Becoming a midwife

By Bernie Divall, Professional Advisor on Leadership Midwifery Student midwives

When Bernie Divall swapped life on the stage for life in the theatre of midwifery, she experienced imposter syndrome, self-doubt and trying to balance work and family life. In her monthly leadership blog, she looks back on some moments that have stuck with her.

It was midwives that brought me into midwifery. I had recurrent miscarriages due to an autoimmune disorder, so I saw midwifery from both its sad and joyful perspectives before I became a student. The midwives I met along that journey were my inspiration – the relationships they built with me and my husband were wonderful. They treated us as people and they worked in a team throughout all my pregnancies and births.

I wanted to be like those midwives: caring, kind, but most importantly using a holistic approach. That's what I tried to mirror in my own clinical life. That and working well with our obstetric colleagues.

Throughout my midwifery degree I experienced a healthy dose of imposter syndrome. I didn't have the qualifications you'd normally see: I had a degree in music performance and not a science qualification in sight. I second-guessed whether I was good enough to be a midwife. I soon came to realise that lots of us have felt the same.

In the early days, it was my relationships with midwives and professors that helped shape the midwife I became. One person stands out: my community midwife mentor. When I first met her, I was terrified. She was so competent and quick in her approach, I thought I would never meet her standards. But she turned out to be one of the most supporting and influential people to me as she was always encouraging of my questioning nature and finding ways to do things differently. She had recognised I'd come from education with lots of reading under my belt and was as interested to learn from me as I was to learn from her.

Another was my labour suite mentor, whose nugget of wisdom was always to go with my instincts. It served me well, because I could question my instincts and examine them from both art and science perspectives, disregarding the debate in midwifery about the dichotomy between art and science.

Poor advice can also spur you on. A mentor on the antenatal/postnatal ward told me that I could not expect to give excellent care, I should just expect to give adequate care. I felt that, if the care I gave was only adequate, it would be time for me to leave, and so I always strove to give excellent care.

In terms of advice I'd give to others, I would echo the words of one of my professors: step out of the immediate environment and climb your own ladder. Don't assume that everyone else has it sorted. Think about those midwives you admire, and remind yourself that they felt just as you do at some point – and probably still do, at times.