IDM: what it means to be a midwife

By Gill Walton, General Secretary, RCM on 05 May 2023 Maternity Services RCM UK Midwives Midwifery Workforce IDM - International Day of the Midwife ICM - International Congress of Midwives Midwifery Midwife Shortage NHS Staff Safety Staffing Levels Trade Unions

As we come together to celebrate International Day of the Midwife, RCM Chief Executive Gill Walton CBE reflects on what it means to be a midwife – and why it matters.

People often ask, ‘What would you do, if you weren’t a midwife?’ - and I genuinely struggle with the question. While I trained as a nurse initially, I believe I was always meant to be a midwife, that it’s something fundamental to who I am. And having it so tightly wound into my DNA made it all the more special when I received my CBE from HM The King earlier this year for services to midwifery. Because even though it was me standing there in all my finery, I felt that I was receiving the honour for midwives and midwifery everywhere.

Today midwives around the world are celebrating International Day of the Midwife, but I want to go beyond the cake and the bunting, as lovely as they are. I want to focus on the contribution each and every one of you makes to the lives of women and families.

We all know that midwife means ‘with woman’, but how many of us really think about it? As a midwife, we stand alongside women during one of the most special, joyous, anxious, stressful, happiest periods of their lives. We are there for the happy tears and the sad ones. We listen to women, we advocate for them, we ensure they have the right information to make informed choices about their care. We are with women every step of the way during pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period.

Most importantly, though, we know that the impact on women and babies goes beyond reassurance and support. We know that midwifery care has a positive impact on safe outcomes. The unique relationship between a midwife and the woman in her care enables her to identify potential issues early on in pregnancy and ensure the right treatment and care is given. The years of intensive training every midwife goes through enables them to identify risks during labour and birth and know when to escalate concerns. Midwives make a difference.

I know it’s tough at the moment, that too often you feel like you’re running just to stand still. I know that there are times – probably more times now than ever before – when you may question how long you can keep doing it. I remember those moments too.

But I also remember that feeling when you see relief flood someone’s face when you tell her that her baby is moving just as it should be. And I remember that expression of joy mixed with exhaustion after a difficult birth as the mother holds her baby for the first time. And I remember the kindness of colleagues after a bad day.

I know that these things don’t pay the bills, but they still matter. The care, insight and humanity we show to women, and to each other, matter. Being a midwife matters.