WHY I BECAME A MIDWIFE (AND WROTE A BOOK ABOUT IT)

HEALTH, MOTHERHOOD, PREGNANCY, BIRTH & BABY'S, THOUGHT-PROVOKING, WORK & MONEY

I had the honour of reading a pre-released copy of Leah Hazard’s book ‘Hard Pushed: a Midwifes Story’ and I have to say it’s addictive reading, a really honest blow-by-blow account of life on the front-line of labour ward. I loved it and so I am thrilled to have Leah bring a bit of that energy and insight to Mother of All Lists, as she tells us why she became a Midwife (and wrote a book about it).

  • I knew absolutely nothing about babies until I had my own.

  • I was never the child who pushed an endless parade of babies around in their miniature prams; I never even held a real, live infant until my early teens, when my mother’s best friend had a baby and I cradled it awkwardly at her hospital bedside for a whole ten seconds before handing it back with a distinct sense of relief.

  • Time passed and my total disinterest in procreation continued. I was too busy having fun in all the usual ways to think about settling down long enough to breed. Conception was one of those nightmarish scenarios whispered about among girlfriends over cheap booze and late-night snacks – ‘My period was late’ – ‘I thought I was…’ – ‘What a f*cking nightmare.’

  • And then I fell in love. And he was the right one. And I had a baby.

  • As any parent reading this list will no doubt already know, one’s first baby detonates a technicolour grenade of chaos and shit in the midst of one’s heretofore relatively comfortable and shit-free life. Reader, so it was for me.

  • Nothing went as planned.

  • Birth started with a bang at four o’clock in the morning. There was no gradual build-up, no chilled-out latent phase in which to nest, bake cakes or practice blissed-out yoga poses. The first contraction was as intense as the next, and the next, and the next.

  • The books, the classes – I felt, I knew, as the hours wore on, that they had all sold me a pack of lies.

  • My daughter was wedged solidly in a back-to-back position. Her head was too big. My pelvis was too small. I took all the drugs. I lay on my back. We were doomed.

  • After soldiering valiantly through a twelve-hour labour and reaching what I was told with heartbreaking precision was ‘9.5 centimetres dilatation’, I was carted off to theatre for an emergency caesarean section.

  • Our first breastfeed left me with deep purple bitemarks. (Nobody warned me that a baby’s gums could be so *hard*).

  • My first week passed in a haze of painkillers and sleep deprivation.

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly to everyone but me, given the circumstances, breastfeeding didn’t work out.

  • How had this happened? I was smart, I had ‘prepared’, I had swallowed and digested the information that was required to be empowered and joyful.

  • But I felt weak and miserable.

  • And every new mum I met at Jo Jingles, Bounce and Rhyme, Jumping Jacks and the Mother and Baby Cinema felt the same.

  • Why had birth been a trainwreck for so many of us? What went wrong? Was there a better way, and could I find it?

  • These questions ran through my head on repeat as I joined the endless merry-go-round of playgroups and nappy changes. And when I returned to my job as a researcher for the BBC, cranking out ideas for ‘quirky’ television programmes, the questions only became louder and more pressing.

  • My daughter wasn’t settling well at nursery; she was constantly falling victim to an endless array of Victorian-sounding illnesses like croup and slap-cheek, which always seemed to strike in the ungodliest hour of the night, robbing us of health, sleep and sanity in one fell swoop.

  • Yet I continued to spend eight hours a day at a desk, churning out proposals for light entertainment until six o’clock rolled around and I could bolt towards the nearest taxi rank, praying to arrive home early enough to remind my child who her mother was before she fell asleep and the whole thing began again.

  • In the early days of my relationship with my husband, we had walked tipsily past an office block late at night and glazed pityingly at the workers still toiling over their desks under the striplights within. ‘If I ever become one of them,’ I instructed my husband, ‘shoot me.’

  • Well, there was no escaping it. I had become one of them – an office drone in a job that didn’t suit me, spending the bulk of each day away from my child in the name of light entertainment (and a meagre income that was quickly gobbled up by nursery fees) – and it was time to make a change.

  • If I had to be away from my offspring in order to earn a wage and advance a career of one kind or another, I decided it had to be for a damn good reason. And my thoughts kept circling back to the thorny conundrum of Birth.

  • I still hadn’t answered the whys and wherefores of those early postnatal days. And the questioning voice in my head had only become louder.

  • I thought about retraining to be a midwife, but as I pored over the local university’s prospectus, the thought of going back to school so soon after doing my initial undergraduate degree (four years) and a subsequent master’s degree (one year) was physically painful. I was a grown-up now, a wife, a mother, somebody trying (if not always succeeding) to be a fully-fledged adult. The idea of wedging myself into one of those awkward, one-armed desks while a lecturer droned on at me about that week’s homework made my skin crawl. So that was a no.

  • It was then that I came across the idea of doulas.

  • I had never heard the word ‘doula’ before that point, although it seemed that the role in its modern incarnation – a woman who provides emotional and practical support to other women during the childbearing year – had originated in America, the very place from which I’d emigrated four years previously. In theory, any woman who provided this support to other women could call herself a doula, but as I continued my research, I learned that there was a loose framework of doulas within the UK, including a respectable-looking and mostly self-directed training programme. I could do this work around the demands of my family, and throw myself into the world of birthing women at my own pace, on my own terms.

  • The decision was made.

  • Thus began six years of guiding dozens of women through pregnancy and birth. There were the late-night calls, when I would duck under the sheets with my phone and whisper, ‘How far apart are your contractions? Would you like me to come?’ while my husband slept. There were labours – some bone-achingly long, some shockingly fast – and there were the births, in homes and hospitals, with male partners and without, vaginal and instrumental, joyous and agonising. And there were the postnatal clients, the ones who wept with gratitude when their baby fixed properly to the breast, the ones who needed to debrief, the ones who just needed someone to load the dishwasher and make them a sandwich.

  • I loved it. I kept doing it. I had another baby myself – this time, at home, quickly, into my husband’s hands as the midwife rushed across town, a euphoric antidote to the confusion and disappointment of my first birth – and my little family thrived.

  • Time passed, I dipped back into the doula world, and as my girls grew up, I felt the time was right to revisit that notion of going back to school. The classroom didn’t seem so unappealing anymore, and after all, any midwifery programme would balance lessons with practical placement, and it would all be a means to an end: at some glittering end point, I would be able to provide women with The Full Package. Emotional care, and clinical responsibility. The real deal. Midwifery.

  • So began a journey that I document at much greater length, should you have the time and inclination, in my book, Hard Pushed: A Midwife’s Story. Time and again in the intervening years, colleagues have asked me – fully aware of my history as what they perceived as a ‘crunchy, hippie’ doula – ‘Is midwifery everything you thought it would be?’ And the answer is complicated, and has taken me over 300 pages to address.

  • Yes. No. It’s better. It’s worse. It’s harder. It’s more thrilling. It’s heartbreaking.

  • And it’s bloody important.

  • I didn’t plan on writing a book relatively early on in my midwifery career, but the message I’ve gleaned in the past few years didn’t feel like one that could wait.

  • Midwives work hard. So hard. Our role is complex and highly skilled, embracing the normal and the extraordinary, and everything in between.

  • But we do this work with increasingly scant resources. Not enough staff, not enough beds. No ‘wiggle room’, no ‘give’, no breathing space on busier and busier shifts. And this takes its toll on the women we look after…

  • And on us.

  • Women deserve more. Midwives deserve more. Birth is a thing of joy and beauty that should be celebrated, honoured, elevated within society – lavished with all the good things – gazed at with awe and wonder. And it isn’t.

  • I still don’t know everything about babies, and the more I know about birth, the more mysterious it becomes, but I know a bit more than I did, and I have a thirst to keep learning more.

  • I still feel, at times, the crushing grind of those late-night, office-block automatons. But I know that my workplace is one where miracles are possible, and I have hope – I have to have hope – that things can and will get better.

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