In September of this year I completed my gruelling and challenging midwifery degree, and am about to start a career I have long aspired to. But I begin with a certain amount of anxiety, as I have spent the last 3 years working alongside midwives and maternity support workers who are overworked, underpaid and under resourced, and it’s a worry.
It worries me because I can feel that morale is low, and midwives are beginning to consider moving Trusts or even leaving the profession, because the work is overwhelming at times, and seems never ending. It worries me because I see midwives who end up staying long beyond the end of their shift because it’s impossible to fit the care the women and babies deserve alongside the mountains of paperwork required, and they refuse to make the women anything but a priority. It worries me because I know that my skills, confidence and responsibilities will only grow over the next year, two years, three years as I mentor students, as I support newly qualified colleagues, as I am able to do more myself and delegate less – and yet, if the Government had their way, my pay would remain the same.
Which feels insulting, when the work we do as midwives is so vital – who else stands beside anxious pregnant women, excited but fearful birthing women, exhausted but elated postpartum mothers and gives them courage, and strength, and someone to rely on? Who else holds new, fragile life in their hands and gently welcomes them into the world? Who else wipes away the tears and supports a new mother struggling to feed her baby?
A midwife. A mother, a sister, a daughter, a husband, a father just like everyone else who has bills to pay, a car which needs petrol, the kids who need new school shoes and on and on and on. The cost of living is rising, the bills are rising, petrol is costing more and more, rail fare is disproportionate to earnings – and yet, public sector workers have not seen their wages keep anything near the pace, and the Government believes to do so would be unsustainable.
I’m marching on Saturday because for too long (our entire history as the Royal College of Midwives in fact) midwives have worked harder and harder to keep mothers and babies safe despite political reform, healthcare system redesign, economic crises – and we’ve done it without ever striking before this week, nor asking to be recompensed for the undocumented, unpaid, unrelenting extra work to do, because we have never been a profession which accepts anything but the best for women, babies and families.
But now we recognise that this cannot continue any more, that we can no longer be complacent on the simple demand of wanting to be fairly paid for the work that we do. Enough is enough.