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.
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.