Your thoughts: Better late than never
Jane Blanchflower describes the hectic life of a first-year student midwife.
University life was all I hoped it would be. From freshers’ week to my first exams, the camaraderie of my fellow students helped me through. And the excitement of trying on the uniform: I look like a midwife and am beyond happy!
My first practical day in uniform is spent doing abdominal examinations, including lateral palpation and auscultation. What an amazing day when all the theory became a reality. Fundal heights, lateral and pelvic palpations, ballotable fetal parts...
Next came the wonders of venepuncture. This time I have a disjointed plastic arm to practise on. How will I ever be able to do this to a real person? So much to remember. Apply tourniquet, select vein, clean area with alcohol wipe, attach needle to syringe, fix vein, insert needle. Oh, and don’t faint...
My first placement is on an inpatient ward. First shift in, I have spent a large part of the day trying to remember which rooms I’ve been in, what the women’s names are, where the store room, sluice and medicine store are. My mentor took me on a drugs round and explained the different drugs and the reason why the women would be taking them.
I was shown how to check their Kardex, dispense the medicines and check women’s details against their name bands before administering and then signing, dating and adding time given. We got to a bed where the woman had undergone a CS and was receiving blood-thinning injections to reduce the risk of thrombosis. My mentor asked me if I was confident to give the injection? Gulp... but I put my big-girl pants on and gave my first-ever Fragmin injection. The woman said I did it very well and I was on cloud nine! Before I knew it my first week was completed. My head was in a total spin. So much to take in, I was exhausted and elated – but this is the best job ever.
Before I know it, my first placement is completed. I learned so much from my mentor, who was patient, professional, confidence-inducing and above all a brilliant midwife. I just hope one day that I can deliver the same high standard of care as she did.
My second placement is in the community. At a clinic, my mentor takes blood from the first couple of women and then asks me if I am confident enough to do the next. With the woman’s consent, I go for it. Success first time!
The next day at clinic, I meet women at different stages of pregnancy and I am able to practise my palpation skills, auscultation and more venepuncture. I watch while my mentor undertakes a booking appointment. So many questions and writing, plus the completion of all information on the computer. How will I ever be able to do all that at the same time?
My first week flies by. It’s great to see women in their own homes and also being able to achieve the continuity-of-care element. I can see that the bond community midwives have seeing women through the antenatal and postnatal periods is very reassuring for them.
On the fourth week of placement, a call comes through from maternity outpatients to say a woman is in active labour, trying to get an ambulance, but was it possible for someone to attend? The manager of the unit said it is not normal practice, but as the address is very close she would go on this occasion. I had met the woman antenatally so the manager said: ‘You’re coming with me!’ Although initially it looked as if the woman might birth at home, she was able to be moved to hospital by ambulance with sirens and lights flashing. The manager said that as I knew the woman, with her consent I could stay with her! So I had the privilege of seeing my first birth – amazing!
To the labour ward
My third and final placement for the first year is labour ward. I am going to be responsible for bringing new life into the world – what an honour.
I have been on the ward for about an hour when my mentor for the day has to attend a CS with twins. She says: ‘Follow me and grab a hat – you are coming into theatre.’ Talk about a baptism of fire.
One of the sisters in theatre asked me if I was squeamish. I replied that I wasn’t usually, but it was the first time I had ever been in theatre! By the end of the procedure I was able to answer her truthfully – ‘No, it would appear I am not squeamish.’
This was also the first time I had encountered a placenta – which was handed to me with the instructions to check it. I went through a checklist in my head I didn’t even realise that I knew: three vessels in cord, amnion and chorion present, cotyledons present, and so on. I surprised myself.
Getting to know women and their partners and being with them at such a wonderful and emotional time really was special. The ability to empower women to find their strength, and then support them with whatever birth they encounter, is a privilege. There are now seven tiny humans in this world I have had the honour of birthing.
My final shift was a night shift, and as I walked to my car I considered the shift I had just had – suffice it to say I finished on a bang rather than a whimper. A lovely baby boy, a shoulder dystocia, the need for two clean uniforms and liquor in my hair! And in the sky, a rainbow: the promise of many wonderful experiences yet to come.
If I were now to tell you that I turned 50 in January, would you read this article in the same way? I dreamed of becoming a midwife from a very young age and never stopped believing that it would happen. I am thankful every day that I am on the road to achieving my dream.
It’s true to say ‘You are never too old, and it is never too late’. I am living proof of that.
Jane Blanchflower is a second-year midwifery student at the University of the West of Scotland. Illustration by Lauren Rebbeck.