Monthly Archives: December 2014

“Je suis une étudiante sage-femme” – adding midwifery-related language to my French vocabulary.

Last week I looked after a French-speaking woman who had been admitted into hospital early in her pregnancy. She didn’t speak much English, and her French-speaking partner spoke some English but couldn’t stay with her. I am so glad that when her partner told me she didn’t speak English, that I asked them what language they did speak. I am no longer completely fluent but I still have a high level of conversational French, so I could say – “I speak French. Would you like me to speak in French to you?” to which she said yes and smiled.

We do have mechanisms in place in the NHS for getting interpreters for those in our care who don’t speak English (or who speak a little but need someone to interpret the medical language that goes along with midwifery care). We can either use Language Line – a confidential telephone service whereby the interpreter is on the other end of the phone and it is passed between the health care worker and the person receiving care – or an interpreter can be booked to attend appointments, or to explain procedures for limited amounts of time, or to be present once labour is established. Interpreters through either/both of these channels are completely essential and I have no jumped-up ideas about taking over from them!

But whether on the phone or in the room, these interpreters cannot be here all the time. So when we do our observation rounds to see how the people in our care are doing, or when we respond to one of them pressing a buzzer, if they don’t speak English and we don’t speak their language then in the immediate term it’s harder for us to understand what they are saying and for them to make themselves understood.

And I realised that something I can do, as someone who can already speak French, is to learn the midwifery-related language in French too so that on the occasions where I am caring for a French-speaker who doesn’t speak English, I can make sure that at the times an interpreter is not present, that they can understand what we are saying and that they are understood. It may not come in useful often  – this is only the second time I have looked after a French-speaking woman who didn’t speak English (and the first time was when I was training in the community so we had booked an interpreter for every appointment she had with us) but on the occasions it does come in useful it will be invaluable.

10000 hours to become a good midwife?

Learning to be a midwife is really hard. I had been warned the second year of training was difficult but I don’t think I realised what people meant until placement began only days after the exam we had been studying for for the last 8 weeks, and suddenly there was shift work to contend with whilst meeting new people, learning new systems, and applying our 8 weeks of 2nd year teaching on high risk pregnancy into actually caring for people. I am struggling to understand how other midwifery students are enjoying this experience, and it is really hard to feel like I don’t completely suck, as I wonder how it’s possible for me to be trying so hard to be good at this whilst still making so many mistakes and still knowing so little.

But then today I remembered the idea that it takes 10000 hours of practice to become truly good at something. And it made me feel slightly better about how much I still have to learn even though I am already half way through my first placement of my second year. If I count up all the hours of midwifery practice I have had since the start of my course, I’ve clocked up 635. Even if I add in all the time spent studying in and out of university (an extra 1050 hours), that’s still only 1685 hours. 1685/10000 – that’s less than a fifth of the way there. I won’t hit the 10000 hour mark until I have not only finished my degree but been practicing as a qualified midwife for a few years.

Giving myself that as a timescale makes me feel less like I have to be brilliant at this right now, and more like every hour I spend trying to be better is taking me closer to the point where I can actually do this.

Which is a comforting thought when I find myself thinking several times a shift that I just *can’t* do this.

No diet talk for me, I’m being good.

CONTENT NOTE: Discussion of how diet talk is harmful.

No Diet Talk badge designed by Natalie at definatalie.com

No Diet Talk badge designed by Natalie at definatalie.com

The level of diet/weightloss talk from staff in maternity care is so high that my friend who has already qualified as a midwife *warned* me about it before I started. And when I say diet talk I don’t mean advising women we care for to diet (although that is a whole other blog post coming soon – and certainly influenced by a midwife’s own views on dieting and body positivity) but workers talking about their own diets and weightloss projects. Slimming world. Weight watchers. Being “good”. Being “bad”. Obsessions with weight that extend to telling people how much weight they have lost and weighing themselves at work. Asking others about their BMI. Talking about specific events in the future they want to lose weight for so they look ‘beautiful’, and others weighing in to advise how they can do that whilst still enjoying food over Christmas.

Then when the food comes out at lunchtime it’s a chorus of whether everyone is being “good” or “bad” in their choices. Saying “ooh that looks healthy” in a congratulatory tone. Looking forward to Friday when the consensus seems to be that you are allowed a treat that day. Telling us how many calories are in a given item.

I cannot tell you how many calories are in my lunch, and if I could, I wouldn’t. Because I think it’s a terrible combination of tedious and potentially triggering.

Diet talk is potentially triggering because some people are trying to resist dieting. Perhaps through recovery from eating disorders or disordered eating, and/or because they don’t like giving that much headspace every day to how they can take up less and less space in the world. It is harder not to think about when the people around you are trying to engage you in conversation about it. It gets me down because this seeming compulsion for diet/weight loss talk isn’t anything new, and I wasn’t surprised when I recognised it in a midwifery setting. It’s happened in all the mostly female workplaces I’ve worked in and it seems to be the default topic when women are together and want something to talk about. I feel like I am conspicuously absent from these discussions but it’s hard to go further and challenge people or change the subject, especially when I’m working somewhere new and concerned about the impression I am making.

I am body positive and fat positive, and I recognise an individual’s right to change their body if they want to. I am skeptical about how effective most diets are, but I wouldn’t try to stop someone from embarking on one. I also recognise that we are all products of the anti-fat, size conscious society we are living in, whether we have started actively deconstructing the way this affects our thoughts and actions or not! What I object to is the way the diet is performed to an often captive audience that has not consented.

Whilst I might not be able to influence my wider environment, this blog is a “no diet talk” space. Natalie of Definatalie.com put it well when she said “The way I see it, 99.9999999% of the world around me is a space where diet talk is not only normal but an insidious disease festering inside the relationships between women folk that masquerades as bonding”. She made the copyright-free badge I’ve put in my sidebar, which shows my commitment to keeping diet talk out, and to flagging any references to diet talk in terms of wider discussion with a content note.

I figure there are much more interesting things to talk about anyway.