Published December 1st, 2014 | Features
Meet the midwife
Waiting talks to midwife Tracy Thomas about the journey in midwifery that has taken her to the position of Clinical Director at UK Birth Centres, and her advice for any aspiring midwives.
Okay, first things first! What does a midwife do?
A midwife is a trained healthcare professional, responsible for providing care to pregnant women and their families from early pregnancy right through to a month after the birth. Working outside of the NHS as a private midwife, I am honoured and privileged to spend unlimited time with my clients, usually in the home and including in the evenings and at weekends, enjoying meeting the partner and other members of the family too. During a client’s pregnancy, I offer health promotion advice and support them with plans for the birth and life as a new family. Once the baby is born, I visit the family every day for the first few days and continue visiting regularly for six weeks or longer. It truly is a wonderful way to practice.
How long have you been practicing midwifery, and what is your background?
I have been working in midwifery since 1999. Prior to this, I worked on the health visiting team, supporting families in the community with parenting skills and specialising in breastfeeding support. My very first position, as a nursery nurse in 1989, involved working with children and families in a residential care setting. So all of my working life has been focused on caring and supporting families.
The joy on the woman’s face when she says hello to her baby for the first time is absolutely magical
Why did you become a midwife? Do you find it rewarding? What do you enjoy most about it?
I first became interested in becoming a midwife when I had my second child, as I realised first-hand what a difference a midwife can make at such a special time. My first birth was what I would describe as traumatic and it had an effect on me for many years – so much so that I held off having another baby for a while. When I did find out I was pregnant again, I was fortunate to meet a midwife that could provide one-to-one care at home and support me for the birth. Having “my own midwife” helped me to relax and enjoy the pregnancy and I had a very straightforward birth and breastfed my baby immediately. It was so different and life changing. I am still friends with that midwife to this day, and I am grateful to her for inspiring me to follow in her footsteps. I have never looked back.
So once you decided, what kind of training or qualifications did you need to become a midwife?
When I studied to become a midwife, it was a diploma qualification taking three years full time. Currently, all midwives need to achieve a degree to become a midwife and the entry requirements seem to become stricter year on year. Interest in midwifery has grown and there are so many applicants but still very few places; it is very competitive. I did make the decision to complete my degree after I qualified and I was proud to achieve first class honours. It was very tough with a small family but a huge personal achievement. Since qualifying I have not really stopped. I have gone on to train to perform new born baby checks instead of needing a paediatrician (baby doctor) to do this. I also specialise in holistic therapies to offer natural alternatives, and I am a hypnobirthing teacher.
What are the most important skills or character traits needed to be a good midwife?
Midwife means “to be with woman” and the greatest skills a midwife can have is to be able to observe, listen and trust. A pregnant woman’s body has been designed to give birth and for most it can happen without the need to intervene. Every woman is different and every birth is different, but if I provide relaxed and confident support, I can help to enable the woman to feel empowered and in control. The majority of births unfold naturally, and every one of them is amazing.
Roughly how many births are you involved in each year?
I work in a team with two other midwives and a wonderful maternity support therapist; together we provide care to up to 10 women in one month. During the past 12 years, I have been present at all the births I had intended to be. There have been times when some babies have arrived quite close together, but is incredible how you find the energy to continue. It is all about safety of course, and being part of a team means we are all supported.
What do you consider the main advantages to giving birth naturally, and giving birth at home? What would you call a positive birth experience?
This is my favourite question! And it is a case of where do I start? When I am working with a client it is always about providing encouragement to trust her body. >
So many women start their pregnancy in a place of fear – often based on with what they see on the TV, horror stories from their friends and not-so-nice images on social media. I feel that a positive birth is one in which the woman has achieved inner peace and feels more relaxed and trusting of the process. Having a birth at home can help to achieve this, as it is often here women feel safe and in control. For some women they do want to give birth in hospital but having a midwife they know and trust really helps to keep them on a natural path.
You are Clinical Director at UK Birth Centres. What does that involve? Can you tell us a little more about UK Birth Centres’ collaborative work with the NHS?
My role as Clinical Director is to ensure that any clinical decisions about care provision are appropriate to our business ethos, are designed to meet the needs of our clients, and above all are safe decisions. Our latest development is working in collaboration with the NHS to offer home birth services in many trusts throughout the UK. As Clinical Director, I will be a key member of the management team to ensure midwives are well supported, that the NHS and UK Birth Centres work in true partnership and that women experience positive births.
I have also been instrumental in the formation of the unique private birth suite option for UK Birth Centres, in which a known midwife can be clinically responsible within a NHS hospital setting. The model was established to meet the needs of women who were wanting to know which midwife will be with them at the time of birth, and who are also looking for the added reassurance of being in hospital should the care pathway deviate from normality. I am proud to see this model being rolled out across the UK, offering women further options on birth environment.
What do you see as the main differences between private and public midwifery care?
The main difference is being able to give women the time they want and deserve. It is a challenge as an NHS midwife to spend the time we do as private midwives, simply due to the amount of women that need to be seen. Working privately is about achieving a partnership with the woman where she feels in control of her decisions; having more time enables me to provide more information and for us to discuss things in detail so she feels able to make informed choices. I do also enjoy having more time with the fathers and extended family; I only ever got to meet the dad on the day of the birth when I worked in the NHS – often he would be scared and did not know much about how to support his partner. Now, I visit at a time where he can be really involved; the result is that he is also positive about the lead up to the birth, fully supportive and committed. Dads that feel part of the journey also bond more easily with their new baby.
Do you have a most treasured memory from your time in midwifery?
I have many of them but the big birth day is the real reward. Every birth is so special. There is nothing quite like being called out to a client in labour, who I have go to know well throughout the pregnancy – even if it dark and cold in the middle of the night, when most babies choose to arrive! The joy on the woman’s face when she says hello to her baby for the first time is absolutely magical; it doesn’t get any better than that. I always say thank you to the clients for enabling me to practice midwifery in this way. It truly is a lovely way to work.