The media seems to have a thing about painting the job of a midwife in a particular light… The midwife on screen is either eating cake, telling a woman to push, riding a bicycle, or having a cup of tea. They don’t show you the relationships we build with women and families during pregnancy, the hand-holding when she receives bad news, the cheering when the baby finally latches well, or the tears at the end of a shift when it’s all been too much.
Midwifery has a massive scope! Our job is to care for women and their babies throughout the antenatal, intrapartum, and postnatal period, with all the complexities that come with each unique time frame. This care is both community and hospital based, and being autonomous practitioners, we may be the only healthcare professional a woman needs to see throughout her pregnancy – with this comes a lot of responsibility, but also high levels of job satisfaction.
A career in midwifery could take you in many different directions; you could work in a clinical setting – hospital, community, or stand-alone birthing unit – in a prison or mother and baby unit, in a management role, specialise in mental health, bereavement or learning disabilities, conduct research, work as an independent midwife, providing a small caseload of women all aspects of their care, or even undertake further study to become a health visitor or sonographer.
The three-year (45 weeks a year) degree (or 18-24 months for postgraduates) teaches all aspects of a woman’s care, both from a normal ‘textbook’ stance, and more high-risk perspectives. At my university, they have organised the three years in such a way that first year focuses on normality, second year builds upon this with conditions and complication in the childbearing period, and third year marries the two together.
The workload of a midwifery student is high, with a mix of placement, teaching time, and independent study – at all universities, at least 50% of your time is spent on placement, rotating round all areas within a local maternity unit, with an elective placement in the third year. There are a variety of ways we are examined, such as projects and presentations, essays, written, verbal, and practical exams, and reviews with mentors on placement.
To qualify, a student must complete 100 antenatal assessments, care for women during 40 births, personally deliver (or ‘catch’) 40 babies, care for at least 40 ‘high-risk’ women, and complete 100 postnatal assessments of women and neonates.
A degree in midwifery is a rollercoaster, but my goodness, it’s worth it.
Bethany Chapman (@Beth_StMidwife)