Q & A… Life as a Midwife
We spoke to Chloë Schwartz about her experience of being a midwife. After studying Biological Sciences at University (and a number of other jobs), Chloë decided to embark on a career in midwifery and has almost completed her training. Let’s find out what it’s like…
What made you decide to be a midwife?
At first I wanted to be a doctor or go into sexual health, but the exciting thing about midwifery is the autonomy you have. Most women in the UK will go through pregnancy, birth, and the immediate period after birth without ever seeing a doctor. Midwives are highly skilled, can prescribe and make independent decisions about women’s care, whilst coordinating care with other professionals. Midwifery is the culmination of caring for women and their families, making clinical decisions, and being in a varied setting. I have a strong interest in advocacy and women’s health, and midwifery is the culmination of both of these.
There is also a vast variety in your job role as a midwife, which is important to me as I know I have the tendency to get a bit fidgety if still for too long! You can work in a hospital setting; either looking after women in the antenatal or postnatal period, or look after women when they are giving birth. Alongside this, midwives have an important job in a community setting doing home visits and running clinics in health centres and GPs, alongside attending women at home births. Midwifery also provides opportunities to go into research and work abroad, which both are attractive to me at a later date.
The most important aspect for me is being able to advocate for women when they are at their most vulnerable. As a midwife you support women and families through some of the most overwhelming, intense and intimate moments of their lives. With that comes a great responsibility to provide high quality care, maintaining dignity, respect and providing women with the knowledge they require to be empowered in situations that may make them feel vulnerable.
If you have never experienced childbirth before (as a midwife, or a parent!) how could you tell whether you might be suited to this role?
Childbirth is an intense experience! But being on the professional end is a totally different kind of intensity to actually giving birth. There is no way of really knowing, so the best way to find this out is to try and get some experience. Or, talk to people who have given birth, or work in maternity services.
What sort of qualities and qualifications are necessary?
You will either need an access course that covers the Sciences, Maths and English, or have Maths and English and Science GCSEs.
Is it particularly tough for a male midwife in a typically female dominated role? Do you have any male colleagues?
So midwife actually translates to ‘with woman’, it has nothing to do with the gender of the person doing the job!
I know a number of male midwives and student midwives. It certainly is a different experience, but any job role benefits from diversity in the workforce. As long as male midwives are committed to being ‘with-woman’, are aware of how women may feel in response to them being a male, and are sensitive and caring then there is no reason they can’t do it.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I love that every day is different. It both excites and terrifies me that every day when I go into work I have no idea how the day will go. As a result, every day I learn something new. I learn a new skill, I am tested and this humbles me. As a professional and a person you constantly grow and improve.
In midwifery you have the honour of being with families in their most intimate moments and that is a true privilege. You meet an enormous variety of people – both the women you are caring for and the people you work with, and what I love most about my role as a midwife is these interactions with people and the relationships you build. Also, you get to see new life come into the world, which is great! 🙂
What are the tricky parts?
With the great happiness of pregnancy also comes the underlying knowledge that not all pregnancies go to plan. Part of a midwife’s role is to support women from the beginning through to the end, and this sometimes means supporting women through the loss of a pregnancy.
For many women across the world, childbirth is still a matter of life and death; in the UK we are privileged to have access to equipment, drugs, training and resources which means giving birth is safe. But you are always aware that it’s your role as a midwife to ensure the safety of the women you are caring for.
What is a typical career path?
There isn’t one! I know student midwives and midwives that were mothers, doctors, lawyers, musicians, artists, athletes, students, researchers, bartenders, waitresses and worked in offices. Midwives come in all shapes, sizes, ages, backgrounds, and nationalities!
I came to midwifery after a multitude of other jobs; I was a nursery teaching assistant, ran my own market stall, had a job as a carer for both young and elderly people with physical and learning disabilities, undertook a BSc in Biological Sciences and worked in various other roles in a hospital and clinical setting.
What’s it like to have further study and training after university?
Tough. Make sure you know how to support yourself financially and are aware of what funding or loans are available. It is VERY difficult to work part time during midwifery training, balancing hospital shifts, university classes and assignments is no easy task. The course is both emotionally and physically challenging and you work long shifts (and night shifts) so make sure you are prepared for this.
On a positive note, going back into education as an older and calmer person was a really great experience. I found that I was more driven and focused than in my first degree!
The NHS is often in the news, particularly the strains on the workforce, long hours, and difficulties nurses and midwives experience with their pay and tuition fees. How did this affect you?
I would not have been able to do this course without an NHS bursary. I have struggled through the course financially as I have no other financial support. Even with the bursary I have had to work part-time as a nanny. I think it is outrageous that they expect healthcare students to pay for their fees when we are valued members of the NHS workforce.
The long hours can take its toll, and ensuring you have a good family and social network to support you is important. Working in the NHS is wonderful but also stressful. The responsibility of the job, alongside the extreme emotions it involves can affect you.
So my advice is… be kind to yourself, practice self-care and treat yourself whenever you can! Stay healthy and draw support from your networks and colleagues. Being reflective and talking things through with people that know me, or with those that work with me, has been the most effective way that I’ve managed to cope with all of these pressures!
What is the strangest/funniest/best experience you’ve had training to be a midwife?
Now that would be telling! But I would say be prepared to laugh a lot, cry a lot, and always make sure you have waterproof shoes.
Lastly, has it changed your outlook on giving birth?
Yes! Women are so strong, and everyone always asks me if being a midwife makes me nervous to give birth, as I see the best and worst of everything. Actually, it makes me look forward to childbirth. Childbirth is a healthy, normal process. I have so much respect for the everyday strength and bravery of women and the tenderness in which they are cared for by their families.
Childbirth generally is absolutely nothing like you expect it to be, so it’s best to just scrap whatever outlook you already have and come to it as a totally blank canvas.
Thank you Chloë 🙂
Want to find out more?
Take a look at Health Careers. You’ll find tools, tips and exercises for how you can help yourself take the next step, things to consider if you’re thinking about applying to train as a midwife, and what you can expect during training.