Juggling midwifery and motherhood

By Natalie Boxall on 01 August 2014 Midwifery

Most student midwives will agree that embarking on the course is a major commitment. But what if you have a family life to organise too? Natalie Boxall spoke to four student mums to find out.

The midwifery degree course demands the same amount of time and dedication as a full-time job. In the UK, the latest figures show that 68% of women with children are now working (ONS, 2011) – so how do you manage to juggle placement, part-time work and studying when you’re a mum as well as a student midwife?

Student midwives approaching the end of their first year at De Montfort University agreed to share their experiences with RCM members. Sarah Stallard, 28, has a three year-old daughter, Jessica, and a husband who works away from home.

‘I was extremely worried before I started the course that I would never get to see my daughter or husband, and honestly didn't know how I would manage it.’ Sarah wakes at 6am, drops Jessica at her childminder, starts university or placement by 9am, and returns home between 4 and 5pm. ‘I then cook dinner, bathe Jessica and put her to bed for 7pm, and spend three hours doing university work or reading.

‘Doing this course has impacted my family, and it has been emotional and exhausting, but my daughter knows what mummy does, and she isn't bothered by the fact that I am away.’

Sarah says that having good support is essential. ‘I have a flexible childminder, my husband helps when he is here, and my parents and sister help when they can, although they work full-time and live 50 miles away from us. Ultimately, doing this has made me happier, which has had a positive impact on my daughter, and given me an excuse to do the minimal amount of housework, which is always a bonus.’

Claire Thompson, 34, is mum to eight year-old Callum and has recently separated from her partner. ‘The pressure of the course means you can’t deal with things as you would normally. I feel guilty about not spending as much time with Callum as I would like, and this is going to be harder now it’s just the two of us, but the course has made me a stronger person.

‘Some weeks, whilst on delivery suite, I would see Callum very little as I was working weekends and on my days off he would be at school. I make sure I get up earlier if there is something important that needs doing, so it doesn’t interrupt with what little time I get to spend with him.

‘Having to remember all of his school things and clubs, plus studying and running a house is draining, but I knew the pressure of the course and how demanding it was before I applied, so I’ve learned to manage and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be doing what I love most.’

A survey of student parents by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that 60% have thought about leaving their course, which rises to 65% for lone parents (NUS, 2009).

Lorna Bontoft is a single mum, who feels guilty about not spending enough time with six year-old Josh due to studying or working. She says: ‘Quality time with my son is limited and I feel bad about putting him in school clubs to fit in with my timetable. It’s important to have a range of childcare options. Before I started the course, I worried that I would struggle to cope, as my retired parents live 40 miles away, and Josh’s dad lives 28 miles away. Finding childcare has been ok, and my shifts are often at weekends, when Josh sees his dad, which is handy.

‘I am often tired after 12-hour shifts, but make sure I set aside quality time with Josh, and then study after 7pm, when he is in bed. I would tell other women thinking of becoming a student midwife that you will feel guilty, but doing the course will provide a better future for you and your children, and you need to remember that.’

A recent study of 12,000 UK children found that there is no evidence of ill-effects on children’s social and emotional behaviour if their mothers work during the early years (McMunn, 2012). It also reported that girls whose mothers do not work show more difficulties at age five than those with employed mothers (McMunn, 2012), but women who work or study full-time inevitably feel some guilt when combining work and motherhood.

Lisa Whitby, 33, is mum to 11 year-old Leah, Jack, 10, and Ashton, six, and lives with her partner. She says things have changed at home over the last 12 months.‘The kids are much closer to their dad now, which is good, but a little part of me feels bad that it’s not always me reading with them at night anymore. When I’m on long day shifts I don’t see my youngest at all, because he’s in bed when I get home, and Jack’s behaviour has taken a turn for the worse since I started the course. The flipside is we make more time to do things as a family, and they know that it’s all for a good cause, and are proud of me.’

Lisa worked as a radiology assistant in a gynaecology/early pregnancy scan room for eight years before embarking on the course. ‘I knew it would be full-on, but nothing could prepare me for the extent. The first four months were fine, but when I went into placement and had reflections and significant events to write, all the while being a mum, it stretched me beyond belief.Physically, I’m drained when on placement, but in university less so.’

Lisa believes that being organised is the key to staying sane while working as a student midwife. ‘I always look ahead at what’s coming up, and mentally pace myself. It’s important to make time for each member of your family, even if it’s just 10 minutes of an evening, so they won’t feel abandoned. Personally, you need to be prepared to miss out on some of the things you want to do with your kids, as you cannot miss lectures, and don’t underestimate the amount of time small things like reflections can take to do.’

Natalie Boxall, student midwife, De Montfort University


McMunn A, Kelly Y, Cable N, Bartley M. (2012) Maternal employment and child socio-emotional behaviour in the UK: longitudinal evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 66(7): e19.

National Union of Students. (2009) Meet the parents. See: www.nus.org.uk/PageFiles/5386/NUS_SP_report_web.pdf (accessed 13 August 2012).

Office for National Statistics. (2011) Mothers in the labour market. See: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/mothers-in-the-labour-market/2011/mothers-in-the-labour-market---2011.html (accessed 13 August 2012).