Student Midwife Life: The Forest for the Trees

Student Midwife Life: The Forest for the Trees

I had other plans for my #70midwifebloggers post. Something better researched. More topical. Some lovely commentary or analysis on what’s currently happening in the world of midwifery today. Oh, and did you hear that there was a royal baby born recently too?

But no. Today, managing to write a blog post, ANY blog post, in my currently-overwhelmed student midwife existence is enough. More than enough.

So what I’m going to write about is the overwhelm. I don’t really have any answers for it, but for me, writing always helps.

It’s hard to be a student midwife. Having been on both sides of the equation before, both a student and qualified midwife, I can say with confidence that once you qualify, it’s easy to forget just how hard it is to be a student. There is a sort of misty, rose-tinted glass effect that happens once you qualify where you start to look back on your student existence fondly–you may even start to think that you had it easier as a student. I think that’s because once you qualify, the sudden weight of responsibility that sits so firmly on your newly-qualified shoulders feels so stressful that it’s only natural to want to return to your more familiar student existence before you had so much responsibility, and to therefore view your student existence as the easier of the two.

But being a student again, currently, reminds me of just how difficult student life is. Learning is hard. Becoming something new is hard. Being in a nascent, in-between place is always challenging–no longer a layperson, but not yet confident in your role and knowledge as a clinician, not yet fully-formed in your opinions or identity, not yet having acquired all of the skills and experiences you need to be competent. Uncertain in so many situations. Wobbly and tentative, and constantly being presented with new situations and new experiences you’ve never encountered before. It’s an uncomfortable place to be.

Then, add to it this the demands of student existence. Students work 12-hour shifts, sometimes with no lunch breaks (and sometimes not even a chance to wee), just like a qualified midwife does, except that once you return home from said shift, the expectation is that you’ll be studying and researching and writing papers during your down-time, instead of vegging on the sofa and watching Netflix all day. (And trust me, after some of these shifts, vegging on a sofa is all you want to do, and is just about all that you’re fit for!). Down-time when you’re a midwife is essential for replenishing your stores. There is endless research detailing exactly how important this is, especially in caring professions where you give so much of yourself at work. If you don’t recharge your batteries, you burn out, it’s as simple as that. And as students, we need this just as much as any qualified midwife does. EXCEPT we have even less time for it.

The to-do list is intimidating. I have a massive assessment due in 10 days which I should be writing right. in. this. moment (except I’m not, I’m blogging instead, to take a break and recharge said batteries). I have physiology modules to complete that I am WAY behind on. I have case study scenarios to be writing up. I have a presentation on varicella which I should be starting to think about at this point, but I’m not because I’m still too snowed under by my more pressing assignments. Oh, and don’t even get me started about the OSCEs, yet. I am an ostrich with my head in the sand about those–la la la la la! Year Two is seriously intense! (Brief shout out to all my fellow Year Two compatriots out there–man, I feel you!) And on top of this I am currently on-call for three women whom I have case-loaded and who are due any day now (and I have heard nary a peep from them yet), so I could be called to a birth at any moment. Just like qualified midwives, students also live their lives on tenterhooks, always thinking “maybe I should nap now, in case I’m up all night”. It’s always in the back of my mind, the maybe-I’ll-have-to-drop-everything-and-GO. And if you have kids, like I do, that feeling combined with the what-in-the-world-will-I-do-for-childcare-if-I-get-called-rightnow-? feeling is pretty stressful.

And then there are the mentors. Nearly all of whom are LOVELY. But even with the nicest and most supportive mentor in the world, it’s still exhausting to have to work with and prove yourself to new mentors again and again. To have to build a rapport, not just with the woman or couple that you’re caring for, but with your mentor as well. To have to build a rapport while simultaneously being evaluated and assessed by your mentor.  And to also have to constantly adjust yourself to different people’s approaches and philosophies and styles of care, while simultaneously trying to form your own, fledgeling philosophy and style of care in the process. And sometimes the mentors forget how hard it is to be a student. Sometimes their expectations are too high. Sometimes your personalities don’t quite mesh. Sometimes they’re having a bad day. Sometimes you’re not nearly as well supported as you were hoping to be.

Finally, let’s not forget the work itself. This is demanding, all-encompassing heart work. This is physical, 12-hours-on-your-feet work: lifting, pulling, stretching, leaning, walking, running, pushing gurneys work. This is emotions so big you sometimes think you’ll burst. This is balancing a myriad of conflicting demands, coursework and motherhood and busy schedules and shifts, hospital policies which don’t align with birth plans, feathers that need to be smoothed, bad news that has to delivered with such sensitivity and care, personalities that have to be carefully navigated, emergencies that are terrifying and heart-rending, beauty so raw that it will sometimes make you cry, and sometimes sadness so raw that it feels too heavy to even hold. Mothers who need more time and support than you have to give. Resources that aren’t available, so you cobble solutions together, piece together equipment with tape (literally and figuratively), think fast on your feet, and sometimes fill needs from your own stores (which then need replenishing).

It’s daunting. And yet, every day, from this scary, in-between, uncomfortable place, students bravely get up every morning and put themselves out there again. That’s what the course requires of you: dedication, commitment, time, energy, focus, love, and putting yourself out there again and again and again. Making mistakes, and picking yourself back up, again and again and again.

It’s easy to forget why you’re doing this. It’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The big picture is vast, and you get so bogged down with the minutiae–why does preeclampsia cause proteinuria, what are the warning signs of obstetric cholestasis, how many weeks into the pregnancy before you start to measure the symphysis to fundal height, why does diabetes increase the risk of macrosomia, what are the diameters of the pelvic inlet–that you lose sight of the horizon. You find yourself wondering why you’re away from your family SO MUCH. Why you’re so tired all the time. Why you thought this was a good idea. Most of the student midwives I meet are so passionate about midwifery care, about making positive change in people’s lives, about making midwifery care better. But if the candle flame isn’t fiercely protected, it’s easy to accidentally blow it out. This is why so many students midwives leave the course, and given how desperately the NHS, and the UK, need midwives right now, we honestly can’t afford to lose a single one.

So what helps you stay the course? What helps to keep from losing sight of the goal? What ensures that your flame continues to burn brightly? I don’t have all the answers, not by a long shot. But what helps me is community. Knowing that I’m not alone. Talking with my friends and student peers who are on the course with me, who totally get it. Being part of online student groups and Facebook groups and the chaotic, messy twitterverse.  Leaning on my family and friends. Having dinner out with my friends (who I really wish I got to see more often). Laughing. Watching Game of Thrones (even when I know I should be studying). Cutting myself some slack (easier said than done!). Exercising–even (and especially) on the days when I think to myself: I’m just too busy to go for a run today (those are the days I most need to run)! Hugging my kids, kissing my partner, sucking up oxytocin whenever I can, and reading an extra bedtime story to my kids just because I want to. Cooking good food for myself (and then eating said food)!

This pin board helps me as well. It’s a silly thing, I know, but it sits over my desk and I find myself looking at it a lot while I’m studying. When I forget why I’m doing this, these pictures are a visual representation of my answer. This is why. Women and their families deserve this type of care, and it’s my privilege to be able to provide it.

So, I’ve used up an hour that I should have been using to write my essay on HIV in pregnancy. But maybe this post will help other students remember that they’re not alone either. And if that’s the case, that’s an hour well spent, and a good reason to blog.

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