Monthly Archives: November 2014

Enough is enough.

Midwives at the picket line for the NHS strike for fair pay, 24th November 2014

Midwives at the picket line for the NHS strike for fair pay, 24th November 2014

This Monday, on the first day of my hospital placement, I joined the picket line from 7-11am to highlight the need for fair pay for NHS staff. The industrial action then continues for the rest of this week, as NHS staff will be working to rule, which means taking all allocated breaks and not doing any unpaid overtime.

This week of action is in protest of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to grant a 1% pay rise to NHS staff as advised by an independent pay review, meaning that staff pay is essentially falling when inflation is taken into account. There is more background information in this guardian article if you haven’t heard much about it – I feel like it’s been massively under-reported.

This strike followed on from the initial strike on the 13th October 2015, which was the first time since its inception 133 years ago that the Royal College of Midwives voted in favour of strike action. This has been framed by the press as a sign that things must be bad, if even the moderate midwives who consider their job a true vocation, are striking. I have never considered myself, or the other radical midwives I know as “moderate”, but perhaps we are an unrepresentative sample!

I joined the picket line as a student member of one of the main unions, not only because any pay rise that is won following this industrial action will benefit me once I qualify, but because to cross the picket line felt too much like undermining the action my fellow workers – both symbolically, and literally as the presence of students providing extra pairs of hands to help out and diminishes the impact of the four hour strike.

My placement was in a non-essential service (unions negotiate with health trusts to establish which services are deemed essential, to ensure for example that ambulances can answer emergency 999 calls and that women going into labour are provided with care for themselves and their baby) and students are not included in the minimum numbers needed for areas for the hospital to run safely, so supporting the strike was a realistic option for me. Some will have found themselves unable to strike because they were working in an essential service, but for others in positions similar to me I wonder what it would take to make them strike next time? How can we support each other to make that leap? If all NHS staff in non-essential services went on strike next time, think how much more quickly this pay dispute could be resolved!

The midwives in the photo at the top of the post were my strike buddies for the duration of the picket line, and whilst I don’t imagine any of us relish the thought of another strike, I will give my support to another one – and another one – if that’s what it takes to secure fair pay for NHS staff.



On looking after myself so I can look after others.

One of the things I am conscious of, as I train to be a midwife, is how I can make sure I am taking care of myself. So that this process is sustainable, and so I can have the energy to care for other people.

I have taken a few big steps to take better care of myself since starting my training. I have moved into a house with a fellow student midwife where together we have created a little sanctuary of calm to study and retreat after placement. I left a relationship that with hindsight was somewhat toxic, to instead focus on a relationship that is nurturing, loving and fulfilling. And then there are all the little steps. The taking time to relax, making time for interests outside of midwifery, the eating well but still treating myself, the women-only swimming sessions when my timetable permits. The strong friendships built up over years and the newer friendships since starting my training, all of which allow me to feel heard, cared for and supported. The radical midwives meetings I go to once a month to spend time around the table with other likeminded midwives and remind myself why I am doing this.


Last week was my final week of teaching before we begin our eight week hospital placement, and it included an exam. I had been revising steadily, but really concentrated my efforts in the week leading up to it. I gave myself the night off on Monday, as one of my friends is a medical herbalist who runs these monthly experiential herb tasting sessions. The aim is to allow us to really get to know herbs, so we can begin to use them to look after ourselves and those we care about as an alternative to the industrial-capitalist framework healthcare has been built up around. (I should perhaps add: this use of herbs is something I am interested in in my personal life, not my professional life)

In these sessions we explore a herb through our senses, without initially knowing which herb is is. We start the session by doing some exercises to help us really feel like we were in our bodies, and then a pot of tea is brewed up using the herb.  And then we smell it and taste it, all the while thinking about what it makes us think of, how it affects us, if we like it, what we think it might be useful for. After this exploration, the herb is revealed, and then we try it in other forms (like a tincture) and read up about it. The herb was skullcap (pictured), and when I had tasted it I felt like I had taken a step back from the situation, without losing my focus, which is fitting as skullcap is useful for calming the nervous system without sedating. I realised that this evening, after all the studying I had been doing, was the first time in a while I had really felt like I was in my body and it was a very welcome feeling.

On Tuesday morning, the day before the exam, I got hit by a car as I was biking into university. I was waiting at the top of a hill on a side street, indicating that I wanted to turn right, when a car came from my left and turned across my side of the road and straight into me. The middle of the bumper hit my front wheel (buckling on impact) and hit my left thigh, and I fell off – luckily falling away from the car. The driver stopped, and alternated between saying that she didn’t see me, and that I was on her side of the road. We swapped details and I carried my bike the 15 minute walk home, as the wheel would no longer turn. I got home, put arnica on my injuries, and my housemate made me a huge mug of sugary tea. I tried to study but it became apparent I would need to take the day off.

On the morning of the exam I realised that despite the point of impact being my thigh, I must have braced my arms as I held on to the handlebars as the car hit me, as my shoulders and collarbones were achingly sore, with bruises forming despite the lack of contact. I took painkillers, did some final revision and then sat the exam. Then I went for drinks with the other student midwives and talked about anything but the exam.

The next morning was the first time in many weeks that I felt like the pressure was off, so I went for a full body massage. I had originally booked this in before the collision, thinking it would be a relaxing treat, but it ended up being more than that. It became a way of helping to physically work the trauma, the tension of the collision out of my body. I have read that after deers experience a trauma, like a run-in with a predator, they go back to their families and they shake shake shake and discharge the trauma from their bodies. This felt like that. It is maybe going a little far to suggest that cars are the predators and cyclists are the prey, but when you have been caught in the headlights it certainly seems that way. We finished off the massage with some reiki, and I was encouraged not to think, to quieten my mind and just accept the healing energy.

And it worked. As I sit here on the eve of my hospital placement, despite the events of last week, I feel ready for this next challenge.

On being a pro-choice midwife.


My favourite puntastic tote bag from Education for Choice.

I am totally pro-choice – I believe in the right of the pregnant individual to make decisions about their pregnancy, including deciding if they wish their pregnancy to continue. And if they don’t want it to continue, to be able to access safe abortion on demand at any point up full term – something we don’t currently have.

People have expressed surprise that I hold these pro-choice views and yet I am training to be a midwife. But to me they are completely in line with providing person-centred care – something we midwives are supposed to be all over. What could be more person-centred than trusting that the pregnant person is the one who gets to decide if they want the pregnancy to continue? Their body, their choice, right?

In line with the Abortion Act of 1967, abortion is currently legal up until 24 weeks of pregnancy in Scotland, England and Wales. (Abortion is only legal beyond this point if there is a grave danger to the pregnant person’s life or risk of serious permanent injury, or if the baby would likely be born with significant mental or physical disability). Two doctors also have to agree that more damage would be done to the pregnant person’s mental and/or physical health if they were to continue with the pregnancy than if they had the abortion. The act also includes a clause that anyone with a conscientious objection to abortion does not have be involved in administering this procedure, which has generally been understood to mean that those health professionals are not obliged to be involved in the procedure. So this clause protects those seeking abortions from accessing care from those whose moral objection may impact on their ability to care for them sensitively, as well as allowing health professionals exemption from doing something that is against their morals.

This is a kind of backstory as to why I am so unsettled by the recent news that two midwives are going to the supreme court to try and defend their right *not* to allow abortions to those who want them. Not just their right to not be involved in the actual procedure (which is already in place), but to argue that to even co-ordinate a ward when the procedure takes place contravenes their human rights. To essentially limit access to a legal procedure on a structural level because of their moral objection to abortion. As BPAS warns; “It would be grossly unjust if an interpretation of conscientious objection was allowed to stand which would disrupt services to the point that those committed to helping women were unable to do so”. If those coordinating maternity services can claim that they have a right to prevent abortions happening under their watch, those health professionals who want to provide abortions may be prevented from doing so which will essentially prevent those seeking to end their pregnancies from accessing a procedure that is not only necessary but also legal.

If the supreme court rules that these two midwives are right to interpret the conscientious objection clause to mean they are within their rights to refuse to have any part to do with any part of abortion provision – including co-ordinating the service that provides the abortion – then there will be a precedent that can be used to further limit access to safe legal abortion. And it is the safe, legal abortions that will be limited, not the need for abortion, or the number of abortions that people will seek out by any means necessary. What is person-centred about that?


Education for Choice  – supports young people’s right to informed choice on abortion.

Abortion Rights – the national (UK) pro-choice campaign.

British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) 

The Cissexist Language of Midwifery Care and Reproductive Justice.

I started trying to write a post on the way my pro-choice views on abortion intersect positively with my midwifery practice, but I realised that first I needed to address the way that the language of midwifery care and reproductive justice is cissexist. Lauren Rankin spells it out when she says

We must acknowledge and come to terms with the implicit cissexism in assuming that only women have abortions. Trans men have abortions. People who do not identify as women have abortions. They deserve to be represented in our advocacy and activist framework. Honestly, I am guilty of perpetuating that harmful myth, both in my rhetoric and framing. I often frame abortion restrictions as misogynistic attacks meant to control women’s reproductive lives, and that is true. But abortion restrictions also affect the lives of people who aren’t women, and they hinder trans men and gender-non-conforming people and others who were Designated Female at Birth (DFAB) from accessing abortion care, as well.

Lauren Rankin, Not Everyone Who Has an Abortion Is a Woman – How to Frame the Abortion Rights Issue

I went to a training day on abortion activism (run by Abortion Rights) last year, attended by feminists and anarchists involved or interested in grassroots activism and campaigning. And it was refreshing to talk about “people wanting/needing abortions” without the discussion stalling when the other people in the conversation couldn’t understand why we weren’t saying women, or worse refuting the fact that it’s not only women getting pregnant (radfems, I’m looking at you again). And yet even though the space we made challenged the cissexism of typical reproductive justice dialogue, the cissexist language was still was inescapable. The news clips we watched, the stats on how many abortions are performed in the UK each year all talk about women and women only. The statistics we have for UK abortion rates take into account every registered abortion, but they do not record the person’s gender because it is assumed they are women. These statistics we quote, that “1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old”… these statistics implicitly misgender all those people who are not women who have abortions.

The same happens in midwifery. Language misgenders, both implicitly and explicitly. Because, on both an individual and systematic level, the possibility of trans men and non binary people becoming pregnant is either not considered or wilfully ignored; all language is inherently cissexist.  As midwives we talk constantly about “the woman” (or worse, “the lady”) as though it had not even occurred to us that not everyone who is pregnant is a woman, or that these people do not exist, or that they are such a small minority that it is ok for our language to erase them.

It is not ok. But everyone does it. I am even finding myself doing it.

A couple of weeks into my training I started to realise I wasn’t imagining it, midwifery lecturers were constantly talking about “the woman” and as students we were picking it up too. I queried it, explaining that I realised we said “the woman” rather than  “the patient”, because midwifery is about providing care through a normal physiological event (pregnancy and birth) rather than treating illness. But what about those people who aren’t women who are pregnant..? After clarifying that I didn’t mean cis men who have a developing embryo implanted in their abdominal cavity(!), the lecturer told me there hadn’t been any non binary people or trans men who had accessed midwifery care in our city and this seemed to suggest my point was moot. I didn’t believe her (because I imagine there must have been people who were not women, but were read as such by staff who didn’t feel safe/comfortable/have the energy to come out) but the discussion moved on.

Aside from the obvious problem of potentially misgendering (implicitly or explicitly) individuals accessing maternity care by talking only about women, there is the further problem that the language we use shapes the way we think and the way we see the world. By talking only about women, we are conditioning ourselves to think only in terms of women, to assume womanhood of everyone in our care. It is both habit-forming and world-shaping. When I started my training I always said “pregnant person” but everything I read, everything I am taught is saying “women”, and I am starting to slip up, to give up, and it’s not good enough.

I want people of all genders to be able to access midwifery care if they need it, without worry that they will be misgendered. I want NHS midwifery staff to have awareness raising sessions so they understand what is meant by trans, non binary, cissexist, misgendering. I want to rid policies and guidelines of their cissexist language. I want space on the paperwork we fill in at initial midwifery booking appointments to have space to ask about the person’s gender so we don’t simply assume they are all women.

In the same way that there seems to be a slow but sure shift away from heteronormative language in midwifery care (as both policies and practitioners start to talk about “partners” rather than “husbands/fathers”) I want to see a shift away from cissexist language. A lot of the times when we are talking generally and we say women, we can instead more accurately say “people who menstruate”, “people with uteruses”, “people who are pregnant”, “people needing abortions”. Instead of saying “she” we can say “they”. We can find new ways to convey meaning.

And don’t tell me it’s too hard – it can’t be any harder than having to navigate a maternity service designed for women when you are not a woman – which is what we are essentially asking of some people unless we sort this out.

My Midwifery Root(s) – Part 2

At one point, I was pretty good at rattling off the reasons I wanted to be a midwife. I had a speech prepared that I could recite whenever someone asked me, finely tuned after the gruelling application and interview process I went through to start my training. It went something like this:

“I have always had strong feminist politics, and feel that I have a responsibility to use my time and energy to support other women. I have been involved in various forms of feminist activism (including reproductive justice) since my teens but became aware of a disconnect between the activism, or voluntary work I did in my spare time, and the unrelated paid work I did alongside to leave me with enough spare time and energy to engage in activism. I also became aware of friends around me experiencing burnout, and recognised the need for a more sustainable path to allow me to continue to stay true to my values whilst also taking care of myself. I want to work as a midwife for the NHS because it is a way for me to sustainably support and care for women at a potentially transformative point in their lives, by providing a service that is free at the point of access, thus providing care regardless of the woman’s financial situation.”

And that is all true. And it’s a tidy narrative that perhaps won the hearts of feminist interviewers on the panel, but it is not the whole story, and doesn’t explain how I got to this point.

I had spent my late teens and early twenties adamant that I did not want a career. I wanted a succession of jobs that left me enough time and energy to do the things I really wanted to do, because I couldn’t imagine a career meeting that need. I went from school to university and fell in with a 3rd wave feminist crowd. We had a lot of fun writing zines, collectively organising gigs and events to give women space to perform and share their art, and I just wanted to find a job that was sufficiently low-commitment (which largely also mean low-pay) to allow me the time and energy to keep doing all those things. I went on to become more involved in political campaigns around abortion, attend demos and protests and found endless ways for feminist activism to take up my time and I loved it. I spent over a year volunteering on a rape crisis helpline, and I trained as a volunteer doula to act as an advocate and birth partner for asylum seeking women who didn’t have a support network around them during pregnancy and birth. It started to feel unsustainable. I’m not happy with the distinctions we place between paid work and voluntary work, but you can’t away from the fact that one allows you to pay your rent and bills and the other doesn’t. I was doing office work full time alongside my voluntary work at first, which meant I was doing ok financially but I was getting tired. And then later when I started looking into midwifery and realised my existing qualifications wouldn’t get me into university to train as a midwife, I quit that job and went back to college for the pre-course requirement so I was just studying and volunteering, and then I was hard up and tired. Midwifery training seemed a distant possibility, although it was what I was aiming for.

My interest in healthcare started around the same time as the zines. I loved skillsharing, diy, feminist health zines – about charting your cycle, self examinations, mental health, herbal remedies… encouraging everyone to learn about their bodies and how to look after them. I joined a radical health collective which was made up of a mixture of lay people, wannabe or trainee health practitioners, hippies and anarchists and if I’m honest we did a lot of sitting around talking about periods, for better or for worse. Around this time I was particularly into a book by Louise Lacey, called “Lunaception” which was a how to (and why) book about aligning your menstrual cycle with the lunar cycle, which gives you an idea of the headspace I was in. I think I started my doula training around this time, but not as a conscious stepping stone to midwifery.

A selection of zines from my health zine collection.

A selection of zines from my health zine collection.

Before I realised I *wanted* to be a midwife, I had the realisation that I *could* be a midwife. And it came in my mid twenties, through getting to know a fellow anarchafeminist woman who had recently qualified as a midwife. As we chatted in a shared community space, I had a kind of lightbulb moment as I realised that midwifery provided the opportunity to work in an explicitly feminist manner, as an autonomous practitioner, for an organisation (the NHS) that was for the people. It would be hard to get into, and to train, and then to do… but hopefully it would also be worth it. It provided a sustainable way to support women and myself, without completely compromising my values.

As I approach the halfway point of my training, and the focus on assessments increases and I start to wonder if I am starting to aim simply to pass my degree rather than to qualify as a midwife so I can begin the real work of being an autonomous midwife, it is worth reminding myself why I want to do this.  It is worth revisiting my roots. so I can stay true to my intentions as I grow and progress.


“What, so what, now what” – a reflection model which doubles as a tarot spread!

In midwifery, reflection is encouraged as a tool for learning from and developing our practice, and can be especially useful to help make sense of difficult events, and allow a plan to be made to allow us to move forward. Reflection involves focussing on a particular incident, describing it and looking at it critically. There are various widely used reflection models that are essentially frameworks or prompts that ask questions to allow you to reflect on an incident in a way that is helpful in terms on ongoing personal/professional development, and the Driscoll “what, so what, now what” model is one of the simplest.

I was playing around with my tarot deck today, choosing a simple three card spread I could use to think about the point I was at with my midwifery learning, when I was suddenly struck by how the Driscoll reflection model translates perfectly into a three card tarot spread! Rather than seeing tarot as a divination tool to help me pull answers out from the ether, I see it as a self-reflection tool to help me find answers and reach conclusions from inside myself. And now I’ve noticed the similarity between tarot as a reflection tool, and the formalised question based models we are encouraged to use as midwives to reflect on our practice, I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before!

As I am not out in clinical practice at the moment I don’t have a particular incident to reflect on and more importantly this wouldn’t be the appropriate format or forum to use for that kind of reflection!! So instead I decided to use the “Driscoll reflection model tarot spread” I had just cooked up to think about the point I’m at in my midwifery learning, having crossed the halfway point in this term’s teaching and preparing for my first exam of the academic year. To think about where I’m at (“what”), what the repercussions of this are or could be (“so what”) and where I should go from here (“now what”). I use the Collective Tarot Deck for my readings (sadly out of print, but read about in the link at the end of the post!) which is a kind of right on, intersectional, social justice inspired deck and seems pretty apt for a radical midwife.

So here are the cards I drew:


Reflection spread: What? – Apprentice of keys. So What? – Ten of feathers. Now What? – Six of keys.


What? – Apprentice of Keys

I like the fact that I drew the apprentice here, it seems apt as a student! The keys suit corresponds to wands in more traditional decks, and is linked the the fire element, and the card literally shows two people learning how to eat fire! The deck’s accompanying book describes this card as meaning there is “much to be done… if a quiet center can be obtained, the Apprentice will be able to harness their tremendous energy and drive to accomplish the work they are passionate about” and suggests that “starting a project is easier than finishing it”. I think this card is describing the fact that I am learning a skill and I need to focus on the many things that need to be done and channel my energy and enthusiasm into quiet study. I’m also now into my middle year of study, the one that is widely thought of as the hardest because the the exciting new-ness of our first year has worn off, and we haven’t yet reached the safety of our third year where we realise how much we know and that we are nearly there, so the remark that starting a project is easier than finishing seems pretty apt.

So What? – Ten of Feathers

This card shows Icarus flying too close to the sun, his wings melting and him falling through the sky. The feathers suit is this deck’s reimagining of the swords, and in this card in traditional decks you often see a man with ten swords in his back, which makes me think of a really overblown melodramatic metaphor for things being a bit difficult (one sword would do it but no, someone has used ten to really make a point). I always read this card as the melodrama card, so drawing this card here makes me think I am being a bit melodramatic when I think I have such an overwhelming, impossible amount of work to do, like do I really think training to be a midwife is so hard that I will literally experience a failure akin to Icarus falling to earth in a pool of wax and death?! Ha! Now you’ve had a laugh get on with your work.

Now What? – Six of Keys

The keys suit again, this time it’s the six of keys.  The card of victory, showing someone having just won a mud wrestle whilst the other person lays laughing on the ground and the others watch on and cheer, as “creativity and persistence has paid off”. The deck’s book then goes on to explore how we all have our turn as victor, as the one in the mud, as the ones in the crowd watching on… and realising this can help us handle losses graciously as we know there will be times in the future when we succeed, and also recognise the privileges that may help us on the times we have our victories. To me, this card is telling me I’m on track and doing well and I should be pleased but to also recognise that things shift, that sometimes we are behind and sometimes we are ahead and it’s all part of the same circle. It also says that “passing on what you have learned in your own victory can help inspire others, and helps with remembering how you have obtained victories in your own life” – which sounds a bit like what this blog might be about.


Royal College of Midwives – Guide to keeping a reflective journal

Little Red Tarot reviews “The Collective Tarot” deck –

My Midwifery Root(s) – Part 1

I am learning to be a midwife, and given my strong left politics and outlook on life, it’s unlikely I will become anything but a radical midwife.

Angela Davis explained that “radical simply means ‘grasping things by the root'” and I like this definition. The word radical can be misused, misappropriated and misunderstood (like so called “radical” feminists with their trans-exclusionary and sex worker-exclusionary feminism) so I like to come back to her words when the word radical seems to mean everything but, or when it’s wrongly being used interchangeably with ‘extremist’.

The “Association of Radical Midwives” uses the word radical in the same way as Angela Davis, explaining that when the organisation was founded in the 1970’s “the majority of pregnant women in UK had labour induced by artificial rupture of membranes (ARM) around the date they were “due”. These initials were used when the group needed a name, using the dictionary definition of “radical”, (roots, origins, basics, etc.) which aptly described the basic midwifery skills which they hoped to revive.”

I am a radical student midwife and I would like to think about my roots.

* * * * *

I went to a Samhain dinner this weekend; Samhain being the point in the pagan calendar halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, marking the beginning of winter & thought to be the point when the veil between the world of the living and dead is at its thinnest. Twenty or so of us had a potluck feast by candle light, and we took it in turns to talk about, toast and honour our ancestors, those who had come before us who we wanted to remember, who had somehow informed the people we have become.

I chose to toast the women healers who came before me, the wise women who acted as midwives but were persecuted as witches because they used methods that were mistrusted by and threatened the patriarchal structures of the time (the church and the emerging medical professions). Before healthcare was medicalised and male doctors took charge of birth, it was women who supported each other, sharing and adding to past generations knowledge that they acquired empirically through their senses & their experience of the world around them. Tried and tested herbal remedies that were not explained by science (some of which are still feared today for the same reasons!) and so their methods came to be seen as evidence of witchcraft. At a point today when midwives are once again recognised as autonomous practitioners, experts with a breadth of knowledge far greater than a doctors on the subject of natural birth, I wanted to look back to a time when this was also the case and yet those midwives (those witches and healers) were persecuted because their power to help other women, the knowledge these women held was perceived as so scary, such a threat to male power structures that the men in power tried to eradicate it. I don’t doubt some knowledge has been lost forever, extinguished along with the lives of the women who carried it in their bodies and their hearts.

IMG_0326There is an excellent pamphlet that first came out in the US in 1973, called “Witches, Midwives and Nurses – A History of Women Healers” on this subject. I have a gorgeous yellow sugar paper-covered edition that came out in the UK a year later, and it’s now available as a 2nd edition book which you can read online (link at the end of this post). It looks at the history of these women healers and links them with the (then) emerging women’s health movement of the 1970’s when feminism was encouraging women to get to know their bodies and recognise themselves as authorities on their own health experiences, rather than passive consumers of advice given by (often male) doctors. It’s an important piece of work undertaken by feminists to recapture the history of women health workers, first as witches in medieval Europe and then again as midwives and folk healers in the 19th century in the US when the male medical profession was coming into being and taking the space these women had previously occupied.

However the pamphlet is not without its shortcomings – noticeably it mentions Florence Nightingale but omits Mary Seacole when talking about women nurses working within the male dominated field of medicine at the time of the Crimean War. And the irony has also not escaped me that the so called “radical” feminists I criticise at the beginning of this post for their trans-exclusionary, sex worker exclusionary politics are the same ones responsible for the excellent (cis) women’s health movement of the seventies. These are the same feminists who wrote the books I devoured in my teens as I was becoming a feminist, before I had seen enough of the bigger picture realise where their views fell short and see the women they left out. Life is full of contradictions, especially when I am acknowledging how I have gotten to the point I am at now.


Association of Radical Midwives –

PDF of Witches, Midwives and Nurses –


Witches, Midwives and Nurses – A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English

The Labor Progress Handbook (2nd Edition) by Penny Simkin and Ruth Ancheta.