Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Midwifery: a job for life?

I have finished reading a brilliant post by Sage Femme entitled 'wanting to work at starbucks'. In her post, she talks about her feelings of failure and self-doubt, and how she needs to center herself on the present and not look back at the past. I loved her post for a number of reasons, not least that it made me think about how I am as a midwife. The main thing I loved about this post is that she is totally honest about how she feels. She acknowledges that she is a midwife through and through; being a midwife is who she is, not just what she is. However, there are times when it gets too much and she 'wants to work at starbucks'. It is not often we see that sort of honesty in print. Yes, we may say these things to each other, but there's almost a sense that we have failed if we admit to not wanting to be a midwife any more, or that we're being disloyal to the profession. Or that there's an easy fix: drop your hours; work in a different setting; look at your time management; be a better midwife! Or, that you should just stop whining and harden up!

But is midwifery changing? It used to be and for many still is, a vocation. It was also a job for life. But are the pressures of being a midwife too much for women (and men) these days. Certainly, there is an international shortage of midwives. The average age for midwives in New Zealand is 50, and I suspect it will be similar around the world. Who is going to follow us oldies when we retire? Last month, I wrote in my blog that my daughter was thinking about becoming a midwife. When a new graduate pointed out to her how being on-call would affect her life, she swiftly went off the idea. Of course, she is very young and may come back to the idea when she has matured, but I could see that issue is a very valid one. Of course, a midwife may work in a shift pattern, in a birthing facility or hospital. But there are issues faced by hospital midwives including trying to work family life around shifts; lack of autonomy; lack of flexible working environment; horizontal violence and so on.

Now I am not really sure where I am going with this and I always feel I should have some sort of conclusion. I do not think there is an easy conclusion to this but I do think that talking about our problems in an honest and open way is the beginning of being able to deal with them. Stress and burnout should not be ignored, either on a personal or professional level. As midwives we need to recognise stress and burnout and develop strategies for dealing with it. We should support each other in a loving and non-critical way. At a professional level, what are we doing to recruit and retain staff? How can we introduce and maintain flexible working practices? How can we meet the professional development and support needs of our midwives? One of the ways we could do it is by exploring online social networking: e-mentoring being one such potential resource. But my big plea is not to brush things under the carpet or dismiss them as being hearsay only: lets be honest and open about how we feel. Only then can we go on to work together to address the issues.

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