By: 6 May 2021
International Day of the Midwife: Bringing lives into the world during a pandemic

Life as a midwife has looked rather different since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, but the job at hand has remained the same during this time – deliver the baby and keep mother and child safe. To mark the International Day of the Midwife on Wednesday 5 May, senior lecturer in midwifery at Kingston University Jane Forman, pictured, gives her account on bringing lives into the world during a pandemic.

What has it been like working as a midwife in these strange times? Bringing in life into an uncertain world where death has been so prevalent?

It’s been travelling into London on a deserted train, mask in place, looking out at a world gone still. Knowing that friends are staying home, not even going to the shops, while you step out, take a breath and carry on.

It’s been dealing with mothers that have spent months isolating, afraid to come into hospitals, worried their partners will be turned away at the door. Welcoming babies in car parks, in lifts, in the lobby as women delay coming in. It’s been helping women in labour, encouraging them to breath, breathing with them, not knowing if that breath is safe, what it contains, how the virus spreads.

It’s been on occasions telling women that they can’t have their longed for home births because too many staff are isolating or sick, because ambulance services are overwhelmed and can’t guarantee attendance, and because there is so much we don’t know, we just don’t know.

In the beginning there is so much doubt, what can we do, how can we keep women and babies safe?

Can we give them gas and air when they ride the tsunami of labour? Can partners come in? Should babies be separated from women with Covid? Are pregnant women more at risk? Or less? And the question we whisper to ourselves, keep inside, not asked on forums and the press – how can we keep ourselves safe? Our families? Am I risking the people that I love to do the job that brings me such joy? And some of us move out, stay away and spend the weeks of last year alone in a locked down world.

As the virus progresses, continues, it’s been smiling under a mask, getting used to the gowns, the gloves, the dry hands, the covered hair. One day leaving the hospital I see a woman I have known for a while, cared for on the antenatal ward, and she is both shocked and so pleased to finally see what I look like. We finally smile at each other – a moment of normality in a world of strangeness.

It’s been Christmas cancelled while whole bays of sick women fight the virus, fight for breath, seek your eyes and reassurance through the mask, the PPE, hold your hand. It’s been the fear, the resolution and the knowledge that we don’t turn away, that we will doff up, go in – this is what we do.

And through it all, the teamwork, camaraderie and bravery of your colleagues, the amazing NHS keep you going. The joy of being present at a birth, seeing the strength of a woman and her body continues. The tears of a partner and the creation of a family – the part of the job that never changes. The desire to do your best, to facilitate choice, to listen and advocate for, never lost.

And as the world spins again and at least in this country things start to return to normal we pause and consider this year we have lived through, things we have lost and lessons learnt. This brilliant job unchanged but everything else uncertain and the relief that we have survived, that things might get better, friends be seen, families reunited. And as I reflect and take breath, speak to friends and dream of holidays and mask less journeys and births, I know with all my heart I am glad that I remain a midwife.