I grew up hearing stories of my birth at home, in the depths of Battersea, with the local community midwife caring for my mum and arriving on her bike at 2 in the morning. It was Mum’s 42nd week of pregnancy, I was a castor oil baby. Call the midwife indeed.
So it was hardly surprising that I always assumed I would get to know my midwife and have, if not a home birth, at least a natural birth. Nature had other ideas when I was found to be carrying triplets at 16 weeks. I saw a succession of consultant obstetricians, midwives and others during my “high risk” pregnancy and felt totally disempowered.
Fast forward some 9 years and I am carrying my one baby, oh how I wanted a normal birth, but again the succession of disinterested care givers assured me I would need a caesarean section.
Rather happily, I had become friendly with a local IM at the school gate and we would gossip about her experiences, I hung on her every word with tales of caring for women from early pregnancy, through birth and the postnatal period. She told me of the achievements of these women and I revelled in it all.
This was the answer I thought, we scraped together the money, borrowing from family and I booked this super cool midwife, she even rode a motorbike and wore leathers. And so began my personal experience of continuity and the effects it can have.
I adored my home visits, time to ask anything I needed and the feeling that my midwife and her second really were interested in me and my feelings. When my Hb plummeted, they researched and found a solution. When I turned up on the doorstep one day clutching the effects of an unexpected bleed my midwife swiftly arranged for me to go in to hospital with her by my side and it was all sorted. Most importantly, over the weeks she built my confidence and sense of self belief so that when the time came I birthed my 9lb 13oz baby, complete with his hand up like superman. As for the postnatal period, being able to relive those moments with her, to cry tears of joy and delight was amazing. I adored breastfeeding and claimed that I was suffering from postnatal euphoria.
In the circumstances it was unsurprising that during the subsequent months and years I read everything I could about childbirth and soon I was training as an antenatal teacher…but this was not enough and with the encouragement of my midwife, I commenced my own training as a midwife. Not such a big deal you might think, but I was 44, had three school age children plus a 4 year old and I was giving up a well paid job as a college lecturer. Also I am not the bravest of women. It was not surprising that people kept asking me “why?”
My first day on the ward had me asking the same thing, I decided that if this was midwifery I didn’t want to do it. I cried rivers of tears and decided dozens of times to give up, but was kept going by my dear friend Annie Francis. I completed my training one woman at a time, doing the best I could for each one, Oh but how I longed for the warmth and satisfaction of following a woman through her pregnancy to parenthood.
Finally, I qualified and got a post as a community midwife ( yes it was possible back then). Still, I never saw the same woman more than once or twice, I would spend time trying to help her and suggesting ideas and strategies, I never knew if it worked and lost count of how many times a woman would ask, “will you be my midwife?’
It was no good, I couldn’t work this way and left to become an IM, working initially with my own old midwife and eventually with my dear friend Annie.
At last I could be the midwife I wanted to be, to really walk the journey with that women, share her hopes, dreams and yes, her fears. I saw some tragic events as well as some amazing achievements but the vital thing was to be privileged to share it with the woman and at the end to part as a friend, knowing that I had really made a difference to her and her family. Leaving my warm bed at 3am and missing some family events all became OK because it was for that woman. It didn’t matter how tired I felt, once I arrived at a woman’s house and started to talk to her the tiredness lifted and all was well.
Over the years, women I have cared for have become antenatal educators, influencing the experiences of other women, some became doulas and a few, midwives. This was like some amazing continuum of positive care affecting more and more women.
Now, towards the end of my career I still influence midwives and women by helping to create the opportunity for continuity through Neighbourhood Midwives. We set up Neighbourhood Midwives 5 years ago with the goal of obtaining NHS contracts to offer continuity in a caseloading model. Every day my work takes us one step further towards our goal of offering many more women the choice of continuity and gives midwives the opportunity to work in a continuity, caseloading model which is sustainable and allows a decent work/ life balance.
Yes, for me continuity really matters, it is the reason I became a midwife and it is the reason I get up every day in order to work towards our dream of continuity for all.
By Tina Perridge – Neighbourhood Midwives