Kindness matters - Midwives: survive, thrive and transform

By Rae Trotter, Senior Organiser coronavirus Maternity Services Specialist Mental Health Midwives

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Senior Organiser Rae Trotter shares her past experience and recent research on mental health in the maternity workforce and how, in the current climate, it is even more important to shed light on the topic.

We all remember what it was like at the beginning of our career, a pretty scary jump into that newly qualified role, right? But we buttoned up and put on a brave face. From day dot we are with women through highs and lows and behind that brave face (or fluid resistant mask these days), sure we rejoice but we also hurt too. And not all of us make it through this. In the early days, we see our friends and colleagues drop out or burn out from mental and/or physical strain. We watch as experiences strip away the very reasons we are there in the first place and there is not enough out there for prevention and support. Or, if there is, how often do we implement it?

As a labour ward leader, I was exposed to traumatic events which led to my own drastic physical and mental ill health, even to the point of experiencing suicidal thoughts. Once I had recognised this in myself, it was as though the veil had lifted and I could see how others around me also suffered in silence. It got me to thinking about what I wish was there at the very start of my career – coping strategies for self-care and support from those who wore the scars of these experiences and came out stronger.

I had hoped to present my abstract at this year’s ICM Conference in Bali, but a stock image of the sandy beaches on my desktop will have to do. I worked alongside Lesley Choucri, Senior lecturer at Salford University and Kathy Murphy, Director of Nursing and Midwifery at Saint Marys, to increase staff retention. We set up an intervention for midwives at the beginning of their career to look into the concerning drop in resilience. The method proved to be just what many of them needed – a place to talk restorative practices. The regular interventions resulted in reduced sickness rates and gained positive feedback which led to evolving these interventions into an annual study day.

Today, we feel the enormous demands of a global pandemic on our shoulders and on the shoulders of all those around us. This includes all of us – midwives, students, Directors, Heads, maternity support workers, leaders and returners –mental ill health is an impartial beast. There are networks out there and from our part we have the Caring for You campaign and Benevolent Fund, which are there to support you through the physical and mental strains of a demanding job, as well as financial and personal help. We are also working with NHS England’s Behavioural Insights Team on a pilot programme text service for direct support on all of the above.

But what more can we do? Yes we’re in a pandemic but we’re also witness to an extraordinary act of solidarity. There have been so many positive examples of how the maternity workforce is pulling together and really embodying the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week: kindness matters. So when we think back to our first days and look forward to those that will one day join us, I hope what we’ve learnt will implement greater change, lift the veil and build a stronger net to catch those who could otherwise fall.

Here are a few external resources that can help with mental health:

Unmind – helps you track your own mental wellbeing and has lots of useful resources such as diet, approaching uncertainty and nurturing during social distancing.

Headspace – provides guided meditation and mindfulness sessions

Sleepio – is a CBT programme designed to help sleep and relaxation

Daylight – provides personalised access to support with worry and anxiety