Dear Student Midwife,
I am writing to thank you for the care you gave myself and my son whilst he was on the neonatal unit. I know you are unlikely to think you did anything other than your job, but to me you did so much more. We were fortunate to have many caring staff look after us whilst we were on the unit, and I’m sure you learnt well from them. I think some people may be tempted to say you were able to give us more support specifically because you were a student, and therefore not officially recognised in the staff numbers. But I witnessed the amount of effort you put in to everything you did on the unit, and you were always busy, taking on whatever opportunities were presented – you certainly did not have any more time than anyone else. Yet I felt you were there specifically to help us. I know you cared for other families whilst we were there, but you did so whilst seamlessly ensuring we were taken care of. I didn’t have to look for you, because you were already looking out for me – and that made all the difference to me at that point in time.
I’m afraid when we met I was not my usual self. It was the third day after The Munchkin had been born, and I had slept less than eight hours in that time. I was at my lowest point since the birth, and had all but crawled along to the unit from the postnatal ward after a challenging start to the morning. You were already at The Munchkin’s crib when I entered the nursery. I probably looked panic-stricken at you being there, but you smiled warmly and introduced yourself. You congratulated me on the birth of my beautiful, strong boy. And you asked me if I needed help as I struggled to rearrange the chair for nursing. I was trying to look as though I knew what I was doing, that I was a confident, knowledgeable mother who had arrived to provide for her child. But you knew I was shattered.
Instead of leaving me to it, you helped me position myself comfortably and asked what positions worked best for me. I admitted I had only really tried one way of breastfeeding, and you took your time and helped me try different techniques. The Munchkin had been struggling to latch without a nipple shield, and you helped me feel comfortable using it – I started to think of myself as less of a failure. I’d been so sure, and reassured, that breastfeeding would be the most natural thing in the world. But it can take work. And you worked with me. You looked after me, and made me feel like we were the only people you needed to be with at that time – it meant the world to me.
You asked me if I wanted some water, and explained the importance of hydration when nursing. You brought me some, and told me more about how important it is to look after myself so I can look after my baby. You asked how I was. And I cried. Because I was not OK. I was really struggling. I was severely sleep deprived, my baby was in the neonatal unit and I was unable to mother him as I had felt I should. The Husband had phoned that morning to say he felt he may be getting a cold and couldn’t risk coming into the neonatal unit. I felt very alone and isolated. I only felt right when I was with my baby, but because of the exposed environment of the unit, I felt judged on every parenting step I took. I know this was never the intention of the staff, it was purely in my head, but it didn’t make it any easier. That morning I had to admit to the midwives in the postnatal unit I wasn’t coping. The lack of sleep and waves of hormones had ramped my anxiety levels right up, and all I felt I could successfully do was cry. They agreed I needed to be near my baby and were making steps to move me to the transitional care ward on the neonatal unit, so I could be closer to The Munchkin.
You listened carefully as all of this poured out. The guilt from not being beside my baby 24/7. The guilt from phoning my mum and mother-in-law in floods of tears because I couldn’t cope without my husband. The overwhelming feeling of loneliness I had, and the pure fear I felt at contemplating a long day stretching out in front of me without support from my husband. I felt like a child, unable to do anything for myself – but I was supposed to be looking after my child. You did not judge. You didn’t try to solve everything for me. At first you just listened and let me get it all out. And you gave me a hug. You told me I was doing great and that this was one of the hardest things I would have to go through, but that I was doing it and I was doing it well. You said if I needed proof of this, I just had to look down in front of me. I did – and I saw The Munchkin.
When I had calmed down you said you were going to leave me to nurse in peace for a while. You explained how my breathing affected my nursing, and encouraged me to take long deep breaths. You told me I had this. And I felt like it might just be true. I allowed myself to relax in to nursing at that point, and I felt an overwhelming feeling of calm come over me. It is true about the connection and unbelievable sense of peace that can be felt when nursing your baby – and you helped me achieve this.
Later you checked I was OK. I had heard from my husband – he was OK and would be coming in that afternoon. I had given The Munchkin the longest feed yet and I was beginning to feel like I could cope with it all. I thanked you and tried to explain how you had helped me, saying you were an absolute star. But you wouldn’t have it, you said you were just doing your job, what you love.
Over the next few days, you looked after us with the same care and attention. You told me about your journey so far as a student midwife, and what you hoped to do with the qualification in the future. You gave me invaluable advice about the body and mind after giving birth, and you told me to always follow my instincts – something which still rings true for me. I remember you coming to show me how I could breastfeed lying down if that was easier for us, and telling me to take it easy and just do whatever we needed to do, whatever felt natural for us. We were the most important ones, you said. And I believed you.
The day before we left hospital we said goodbye to you. You spent ages chatting with myself and my husband, talking about your family and your future plans. We told you about how we were going to spend Christmas, and what our favourite films were. And I told you how thankful I was for everything you had done for our family. What I should also have told you was how you saved me from myself, and made me believe in myself when I was really struggling.
I think you will have qualified as a midwife now, and I feel honoured to have met you on that journey. I know you will be the most amazing support to women at a time when they need it most – you have a natural ability to really see people and instinctively know how to help them. You also listen and put their views first. You really care. I said at the time, if we have another baby (!), I would want you to be my midwife, and I really meant it. Your positivity and empathy brought me a sense of calm, and I’m so glad I met you that day.
The Munchkin is eight months old now, and getting bigger all the time! You would be amazed at the size of him now. We are still mixed feeding, and even managed to reduce the bottles from three to two recently. I’ve always felt it is such a shame that despite all the help you gave me, we’ve not been able to exclusively breastfeed. But I’m doing as much as I can and I know that’s the main thing. I hope to continue to feed him for as long as possible, because it makes us both happy. I am a much more happy and calm person than when you last saw me. I still have struggles with my anxiety, but I am getting more sleep (as much as The Munchkin will allow), taking my medication and getting some exercise now, all of which helps. I try to follow my instincts, you were definitely right about that, even though sometimes it is hard and I’m filled with self-doubt. It seems to be working so far, because The Munchkin is happy and healthy.
If I could tell you one thing it would be, please know that you make a difference. When you are having a hard day, are exhausted, or getting wound up in the politics of the job, just know that you made a difference to me and my family, as I am sure you have, and will, for countless others. Thank you so much.
Obsessive Compulsive Mother
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