, poor personal boundaries, lack of self worth and negative self talk.
We all need self esteem to function but often we maintain it at this low level by constantly telling ourselves how rubbish and incapable we are. We then feel bad about ourselves and often seek external validation and praise from others that we’re good enough or doing a good job.
The more we don’t feel good enough the more we tell ourselves that we’re not good enough.
To ensure you are able to build and maintain your self esteem at a healthy level you need to look inside yourself rather than outside.
Think of your self esteem like a mobile phone battery. It’s much easier to take the charger wherever you go so you know you’ll be able to keep it functioning than to just keep our fingers crossed that the battery lasts or that a friend or colleague will have one they are prepared to lend you.
A wonderful consequence of high self esteem is our self confidence improves, our fear of judgement and criticism reduces and we feel more resilient and in control of our lives.
3 quick tips to help you boost your self esteem everyday:
Think of 5 things that you are proud of about yourself and really let yourself feel it
Challenge any negative self talk
Focus on the effort you are putting in rather than the end result
During my 8 week 1:1 Midwife Sparkle Method Programme I help you understand about what motivates you, how low self esteem is formed and maintained and how to improve it to ensure it is ever replenishing! I show you how to keep your battery full of charge and how to show others how to keep theirs charged up too.
As you may know if you’ve been following me for a while I had a traumatic birth in 2017. This impacted me massively on a personal level but what a lot of people don’t know is how it impacted me on a professional level too.
I had been a qualified midwife for 3 years and had fully prepared for birth and motherhood (or so I thought) but what I had not prepared for was my return to work. I went back part time when Harrison was 10 months old. I returned to the community role I was doing before, so it was familiar and that was nice. What was not nice were the reminders of my experience almost EVERY DAY.
I imagine it’s similar to being a chef for a living…the last thing you want to do is cook when you get home in the evening. I had given birth at the hospital trust I worked for and I was caring for pregnant and new mums who were vulnerable and struggling with similar issues to me. I told myself it was normal and that the sleep depravation probably wasn’t helping. My instinct was to avoid all reminders of what happened to me but I couldn’t. I remember actually having a panic attack in the toilet on the labour ward the first time I had to go back there to collect something. I also remember visiting a new mum and listening to her talk about her birth experience and in that moment just wanting to sit and sob with her. I don’t know how I kept it together.
These expectant and new mums were looking to me to care for them and their baby, give them information and share my knowledge and ultimately reassure them that everything was going to be ok. Outwardly I was talking the talk and walking the walk (my background in performing arts served me well here!) but inwardly I was anxious and could not get away from the things which were triggering me the most. I felt like a fraud.
The reason I share this with you is because it highlights just how hard it can be to do a job like being a midwife, dealing with emotionally charged situations every day when there are personal things that you are still dealing with or underlying emotional health factors such as anxiety. It look me 18 months to realise that these feelings weren’t going away and to start to look at ways to help myself. My family and the women I cared for deserved better and I deserved better.
You see I have been on both sides of the same coin – the new mother trying to keep it all together and not show how much she is crumbling and the midwife trying to keep it all together and not show how much she is crumbling.
Pregnant and new mothers need support but so too do the midwives and birth workers. We care so deeply for others but who cares for us?
When things are constantly changing, our workload increasing in volume and complexity, trying our best but never feeling like it’s good enough, the mounting pressure over fear of missing something or making a mistake and even worse what people will think of us when it all comes crashing down and we burn out…. the guilt, the shame.
Never before has our passion, our calling put us under this amount of pressure. Midwives are leaving the profession at an unprecedented rate. We are in the middle of an epidemic, but the babies still keep coming. We keep showing up the best we can and giving so much of ourselves, even though we are struggling with our own emotions . Even though we feel we may be putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk by doing so.
If I was returning to work now after maternity leave in the hypervigilant and highly emotional state I was in back then, then I would have floundered. It’s taken me almost 3 years but I now have more clarity than ever before in how I want to help others to overcome similar challenges.
My support for pregnant and new mammas will always continue as I am a midwife by nature as well as by name…but I also want to help the extraordinary people who serve our communities to not lose sight of the reason they came into the job in the first place and to rediscover that they can be the midwife they want and deserve to be.
… jumping out of bed in a morning with a spring in your step and the sparkle back in your eyes
…having the confidence to stand up and pitch your amazing ideas, instigate and lead change
…being an inspiration and a role model for your peers, students and the women you serve
…replenising your motivation and resilience to overcome whatever your day brings EVRY DAY
… knowing that your effort and persistence is paying off and that self-assurance is guaranteed
…closing your eyes at night and feeling secure, grounded and peaceful
And finally…to know that if you do decide to leave your job or the profession altogether…it is a decision based on confidence rather than fear.
Think of the sense of relief and the lightness you would feel if you weren’t just showing up for those you cared for, but were showing up for yourself to be the very best that you can be.
You didn’t come this far to only come this far.
Just take a moment to imagine what the midwifery workforce would look like if every member of every maternity team had this mindset. Think of the way we could transform our services and the lives of those we care about – personally and professionally.
This is not a pipe dream. This can be a reality and it starts with you.
April is caesarean awareness month. There’s a good reason why it took me until the very last day to acknowledge it. On a personal level caesarean birth wasn’t something I wanted to acknowledge, as to me this meant failure. My failure.
I want to be very clear here that this in no way means that I believe that those who have had a caesarean birth are failures. To choose to lay on an operating table and have a skilled obstetrician cut you open and bring your baby earthside is, I feel, an act of pure maternal love. I’ve met lots and lots of people who’s baby ended up being born by caesarean and the way that each one of them feels about this is different. Some have chosen it as their preferred mode of birth in pregnancy and are confident it is the right choice for them. For others a situation arises in labour which means that a caesarean is deemed as the safest choice and necessary to save the mother or her baby and they are still coming to terms with this. However your baby comes into the world and however you feel about it is valid.
I want to tell you my experience now. Its taken me almost 3 years to get to this point. Where I feel at peace about how my little boy came into the world. I used to describe his birth as traumatic and its taken me such as long time to figure out why I felt that way.
I was a midwife when I became pregnant so I knew all about labour and birth and I quickly started putting things in place to have the birth of my dreams. I hired an amazing doula, Vanessa, to support both my husband and I, and I was gifted a birthing pool from a wonderful friend, Gemma. I wrote my birth plan, made my ‘birthing nest’ in our spare bedroom and started to look forward to giving birth in the comfort of my own home. I was a healthy first time mum and with a healthy baby on board-I though I had covered every base and things would go according to plan.
To some, my birth story may sound standard. We were both kept safe and policies and protocols we’re followed. No one was unkind to me, or ignored my wishes. No one did any procedures or examinations without my consent and in fact a lot of the things on my birth plan were respected. Others may hear my story and say that it’s traumatic. In fact, a midwife who came to visit me at home in the early days said ‘I’m so glad your smiling and ok, as when I knew you’d had a caesarean after planning a home birth I wasn’t sure what to expect seeing you today!’. Others may hear it and say ‘well you’re both here and healthy and that’s all that matters’, as if this makes up for a birth not going according to plan (and this is a topic for another day…) but they are all just different opinions and interpretations of the same event. They are not fact.
For 18 months I couldn’t put my finger on why I was getting flashbacks to elements of my labour and birth at random times…whilst washing the pots, trying to go to sleep at night, in the shower. Why I felt so anxious and why I had put such rigid rules in place about how a mother should be and if I wasn’t following them then I was a ‘bad mum’. For so long I’d thought it was because I had failed to do one of the most sacred and feminine acts- push my baby out of my body. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that I was still beating myself up about something which happened so long ago. Why did it still matter so much to me?
One of the amazing midwives who cared for me during labour said to me at one point, when a caesarean was looking more likely “you just need to be able to look back and know that you did everything you could” and for a while the memory of those words brought me comfort. But I couldn’t shake the thought that if I did everything I could to avoid a caesarean birth (which I really believe that I did) then why was I not feeling happy and fulfilled with my experience, regardless of the actual outcome?
Its taken me almost 3 years and the help of some wonderful people to get to the bottom of it, in particular my recent work with the wonderful Sarah Brent in her Emotional Health Coach Academy. I have suspected for some time that attending antenatal classes, making a birth plan and having a supportive birth team wasn’t enough to ensure a positive experience (and I was living proof!) and I wanted to understand why this might be. Qualifying as an Emotional Health Coach has not only helped me understand this deeply but gave me an amazing opportunity to heal myself and hit the master reset button on so many things which have been negatively impacting me, particularly regarding my own birth experience.
My core belief prior to and during pregnancy was that if left undisturbed birth could and should be a natural, amazing and transformative experience. I had pre-loaded my expectations that this is how it was going to be for me, even though I had never given birth before so I had no ‘evidence’ that this would be the case.
I have cared for enough people in labour to understand that birth can be unpredictable, but I believed I had done everything I could to ensure it would go according to plan for me.
I’d started off with high self confidence and self esteem about the birth. I had put so many things in place to try and safeguard the ‘perfect birth’. The doula, the birth plan, my unwavering belief in the awesomeness of my body and trust in my baby…and for some birthing folk this would be enough for them to achieve a positive and empowering birth. But my self esteem took such a massive hit when all those external things i’d put in place were no longer working to help keep the birth I wanted on track. And they never would have. As the one thing which I didn’t have in place was my mindset. The reason I considered my birth to be traumatic and a personal failure is because unknowingly I was trying to control the uncontrollable through external factors rather than developing my own internal resources.
I had needed a caesarean to give birth and as this realisation ‘threatened’ my core belief about birth, it had caused me to start thinking very negatively about my own birth. It made me internalise the outcome and blame myself for not being able to achieve the very thing which I truly believe in. I dwelled on it. Replayed that day over and over in my mind. Visualising all the different ways it could have gone. Feeding those negative thoughts and feelings. Not once did I give myself any credit for the hours and hours of preparation I had put in to trying to achieve my best birth. The pregnancy yoga and frequent chiropractic sessions, my nightly self care and bonding time with my baby bump, the birth plan I’d written to help me be able to clearly communicate the things which we’re important to me. I hadn’t even acknowledged the hours I had thrived in my labour- fully in my power and owning my experience. All I had been focusing on was the final few hours when everything had gone ‘wrong’.
I’ve realised that what makes one persons birth ‘bad’ and another persons ‘good’ is perception and interpretation. We don’t all feel and react the same in similar situations. I had been telling myself for so long that I had failed as I had not pushed my baby out. This is not a fact but a belief. No one else was judging me so harshly. I have come to understand that I can start to change this belief by changing my perception, and acknowledging all my efforts rather than just the end result. I already feel so much better.
I truly believe that the KEY to preparing for a positive birth experience should include an understanding of a persons own core beliefs about birth, mothering and in general terms. How they view themselves and their place in the world has such a massive impact on this and the ability to develop skills for their internal self esteem and self worth. All of which will help them approach motherhood with resilience and confidence.
This in my souls work and regardless of whether you already know how to approach labour and birth as a midwife, developing a view from the other side, how you approach birth as a pregnant person and the additional challenges being on the receiving end of care brings, will undoubtedly make a huge difference to your experience.
People often ask me what I did before becoming a Midwife. I can honestly say that I think I’ve always been a midwife. I feel its the type of job that’s coded into your DNA and it takes a certain event or a series of life events to ‘activate’ it. So much so that when I went for my interview at university I couldn’t put into words why she should offer me a place on the course, I just trusted my instinct that this was my calling. Thankfully she must have seen it too!
But I did do other jobs before I was a midwife – office work, restaurant and bar work, customer service – anything which paid the bills. But if you’d have asked me when I was a little girl what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have probably said an actress or singer. I remember my early experiences of being on stage at age 6 or 7. I loved dressing up, acting out stories and singing. Drama (closely followed by music, english and foreign languages) was my favourite subject at school so it felt natural for me to take drama at GCSE at secondary school and then go on to study performing arts at college. I felt totally at ease in the spot light and continued to love the challenge of becoming different characters – putting myself in their shoes to try and give a realistic performance. I loved being part of the team and working together to put on the show -cast, costume, lighting. This was my happy place.
I used to say that preforming was my first love and midwifery was my second – but its likely that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for those early experiences of being on the stage. Self confidence, discipline, team work and dedication have all served me well in my Midwifery career so far and of course as an Emotional Health Coach helping midwives to overcome anxiety, stress and overthinking, to name a few things, and I feel so lucky that I can combine my two passions through my involvement with Progress Theatre Midwives.
I’ve been part of Progress Theatre Midwives since I was a second year midwifery student. I luckily found myself being mentored by one of the founding members of the company, Adele Stanley, and after chatting about our shared passion for the arts was offered an audition to join them- I was over the moon!
So what is Progress Theatre? Our bio says…
“We are a group of (mostly) midwives who have had experience of working with drama and theatre.
We use performance and theatre workshops to explore realistic and familiar situations from the world of midwifery. Our workshops are interactive, illuminating and enjoyable. Participants come away with a feeling that they have learnt something new about themselves and the context within which we work – and enjoyed themselves.
We develop our material through devising from our own and others’ stories of the culture of maternity care. We perform a series of short scenes depicting every day dilemmas, and then invite the audience to debate and analyse what is going on. Observers also make suggestions about how things could be different – and participants are invited to demonstrate these by entering the ‘scene’ and acting them out. Using theatre in this way is based on the work of South American dramaturge Augusto Boal who wrote Theatre of the Oppressed.
We have been working together since 1999 following an idea which originated from Professor Mavis Kirkham.
“The culture of maternity care in the NHS serves to empower neither midwives nor their clients. To change this culture midwives need to explore how they can change both their behaviour and that of others”. Our theatre aims to do that.”
I’ve been involved in many shows and performances with Progress Theatre over the last 7 years, travelling all over the country and meeting amazing and inspiring people. This phenomenal group of women are my tribe. Their friendship is such a blessing. They encourage me, positively challenge me and support me – to be the best midwife I can be and to help inspire change in others.
I think the little girl standing on the stage would be happy to know that I’m continuing to fan the flames of a fire which she started, which I hope will continue to burn bright enough to light the way for others.
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