By Sue Bryant
Musings on Midwifery life: On International Midwives’ Day, Susan Bryant shares her story of being a midwife who has now trained to be a doula.
Since qualifying as a post graduate midwife in 1988 I thrived on the variety of work that was the midwife’s role. Rotating around the various specialities of Delivery Suite, Antenatal ward, postnatal and community setting meant that we kept up to date with the service as a whole
I enjoyed the pace in delivery suite, with the excitement of not knowing what the shift may bring. We had some frantic day and night shifts but also some long, quiet nights when we could talk and get to know our colleagues- often becoming slightly crazy at the 5am witching hour! Tea and toast together at 6 was a time to pause, collect ourselves and regroup, although this particular part of a night shift soon became forgotten the busier we became.
I also loved working within the community setting. I worked as a team midwife in a trial our hospital was doing to provide women and people with a small core team of midwives and care assistants who would provide Continuity of Care throughout the whole pregnancy and into the postpartum period.
Seeing women and families in their own environment, where I would be the guest in their home, gave me an insight into their lives. They were not simply pregnant, they had responsibilities, problems, jobs, lives fulfilled by other things apart from their pregnancies.
My favourite place of work was within the midwiferyled birth unit. We treated the unit as though it was a welcome home for all the folk that came to birth there. All of the midwives and support workers were absolutely devoted to the running and upkeep of the unit. We had pride in our work and our space. We acknowledged the need for calm spaces, for empowerment of everyone who birthed there, and for diversity of choice.
So why did I leave Midwifery?
In 2014, I relocated to Abu Dhabi with my husband, taking a sabbatical from work with the agreement of a 5-year return period if I wished.
In order to maintain my Registration as a midwife I would return to the UK every few months to work. However, it became increasingly difficult to stay up to date and current due to the travel involved plus the changes in services and guidelines for staff. It was a balancing act which eventually had to end. It all came to a head after a traumatic emergency experience I had when I returned to do some shifts one time. In the interest of confidentiality, I cannot be explicit about the situation, but it made me reassess my life as a Midwife from then on.
So, I returned to Abu Dhabi full of doubt about my future as a birthworker.
During my time in Abu Dhabi, I trained as a Yoga teacher and taught pre-natal yoga and hypnobirthing as a speciality. Because of my midwifery experience I was asked to be a Doula a few times for hypnobirthing clients and yoga students. I thoroughly enjoyed helping them prepare antenatally and attending the births as their Doula although this was not without challenges for me. Because of my midwifery skills and knowledge, some situations where the care given was not as I would have done were challenging. I found it hard to ‘sit on my hands’ and just be rather than do. I soon realised that to serve birthing women and people better I should look into doula training.
I researched into several Doula courses and by far the one that stood out to me most was Nurturing Birth. I spoke to Michelle Every from the NB team before deciding to take the course. She was really patient and helpful. She gave me space to consider if it was right for me and I knew that if I trained with NB I would get genuine ‘in person’ support to learn and grow as a doula.
I completed the Distance training in November 2020. I really enjoyed each and every day meeting up with fellow trainees, having breakout sessions to discuss topics and really felt Sam and Sophie were investing time and energy in our journey. The pre and post course work was set at a high standard that was challenging and rewarding. I found it cathartic to think about my own pregnancies and births, laying some ghosts of the past to rest through reflection. Studying and learning via Zoom was very convenient and did work well, although nothing replaces in-person training!
Over and above everything, the biggest challenge I am facing is that of a self-employed, self-promoting and self-governing Doula practitioner. Coming from the NHS and having details like contracts, advertising, taxes, insurances etc all taken care of by HR and now navigating my way through these areas I’ve not been involved with before is at times overwhelming.
Doula work can be quite a lonely job without the camaraderie that exists between colleagues working closely together. This is where Nurturing Birth has really been fantastic for me. I have an experienced doula mentor who is with me through this venture, giving support and helping me find my own way. She’s been like a life coach, a friend and a wise woman whose humour and honesty is keeping me enthusiastic, yet also grounded and realistic.
I also join the Nurturing Birth virtual cuppa support group every Wednesday on Zoom. I cannot tell you how beneficial that is! We discuss topics and challenge ourselves and each other to look at our practice, to always ask questions and to learn and grow.
I now have my first booking as a birth/complete package Doula and I’m excited to really get started as an independent birth Worker.
Was leaving midwifery to work as a Doula the right choice for me?
I think that once I become more established in this new way of working and feel confident and have a steady rhythm of working, I will be able to answer that with more clarity than I can right now. Of course, the life skill of working as a Doula is the best job ever. I get all of the enjoyment of supporting and empowering families through their journey without the added responsibility and stress that can come with working as a Midwife. On the other hand, I loved, and I miss the variety, the autonomy, the camaraderie, the skills and the professional recognition that comes with being a Midwife.
Perhaps by the next International Day of the Midwife I will really be able to answer that question with clarity and honesty, but for now, I am embracing this wonderful new chapter, working with and serving our birthing communities as a Doula, Hypnobirthing teacher and yoga guide.