Navigating life as a newly-qualified midwife during the COVID-19 pandemic
This blog was written by Michelle Holden, registered midwife & Challengers’ Committee member.
It’s been two years since I became a qualified midwife and two years since we first heard the words “COVID-19”.
Life as a newly qualified midwife (NQM), was pretty tough – learning to develop new skills and trusting my intuition, accepting full responsibility for a caseload of families or a ward full of new parents and their precious babies. It was a steep learning curve and I gained a new understanding and appreciation for the role I’d spent three years dreaming about.
I was lucky enough to join an incredible community team that was extremely welcoming. I was worried about the social and professional transition and being the only NQM in the team, but I found my place and settled in quickly whilst learning and developing my knowledge and provision of care.
The theory-practice gap caused me some conflict. I quickly learned that ideas and theory do not always align with clinical practice, mainly for reasons out of our control such as staffing levels or time constraints. In these instances, I often felt like I had let my families, colleagues, and even myself down.
Navigating life as an NQM became even more challenging when the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic. When global governments were asking people to stay at home as part of lockdown restrictions, frontline healthcare professionals had to keep going, putting themselves in danger to care for others. In my case, babies were still being born and families were more anxious and in need of support than ever.
Just when I felt that I was growing in confidence, the way in which I had become used to providing midwifery care and support had to change – and quickly. Up until this point, I had been surrounded by supportive team members whose knowledge and experience provided a huge source of comfort. With the onset of the COVID pandemic, it was like we were all NQMs working through unprecedented times with scenarios unknown to us and our senior colleagues. It felt like we were all drowning in a sea of the unknown.
One of the first things I noticed after restrictions were brought in was the impact of wearing face coverings and the inability to see people’s facial expressions. As a midwife, empathy in every interaction is so important, a reassuring smile makes such a difference to the families we care for and yet our face masks and PPE made this impossible.
Moments of great joy and great pain were experienced by many alone. Not only was this heart-breaking for the families themselves, but it meant that there was additional pressure placed on midwives to make up for the lack of emotional support from loved ones. I wanted to be there for everyone but physically and emotionally, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was taking its toll. As an NQM, I was putting all my energy into being a midwife but more and more was required of us.
I wanted nothing more than to be safe at home with my family but my role meant that was not an option. Each week, another team member would be signed off sick and yet the workload remained the same. During this time, I felt the impact of the ever-growing pressure on my mental health, and my anxiety began to soar. The confidence that I had worked so hard to build was dwindling and I felt less and less in control. Add to this being on the receiving end of the anger and frustration of many as they birthed their children alone and it made for an extremely challenging situation. What got me through those early months, and continues to be a great source of hope and support, is my team. We pulled together, we supported, reassured, and cared for one another. We were in this together, experiencing an unprecedented outbreak and doing our very best to provide quality care for the families we serve. We planned our next moves together, we laughed and cried together. My team did everything they could to protect me and support my learning and development.
Midwifery care has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there have been many positives to result from the move to digital maternity care – both for families and midwives alike. I have learned a great deal about digital health since COVID became part of our lives and will continue to explore this as a way to provide sustainable, flexible care and support for the many families I care for.
I wasn’t prepared for this experience, but it has given me a unique and valuable opportunity to develop my skills – both in terms of the care I provide as well as, stress management, resilience, and adaptability. I could never have imagined dealing with situations that I have had to manage over the last couple of years so early in my career. The experience of working through the COVID-19 pandemic has made me a stronger midwife in every sense.