It takes courage to do something different. It also takes courage to do the same as everyone else, when what everyone else is doing hurts you inside.
Three years ago I qualified as a midwife. It had been the culmination of over a decade of aspiration, thought, study and dreaming. But now I had my official number that said I could legally use the title ‘midwife’, the journey was just beginning – how was I going to put these skills and passions to use, to best support women and families in the ways that felt right to me?
Working in the NHS was one option. Working solo, as an independent midwife was another. But what I really yearned for was a mix of the two: to be able to work for women in ‘the system’, for free, as NHS midwives do, but to be able to do so with the support of amazing colleagues, and the support of an institution and governance system that really put the care of women and babies at its heart, without other priorities and requirements pulling at its sleeves and sometimes grasping the reigns.
So when I heard about Neighbourhood Midwives, a not-for-profit social enterprise that was run on non-hierarchical grounds and was set up by some independent midwives, I was intrigued. It got better: it was going to have the very best up-to-date research as the focus of all its guidelines, but also a healthy respect for the very best traditions from midwifery’s past . And even better: it was going to provide the best of both worlds by securing NHS contracts to offer free care, but every woman would have the attention of her own midwife who would look after her throughout pregnancy, birth and for 6 weeks beyond, something long known to lead to happier mums and births, and, amazingly, it was going to allow me, a recently qualified midwife with relatively little experience, support and guidance and a chance to be involved at an organisational level, to contribute to guidelines, to the direction of the company. Of course, I jumped at the chance, even choosing to live many hours from my dear beloved partner to come down to London to join the team and to be on call 24/7 for the women who choose us.
And women do – women from all sorts of backgrounds (London is much more cosmopolitan than Newcastle was!), women having their second babies, their first babies, having twins. Women choosing hospital births, home births, or just making their mind up on the day… Some women choosing to have us just to care for them postnatally, but most wanting us to be there beside them for everything.
I’ve now been with the team for 6 months. There are 14 of us – several of them being midwives that I have long looked up to for their immense skill. Surely these midwives must have some of the best birth statistics in the UK – midwives who have looked after hundreds of women with barely a caesarean, midwives who have been with women through night after night of long labour, and are still able to get up the next day, feed their children and do yet another full day of travelling around, assessing tongue ties, helping new mums struggling with feeding, offering words of comfort to anxious new mums… midwives who offer the kind of care that every woman and baby should have, and do some from their hearts. What an honour to work beside them.
And the women we care for seem just as chuffed as I am. Here are some of the comments from our recent survey:
Throughout my experience with Neighbourhood Midwives I have been overwhelmed by every individual that I have met. Sharing the last 20 weeks of my pregnancy with the team has been an absolute pleasure and has brought me immense peace of mind.
Thanks for being lovely.
I am planning to write a long and glowing testimonial the very second my baby allows me more than two minutes at the computer…
Fantastic organisation. Sally was amazing! She was so supportive and helped give us the confidence and reassurance we needed in those important first few weeks. We actually really miss her! It made such a difference to have a smiling, genuine and up beat person come into the house and say positive things at a time when you feel at your worst with sleep deprivation and in pain post c-section.
Thank you very much for your lovely support, always.and of course, my favourite… Can I recommend Julie for a payrise? (No, sadly you can’t – we all earn the same, even the founders and directors. That’s part of what non-hierarchical means…)
And I haven’t left out any negative reviews, I promise.
So, where now? Neighbourhood Midwives is a year old. One year: longer than the time it takes to make a baby and bring them into the world. We have been fortunate to care for well over 100 women and their families. We still want to get an NHS contract so as to offer our care for free for many, many women and babies. We’ve come far – but have a long way to go.
So here’s to the next year, and the year after that, and the one after that… To respectful partnerships between women and their chosen caregivers, to loving, peaceful, beautiful births, to getting up in the middle of the night and creeping quietly up staircases and into bedrooms and bathrooms, to watching the strength and joy in a woman’s eyes when she says ‘I did it! I can’t believe I did
it!’, to calm, contented babies, to partners who inspire, love, adore and clean, and to all the wonders that can’t yet be forseen…
Happy birthday, Neighbourhood Midwives.