Voice of an NMQ: being enough
Reflecting on her rotation to the postnatal ward, Anna Merrick finds a common ground with new mothers and their stories.
The postnatal ward is always full – of noise, people and emotions. It is a close and warm environment of blue curtains and fluorescent lights. The air is thick with the tiny bodies of new babies and tired, elated parents. Buzzers and telephones ring, a network of staff weave in and out of rooms, trolleys and machines rumble along the corridor.
Women, still freshly stunned from birth, pass in and out of the hands of many. In a snapshot of sentences, from person to person, they tell us a part of their stories – the journey that has brought them, and so many others before them, to this moment of crying baby, shattered body. You can almost see their minds whirling, ticking over what has happened to them. Subtle body language, passing comments, watery eyes, difficult speech. From behind the curtain, as the ward whizzes around them, women tumble over their changed identities.
I am caring for a woman I have met before. She is exhausted and depleted – readmitted with postnatal complications after a difficult birth. ‘I didn’t know about this part,’ she says. She is overwhelmed by the physical changes to her body and the fatigue of becoming a parent. Her face is a tangle of conflict. She is overjoyed and relieved; her sixth pregnancy but first child, a long road of IVF and miscarriages, a wide eyed little boy in the cot. She is beaten and doubting, caught in a confusing place between expectation and reality.
Her words echo those that have been said by others, so many times before. I tell her that I understand what she is saying. ‘I can see that you do,’ she replies. I am surprised when we both have quick, quiet tears in our eyes.
Walking home, after another both challenging and rewarding day, I think more about why her words impacted me so much. Having known the woman already, our rapport was established and this likely influenced my emotional investment in her care; seeing her distressed was upsetting. But beyond this, I realised that we shared an unlikely common ground. Unsure, drained, inexperienced. Proud, excited, growing.
Throughout the shift, we both frequently doubted our abilities and questioned our worth. We asked for help, got things double-checked. We sought approval and wanted to learn. We were sensitive. We were resilient. We kept going and found support because we wanted to be better mothers, better midwives. We both remembered how far we had come to get to this point. As women whirled through their experiences behind the blue curtains, I was simultaneously whirling through mine at the desk. The wobbly identities of new mothers are those of new midwives too – intense, overwhelming, changing.
Earlier in the day, the woman said to me: ‘Wow, it’s so busy, you guys really do an amazing job.’ At the end of the shift, I tell her that she is doing really well and to keep going, but that it is okay to need some help. We understand each other, from our different perspectives. She is trying her best. I am trying my best. She is enough. I am enough.
Anna Merrick is an NQM working in London.